If you experienced trauma as a child, there’s a chance it developed into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an adult. While you may be able to pinpoint a specific event that lead to your condition, others will find it difficult to comprehend what constitutes as trauma. Leading them to the question, “do I have PTSD from childhood?”
It’s an important question to answer as it may give some insight into your current psychological state. Throughout this article, we’re going to discuss PTSD, how it can develop from childhood, and whether or not you experienced trauma as a child. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that develops after someone experiences a dangerous, shocking, or scary event. While it’s natural to feel anxiety as a traumatic event is taking place, people who still feel this anxiety at least 6 months after the event may be diagnosed with PTSD. Especially if this fear and stress is inhibiting their day-to-day life. ¹
Since traumas range from person-to-person, it can be difficult to identify what may develop into PTSD. For example, one person may develop PTSD after a car accident while another will after the sudden death of a loved one. Symptoms of PTSD will usually appear within 3 months of the event, but can take upwards of a year.
In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a must meet the following criteria: ²
- One re-experiencing symptom
- One avoidance symptom
- Two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- Two cognition and mood symptoms
While each of these PTSD symptoms may vary from person-to-person, they’re generally characterized as:
Perhaps the defining symptom of PTSD, re-experiencing symptoms include:
- Flashbacks – reliving the psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms of the traumatic event
- Frightening thoughts
While it’s different for everyone, re-experiencing symptoms can appear seemingly at random. And they can be triggered by varying words, objects, and situations.
If you know what triggers your PTSD symptoms, you may find yourself: ³
- Avoiding places, events, or objects that remind you of your trauma
- Avoiding thoughts or emotions related to the traumatic event
Avoidance symptoms are common with other forms of anxiety, such as social anxiety disorder. They are usually one of the biggest inhibitors as they can prevent you from going out and doing things you enjoy.
Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms
While they’ll develop after a traumatic event, arousal and reactivity symptoms are usually more consistent and not triggered by something:
- Being tense (on edge)
- Easily startled
- Having angry outbursts
- Sleep difficulties
These symptoms often fuel a person’s stress and make it even more difficult to take care of day-to-day activities.
Cognition and Mood Symptoms
While these symptoms begin after a traumatic event, they usually become worse (or more inhibiting) over time:
- Difficulty remembering key aspects of the traumatic event
- Feelings of guilt and blame towards oneself
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Negative thoughts about yourself and the world
Cognition and mood symptoms aren’t directly related to an injury or substance abuse. Instead, they develop from the event itself and can lead someone to feeling isolated.
Can You Have PTSD Without a Traumatic Event?
From a diagnosis perspective, you technically can’t have PTSD without a traumatic event. However, recent research has shown people can experience PTSD symptoms without experience a specific trauma. In most cases, a series of stressors can lead to a pattern of symptoms which results in a form of anxiety.
Still, whether this struggle is a type of anxiety or PTSD itself remains unclear. While doctors cannot diagnose such circumstances as PTSD, more mental health professionals are recognizing that PTSD can come about from events not typically associated with trauma, such as employment difficulties and a divorce.
Due to these findings, it can be suggest that a series of negative events that take place in childhood may culminate to PTSD.
PTSD From Childhood Trauma in Adults
According to the American Society for Positive Care of Children (SPCC), there are 4.4 million annual reports of child maltreatment and 7.9 million reports of child abuse. In 91.4% of these cases, either one or both parents are the cause of the trauma.
Childhood trauma is a loose term that’s used to decribe any of the following:
- Community violence
- Complex trauma
- Early childhood trauma
- Intimate partner violence
- Medical trauma
- Physical abuse
- Refugee trauma
- Sexual abuse
- Sex trafficking
- Terrorism and violence
- Traumatic grief
If a child experience any of these types of trauma, they become more vulnerable to the development of PTSD. However, PTSD symptoms may not be immediately apparent and, in turn, a child can develop them later in life. ⁴
Children with PTSD will showcase common symptoms observed in adults, including:
- Constant state of fear due to scary thoughts and memories of traumatic event
- Nightmares (usually of the traumatic event)
- Reliving the trauma over and over again (flashbacks)
One of the biggest difficulties with child PTSD is the fact that many don’t receive the proper help they need. When a child experience PTSD goes untreated, it can lead to worsening of symptoms later in life.
Undiagnosed PTSD From Childhood
If PTSD goes undiagnosed in childhood, it can either emerge or become increasingly worse in adulthood. For adults struggling with PTSD they believe came from childhood, the first step is finding professional help. By continuing to leave trauma unresolved, you may be putting yourself in a position where symptoms can become more intense.
PTSD treatment typically involves two methods:
The most common PTSD therapy is known as trauma-focused psychotherapy. This type of therapy will focus on your memories of the event and its meaning. Furthermore, your therapist will incorporate a number of techniques to help you process your trauma. ⁵
Other therapies PTSD victims have found useful include:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – Identifies negative thought patterns and teaches you how to reframe them.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Will have you relive traumatic events while paying attention to a specific sound or a back-and-forth movement.
- Prolonged Exposure (PE) – If you’ve developed avoidance symptoms, this therapy will expose you to what you’re avoiding. The idea is to confront your negative feelings to gain control of them.
Most people with PTSD will also receive an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) or an SNRI (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), with the most commonly prescribed being: ⁶
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
While there are other types of medication for PTSD, the above four are the most effective. You may also find other forms of medicine to be useful. For example, many people are using cannabis for PTSD.
Do I Have PTSD From Childhood Test
Still not sure if you’re experiencing PTSD or not? Here are 10 questions to ask yourself in order to come to help you figure it out:
- Do you have trouble focusing on things like reading, TV shows, or conversations?
- Do memories of a traumatic event come to mind at undesired moments?
- Is it difficult to remember parts of the traumatic event?
- Have you been avoiding people, places, or objects that make you think of your trauma?
- Do you ever have rushes of anger or irritability?
- Do you feel on edge more than normal, especially around other people?
- Have you avoided thinking about the trauma or the way it makes you feel?
- Do you become frightened, angry, or upset when you remember the trauma?
- Have you experienced symptoms of anxiety (sweating, racing heartbeat, etc.) when thinking about the trauma?
- Have you felt detached from loved ones around you?
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, there’s a good chance you may be struggling with PTSD. However, it’s important to speak to a mental health professional in order to receive a proper diagnosis.
PTSD doesn’t discriminate and many of those struggling had developed it from a childhood trauma. While some may be able to pinpoint an exact traumatic event, others may find they lived through a series of stressors that compiled into PTSD symptoms. Since each situation is different, we highly recommend speaking to a mental health professional to get a better idea of your circumstances.
Still have questions about whether or not you have PTSD from childhood?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
² Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services: DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for PTSD
³ U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD: Avoidance
⁴ Child Welfare: Supporting Brain Development in Traumatized Children and Youth
⁵ U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD: PTSD Treatment Basics
⁶ U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD: Medications for PTSD