What happens to all our past traumas from childhood on?
Dr Robert Scaer one of the world experts in this field, defines trauma as .. "a life threat in a state of helplessness"
Our brain is strongly wired to do protect us from life threats through a series of message systems in the limbic or mammalian brain that allow us to assess danger and then initiate a self-preservation response.
The brain is wired to do that and does so through areas of the brains, mainly the amygdala. This is the flight-flight center in the mammalian brain. Which helps us assess danger and then begin a response to overcome it.
The problem is that at times one cannot escape the threat, and under these circumstances the brain is wired to initiate a freeze or immobility response.
If helplessness occurs and the normal recovery from the freeze response doesn’t occur, a discharge of autonomic and physical somatic energy, then we have a conditioned response whereby the procedural memories and sensations of that experience are stored in the survival brain.
The survival brain has to learn with each threatening experience what is dangerous and then build up a repertoire of survival based instincts and capacities.
If you freeze and don’t get rid of that energy, that will be stuck in your brain as a conditioned survival response,, but a false response. The storage of those false procedural memories is basically the structure of trauma.
Being able to discharge the freeze response completes the act of self preservation.
If that doesn’t happen and it can be very subtle, you can freeze because you’re shamed for instance. The blush that you have when you’re terribly shamed is part of the dorsal vagal freeze response and the discharge there may be just a subtle little shudder or completions that wouldn’t be that obvious.
So it may not be as dramatic as fearing for your safety but in either case, discharge wipes out that memory from survival because you don’t need it anymore.
Our survival bank is full of false information when the freeze response is not allowed to complete it’s cycle.
This is typical in cases where trauma has been multiple, especially typical of cases where it has occurred early in childhood because that sets the pattern that continues the restoring of cue-based old memories, amplifying them and growing them and keeping you more and more stuck in the past.
Many of these complex victims, who have had severe childhood and adult complex incidents including multiple chemical sensitivities, environmental allergies, sick building syndrome, sensitivity to sound etc, these are all syndromes of kindling or sensitization that you see in so many complex trauma victims.
They tend to kindle anything in their life that goes on long enough.
These early victims will have a relative decrease in the size of the hippocampus which is the declarative or conscious memory center of the brain.
This is linked to the endocrine system and early on, cortisol, the stress hormone is increased. Prolonged exposure to cortisol also causes atrophy of the hippocampus.
If this happens late in life then cortisol tends to be lowered.
The hypothalamic-pituatary –adrenal axis is very dysregulated, meaning that it tends to overreact.
It all ends up a syndrome of exaggerated abnormal regulation of many systems-emotional, endocrine, immune system which all become cyclically unstable and any input into the system results in rather dramatic cycling of the system.
Many of the chronic diseases are first caused by a biological conflict shock but re-triggered by sound, pictures, feelings, taste, smell, all of our senses.
Chronic diseases don’t have end points.
Complex trauma is more about interruptions on an emotional, spiritual, physical, sexual level, in the context of a relationship.
As I am, from birth, growing up in my journey through life, I have a series of relationships where I am emotionally, spiritually, physically vulnerable because that is the nature of growing up, that is the nature of a relationship.
In the context of those relationships, if I am violated, if my spirit is endangered, my emotional stability is endangered, my physical being, through abuse, is endangered, if this is a repetition that I am repeatedly put at risk and interrupted in the context of these relationships, then these repetitions create a person who spends their life basically in fight, flight or being shut down.
And we see this as a state that is often triggered in a relationship.
But if I am being abused or traumatized in the context of a relationship, then relationships trigger my traumatic mind.
Complex trauma is a series of painful events that happen over time where the person feels powerless, out of control and devalued.
Meanwhile the perpetrator of violence, of any form of violence – physical or sexual abuse and abusive behaviors are their attempts at retaining power, control and value.
I define dissociation as what we perceive when we are in the freeze. When a person is dissociated they're out of body, confused numb, they are in the freeze.
And since the dorsal vagal nucleus is the engine for all of the visceral function, when you’re chronically dissociated, you tend to have these syndromes of visceral (gut, heart, and lung) problems that we see with folks with trauma.
Procedural memories that accompanied a traumatic event, especially an overwhelming one, or one that was repeated constantly.
Combat in war, where combat is repeated over and over again. And all the memories, sights, images, tastes, and smells of those traumatic events are stored in unconscious memory in a very precise and accurate fashion. That includes the physical sensations, the autonomic state, and the emotional state (rage, terror, fear) - all of these are stored in a common state.
So when you are dissociated, you’re not conscious. You’re living in a state in the past with all of the features of that state being replicated and typical of prior trauma.
We’re beginning to see that early childhood abnormal attachment is correlated with many of the physical and mental illnesses that we see now.
When I came across this concept, most of these folks had PTSD as well, I started to do family histories and childhood histories on all these people in my chronic pain program and in these whiplash victims, I found that the common denominator was child abuse in all of these people, and it was absolutely predictable.
What about people who’ve had avoidant attachment? Not so much that they experienced abuse, but they experienced an apathetic or avoidant parent.
That still produces trauma and vulnerability. The absence of attunement, even within the first days or weeks of the infancy has a deleterious effect on developing resiliency to these events.
Dr Allan Schore
Dr Alan Shore discusses the growth of the right or orbital frontal cortex. During the early months of life, in those infants who have been nurtured effectively by their mothers, that frontal cortex is the master regulator of the emotional brain and the autonomic brain. It grows proportionate to the degree of contact with the mother in a bonding fashion in infancy.
There’s direct objective evidence for the fact that this early period of time is absolutely critical for the development of the regulated brain.
And then we get into our system of medical care, which is another topic I am very passionate about it in that we have created a system of medicine that creates helplessness in the patient in order to control the situation, and that, by itself, makes it a traumatizing environment.
I think almost all surgical procedures which are terrifying are traumatizing, and I found that diagnosing, especially when diagnosing breast cancer in my female patients, is overwhelmingly traumatizing. It has many implications— obviously death is one, but disfigurement is another.
I think most of any diagnoses like that will be traumatizing and a lot of it can be mitigated by the presence of caregivers at the time by providing information and control,
I think our medical system needs to be enlightened as to the fact that any illness will contain elements of trauma and how that is handled throughout the course of treatment will determine how that patient heals.
"Frankly, I think our current system of medicine is the gorilla in the living room of our cultural trauma"
“It is true with adults, but especially with children: If they have to undergo an invasive procedure while they are scared or put under anesthesia while they are frightened or terrified, that can leave a lasting imprint of fear, anxiety, and depression that may not show up for months or even years.”
If trauma is to be transformed, we have to learn not to confront it directly.
Because if you do that, it knows to overwhelm us. And there is no sense in repeating that.
Another critical thing in somatic experiencing, to empower our clients as quickly as they can so they don’t become overly-dependent.
But the good news is that we can heal the pain from the past.
The emotional communication between the mother and infant = the development or not of the right hemisphere of the brain. The right develops before the left.
This is the most plastic period of brain development, this means that not only is the baby more sensitive to negative influences, but also more sensitive to positive.
When you make changes in the first year of life, those changes will have profound effects down the line, much more than psychotherapy way down the line.
The hippocampus reaches it’s full development in the first 2 years and that is responsible for how well we integrate in society.
The brain growth spurt occurs from the last trimester of pregnancy to the 2nd year.
Facial gestures, auditory tone of voice, tactile expressions all contribute to making a baby feel safe which is a main priority for the human body.
Attachment is also about intimacy so there will be a capacity for intimacy and also a resilient capacity to deal with stress.
We have this inborn genetically determined motivational system that we are driven by and have a biological instinctual social need to attach to whoever our primary caregivers are.
When that doesn’t go well children go into avoidant attachment. Children tend to disengage and be more withdrawn and be more self-orientated.
The big point to understand is that its not a choice, its an adaption.
So they tend to feel isolated from their parents and then later from their partners and don’t really have a template for asking for help that works.
There are other circumstances where parents might appear or behave in an ambivalent or preoccupied manner and children grow up not knowing when the rug is going to get pulled up from under their feet, and they can’t relax in it because they don’t know if it’s going to be there in the next five minutes.
Very common also in children whose parents are alcoholic or depressed and the child has to walk on eggshells all the time as they do with an unpredictable and angry father.
Children shut down and back off.
The idea that all positive emotion is good and all negative emotion is bad, is a fallacy of science. Emotions, looking at the bigger energetic or life picture, are our guidance system.
The right and the left brain are separate processors, and have unique biochemistries and neurophysiologies and functions.
Emotion based Psychotherapy changes the biological aspects of the human being, and can also change the emotional functions of the individual and evidence shows that it can change brain development.
Dr Robert Scaer...Peter Levine Phd...Stephen Porges Phd
Dr Mathew Friedman...Pat Ogden Phd...Allan Schore Phd
Dr Diane Poole Heller
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