Symptoms of Childhood Trauma
Research has revealed that trauma produces actual physiological changes, including a recalibration of the brain’s alarm system, an increase in stress hormone activity, and alterations in the system that filters relevant information from irrelevant.

We now know that trauma compromises the brain area that communicates the physical, embodied feeling of being alive. These changes explain why traumatized individuals become hyper-vigilant to threat at the expense of spontaneously engaging in their day-to-day lives. They also help us understand why traumatized people so often keep repeating the same problems and have such trouble learning from experience. We now know that their behaviors are not the result of moral failings or signs of lack of willpower or bad character—they are caused by actual changes in the brain.

Bessel van der Kolk


Increased heart rate, rapid or difficulty breathing, cold sweats, tingling, muscular tension.

Constriction in body and narrowing of perceptions.
Disassociation or Denial
Feelings of helplessness, immobility and freezing
Hyper vigilance
Intrusive imagery or flashbacks
Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
Exaggerated emotional and startle responses
Nightmares and night terrors
Abrupt mood swings

 Rage reactions or temper tantrums, frequent anger or crying

Shame and lack of self-worth
Reduced ability to deal with stress
Difficulty sleeping
Panic attacks, anxiety and phobias
Mental blankness or spaced out feelings
Avoidance behavior
Avoiding places, moments, activities, memories or people
Attraction to dangerous situations
Addictive behaviors
Overeating, drinking, smoking, drugs, etc.
Exaggerated or diminished sexual activity
Amnesia or forgetfulness
Inability to love, nurture or bond with other individuals
Fear of dying or having a shortened life
Self mutilation
Severe abuse, self-inflicted cutting, etc.
Loss of sustaining beliefs
Spiritual, religious, interpersonal
Excessive shyness
Diminished emotional responses
Inability to make commitments
Chronic Fatigue or very low physical energy
Immune system problems
Psychosomatic illnesses
Chronic pain
Particularly headaches, migraines, neck and back problems
Skin disorders
Digestive problems
Depression and feelings of impending doom
Feelings of detachment, alienation and isolation (living dead syndrome)
Reduced ability to formulate plans
Re-enactment of the trauma

From Peter Levine’s “Healing Trauma.”

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Fritzi Horstman

Founder and Executive Director


Fritzi Horstman is the Founder and Executive Director of Compassion Prison Project. She is a Grammy-award winning producer for her work on “The Defiant Ones”, has been a producer and post-producer on dozens of television projects and documentaries and has directed several films. She believes it is urgent to bring humanity and compassion to those living behind bars and these acts will help transform our society. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from Vassar College.

Symptoms of Childhood Trauma