How You Can Heal from Developmental Trauma:
Developmental Trauma is a term used to describe childhood trauma, such as chronic abuse, neglect or other harsh adversity which occurred in the home. When a child is exposed to overwhelming stress, and their caregiver does not help reduce this stress, or is the cause of the stress, the child experiences developmental trauma. Children then becomes at risk for a host of complex emotional, cognitive, and physical illnesses that can last throughout their adult lives.
Developmental traumas are also called Adverse Childhood Experiences. (ACEs). ACEs can be Abuse, Neglect or household dysfunction.
ACE’s can include having a parent with mental illness or substance abuse, losing a parent due to divorce, abandonment or incarceration, witnessing domestic violence, not feeling loved or not feeling close to family members, not having enough food or clean clothing, as well as direct verbal, physical or sexual abuse.— ACEs can harm developing brains, predisposing people to autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer, depression, and a number of other chronic conditions;decades after the trauma took place.
In the famous study known as the Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) study, adults who experienced a higher number of adverse experiences were found to have much higher rates of serious physical health outcomes, high-risk health behaviors, and early illness and mortality.These outcomes can include, lack of physical activity, smoking, alcoholism, drug use, missed work, obesity, depression, diabetes, suicide attempts, STD’s, heart disease, stroke and more.
Knowledge is Power. Once you understand that your body and brain have been harmed by the biological impact of early emotional trauma, you can begin to take the necessary, steps to reduce the effects of the early adversity left on your neurobiology. You can begin to heal. You can reduce the increased chance of inflammation, depression, addiction, physical pain, and disease. Science tells us that biology does not have to be destiny. ACEs are part of our past, but the effects of our trauma does not have to dictate our present. We can rewire our brains. Even if we have been set on high reactive mode for decades, we can still lower our risks. We can respond to life’s inevitable stressors more appropriately and shift away from an overactive inflammatory response.
Here are some steps to take to start the healing process: There is no better time to begin your transformation.
Take the ACE questionnaire.
The single most important step you can take toward healing and transformation is to fill out the ACE questionnaire and share your results with your health-care practitioner. For many people, taking the 10-question survey helps to normalize the conversation about adverse childhood experiences.
Begin Writing to Heal.
Write down your story of childhood adversity, using a technique psychologists call “writing to heal”. Over a four day period, write down your deepest emotions and thoughts about the emotional challenges that have been influencing your life the most. In your writing, let go, and explore these events and how they have affected you. You might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now. Write continuously for twenty minutes a day. The exercise of writing about your emotions and thoughts has been proven to have positive effects on health.
Practice mindfulness meditation
Research indicates that individuals who have practiced mindfulness meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) show an increase in gray matter in the same parts of the brain that are damaged by adverse childhood experiences.
Choose a time every day to focus on your breath. Learn diaphragmatic breathing and grounding techniques. Your breath is the best natural calming treatment—and it has no side effects.
When children face ACEs, they often store decades of physical tension from a fight, flight, or freeze state of mind in their bodies. Studies show that yoga decreases blood flow to the amygdala, the brain’s alarm center, and increases blood flow to the frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex, which help us to react to stressors in healthier ways. Yoga has also increase levels of GABA—or gamma-aminobutyric acid—a chemical that improves brain function, promotes calm, and helps to protect us against depression and anxiety.
Build Social Connections
Research has found that having strong social ties improves outcomes for men and women with cancer, autoimmune disorders, or other chronic diseases. This is because positive interactions with others boost our production of oxytocin, a “feel-good” hormone that dials down the inflammatory stress response
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals remember difficult experiences safely and relate to those memories in ways that no longer cause pain in the present. EMDR therapists help patients to trigger memories and the connected emotions and beliefs. As the patient recalls specific difficult experiences, they are asked to complete eye movements with the therapists help. These eye movements are similar tothe healing action of REM sleep.
EMDR creates a neurobiological state that helps the brain change neural connections that have been dysregulated by chronic, unpredictable stress and past experiences-often ACE’s. This change can lead to a reduction of the traumatic memories we store in the brain and calm the brains alarm center.
Sometimes, the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma are just too great to tackle on our own.Part of the power of therapy lies in allowing ourselves to finally form an attachment to a safe person. A therapist’s unconditional acceptance helps us to change the circuits in our brain that tell us that we cannot trust anyone. With this change, we can begin to grow new, healthier neural connections and begin to heal.
Carol Van Kampen, LMSW
Carol Van Kampen, LMSW is an individual private practice psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma treatment at Marsh Psychology Group. Carol is EMDR trained. Contact her at marshpsychologygroup.com
Sources: 8 ways people recover from post childhood adversity syndrome; Donna Jackson Nakazaw
What is Developmental Trauma / ACE’s- Portico, Canada’s mental health and addiction network