Finding Agency While Healing From Childhood Trauma

Finding Agency While Healing From Childhood Trauma

Individuals affected by trauma may experience a wide range of effects that interfere with their ability to live or function well in daily life. When trauma occurs during childhood, it can cause an individual to develop a weakened sense of agency coupled with ongoing feelings of helplessness. If such trauma is left unresolved, this weakened sense of agency can linger well throughout adulthood, triggering low self-esteem and self-worth, anxiety disorders, impulsivity, and more. Though finding agency after trauma is a process that takes time, professional help can ensure that such a process is effective and will lead to positive and lasting mental and physical health outcomes. 

At Avalon Malibu, we are no strangers to the lingering effects of childhood trauma throughout adulthood and beyond. Upon treatment inquiry, we assess each of our clients through a wide lens of dual diagnoses, from mental health disorders and substance abuse to post-traumatic stress and trauma. By engaging with whole-person care for each client, we help them achieve symptom management and overcome their symptoms’ root causes. Meanwhile, as trauma often affects personal agency, we have the experiential and evidence-based modalities that clients need to build agency in treatment. 

Understanding Agency

To understand how trauma can affect agency, it is first important to understand what agency is. As stated in Frontiers in Psychology, “When we make voluntary actions we tend not to feel as though they simply happen to us, instead we feel as though we are in charge. The sense of agency refers to this feeling of being in the driving seat when it comes to our actions.” A strong sense of agency wields an individual’s capacity to influence their thoughts, emotions, and behavior, helping them to remain psychologically stable and resilient when faced with adversity or conflict. 

How Is Agency Affected By Trauma?

Unfortunately, traumatic experiences, especially those that occur during childhood, can contribute to a weakened or low sense of agency. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience stated, “Traumatic experiences have been linked to the development of altered states of consciousness affecting bodily perception, including alterations in body ownership and in sense of agency, the conscious experience of the body as one’s own and under voluntary control.” Rather than feeling as if they are in control of their body and actions, those with a low sense of agency may feel as if they have little to no control over their actions. 

As a result of a weakened sense of agency, an individual may:

  • Experience feelings of powerlessness
  • Feel trapped in a meaningless existence
  • Struggle with procrastination
  • Lack confidence
  • Feel unable to navigate emotions effectively
  • Experience interpersonal difficulties
  • Attempt to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, or process addictions
  • Be unable to make sound decisions

Some people experience a shift in agency after experiencing a traumatic event. However, those who endure childhood trauma may grow up without knowing what it is like ever to have a sense of agency over their lives. As Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America explains, “Experiencing trauma during development along with dysregulation of biological stress systems can adversely impact childhood brain development.” Thus, finding agency does not always call for a re-establishment of agency. Instead, it must work to help clients learn and develop agency as if they have never experienced it before. 

Finding Agency With Professional Treatment

While having a weakened sense of agency can feel daunting, it is important to understand that there are ways that an individual can both establish or regain a sense of agency in their life – even decades after a traumatic event has occurred. The journey of finding agency must begin with identifying a safe space where such a process is possible. Often, the most valuable space for this is in a professional treatment program, where clients can feel secure and comfortable to open up and process emotional triggers while establishing a newfound sense of self. 

As an individual begins treatment, professionals may utilize a wide range of approaches to help them better understand the obstacles to healthy agency. Evidence-based approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help clients challenge and overcome rumination and other unhelpful ways of thinking, helping them recognize their ability to modify their behavior. Experiential methodologies may also help increase confidence and self-security, which are necessary for strengthening agency in daily life.

Additionally, movement exercises can help individuals better connect with their physical bodies after traumatic experiences. Activities such as physical fitness, yoga, dance, and more allow individuals to control their ability to transition from states of stimulation to states of relaxation at their own pace. Using such methods to gain control can help find agency, as it establishes a sense of power over behavior and experiences. 

Finding Agency at Avalon Malibu

At Avalon Malibu, we believe that healing is a process of self-realization, which undeniably involves establishing a strong sense of agency in recovery. Though we recognize how challenging it can be to find agency after trauma, we believe it is even more important to emphasize the potential to establish and achieve lasting recovery. Meanwhile, as our website states, “By providing a nurturing and therapeutic environment, our clients are encouraged to participate actively in their recovery.” This participation will allow clients to create the lives they have always wanted, free from helplessness, throughout long-term recovery. 

A sense of agency is what helps us feel in control of our thoughts, emotions, and, ultimately, our behavior. Unfortunately, many people may experience a weakened sense of agency due to trauma experienced during childhood. Such agency may have never had a safe or healthy opportunity to develop, leading to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and low self-esteem throughout adulthood. To find agency in recovery, it is important to identify a safe space for healing to take place. At Avalon Malibu, we believe that we can provide the security and serenity that individuals need to truly let go of their worries, doubts, and feelings of helplessness in treatment. Learn more by calling (844) 857-5992 today. 

We will work with most out of network PPO policies

Call 888-835-8075 to verify your insurance benefits today!
Blue Cross Blue Shield
Health Net
Blue Of California