The internet is full of information about trauma. A quick Google search will tell you what trauma is, symptoms of trauma, and the impact of trauma.
There is specific helpful information about trauma that many people don’t realize. This information can be powerful in making choices about the path to healing. I have outlined three things about trauma that are not as readily available in quick Google searches, which can powerfully impact how you move forward.
#1. There is a difference between shock trauma and developmental trauma.
Shock trauma happens when there is a threat, and the response is fear. There is an event that shocks someone.
Shock trauma is the type of trauma that returning war vets demonstrate. There is often
a mortal threat or threat to one’s safety.
This type of trauma happens suddenly, is unexpected, and is acute. It creates a sense of being frozen in time. Fear makes it difficult to feel present and regulated.
As a result of shock trauma, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may develop. One may feel like the event is still occurring and avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the event. It may not be easy to sleep, concentrate, and relax. One may have an exaggerated startle response.
Developmental trauma (DT) can be the result of abuse or neglect. It’s chronic, long-lasting, and can be attributed to significant misattunement from parents and caregivers or failures in the environment that impact development.
The result of developmental trauma is shame and creates instability in knowing oneself – identity. When parents or caregivers are abusing their kids, neglecting their kids, or losing a parent due to death or divorce, substance abuse is in the home, or the mother was treated violently development of the child is impacted. If there is criminal behavior or a parent is a narcissist or mentally ill, this also impacts development. DT can also result from environmental failures such as an inhospitable environment in vitro, a difficult birth, premature birth, adoption, bullying, and more.
This disconnection impacts the nervous system and physiology. It also impacts one’s identity.
Symptoms of DT include:
- Difficulty regulating emotions, including self-harm and rage
- Altered attention and consciousness, including dissociation
- Somatic distress including body pain or headaches
- Hyperarousal including irritability and insomnia
- Emotional flashbacks or nightmares
- Sense of self is altered
- Difficulty with relationships, including withdrawing
- Avoiding reminders or triggers
#2. The child developed survival strategies to stay connected and survive in their family.
These strategies were developed to help manage the inevitable disconnection and shame that happens in DT. When
shame is present, these symptoms will not be able to be resolved. To resolve the symptoms, underlying patterns or will need to be addressed.
The child in this position is in an impossible bind. They need to survive and stay attached to their family. It’s impossible for a child to recognize the shortcomings in the environment and/or parents and understand they did not do anything wrong. Instead, a child will assume something is wrong with them and develop shame (self-hatred). By doing this, they maintain a connection to their family. It’s literally a matter of survival. They believe something is deeply wrong with them, which allows them to save their parent’s self-esteem.
To survive, kids split off parts of themselves to survive, creating child consciousness. When these strategies are resolved, adult consciousness results. These survival strategies keep kids from being present, embodied, and impact emotions, physiology, behaviors, cognition, and relationships. Kids disconnect from their core needs. Kids feel defective and that they deserve what is happening. Shame acts as a protection of the status quo.
Adaptive Survival Strategies:
- Rejecting existence (fearing connection)
- Rejecting needs
- Rejecting dependence
- Rejecting autonomy
- Rejecting heart and/or sexuality
When DT is happening, kids will try to speak up in protest. They may even be aggressive and have rage. They are trying to change the environment so their needs will be met.
However, most of the time, it’s not safe to do so, so kids shut down and end up feeling helpless and vulnerable.
Their protest behaviors become distorted. They may act out against others, or act out against themselves with more shame, eating disorders, substance abuse, or more. Projecting their feelings on others helps them manage the rage they feel underneath.
#3. Shock trauma resolution techniques do not resolve DT.
Many therapists trained in treating trauma may approach trauma with the goal of moving their clients out of
feeling overwhelmed and from a freeze state in their nervous system.
They work to help their clients regulate nervous systems. This is useful for shock trauma (PTSD).
DT treatment also includes working with body dysregulation but also needs to include working with how one sees themselves, toxic shame, and the connection they deeply desire while simultaneously deeply fearing.
It works with emotions, beliefs, behaviors, shame, the nervous system, physiology, and the internal conflicts driving the symptoms.
To resolve DT, work needs to connect individuals back to their core needs that have been rejected. While at one-time protective, now those strategies have their consequences.
We are all wired for connection, and our systems naturally move us toward health and a sense of aliveness. Our bodies want to heal.
When we try to fix the issue and change, we can get more stuck. We are not pushing for change, but recognizing what is getting in the way so that one can increase connection to oneself, others, and the world.
Are you interested in learning more? Check out Dr. Laurence Heller’s and Dr. Aline LaPierre’s book Healing Developmental Trauma. This blog’s information is adapted from Dr. Laurence Heller’s Neuro Affective Relational Model (NARM) in treating developmental trauma.
Do you have more questions?