It is time for us to UNLEARN the things we learned from WOUNDED people.
Many of us have a bag of unacknowledged childhood hurts, traumas and fear. Trauma is the result of overwhelming stress, the type that exceeds our ability to cope. Leaving it locked away can have a negative and lasting effect on not only our mind, but our entire lives.
Trauma may result from one single experience or from recurring events over a period of time. The brain changes in response to a traumatic experience, however, it is possible to heal, leave our trauma behind us and learn to feel safe again.
As a child we all suffered from some form of trauma. For some it was mild while for others it was far more extreme. When we think of trauma many of us think of severe physical or sexual abuse but trauma can be anything that caused us deep distress.
Traumatic experiences are experiences in which people feel or are at risk of death, an extreme loss of connection or absence of power. This shattered sense of security can send us into reactions of protection and survival that can last a lifetime.
It’s not the objective circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic, but our subjective experience of it. Two people that have the same experience could react completely differently. It differs between individuals and some of us are more susceptible to trauma than others.
Events and experiences that may lead to trauma:
These are just some examples to give you an idea of experiences that can lead to trauma. This is not an extensive list and many of these examples may cross over and effect multiple dimensions of our lives.
Physical abuse, neglect, punishment and violent behaviour. Chronic injury, illness or disease. Surgery. Prolonged stress. Stress during pregnancy. Inappropriate sexual contact from a parent, relative or friend.
Emotional abuse and neglect. Having a parent who is emotionally unavailable or withholds affection. Living with humiliation, shame, anger, guilt and fear. Making yourself invisible to please others; having to hide who you are or how you feel.
Constant arguments and verbal insults. Having your life, safety or family threatened. Being intentional ignored. Being shown pornography or inappropriate visual content. Parents or family members with mental illness, substance misuse and suicidal behaviour.
Lack of family/social support. Death of a loved one. Family violence, divorce, incarceration, abandonment, economic hardship, famine, racism, oppression and collective powerlessness. Community violence, isolation, alienation, kidnapping and slavery.
Not having a safe, healthy place to live. Destruction of personal belongings or your living space. Burglary, car accidents, terrorism, natural disasters, environmental devastation and war.
If we experienced any of the following it can have an immense impact not only on our mental health but our holistic well-being.
According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, the higher your ACE score is the higher your risk for various health problems and negative outcomes later. An ACE score is a tally of common traumatic experiences that occur in early life. In other words, as the number of ACE’s increases so does the risk of severe injury, chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and autoimmune disease, infectious disease such as HIV and STD’s, reproductive complications, risky behaviours and substance misuse, mental health challenges, suicide, and difficulty with regulating emotions and behaviour.
The Ace quiz is a good initial indicator, however it’s important to remember that there are many experiences that could be traumatic for children that the ACE quiz doesn’t ask about. It also doesn’t take into account individual differences, resiliency factors, supportive relationships, sensitivity or stressors outside the household. That means that answering all the questions on the ACE quiz may be helpful but will not give a full picture.
The quiz does raise awareness about the potential impact of trauma and creates a link to explain the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences on adult social and emotional problems and physical health.
“A really good way to understand the effect of trauma is to think about what happens when your body gets really cold. The brain starts trying to “turn up the heat” in order to prevent hypothermia. First, you start to shiver. A small centre in the brain sends a signal to the muscles to start vibrating in order to generate heat. Your heart rate and blood pressure and even your breathing rate goes up for this purpose. But all this burns a lot of energy. So the brain turns off some body functions in order to keep going. All that matters is to keep you warm enough to protect the brain from getting damaged by the cold. Things like digestion, blood flow to your fingers and toes, and even parts of the brain that we use to pay attention, make decisions and control impulses are all slowed down in order to conserve energy. Whatever the trauma, whether social, emotional, psychological or physical the effect on the brain is similar. The brain adapts to protect itself from the stress that trauma produces. Certain parts of the brain are placed on high alert, while other parts become much less active.”
Dr. Stuart Shanker
Once we understand what is contributing to the way we feel, we can learn what we need to do to start feeling better. It’s a personal journey of self-discovery and healing where we bring light to what lies beneath the surface and begin to lift our spirits through nurturing our soul.
A good way to start dealing with what’s going on is to share how you’re feeling with someone you trust. This could be someone in your family, your partner, a friend, church/spiritual leader, doctor or anyone in your community who you feel close to. If you have been experiencing distress for an extended period of time or it is very severe, specialist help is needed and your doctor will refer you to an appropriate mental health professional.
We don’t always build walls to keep others out.
We build walls to protect what’s left of us.
Trauma builds the wall,
it creates a cage around our heart.
Our words are the key.
Taking care of our mental health is important.
Make a plan to talk to someone today.
Categories of Trauma
Trauma is not limited to a direct experience. The following outlines the different categories of trauma.
Acute trauma: Results from exposure to a single traumatic experience.
Repetitive or chronic trauma: Results from exposure to multiple traumatic experiences.
Complex trauma: Results from multiple traumatic experiences of an interpersonal nature.
Developmental trauma (also called Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE’s): Results from early onset exposure to ongoing or repetitive trauma (as infant, children or youth). This often occurs within the child’s care giving system and interferes with healthy attachment and development.
Vicarious trauma: Results from the empathetic engagement with a persons traumatic background. It occurs when an individual who was not an immediate witness to the trauma absorbs and integrates disturbing aspects of the traumatic experience into his or her own functioning.
Collective Trauma: Results from traumatic events witnessed by an entire society which can stir up collective sentiment, often resulting in a shift in that society's culture and mass actions.
Historical trauma: Cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma.
Intergenerational trauma: Results from trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring. Coping and adaptation patterns develop in response to the trauma and are passed from one generation to the next.
There are a growing number of studies that support the idea that the effects of trauma can reverberate down through generations. This is known as intergenerational trauma.
Researchers have been investigating how the events that occur throughout someone’s lifetime can change the way their DNA is expressed, and how that change can be passed on to the next generation. This is the process of epigenetics, where the readability, or expression of genes is modified without changing the DNA code itself. Tiny chemical tags are added to or removed from our DNA in response to changes in the environment in which we are living. These tags turn genes on or off, offering a way of adapting to changing conditions without inflicting a more permanent shift in our genomes.
The events we experience throughout our lifetime
– particularly traumatic ones –
impact our family for generations to come, just as the
events of our ancestors lifetimes have impacted on us.
Many of us were raised by parents and grandparents that experienced some form of trauma in their lives, which they never healed from. They cared for us and loved us in the best way they knew how but without healing, that trauma leaves an echo and still affects them, us and potentially our children.
But, if generational trauma can be encoded into our genes and passed on from one generation to the next, then so can our healing. When we heal ourselves we heal our children, and our children’s children.
“Trauma is not what happens to us,
but what we hold inside
in the absence of an empathetic witness.”
This is Part ONE in a four part trauma series. You can view Part TWO here.
This information is intended to be educational and not for the diagnosis of any health conditions or disorders. This information should not replace consultation with a competent healthcare professional. The author is in no way liable for any misuse of the material. We strongly urge you to use your own judgement, undertake your own research and do what you feel is best for you.
About the author
Jen has been an educator for nearly 2 decades.
She holds a Bachelors Degree in Applied Social Science and Early Childhood Education.
She is a Mental Health First Aider and certified Mindfulness Instructor.
Jen is the founder of LovePedagogy. A platform established to support, guide and inspire heart centred parents and educators.
LovePedagogy is the philosophy that we teach children more through who we are, than through what we do, so it is our role to be the best adults we can be. The foundations of this are love, personal growth, healing, mindfulness, reflective practice, listening to your inner voice and self-care.
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