“So often, trauma happens in relationships, but it is also in relationships that healing occurs.” – Dr. Bruce Perry
Post-traumatic stress disorder contains a big word, trauma. Many feel they cannot identify with trauma or they associate the word with combat veterans or assault victims. What if we could experience trauma from our family systems or bullying? I will speak for myself and share that the word trauma sounded scary to me for a long time. “I don’t have trauma, so many others have experienced much more hurt than me.” How has your childhood affected your adult life? Were your needs met by your caregivers? Were you bullied in grade school? Did you lose the feeling of security from negative experiences in your life? These are all possible causes of PTSD, amongst many more.
PTSD – What is it?
Lets first start with, what is PTSD? The symptoms of PTSD can manifest in many different ways in each individual person. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the term applies to any chronic anxiety that people experience after “seeing or living through a dangerous event.” In today’s world, that consists of situations ranging from car accidents to relationship violence/abuse and everything in-between. Trauma is defined as an “event outside normal human experience.” These events can include pain, distress, inability to using coping mechanisms. When experiencing stress or a threat, perceived or real, the brain has three possible protective responses — fight, flight or freeze. The midbrain area is typically activated by the trigger and responds by increasing production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can be protective in true life or death situations, however, in situations of daily stress, where it is continuously released, it has negative effects on the brain. The subsequent behaviors will be either fight — rage, lashing out or flight — running away or withdrawing or freezing — disassociation.
Development of PTSD in a Child
Repeated adverse childhood experiences or ACEs can change the brain, body and nervous system which can have effects through adulthood. When abuse occurs, a child is not psychologically equipped to process emotions and feelings of the event, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed and eventually adding more trauma. Feeling powerless, trapped and stressed are indicators that PTSD is likely to occur. PTSD symptoms may an immediate onset, or the onset may be delayed, sometimes for years. Sometimes, one does not have to have a vivid memory of the trauma to trigger PTSD. What that means is, childhood trauma may cause PTSD symptoms in the child victim, or these feelings may not surface until adulthood.
PTSD Symptoms in Children
PTSD symptoms differ for a child and adult. An adult may re-experience the event through flashbacks or nightmares, they may avoid people or situations that they associate with their traumatic experience, they may have a negative emotional affect or decreased mood, or they may become hyper-aware and/or paranoid. Children may experience difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep, problems with concentration, exaggerated startle response, temper tantrums, and impaired relationships with parents, siblings or caregivers. Child and adult PTSD can often show other symptoms such as depression and anxiety. The effect PTSD has on one’s life is very individualized and has many variables to take into consideration, such as environment, support, brain, and body chemistry. Many adult sufferers often turn to use of damaging coping mechanisms like alcohol and/or drugs, low self-worth, promiscuous and risky behaviors or disordered eating.
Treatment for PTSD
Treatment for PTSD is available and there is hope! There are many psychological treatments that have shown success in improving PTSD symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – CBT, involves talking about the traumatic event and the negative thoughts and emotions attached to it. CBT may also involve exposure to triggers and dis-proving negative beliefs associated with the trauma. Somatic experiencing therapy is especially notable because it can be applied to children who have been in an accident, or for adult victims of violence or sexual abuse and everything in between.
Haven Hills is a safe place to begin the healing process and create healthy attachments. We are here to help!
Know someone who has experienced trauma? Learn the 1o things you should never say to a trauma survivor.