PTSD and Stages of Development
Erik Erickson developed his eight stages of human development. This is going to be my theory without any empirical data about what happens when a person has suffered trauma at any particular stage. If a person has suffered a trauma or traumas at a certain stage of development, that person’s ability to progress through the next stages is hampered.
For instance, if a child has not received adequate care from 0-18 months, that person has a terrible problem trusting. A child learns to self-sooth himself in this age range. If a child has no certainty that she will be fed when hungry, get her diaper changed when it is dirty, or will be comforted if she is sick, it is difficult for the child to learn to self-sooth in stressful situation. We can tell ourselves that we will be all right. If we have not been comforted and told we will be all right by a parent in this stage, it’s hard to have that skill as an adult.
The next stage is 18 months to three years. It is a time of discovery including the child’s own body. Potty training happens during this stage. Children will rub their genitalia—right in front of grandmother or the whole church. If the parent shames the child too much during this time, the child may have problems as an adult. They may get blamed for being sexually abused. The thoughts of”I’m bad”, “I’m dirty”," “I’m no good”, “it’s my fault” start rearing their heads.
Ages 3-5 brings a time when a child starts to try new things. The child may want to do certain things. If the child is encouraged to do what they like to do that child feels confident. Children need to be encouraged. If the child receives negative responses, the negative thoughts come in—”I’m stupid”, "I’m not good enough”, “I can’t trust what I think”, etc. If those negative responses come with physical or verbal abuse, the negative thoughts get well learned. These thoughts from the trauma stay with the person into adulthood.
Ages 5-13—the school years. There are so many skills to be learned during this time. Learning how to read, work math problems, develop interests. Again, if a child is encouraged, he gains self-confidence.If a child receives no encouragement, the child’s self-confidence is impaired. If there is any turmoil at home, poverty, absent dad, alcohol and drug use in the home, sexual and physical abuse, lack of basic needs like food, clothing, heat, electricity, the negative thoughts about self-worth are there. The response to these traumatic situations go into adulthood, too.
Ages 13-21. This is a stage where they learn different social roles. They try on a lot of difference hats. If the parents accept the child’s need to explore, the child passes through this stage to help develop his or her own value system. . As in any other stage, any trauma from a school shooting, friend hurt or killed in an accident, hurricane, physical or sexual abuse may cause PTSD.
Ages 21-39. With any hope, this is the stage where the person acts on and out of their value system. This may be the time when the person uses alcohol or drugs and the person decides to go into treatment. The person may be open to working on their PTSD issues
Ages 40-65. Erickson says this is a time when the person feels comfortable. But a person who has been through a lot of abuse or other traumas may chronologically be in this age range, but their stage of development is back a few stages. Ideally, this is a stage when the person is there to help lead the next generation. However, if the person hasn’t resolved past traumas, this is a good time to do address PTSD.
Age 65-death. This is a time when a person slows down. We can’t move as fast as we used to. Sometimes it feels like all you do is go to doctors’ appointments. It’s a time to reflect. It’s a time to have good memories. It’s okay to work on PTSD issues even at this stage of life. You have the right to have the best life you can for whatever time you have left.
We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. We need to make the most of today. No matter what stage of develop we are in we can address the issues and have a better life for whatever time we have left. We need to celebrate getting to 65 and older. Some of the people we knew along the way didn’t make it.
When we look at people who are in prison or suffer from mental illness, we need to be compassionate and realize that they may have suffered some trauma along the way. It is the responsibility of every adult to take care of him/herself. If you are having problems, there is help out there. We have community mental health agencies. Some offer trauma/PTSD specific counseling. There are counselors in private practice who specialize in addressing trauma issues. We do not have to be weighed down about the traumas from the past. That’s a heavy burden to carry.
God has a purpose for our life. It doesn’t matter what your age or what you have done in the past. I believe God set up these stages of development. God wants us to do a values clarification along the way. What was our call yesterday may not be our call for the future. All we can do is be the best “me” we can be. All we have is today. Yesterday is past, and we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.
Get started today. You owe it to yourself to work with someone who will meet you where you are, respect your beliefs and will be supportive of you in your journey. You have a purpose for your life. You are a valuable person and deserve to live your life to the fullest.
If you would like some additional information on PTSD, please visit my PTSD Counseling page.
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About the Author
Gay A. Hunter, M.Div., LPC-S, is a licensed professional counselor who graduated from Brite Divinity School at TCU. She is committed to partner with you to transform your life. She owns a private practice in Fort Worth, TX. She specializes in online therapy. She is trained in Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. To find out more about Gay click here: