What is Trauma? Understanding Complex Trauma & PTSD | Heal For Life

Childhood Trauma

What is trauma?

Trauma can occur with any experience that overwhelms your ability to cope.

Neuroscientists agree with the definition that childhood trauma is caused by any event that feels life-threatening in an age-appropriate way, and causes more emotion than a person can handle, due to intense feelings of fear or powerlessness.

What is traumatic for a child may seem of no real significance to an adult, and may even appear to be ‘harmless.’ What is life-threatening to a baby is not an issue for an older child.

The effects of childhood trauma are physical – trauma physically affects the way the brain develops.

In the same way our lungs affect our ability to breathe, our brain affects our ability to process information, and that impacts on our emotional wellbeing and our behaviour.

What's the link between trauma and mental illness?

Trauma is often diagnosed as depression, anxiety, mental illness and addiction.

Watch Heal For Life founder, Liz Mullinar explain how childhood trauma physically affects the development of the brain, which impacts the way we think, process emotions and how we behave.

What are the signs and symptoms of trauma?

If you’ve experienced trauma, you may be experiencing one or several of these symptoms:

  • Feeling unsafe at night
  • Poor sleep (hard to go to sleep, stay asleep or wake up) wanting to sleep too much, nightmares
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Feelings of guilt, self-blame, shame
  • Addictions – alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, workaholism, excessive spending, people pleasing, perfectionism, obsessive and compulsive behaviours
  • Flashbacks, fearfulness, panic attacks
  • Spontaneous crying, despair and hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger and resentment


  • Emotional numbness
  • Self-destructive and impulsive behaviour
  • Disconnection or co-dependency in relationships
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-harm and/or eating disorders
  • Risky behaviours, trouble with the law
  • Decreased ability to concentrate, memory lapses, difficulty making decisions, feeling overwhelmed

How do I know if I have experienced childhood trauma?

There are many forms of trauma which impact on the development of the brain in childhood and adolescence. Some examples of traumatic events include abandonment or forced separation from a primary caregiver, divorce, neglect, bullying, death of a parent or sibling, abuse including verbal, emotional, sexual, physical, spiritual and ritual abuse, witnessing violence and serious childhood illness or accidents.

The past is not something we can simply “get over” or just “forget”
- but we can heal, we just need to learn how.​

What causes childhood trauma?

Childhood trauma occurs when the child has no way to process the overwhelming fear and emotion of their experience. 

As children depend on adults for their survival, you may have experienced childhood trauma if someone in your family were affected by alcoholism, addiction, mental or physical illness or if they experienced significant loss such as divorce, death, loss or hardship, domestic violence or endured any type of abuse.

The risk of traumatisation is increased when after having an overwhelming experience the child is not met with empathy to help process the fear and return to a safe place, when a caregiver is unable to provide support or safety, or is themselves the threat to the child.

Childhood trauma can be caused by a one-off event or can be ongoing in nature. No matter what your story is, if you feel events from your childhood might be causing problems in your life, you are not alone. 

You can heal for life

People who have experienced childhood trauma may experience feelings and act in ways that they can’t understand or control, even as adults.

That’s because trauma that occurs during childhood physically affects the way our brain develops; which impacts how we think, how we process emotions, and our behaviour. It also impacts our ability to form healthy boundaries and relationships in adulthood.

The good news is that your brain is plastic and changeable, so you can heal and take control of your life again.

Healing Programs

We empower you with the knowledge, tools and support you need to heal from your past and feel hopeful about your future.

Our programs have been carefully designed to help you understand the impact trauma has had on your life. Each program honours your intuitive knowledge and incorporates the latest evidence about the impact of trauma on the brain.

Over 96% of Heal for Life program attendees rated the residential healing program as either ‘life-changing’ or ‘very positive’.


Our programs empower you with the knowledge and tools you need to heal and find hope and joy in your everyday life.


We provide the skills and support that kids and teenagers need to heal from childhood trauma or abuse, and turn their lives around.

childhood trauma therapy for adults

Our team understands what it takes to heal and can provide a personalised retreat to support your trauma recovery.

Get the Book: Heal For Life, by Liz Mullinar

How to Heal Yourself from the Pain of Childhood Trauma and Abuse

‘Heal for Life’ is a practical guidebook for survivors of childhood trauma or abuse, based on our successful model of trauma-informed self healing that has already empowered thousands of survivors to find inner peace and hope for a brighter future. This book is highly recommended by survivors and mental health professionals alike.

Available in eBook and physical copies. Shipped worldwide.

trauma counselling book

Heal For Life conveys everything you need to know about healing from childhood trauma. The enormity and excitement of reading a book on healing of this calibre left me with a huge feeling of hope. Survivors need to find tools, knowledge and a way to heal to go forward in life, this book provides this.

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Free Download of Chapter 2

Free Chapter Download

Heal For Life – Chapter 2:
Defining Trauma & Self Healing