Humans are a complex species. Our brains are highly specialized in accumulating various experiences and knowledge. Each individual is unique in their talents and abilities. From childhood to adulthood, humans undergo changes in their personalities. Every person differs from others as each one has experienced different life experiences.
Some people do not hesitate to speak during interviews or meetings despite their lesser knowledge. While others find a problem letting their opinions out even though they are knowledgeable. This is because each person differs in their level of self-esteem.
Is there any link between childhood trauma and adult self-esteem? The short answer is ‘Yes’.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem may be defined as perceptions or beliefs about oneself. It is a measure people use to judge their worth or abilities.
A person is said to possess high self-esteem when they value their worth, have confidence in their abilities and accept themselves as they are. A person with low self-esteem is hesitant and judges themselves critically. Although genetics also play a role in determining a person’s optimism and self-esteem but let that be for another topic.
Read on to understand the connection between childhood trauma and adult self-esteem.
Some common types of childhood trauma:
- Physical Abuse: The child is often beaten or physically hurt by their parents or caregivers for no particular mistake.
- Emotional Abuse or Neglect: The child is deprived of emotional needs. They are often criticized harshly by words. This can impact them deeply. When the child is not met with their emotional needs, it is called neglect.
- Sexual Abuse: The child has undergone sexual harassment repeatedly by some close relatives. Rape is also considered in this regard.
The other types of childhood trauma may be dysfunctional households, bullying, poverty, etc. All of these can act as a connection between psychological scars and low self-esteem in adulthood.
How Parents and Caregivers can Impact Self-esteem in Children?
Parents are a child’s first contact and they play a crucial role in shaping their self-esteem. Children tend to imitate adults and do not yet have the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. Effective parenting ensures that children have healthy confidence and are able to integrate into society as they grow up.
However, parents can sometimes unknowingly go wrong in their parenting. Certain psychopathic parents may even intentionally harm their children. Therefore, it is important to understand the impact of childhood experiences on adult development and how the brain functions.
Understanding the Impact of Childhood Experiences on Adult Development
Brains have neural pathways which are the connections between brain cells. When a person learns something new, a pathway is created. Rehearsing repeatedly strengthens these pathways, making it easier for the person to remember and learn the task.
Similarly, experiences create pathways in our brains. Children’s brains are not fully developed, which means they are more vulnerable to both positive and negative experiences. For instance, if a parent continuously criticizes a child, they will grow up believing they are not good enough because the pathways in their brains are reinforced by repeated stimulation. This can cause problems in their relationships and communication skills during adulthood.
The ACE Score and Understanding Childhood Trauma
Experiencing childhood trauma not only causes emotional pain and problems with self-esteem, it also increases the risk of various health problems in adulthood. The ACE score (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is a measure of how badly a person was treated in their childhood, including emotional and physical abuse. The higher the score, the greater the risk of stress and health problems in adulthood.
The ACE test consists of ten questions regarding multiple traumas a person may have experienced during their childhood. If a person scores 1 to 3 on the test, they are at medium risk for health and stress problems. A score of 4 or higher indicates a higher risk. It is important to analyze the questions carefully as experiencing any of them repeatedly can hamper self-esteem in adulthood.
The ten questions are as follows:
- Did a parent or an adult insult you, tell you that you are worthless, or use curse words?
- Did a parent hit or slap you often?
- Have you been touched in an inappropriate sexual way by someone older than you?
- Did you feel that you are not good enough or unimportant?
- Have you felt that you do not have enough stuff or clothes with you, or felt unprotected?
- Were your parents divorced?
- Was your mother hit, slapped, or physically abused by someone?
- Did you spend your life with an alcoholic or chronic drinker?
- Was anyone in your family depressed or mentally ill and try to commit suicide?
- Did anyone in your family go to prison?
Note: The person should answer the questions only if they experienced these circumstances when they were less than 18 years old.
Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma on Self-Esteem and Life
Childhood trauma can have lasting effects on an individual’s life, leading to problems that can be difficult to resolve. Often, those who have experienced trauma may not even be aware that it is the cause of their issues, and the impact can be so deep that it may be challenging to overcome the emotional scars and improve self-worth.
One of the most common problems that individuals with childhood trauma may face is difficulty in social situations. They may struggle to carry out conversations with strangers due to fear of saying something embarrassing or fear of judgment. This fear can stem from harsh criticism and ridicule experienced during childhood, leading to a belief that others will behave in the same way. Even if the person has impeccable ideas or opinions, they may hesitate to share them due to a fear of rejection or being unapproved. Childhood neglect can also cause problems in maintaining healthy relationships and lead to a lack of self-worth.
Individuals who have experienced childhood trauma may also struggle with confidence and moving forward in their lives, leading to unemployment and a higher risk of suicide. The brain of those with childhood trauma may raise false alarms, leading to a constant fight or flight response and fear of taking chances.
Rebuilding Self-Confidence After Childhood Trauma
While childhood trauma can cause significant damage to an individual’s self-esteem, it is possible to rebuild confidence through positive affirmations, challenging the brain to do things that seem scary, and seeking help from therapists.
Practicing positive self-talk and affirmations, such as “I am good enough,” “I am worthy,” and “I feel loved,” can help to break the cycle of negative thinking caused by childhood trauma and build a positive self-image. Challenging the brain by doing things that seem scary can also help to overcome the fight or flight response and increase confidence.
Therapy is an essential aspect of healing from childhood trauma and rebuilding self-esteem. Cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy are all effective in helping individuals rebuild self-confidence after childhood trauma.
Childhood trauma can have significant and lasting effects on an individual’s life, leading to problems with self-esteem, social situations, and employment. However, by identifying the type of trauma experienced and taking steps to rebuild self-confidence through positive affirmations, challenging the brain, and seeking help from therapists, it is possible to break the cycle of negative thinking and build a positive self-image.