The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
College is a huge transition period in many young adults’ lives. For most people, it means leaving the home for the first time and becoming independent. It comes with a lot of freedom and fun. It also comes with the regular stress of turning assignments in on time and cramming for tests.
However, for some people, college can be a little more difficult to transition into. For those who have experienced abuse in their lifetime from a caregiver or parent, college is often the time where traumas begin to rear their head and cause mental health conditions and distressing symptoms, on top of the regular stress of college.
If this sounds like something you’re going through, read on to learn how abuse from caregivers as a child can impact your mental health in college.
Children develop very quickly in a short amount of time, both in mental capacity, emotional maturity, and physical maturity. Most psychologists agree that the formative years of a child’s life (from 1-9 years of age) are the most important in structuring their personality and mental health in the years to come.
When a child goes through any sort of trauma in these formative years, it can stunt growth in the brain and can even cause certain areas of the brain to stop lighting up on scans and to stop responding to certain positive or negative stimuli.
If you’ve been through early-life repeated abuse, you’ll likely experience the following symptoms throughout your young adult life:
- Stress and anxiety
- Chronic pain
- Memory loss
- Difficulty with organization
- Difficulty with relationships
- Difficulty with socialization
You may even feel that you didn’t get to have the same experience as your peers or that you haven’t fully developed. Some people also feel that they’ve learned too much or are “old for their years.”
How Trauma Works
Trauma, such as abuse, causes significant psychological distress and sometimes physical distress as well. It causes the body’s defensive system to go into overdrive (fight, flight, or freeze). In repeated trauma, this state of adrenaline and fear becomes prolonged, which can eventually lead to the brain working less or more in the emotional centers and can even lead to dissociation or derealization.
Over time, perceived threats can be ignored/tolerated because the body gets stuck in a state of always being on “go” mode.
When you leave a traumatic situation for an extended period of time (such as leaving for college), your body is suddenly relieved of the traumatic experiences, which sends a flood of emotion and memory to you again, often in small bursts.
If you relate to this article and have noticed that your mental and physical health has gotten worse since moving away from your parents or traumatic situation, it’s likely that you are now feeling safe enough to process the trauma that happened. However, without the right tools and knowledge, it is easy to re-traumatize yourself through bad relationships and habits.
College is a very transitional period, and it can trigger a lot of fear of the uncertainty that comes with your future. It can also feel great to be independent, especially if you’ve left a very abusive or toxic situation with your parents or caregivers.
However, it’s important to get help for yourself as soon as possible from someone who is highly informed in trauma so that you have guidance on where to go and how to heal.
How To Get Help
If you have determined you want to get help, there are plenty of resources available to you. At most universities, there is a psychology department, as well as a disability department. Both can help give you resources on where to go for trauma-informed care.
You can also get cheaper therapy online by talking with licensed therapists over video chat, phone calls, or regular chat messaging. It’s all up to you!
The best forms of trauma therapy include:
- Attachment and Family Systems Therapy
- Trauma-Informed talk therapy (CBT with a focus on trauma)
- Reiki or energy healing
Email a few therapists and find one you click with. A trauma therapist should be someone that you feel very comfortable with and to who you feel safe telling your past.
If you want to learn more about trauma and abuse, check out BetterHelp’s blog today: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/abuse/ They’ve also got some great resources for getting support when dealing with mental health conditions as a young adult.