The Long Term Impacts of Childhood Trauma
The variety of adversities in life that we can go through is staggering. What appears to have the deepest impact on us seems almost invariably to be trauma experienced in childhood.
Childhood trauma can vary greatly depending on the intensity, duration, and support or lack of support when we go through neglect, abuse, misattunement and relational/attachment trauma.
How Trauma Involves the Nervous System
What makes childhood trauma so pervasive is that it affects the developing nervous system and sense of self at such a primary level. Children are vulnerable because they are dependent for their survival on the emotional and physical support of adults.
When that sense of trust and vulnerability has been dishonored, it can create very deep and consistent patterns of withdrawal, distrust, hyperactivity, shut down and depression, to name a few.
When this happens, it is as if the foundations haven’t been laid correctly; then, the rest of life’s experiences are stacked on top of the flawed foundation, the results of which become crystal clear from the natural, very revealing perspective of the nervous system.
The developing brain successively grows through different developmental stages. From the more primal-survival impulses (i.e. limbic system and brainstem) that, among other things, regulate fight, flight, freeze, breathing and swallowing; to the greater complexity of the thalamus or mid-brain which manages emotions and relationships to self and others; and finally, as the icing and cherry on the cake, the neo- and pre-frontal cortex where language, anticipation, communication, and imagination are organized, harmonized and become focused.
This is a rough roadmap, of course, but you get the gist. When no security has been established from an early age, too much of our energy becomes invested in our very early, more primal brain structures– fight, flight and freeze for example– and we become deficient in other areas like communication, relating to self and others, and possibly even motor coordination.
Neuroplasticity and Recovering from Childhood Trauma
Not all is lost, however. Our brains and nervous system, thank goodness, have a fair bit of neuroplasticity. In other words, we can have experiences that are corrective, that can rewire our nervous system, which in turn change how we relate to ourselves and others.
A lot of this work will consist of reestablishing healthy boundaries by working with anger, and changing the pattern of our experiences and perspectives to do with trust and vulnerability. Your best advice would be to work with an experienced therapist who can guide you through all of this with the appropriate, necessary sensibilities.
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