Child Abuse, Neglect and our brains

Honorable Mention Illustrative ÒA ChildÕs Black CloudÓ by Staff Sgt. James D. Mossman, U.S. Air Force. This photograph was done for a story on child abuse. It is one of three photographs in a series and was taken with the intention off showing the fear and pain a child might experience at the hands of an abusive adult.

The most searched area on this blog are posts about child abuse.  It never ceases to amaze me just how often and how regularly everything and anything about child abuse and trauma is read or clicked on or shared.  In light of that and the fact that October is child abuse awareness and prevention month, it made the most sense to spend some time talking about child development in relation to trauma.

The bulk of the information in this post has come from a training presentation by Dr. Lori Haskell.

There is a whole bunch of information out there about attachment styles and early life experiences and this information is critically important in understanding how people manage their relationships later on in life.  Not just friend or romantic relationships, but also helping relationships with service providers.  Our early life experiences influence our functioning throughout our life span.  They influence our ability to reason, to make decisions, to cope with stress and to manage overwhelming emotions.  ca2

For children, the underlying threat that you might be in danger or you could be harmed shapes all of your behaviour moving forward.  For a child that is abused or neglected, the  more self-awareness you have the more at risk you feel because your brain isn’t paying attention to all the possible danger signals around you.  If you’re not paying attention to what is going on inside of yourself and have not developed the ability to be self-aware, you’re not regulating or controlling your emotions and are out of touch with them.  If you’re not regulating your emotions then chances are pretty good you’re reacting, acting out, missing important social cues including missing cues that other people might not be safe and pushing away from developing intimate or healthy relationships.

ca3A child that is abused or neglected has a lower ability to deal with and manage stress as an adult.  Their brains develop a lower threshold for managing and dealing with any stress at all.  There are direct implications for addictions related issues as a result of the need to lessen the pain and stress from the memories, thoughts, triggers and feelings associated with their early childhood experiences.  The early life experiences become a domino effect that can have lasting implications for many years to come.

Being abused or neglected can draw connections between a number of different everyday types of things and associate those ‘things’ with fear and distress.  Meaning, a whole slew of different characteristics such as age, gender, hair colour, eye colour, smells, sounds, clothing styles, hair colour, length or style, certain types of curtains and so on can all become triggers resulting in anxiety and distress throughout life.  It is difficult to manage a life that feels like everything and everybody is somehow a trigger.

We’re all about the trauma informed approach these days.  That is a good thing because the more we know and ca4understand about trauma, the more likely we can help others find ways to heal and move forward in a way that works for them.

Trauma informed though, isn’t about changing who a person is or changing who they want to be, it needs to be about building up and enhancing what is.  An individual’s coping mechanism kept them safe, no matter what it was.  It might not have been able to keep them physically safe but it somehow protected them from the pain of whatever it is they experienced.  Taking away coping mechanisms leaves people feeling helpless, fearful and is not necessarily successful, even if those coping mechanisms are not necessarily healthy.  Building capacity within individuals so that they can learn skills to help them tolerate or manage their thoughts, feelings and memories is recommended.  That way, whatever coping they have been using is no longer their only choice.

For more information, please visit;   Trauma and Abuse


Categories: Assault, Children, Domestic Violence, Sexual assault, Teenagers, Trauma, Victimization

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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