23 Heartbreaking Movies About Childhood Trauma (That are Therapeutic)

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Movies About Childhood Trauma

Watching movies involving childhood trauma, neglect, and abuse is a therapeutic method to connect with and heal your inner child.

From the screen, you’ll be able to see how these films relate to your childhood.

And you’ll be able to see why what happened to you was never okay and never your fault.

When you’re struggling with your inner child, it might be helpful to talk to an online therapist. I always recommend Online Therapy, because it’s a complete online counseling toolkit, and you can get incredible therapy from the comfort of your own home. Get 20% off your first month.

1. RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS

Fun fact: Riding in Cars with Boys is my absolute favorite movie.

And as someone who loves a lot of movies, that’s truly saying a lot.

Synopsis:

Starring Drew Barrymore, Brittany Murphy, and Steve Zahn, Riding in Cars with Boys is about Beverly, an aspiring writer who becomes pregnant at 15.

Watch how she lives, struggles, and overcomes her relationship with her kid, her kid’s drug-addicted father, and the relationship she has with herself.

Content:

Drug abuse, teen parents, absentee father, poverty

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

2. THE HATE U GIVE

I instantly fell in love with the book with the same name the first time I read it.

The Hate U Give (the movie) made me feel so much more heartbreak and anger.

Synopsis:

Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer.

She quickly begins facing pressure from all sides, and she must learn to find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

Content:

Racism, police brutality, gang activity, violence, poverty

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

3. ENOUGH

I watched Enough growing up, and I still remember the fear and dread I felt watching it.

Synopsis:

Starring Jennifer Lopez, Enough showcases a terrified woman and her young daughter failing to escape a brutal case of domestic violence.

The abusive husband and father will stop at nothing to capture them back.

Content:

Domestic violence, stalking

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

4. UPTOWN GIRLS

Uptown Girls is another movie that tears at my heart, and not just because the late Brittany Murphy stars in it.

Synopsis:

Molly is a young woman (who kept her childish instincts and behaviors) that starts working as a nanny of Ray, an 8-year-old girl who is too mature for her own good.

Together, they balance each other out in the most unpredictable of ways.

Content:

Neglectful parents, death

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

5. BOOT CAMP

Teen boot camps are straight-up unethical, abusive, and traumatizing.

Boot Camp does an incredible job at showcasing these disgusting realities.

Synopsis:

Starring Mila Kunis, Boot Camp highlights a group of at-risk teens who are sent to a “rehabilitation program” in Fiji.

In reality, this program is a prison-like camp where kids are brainwashed and abused.

Content:

Sexual abuse, torture, violence, kidnapping, death, drowning

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

If you like the movie Boot Camp, you might like a similar book by Todd Strasser that also happens to be called Boot Camp.

6. THE KINGS OF SUMMER

I have a soft spot for coming of age stories, and The Kings of Summer is one of a kind.

Synopsis:

The Kings of Summer is a comedy where three teenage friends decide to spend their summer building a house in the woods and living off the land.

In search of independence, they learn that they can’t escape their families.

Content:

Animal death, emotional neglect

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

7. MATILDA

Probably one of the most popular movies on this list, Matilda takes an almost caricature approach to childhood abuse. 

Synopsis:

Matilda is a young girl who is constantly ignored, talked down to, neglected, and abused by her parents.

She uses her intellectual and psychic powers to deal with her family and free her teacher from the headmistress.

Content:

Domestic violence, abuse, neglect

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

8. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

The Secret Life of Bees is a captivating story of discovering who you are.

Synopsis:

To escape her tumultuous relationship with her dad, teenage Lily runs away to a small town in South Carolina in hopes of finding the truth about her deceased mother.

There, she finds a family of independent women who help connect her to her past.

Content:

Racism, torture, violence, suicide, death, drowning

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

9. THIRTEEN

If you’re looking for a movie that can be incredibly uncomfortable to watch at times, try the movie Thirteen.

Synopsis:

Tracy’s relationship with her mother is tested when she becomes best friends with troubled Evie.

Together, they forge down the path of self-destruction of drugs, drinking, sex, and petty crimes.

Content:

Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, addiction, self-harm, underage sex, eating disorder, violence

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

10. THE NANNY DIARIES

The Nanny Diaries is a wonderful mix of romantic comedy and overcoming painful hardships.

Synopsis:

Annie, a college graduate, goes to work as a nanny for a rich New York family.

Living in their home, she must juggle their family dysfunction, a forbidden romance, and the spoiled son she’s in charge of.

Content:

Sexual harassment, emotional neglect

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

11. SPEAK

When I found out that the book Speak (one of my most reread books) was adapted into a movie, I was intrigued.

Synopsis:

Melinda suffers unspeakable trauma the summer before high school, which has caused her to become a selective mute.

Now, struggling with school, friends, and family, she finally speaks on the dark experience that shaped her.

Content:

Sexual assault, self-harm

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

12. GIRL IN PROGRESS


Girl in Progress is one of those coming of age stories that touches a part of your soul.

Synopsis:

Grace is a single mom who’s too busy juggling work, bills, and her affair with a married man to give her daughter, Ansiedad, the attention she deserves (and needs).

Ansiedad then plots her “shortcut to adulthood” after finding inspiration in the classic coming of age stories she’s reading in school.

Content:

Emotional neglect

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

13. FREEDOM WRITERS

I remember renting Freedom Writers from the video store way back in the day, and I watched it twice in one week.

Synopsis:

Young English teacher Erin Gruwell inspires her class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, see past race, and apply themselves in a system that let them down.

These students are guided to pursue learning that goes beyond high school.

Content:

Racism, anti-Semitism, violence, gun violence, domestic violence, death, sexual abuse

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

14. THE ROAD WITHIN

The Road Within features a delicate look into mental illness of three teenagers trying to make their way in the world.

Synopsis:

Vincent, a young man with Tourette’s Syndrome, embarks on a road trip with his recently deceased mother’s ashes.

With the help of two other teenagers (who both struggle with mental illness), they go on a life-changing road trip to deliver his mother’s ashes to the ocean.

Content:

Eating disorder, mental illness, death, homophobia, racism

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

15. MY GIRL

I watch My Girl every summer, and my heart breaks with each rewatch.

Synopsis:

Vada has been obsessed with death since her mother died days after childbirth…and the fact that she lives in a funeral home.

With the help of her neighborhood best friend, she learns how to live, how to love, and how to grieve.

Content:

Death

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

16. STEPMOM

Stepmom is another movie that utterly breaks my heart. But I love it all the same.

Synopsis:

Jackie is a terminally ill mother who must come to terms with leaving her kids in the care of their new stepmom.

Watch as she, her ex-husband, his fiance, and their children cope with life and loss.

Content:

Death, cancer

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

17. BEAUTIFUL

Beautiful is a movie I watched growing up, and I’m so glad I rediscovered it years later.

Synopsis:

Neglected as a child, Mona sees winning the “Miss American Miss” beauty pageant as a way of getting the attention and adoration she’s been missing from her life.

Mona’s childhood friend, Ruby, raises her daughter in order for her to compete.

Content:

Neglect

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

18. THE SECRET GARDEN

The Secret Garden is a childhood favorite of mine, and it always reminds me of finding beauty, hope, and magic in unexpected times.

Synopsis:

After living in India all of her life, Mary is a young girl who is sent to England to live with her uncle after her parents pass away.

Once there, she discovered her disabled cousin and a garden in desperate need of repair.

Content:

Neglect, ableism, death

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

19. JERSEY GIRL

Featuring Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, Jersey Girl is a romantic comedy centered around family.

Synopsis:

Ollie seems to have it all until his wife dies shortly after childbirth.

Now living back at his dad’s house in the suburbs, he must learn how to rebuild his life.

Content:

Death

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

20. MADELINE

I used to watch Madeline all the time growing up, and now I get a huge wave of nostalgia whenever I watch it.

Synopsis:

Terrified at the prospect of her beloved school and home being sold, Madeline, a young French girl, tries to save it.

Using her smarts and craftiness to attempt to save it, she makes an unlikely friend in the process.

Content:

Death, kidnapping

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

21. ANNIE

For a musical about living through childhood trauma, Annie is a classic go-to.

Synopsis:

Annie is a spunky young orphan lives in an orphanage run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan.

She is then selected to spend a brief time at the house of a wealthy industrialist, where she quickly charms the hearts of all who reside.

Content:

Alcoholism, death, abuse

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

22. RADIO FLYER

An early 90s classic, Radio Flyer depicts a strong case of childhood abuse.

Synopsis:

A family is torn apart and destroyed by domestic violence.

To escape this reality, two boys build an airplane out of a red wagon and fly into imagination and adventure.

Content:

Alcoholism, violence, abuse

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

23. IT

For a horror movie with a theme of child abuse, the movie It is a brutal choice.

Synopsis:

When children begin to disappear in the small town of Derry, Maine, a group of bullied kids is forced to face their biggest fears when they find themselves captured by a shapeshifting clown named Pennywise.

Content:

Abuse, sexual abuse, alcoholism, kidnapping, death, bullying

Rent or buy it here: Amazon

Films featuring child abuse:

Child neglect, trauma, and abuse are never easy to witness.

But when you’ve experienced this pain throughout childhood, watching movies with this subject matter can be cathartic.

Movie recommendations recap:

🍿 Riding in Cars with Boys
🍿 The Hate U Give
🍿 Enough
🍿 Uptown Girls
🍿 Boot Camp
🍿 The Kings of Summer
🍿 Matilda
🍿 The Secret Life of Bees
🍿 Thirteen
🍿 The Nanny Diaries
🍿 Speak
🍿 Girl in Progress
🍿 Freedom Writers
🍿 The Road Within
🍿 My Girl
🍿 Stepmom
🍿 Beautiful
🍿 The Secret Garden
🍿 Jersey Girl
🍿 Madeline
🍿 Annie
🍿 Radio Flyer
🍿 It

💾 Bookmark this page for when you need a reminder on how to reconnect with your younger self. therapeutic 

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Movies About Overcoming Child Trauma