Young adults recover from childhood trauma through a combination of supportive relationships and self-reliance, according to a survey of 13 previous mental health studies. The sample size was small, only 277 young adults, but the small population allowed researched to ask in-depth questions of the participants. A very common factor that the young adults cited as helping them was encouragement from important people in their lives, whether family members or unrelated mentors. Another important theme was that the young people made a conscious decision to stop living in the past trauma, but to move forward as best they could.
One cautionary finding was that, while self-reliance was an important and consistent factor, too much independence kept the participants from asking for help that they needed. Sometimes, extreme self-reliance left them isolated from the important relationships that help build resilience.
The takeaway for those of us who work with teenagers and young adults is that they need to know that they can overcome their past trauma, but they need mentors and strong relationships. We need to encourage those relationships, encourage them to help themselves without becoming isolated, and remind them that they are more than the sum of their trauma. Childhood trauma is a difficult legacy, but it is not the end of their potential.