What Lies Beneath: Could It Be Childhood Trauma?

When I look outside I see. . .

Snow. Ice. Wind. Frozen fields, roads, and rivers.

What lies beneath?

Sometimes when I look at people, I see. . .

Addictions. Broken relationships. Panic. Chronic illness. Self-destructive habits. Eating disorders.

What lies beneath?

In the case of snow, it’s obvious. Ground, plants, fields, and rivers.

With people, it’s complicated. What’s underneath destructive behavior? What’s behind some illnesses? What’s fueling an addiction or eating disorder?

Sometimes underneath these issues are habits, beliefs, and poor choices. Chronic illnesses do have physiological and genetic causes.

But sometimes there’s more.

Sometimes what’s underneath is childhood trauma.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Between 1995 and 1997, Drs. Vince Filetti and Rob Anda studied adult health outcomes of 17,500 volunteers. Called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, the study continues today. The results of the 1995 study and ongoing research indicate a strong connection between the effects of adverse childhood experiences (childhood trauma) and long-term physical and mental health issues.


The ACE study has found a strong link between childhood adversity/trauma and poor adult health outcomes including increased risk of addictions, heart disease, job loss, and more.


See the link for a comprehensive list. As a result of ACE, there are hundreds of scientific articles and workshops on this topic.

The Struggle for Supporters

The difficulty for those of us who care about struggling individuals with these types of issues is that we only see the surface symptoms.

We may wonder:

  • Why can’t he just stop it?
  • Can’t she see how bad this is for her?
  • What is the matter with him?
  • Why does she keep going back to that behavior?

As partners, friends, family, and community we want to help. I don’t want people to be stuck in dysfunctional and destructive situations. I’m sure you don’t either.

We can feel helpless and hopeless when a loved one’s struggle doesn’t change or worsens.


But when we understand that childhood trauma is underneath many issues, we can begin to feel hopeful. We can begin to ask the right questions and respond in better ways.


Questions like:

  • Were there any traumatic events in your childhood?
  • What was your childhood like?
  • It’s normal that you would feel that way.
  • Is it possible there is a link between a present struggle and past events?

Responses like:

  • compassion
  • information
  • help to access the right resources
  • advocacy
  • safety

This doesn’t mean that every human struggle is a result of childhood trauma. It also doesn’t mean that we have to fix the problem. That’s why we need skilled professionals! [epq-quote align=”align-center”]Acknowledging childhood trauma as a factor behind human struggles creates space for questions, compassion, & trauma-informed solutions.[/epq-quote]


To help you explore and understand the link between Adverse Childhood Experiences and mental and physical health, I’ve provided the links to five articles and a link to a free ebook on this topic.

1. Trauma Survivors Have Symptoms Instead of Memories by Linnea Butler, MFT.

2.  5 tell tale signs that your coaching clients have undiagnosed trauma (and what you can do to help them heal from it) by Irene Lyon.

3. Is it ADHD? Or Could it be Trauma? by Helene Goble.

4. Fixing fentanyl means treating trauma that creates addicts by Gabor Maté for CBC News.

5. The most important thing I didn’t learn about in medical school: Adverse childhood experiences by Dr. Nancy Hardt.

6. A Child Abuse Survivor’s Struggle with Self-Care (and the key that helped me understand).

Free Ebook

Can Trauma Cause Chronic Illness? Veronique Mead, MD, MA is a former family physician who has retrained to understand the ways in which trauma contributes to chronic illness. Veronique also has a chronic illness. This book is informative, readable, and thought-provoking. The definitions at the end of the book are worth the download! You can find more of her materials on her website, Chronic Illness Trauma Studies.

Again, I emphasize not all psychological, mental, and physical issues are linked to past trauma. But can we open ourselves to the possibility that some are?

Can we consider that childhood trauma may be what lies underneath?


 Photo: Creative Commons Skating on Frozen Lake by stemberovi.