Complex trauma is relational, often childhood trauma.
In addition to traumas associated with war and natural disasters, childhood trauma shows up as adversity within family, community, and systems. The symptoms of childhood trauma are often misattributed; the trauma remains hidden or unacknowledged or not given credit for being as impactful as it is, even as the disorienting effects loom large in the lives of individuals and their communities.
Certain traumas we recognize as being adverse at any age, such as war, violence, natural disasters. In some cases, caretakers can mitigate the effects of these experiences for their children, by providing reassuring distraction, comforting re-framing, and confident protection from harm. As an example, a mother fleeing Russia’s senseless war on Ukraine in March 2022 made a point to pack her car with lots of treats to supplement her four-year-old kids’ favorite toys. “I hope they don’t remember this day as war; I hope they remember lots of cookies” (Tavernise et al., 2022). In an absurd and dire situation, she’s doing what she can to provide a feeling of safety within the family environment. The children will no doubt live with the effects of the war as they grow, but perhaps the day of fleeing won’t remain a haunting experience for them.
Kids can be shielded from the long-lasting effects of some traumatic events by their caregivers. And some childhood experiences that may not seem to require the label trauma from an adult perspective (whether because it is no longer critical in the adult years or because it is behavior that the adult lived through themselves and sees it as “normal”) can have serious adverse effects in the life of the developing child with long-lasting consequences for health, productivity, and well-being.