Developmental trauma is more common than many of us realize. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 78 percent of children reported more than one traumatic experience before the age of 5. Twenty percent of children up to the age of 6 were receiving treatment for traumatic experiences, including sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, and traumatic loss or bereavement.
Adults who suffer from developmental trauma may go on to develop Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or “cPTSD,” which is characterized by difficulties in emotional regulation, consciousness and memory, self-perception, distorted perceptions of perpetrators of abuse, difficulties in relationships with other people, and negative effects on the meaningfulness of life.
Although we do not have statistics on the rates of cPTSD, risk factors for cPTSD are disturbingly commonplace. According to the CDC, in 2012 there were 3.4 million referrals to state and local child protective services for cases of abuse or neglect. It is estimated that in 2012 alone, 686,000 children, or 9.2 per 1,000, were victims of maltreatment. However, experts believe that these numbers underestimate the true frequency, and that up to 1 out of 4 children may actually experience some form of maltreatment. It is estimated that the total lifetime economic cost of child maltreatment in the US is $124 billion. While thankfully not all children who experience maltreatment go on to develop cPTSD, many will — and recovery is challenging even for those who do seek treatment.
How Does Developmental Trauma Impact Identity Formation?
- Loss of childhood: “I never really had a childhood” or “I can’t remember much from growing up.”
- Missing parts of oneself: “I’ve always felt like something was missing, but I don’t know what it is.”
- Attraction to destructive relationships: “I’m the kind of person that always dates people who are bad for me.”
- Avoidance of relationships: “I’m someone who is better off alone.
- Avoidance of oneself: “I don’t like to think about myself; it only makes me feel bad.”
- Difficulty integrating emotions into one’s identity: “I’m not the kind of person who has strong feelings about things.”
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