Do you suspect something terrible happened to you when you were a child and are worried about how it may affect you as an adult? Or perhaps you find yourself getting into toxic relationships where you lose yourself? Maybe you are easily startled or tend to avoid certain people, places or things altogether.

If you can relate, rest assured you are not alone! Many people wonder if childhood trauma can lead to codependency and PTSD. Unfortunately, the answer is not so black and white.

Here we will explore the link between trauma, codependency and PTSD, as well as PTSD treatment options if you suffer from trauma-related mental health symptoms.

Defining Trauma

Trauma is a complicated issue. For example, some think trauma only occurs after a significant event, such as a war or natural disaster. Yet trauma is, in fact, subjective — especially when you are a child.

The definition of trauma is when a person witnesses or experiences an event where there is perceived physical, emotional or life-threatening harm that results in adverse effects on the person’s mental, physical, or emotional health, as well as social or spiritual well-being. 

The key word is “perceived.” What may be traumatic for one individual may not be so frightening for another. Trauma knows no gender, age or race and can not fit into a perfect little box.

There are so many different responses to trauma. Each individual’s brain processes events in its own unique way. Some people have very few lasting effects from a perceived traumatic event.

In contrast, others may have long-term mental health symptoms such as nightmares, depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, substance abuse and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.

What is Childhood Trauma?

Trauma is even more complex when a child experiences it. The reason is that children have not yet developed the ability to put feelings into words. They may recognize something that feels wrong but not have the language to communicate it to another. Or maybe they don’t feel safe and are too afraid to tell anyone.

In a study by SAMSHA, approximately 2/3 of children experience a traumatic event by the age of 16. Some, but not all, traumatic events include physical, psychological or sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, bullying, life-threatening illnesses, loss of a loved one and neglect. 

So does every frightening childhood event mean the child will develop mental health symptoms later in life? Not always.

Some adults may have disturbing memories of the event yet can function in relationships, work and family life. Unfortunately, others develop symptoms that can interfere with their well-being.

The Big C- Codependency

Codependency is another hot topic wich is often overused and misunderstood. Codependency is not an actual mental health disorder that professionals can diagnose. 

In simple terms, codependency is a set of traits or behaviors where one person puts the needs and feelings of others before their own. In some ways, we are all a little codependent.

Codependency becomes toxic when you become so involved with another person or worried about what other people think that you can’t function independently. As a result, you may lack confidence, have problems making decisions, feel an exaggerated fear of being abandoned and lose your sense of self. The codependent person needs to be needed yet often feels resentful.

Often, people with codependent tendencies pair up with a controlling and potentially abusive partner. This is also known as trauma bonding and can be fatal. 

If you suspect you have codependent traits and may be in an unhealthy relationship, call Transformations Mending Fences at (888) 995-6013. They are happy to help and give resources for treatment options.

How Childhood Trauma Relates to Codependency

Although there is a strong link between childhood trauma and codependency, not all people with trauma become codependent and not all codependent people have childhood trauma. 

People with unresolved childhood trauma tend to have codependent qualities as adults. If a child didn’t feel safe or had a perceived terrifying experience, they may have felt like they had to walk on eggshells around other people, especially in intimate relationships. 

If the other person is happy, they feel needed and validated. If the partner is angry or critical, the codependent person will do anything to make the other happy again, thus returning to a false sense of safety. It is almost a matter of survival.

A codependent relationship is complex and feels natural. However, without intervention, the codependent person may not realize the dysfunction and make every excuse possible for the other person’s behaviors. This often times escalates into emotional abuse and physical violence. 


PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a clinical diagnosis when a person experiences a traumatic event and has specific symptoms lasting over three months. PTSD can be acute or chronic and may not be diagnosed until years after the trauma.

It is natural to feel frightened when witnessing something scary. As a result, our brains are developed to go into “fight or flight” mode for survival. This phenomenon is sometimes known as PTS or Post-Traumatic Stress (without the Disorder), and the effects are usually short-lived and do not necessarily require clinical treatment. 

PTSD is a whole different animal and can cause severe dysfunction in several areas of living. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the event (also known as flashbacks) and avoiding people or places that remind you of the events. 

PTSD involves arousal and reactive symptoms such as being easily startled, feeling tense, problems sleeping and angry outbursts. These symptoms appear out of nowhere, making the person with PTSD feel helpless and hopeless. 

Mood and memory are also affected by the traumatic event. These symptoms may include trouble remembering specific details of the event, depressing thoughts, overwhelming feelings of guilt or blame and loss of interest in life. 

Childhood Trauma and PTSD

So can childhood trauma lead to PTSD? Absolutely. Does it always? Not necessarily. Some factors that affect the likelihood of PTSD include level of support, a genetic predisposition to mental health issues, and a resilient temperament. 

Treatment Options

If codependency is wreaking havoc on your relationship or you suspect you might have PTSD, the good news is that trauma treatment has evolved tremendously in recent years.

The first step is to get an assessment from a licensed mental health professional. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may only need to see an outpatient counselor and psychiatrist. However, for debilitating symptoms, an intensive inpatient residential treatment program specializing in trauma might be the best option for healing. 

Some of the common treatments for PTSD include CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, prolonged exposure therapy or EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). In addition, many alternative therapies are available, such as art therapy, yoga and meditation, equine therapy, creative writing, and several other types of treatment. 


So can childhood trauma lead to codependency and PTSD? Absolutely. Do childhood traumatic experiences always lead to mental health disorders later in life? Not necessarily. 

If you or a loved one have had trauma in your childhood and suspect it may have long-lasting effects on functioning, hope and help are available. 

Call Transformations Mending Fences at (888) 995-6013. Intake counselors are available to answer your questions about codependency, trauma, and any other mental health issues you may be experiencing. Get back to feeling like you again and learn to break the trauma cycle. You deserve it and are worth it!