Trauma can impact a person for the rest of their life when not properly treated. These underlying issues can cause lifelong struggles, problems developing relationships, physical health issues, and mental illness. As we change the conversation about mental health, we might be more open to talking about trauma for younger people.
Yet, what about the kids that slip through the cracks in the system? Are we also thinking about ourselves and how our past trauma might affect how we raise our kids?
Trauma is not something people just “get over” after a while. Time does not heal all wounds. The ACE Study sheds some light on the impact of childhood trauma over a person’s lifetime.
The ACE Study
“The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges and later-life health and well-being,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The study sought out to discover the effect of childhood trauma on a person’s lifetime. Many of us were raised by parents who might not have cared for their mental health issues or talked about their trauma. In addition, due to the social climate at the time, admitting to having mental health issues might have led to being ostracized by family or discriminated against.
Mental health issues were considered a sign of weakness and taboo even to bring up. However, many people growing up during this generation might have felt the impact of not talking about their trauma for a lifetime.
Consider the following from Dr. Vincent J. Felitti from The Permanente Journal:
And yet, as I write these words, I am interrupted to consult on a 70-year-old woman who is diabetic and hypertensive . . . Review of her chart shows her to be chronically depressed, never married, and, because we ask the question of 57,000 adults a year, to have been raped by her elder brother six decades ago when she was ten. The same brother also molested her sister, who also is said to be leading a troubled life.
Could unhealed childhood trauma impact someone for the rest of their life, causing them never to find fulfilling relationships and struggle with their mental and physical health?
How Does Trauma Affect the Brain?
Trauma affects the brain and needs to be healed within the brain by working through the trauma. Often, we think of just needing to talk about trauma to recover from it and move past it. However, the solution is a little more complex than just needing to talk it out.
Trauma changes the way that the brain functions. Following traumatic events, a person’s brain is in a high-alert state. As a result, specific neural pathways are disrupted in working correctly. Trauma affects how the body responds to similar events or triggers, reinforcing and strengthening the disrupted neural pathways.
Trauma Lives in the Body
Trauma lives in the bodies of those with diagnoses like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or related disorders. The body becomes overactive to triggers, leaving a person hypervigilant and on edge, even when safe and secure.
Trauma can also cause a person to shut down or freeze. When faced with traumatic events, the body shifts into survival mode. For some, this means fighting back and looking out for future threats. Others resign to learned helplessness, which can result in anxiety over everyday experiences or a shut down of any emotions in the form of depression.
Neuroplasticity: Healing the Brain Like a Muscle
Fortunately, our brains retain neuroplasticity, or the ability to adapt and heal, throughout most of our lives. Often, we hear of people confronting their childhood traumas later in their adulthood, making a full recovery.
Some of us as parents might have experienced traumatic childhoods. We vow never to hurt our children the way we were hurt and to protect them from feeling the pain we felt. But, unfortunately, some of these things might be out of our control as our kids grow up and gain more independence.
Treatment for Trauma
Treatment for trauma needs to address both the emotions involved and the physical changes within the body and the brain. The most effective form of trauma treatment will include both a therapeutic aspect (talking things through) and an experiential aspect to retrain the body and brain to respond to real-life events in a healthy way. EMDR or “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” has become one of the effective treatments for trauma.
Healing from trauma can take time and work. However, it is never too late to begin treatment and recover.
We might think that there is a time limit for people to heal from trauma. Sometimes, we look at people who have struggled their whole life from mental health issues as hopeless cases. We do all that we can to protect our kids from becoming one of these hopeless cases. Yet, we cannot control everything that happens to our kids. They might get into a car accident, experience bullying, be victims of physical or sexual abuse, or face other traumatic events. While keeping our kids as safe as we can, we can also help them learn to talk about what is going on in their lives. We can teach them not to be ashamed of their feelings, emotions, and vulnerabilities. The earlier our kids tell us about a traumatic experience, the earlier we can find them the help and support they need. For more, call Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center at (303) 443-3343.