25 Oct The Neurological Legacy of Childhood Trauma
It’s almost common knowledge that many people who experienced trauma as children have a harder time in adult life. Indeed, over the past few decades, well-designed studies have verified this impression by finding that a great number of such people really do have a greater chance of depression, anxiety, or other psychological disorders, behavioral and social problems, and poorer health outcomes.
Mental illness, addiction & most chronic illness is linked to childhood loss & trauma (Gabor Maté)
Less well known is that trauma – even in the absence of physical trauma– can have negative impacts on the brain itself that last into adulthood. Studies on the neurological effects of stress and trauma have consistently shown structural and functional neurological changes, though the specific nature of these changes is currently unclear. A consistent theme, however, is that trauma especially affects one of the body’s key stress response systems, the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis. For example, the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory and emotion and rich in receptors for stress hormones, has been shown to be smaller in traumatized adults – including adults traumatized as children – than in those without such history.
Children can be traumatized not only by the same things that can traumatize adults – for example, direct physical/sexual abuse, natural disasters, or events related to war – but also by experiences that would likely affect an adult differently or not at all, such as neglect, verbal aggression, witnessing abuse within the family, a chaotic home environment, or inadequate nutrition. In a way, this stands to reason, because these experiences may subvert the critical developmental stages a child passes through on the way to adulthood.
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A person who experiences early trauma, regardless of its source, does not feel welcomed into the world. When, at the beginning of life, for whatever reason, we do not feel welcomed, we find it difficult to develop a sense of our right to exist, of our sense of self, and of our entitlement to fully live. The life theme of this earliest survival style develops in relation to the issue of connection. Our earliest experiences of life in utero, at birth, and with early attachment shape our relationship to feeling secure in our capacity for contact. When this capacity for connection is in place, it supports our right to be and is the foundation upon which the healthy self is built. Early trauma compromises our sense of safety and existence in the world and our capacity for connection: we do not learn how to connect to ourselves, to our body, or to others.
Our earliest trauma and attachment experiences form a template for our lifelong psychological, physiological and relational patterns. The identity of individuals with early trauma is shaped by the distress they experienced in early life. Difficulties at this initial Connection stage of development undermine healthy progression through all later stages, impacting self image, self esteem, and the capacity for healthy relationships. Trauma in this Connection phase is the basis for many seemingly unrelated cognitive, emotional, and physiological problems.
From Healing Developmental Trauma by Laurence Heller, PhD and Aline LaPierre, PsyD, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2012 by Laurence Heller, PhD and Aline LaPierre, PsyD. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
Early Events That May Cause Long-Term Traumatic Reactions
A family where one or both parents struggle with Connection issues themselves
A mother who is chronically depressed, dissociated, or angry
Being the result of an unwanted pregnancy
Mother abusing alcohol or drugs during the pregnancy
A psychotic mother
Being made to feel like a burden
Long, painful delivery
Extended incubation without caring physical touch
Significant traumatic events in the family during pregnancy or early life
Death in the family
Global events such as being born into wartime
Intergenerational trauma such as the being born to Holocaust survivors
Even with loving parents, trauma can find its way into an infant’s life. For example, a premature infant may require incubation. Until relatively recently, it was not known that premature infants needed physical contact and that touch had a powerful impact on their nascent organism. They were untouched in the incubator, sometimes out of fear of infection or out of the belief that it would be overwhelming to them. Having loving parents can mitigate early trauma but the effect of inadequate connection at the beginning of life remains in the physiology and psychology of the developing child and later adult.
The fetus/developing infant is completely dependent on its caregivers and on a benevolent environment. As a result of this total vulnerability, the infant’s reaction to rejection, failure of connection, and early trauma is one of terror. This terror is overwhelming to the nascent organism and its nervous system. It leaves its mark on every level of experience as a core withdrawal, contraction and frozenness. This frozenness and contraction is the only way an infant can manage the high arousal of terrifying early trauma. This profound state of contraction, high arousal, and freeze creates systemic dysregulation that affects all of the body’s biological systems. This underlying biological dysregulation is the shaky foundation upon which the psychological self is built.
When a fetus or an infant experiences early trauma and/or attachment wounding, the source of the threat is the environment in which they live, the only home they have. Whether the threat is intrauterine or takes place in the early months of life, there is no possible safety independent of what is provided by their caregivers. They are completely dependent. From the infants’ point of view, the danger never goes away and there is no possible resolution. They can’t run from the threat, they can’t fight it; the fallback position is to go into freeze. When there is chronic threat without possible resolution, the nervous system goes into a high state of arousal and the entire organism is trapped in a defensive-orienting response. Being locked in perpetual high arousal is a painful state which the infant manages by numbing itself and going into freeze.
A fetus/infant cannot know itself to be a good person in a bad situation. The roots of lifelong feelings of shame and deficiency are found in the distress states caused by early environmental deficiencies. Infants experience early environmental failure as if there were something wrong with them: later cognitions of “I am bad” are built upon the somatic sensation: “I feel bad.” Understanding this concept alone has helped many people who suffer from patterns of low self-esteem, shame, and a sense of deficiency begin to see themselves in a new compassionate way.
There are two subtypes to the Connection Survival Style. Though utilizing two different coping strategies, both subtypes experience a great deal of emotional, psychological, and often physical pain. Physically, both subtypes appear disembodied and absent: They have an overall frozen appearance that can be reflected in bodies which may look fragmented, disjointed and under energized.
1) The Thinking Subtype
The Thinking Subtype manages their high levels of arousal by disconnecting from their body and living a life of the mind. This subtype relates in an intellectual rather than a feeling manner and is drawn to professions that emphasize thinking over feeling. They can be the stereotypical scientists and engineers who are contemptuous of emotions and oriented to what they consider the objective “facts”: “The Universe is empty and cold. There is no such thing as God.” Having developed their thinking component from a very early age, they can be clear and powerful thinkers, often quite brilliant. Being disconnected from their bodies, and comfortable being by themselves, they are drawn to professions where those capacities are assets.
2) The Spiritualizing Subtype
This subtype manages their high levels of arousal by completely disconnecting from the body and living in the energetic field. They tend to be otherworldly and ethereal. Because they have never embodied, they are drawn to spiritual movements and often have access to very real spiritual and psychic states that “normal” people are not aware of. They can use this access to spiritual and psychic states to “spiritualize” their pain. Supporting their disconnection, a common underlying spiritualizing belief might be: “This planet is a cold and painful place, but God loves me.” Though meditation is a means to become increasingly present, many in this spiritualizing subtype are drawn to it because, having never been welcomed on this planet, it is more comfortable for them to live on non-physical, otherworldly planes. In this way, they turn to meditation to reinforce their dissociation.
Both subtypes experience a great deal of fear and even terror of intimate contact: They avoid people, especially crowds, being more comfortable one-on-one if at all. They either have difficulty making eye contact or lock on to eye contact in an unfocused way. Individuals with this survival style are uncomfortable being touched and may even experience physical touch as painful.
Text above quoted From Healing Developmental Trauma by Laurence Heller, PhD and Aline LaPierre, PsyD, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2012 by Laurence Heller, PhD and Aline LaPierre, PsyD. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
Dynamic Psychosocialsomatic Individual & Group Psychotherapy is a life changing opportunity to work through difficult traumatic events that have been holding you back in Life, Love and Relationships. Adverse childhood experience happens within your primary relationship as a result of poor attachment or lack of attachment. Group Psychotherapy becomes an intimate relationship where you get an opportunity to work through relationship trauma and become a participant in healthy relationship where conflict can be resolved in a health way. This is one of the goals of group psychotherapy. Participating in group psychotherapy will help you with all your relationships in life particular the relationship with self. Below is a clip from a documentarty of Twenty people who travel to the mountains on Santa Barbara for a week-long group therapy retreat with Ann Bradley from Radical Aliveness Core energetics.
Yvonne from David Sutcliffe on Vimeo.
Treatment of Relational and complex Trauma at Trauma Recovery Institute
Trauma Recovery Institute offers unparalleled services and treatment approach through unique individual and group psychotherapy. We specialise in long-term relational trauma recovery, sexual trauma recovery and early childhood trauma recovery. We also offer specialized group psychotherapy for psychotherapists and psychotherapy students, People struggling with addictions and substance abuse, sexual abuse survivors and people looking to function in life at a higher level. Trauma recovery Institute offers a very safe supportive space for deep relational work with highly skilled and experienced psychotherapists accredited with Irish Group Psychotherapy Society (IGPS), which holds the highest accreditation standard in Europe. Trauma Recovery Institute uses a highly structured psychotherapeutic approach called Dynamic Psychosocialsomatic Psychotherapy (DPP).
At Trauma Recovery Institute we address three of the core Attachment Styles, their origin’s the way they reveal themselves in relationships, and methods for transforming attachment hurt into healing. We use the latest discoveries in Neuroscience which enhances our capacity for deepening intimacy. The foundation for establishing healthy relationships relies on developing secure attachment skills, thus increasing your sensitivity for contingency and relational attunement. According to Allan Schore, the regulatory function of the brain is experience-dependent and he says that, as an infant, our Mother is our whole environment. In our relational trauma recovery approach you will learn to understand how the early patterns of implicit memory – which is pre-verbal, sub-psychological, and non-conceptual – build pathways in our brain that affect our attachment styles. Clinically, we can shift such ingrained associative patterns in our established neural network by bringing in new and different “lived” experiences in the Here and Now.
The Role of the Therapist in transforming attachment trauma: Healing into wholeness takes the active participation of at least one other brain, mind, and body to repair past injuries – and that can be accomplished through a one-to-one therapeutic relationship, a therapeutic group relationship or one that is intimate and loving. In exploring the “age and stage” development of the right hemisphere and prefrontal cortex in childhood, we discover how the presence of a loving caregiver can stimulate certain hormones, which will help support our growing capacity for social engagement and pleasure in all of our relationships. Brain integration leads to connection and love throughout our entire life span. At trauma recovery institute we bring a deep focus to the role of Neuroscience in restoring the brain’s natural attunement to Secure Attachment. Our brain is a social brain – it is primed for connection, not isolation, and its innate quality of plasticity gives it the ability to re-establish, reveal and expand one’s intrinsic healthy attachment system.
Dynamic Psychosocialsomatic Psychotherapy (DPP) at Trauma Recovery Institute Dublin
Dynamic Psychosocialsomatic Psychotherapy (DPP) is a highly structured, once to twice weekly-modified psychodynamic treatment based on the psychoanalytic model of object relations. This approach is also informed by the latest in neuroscience, interpersonal neurobiology and attachment theory. As with traditional psychodynamic psychotherapy relationship takes a central role within the treatment and the exploration of internal relational dyads. Our approach differs in that also central to the treatment is the focus on the transference and countertransference, an awareness of shifting bodily states in the present moment and a focus on the client’s external relationships, emotional life and lifestyle.
Dynamic Psychosocialsomatic Psychotherapy (DPP) is an integrative treatment approach for working with complex trauma, borderline personality organization and dissociation. This treatment approach attempts to address the root causes of trauma-based presentations and fragmentation, seeking to help the client heal early experiences of abandonment, neglect, trauma, and attachment loss, that otherwise tend to play out repetitively and cyclically throughout the lifespan in relationship struggles, illness and addictions. Clients enter a highly structured treatment plan, which is created by client and therapist in the contract setting stage. The Treatment plan is contracted for a fixed period of time and at least one individual or group session weekly.
“Talk therapy alone is not enough to address deep rooted trauma that may be stuck in the body, we need also to engage the body in the therapeutic process and engage ourselves as clients and therapists to a complex interrelational therapeutic dyad, right brain to right brain, limbic system to limbic system in order to address and explore trauma that persists in our bodies as adults and influences our adult relationships, thinking and behaviour.”
Services at Life Change Health Institute Dublin
What is Attachment Trauma
What is Adverse Childhood Experience
Tranference Focused Psychotherapy