Childhood Trauma In Young Adults Can Influence Beliefs and RoutinesApril 29, 2020
There has been a wide body of research that suggests that behaviors and beliefs learned at a young age are likely to be carried with us through adolescence and adulthood, even though we may not remember the early experiences where these ideas were ingrained. This includes positive habits and values our parents taught us in childhood and negative ways of coping with stress and childhood trauma in young adults. By the time individuals reach adulthood, these routines–both positive and negative–are ingrained into their way of life and it can be difficult to change unhealthy habits.
What Does Survival Mode Look Like?
When trauma happens to a person, the brain is physically altered and the biological processes in the body are affected. The fear center of the brain (the “amygdala”) becomes overstimulated by the trauma, which causes the brain to think it should be afraid all of the time, even when not in danger. This means that young adults may struggle to differentiate between the past and present and may continue to turn to negative coping skills even after the situation they are trying to cope with has been resolved.
For example, someone who experienced social rejection in childhood may continue to self-isolate out of fear of repeated rejection. Or, someone who experienced shame around their body image may feel trapped in a cycle of disordered eating. These cycles become ingrained as young adults begin to believe that they are an effective way of coping with past trauma.
Risk-Taking in Young Adults who Have Experienced Trauma
In his book, the Body Keeps the Score, psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk describes “the compulsion to repeat,” a phenomenon that is common in many trauma survivors. While many people assume that young adults who have experienced childhood trauma go out of their way to avoid situations that remind them of their past experiences, van der Kolk suggests that this is not always true. In fact, many young adults may recognize that they make impulsive decisions and take risks that put have put them in similar situations in the past, even though it may bring up the same fear and shame.
He explains risk-taking in adult survivors as a way of seeking out the familiar and trying to change the situation by revisiting it. For example, someone who witnessed their parents’ or older siblings’ substance use may begin to experiment themselves or they may be more likely to seek out romantic partners that treat them like past toxic partners have.
On an unconscious level, this “compulsion to repeat” often happens more in young adulthood, as individuals are trying to navigate how to be self-sufficient which triggers feelings of loneliness and helplessness. Young adults who repeatedly turn to these negative habits, even when they recognize the emotional consequences, are more likely to experience failure to launch.
Learning Adaptive Skills and Developing Positive Routines
At Trails Momentum, we take a trauma-informed approach to helping young adults learn and apply practical life skills as they transition to independence. We understand that when young adults have experienced trauma, their body often goes into fight or flight mode, where their priorities revolve around basic survival needs, like eating, sleeping, and repeating this cycle. They also struggle more with changes in routines and seeing how their unhealthy habits affect other people. By introducing young adults who have experienced trauma to positive recreation activities, they learn to replace negative habits with healthier ones.
Through our life skills programming, young adults at Trails Momentum develop skills in the following areas:
- Personal responsibility. We understand that many of their unhealthy behaviors have been their way of coping with negative situations in their lives but believe that they are able to take back control of how they respond to things by learning new skills. Students take responsibility for their emotions rather than blaming others as well as taking responsibility for following the daily schedule and participating in activities.
- Relationship Skills. Many of our students are introverted or struggle with socializing in group settings. At Trails Momentum, they work on building a strong group dynamic that creates a safe and nurturing environment. Students learn how to work and live together as they develop shared goals. Our adventure program is designed to help young adults find healthy activities they can participate in with friends and to develop authentic positive connections.
- Communication Skills. We teach students how to identify and understand their own emotions and help them learn how to share them with others. We encourage open and honest communication and teach students that vulnerability is a strength. Many of our students struggle with talking openly about their emotions, being aware of other people’s needs, and responding appropriately when they become overwhelmed.
- Time Management and Organization. One of the biggest obstacles to staying motivated is being able to set goals and plan ahead. While many of our students have a vision for their future, it feels distant and less concrete. Our academic program focuses on teaching students valuable study skills and organizational skills to help them succeed outside the classroom. Following a daily schedule helps young adults begin to manage their time and develop healthy routines.
- Culinary skills. We have a culinary kitchen on campus where students learn the basics of cooking for themselves and try new recipes. Our culinary program is rooted in nutrition education and intuitive eating. Culinary skills, meal planning, and grocery shopping are important skills for young adults living independently.
Trails Momentum Can Help
Trails Momentum is a wilderness therapy program for young adults, ages 18 to 25. Many of our students have been affected by trauma and have experienced depression, anxiety, and a loss of motivation that has made transitioning to adulthood difficult. This program uses adventure-based therapy to help students gain a new sense of self-awareness, confidence, and independence. The skills they learn throughout the wilderness program offer long-term benefits towards their ability to successfully self-navigate in the real world. We help individuals learn to engage with their environment, strengthen their sense of self, set goals for themselves, and move towards independence. We combine adventure programming with academic programs to help students plan for future success. Our goal is to help students make sense of and heal from their traumatic beliefs and regain a sense of adventure and purpose in life.
For more information about our adventure-based approach to healing from trauma in young adults, call (877) 296-8711.