In my efforts to understand what happened to me in childhood and how it ultimately effected me, I have gone down the "rabbit hole" of information gathering. For me this was a response to trauma as well. I figured the more I knew about trauma, the more I'd be able to handle the effects it was having on me. While this is partially true what also happened is I ended up in a depression that I found hard to shake. Information overload and the gravity of what I experienced took me down a path that I'm glad that I have been able to take a break from. I am back now to talk more about what happens to us when we are traumatized. This post is specifically about the brain and how it is effected. Let's talk about it shall we?
As a survivor of childhood trauma I suffered what some call a brain injury. I am not a doctor but I prefer to call it a brain impairment. I call it this because while we do suffer tremendous impact to our developing brain when we are traumatized in childhood & adolescence we can heal that impairment with time and intention. I'm sure many of you have heard of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey (ACEs) and negative outcomes for those who have experienced higher levels of childhood trauma. I have a score of 8 of 10 on the ACEs but I have not had anywhere near the consequences. Why is that you may say? I attribute it to me having access to healing that a lot of other people with that score or higher don't have. Also, we don't always have to have the outcome people say we will. We can choose different. I believe that I have had access to better choices because of the preceding choices I made. They were hard choices like leaving my family of origin and choosing to be different from what I had always know once the choice was presented to me. I have been able to heal my brain impairment as a result of that. Please note that when I speak of healing I am not referring to a one and done thing. I believe that the level of harm done to me and others like me require multiple layers of healing as we evolve and live. Nevertheless our levels of healing are all valid and valuable.
Let's talk about the brain structures impacted by trauma. I'm going to speak in layman's terms as I highly doubt a doctor will be looking at this trying to understand their trauma (if you are said doctor, say hi lol). The amygdala or reptilian brain is your reactor to threat. It's only concern is keeping you safe at all costs. When you are subjected to trauma(s) this part of your brain becomes enlarged as you need it to be strong and ready for action in situations where you don't know when your abuser(s) will attack. The prefrontal cortex or thinking brain becomes smaller because you don't need to think about protecting yourself, you just need to protect yourself. This serves you as a kid getting beat up or molested but as an adult trying to interact in a judgmental world, running away from the perceived threat of your boss asking you to do something in a tone that sounds like your abuser's can go south pretty quickly. There are other impacts such as neurons firing together and you being hardwired to react to that stimulus so you literally cannot help it in the moment. This is frequently what survivors say when talking about their triggers and it is true and heartbreaking. You can change how your neurons fire and thus heal your brain's response to triggers.
How do I do that may be your next question. We do it with effective trauma informed therapy, trauma aware coaching, safe interactions with others, bibliotherapy (books help us tremendously on this journey), self care, understanding ourselves, and having self compassion (treat yourself like a friend who has your issues). Can we do all of these things at once? Yes, it's possible but more than likely you are going to do them at the pace that your nervous system allows and that is ok. Take the time needed to see the change you want in your life and don't sell yourself short. You deserve the healing you are going after. Dig in and start your journey. It's not a race, it's a journey that will have many twists, turns, and some detours but it's yours. Own it and do the best that you can.
Thank you all for your continued support as I walk my own journey. If you are looking for a guide on your journey and want to give coaching a try, I am offering 15% off your second session with me. The first session (Clarity Call) is always free to ensure we are a good fit. You are never obligated to commit to anymore sessions than you feel comfortable with. We take it one session at a time to work through your struggles. If that sounds like something you can benefit from, use code HEAL2023. The offer never expires so when you are ready let's do this. I'm jumping back onto my podcast (The Complex Life) as well so you'll get an email when this episode aires if you are signed up for alerts. Have a great day folks and I'll see you along the journey!