Kids and Trauma

Trauma is a fact of life. This is the bad news. The good news is that so is resilience. We all have the capacity to rebound from stress and feelings of fear, helplessness and overwhelm.

I was surprised to learn in Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter Levine, PHD that children are especially prone to be overwhelmed by situations that they may not have the capacity to emotionally manage. And if left unresolved, they can carry these issues into adulthood. 

“Trauma creates change you don’t choose, healing creates change you do choose. Michelle Rosenthall”

Trauma can result from events that are extraordinary such as violence and molestation, but more often it can result from everyday “ordinary” events. 

In fact, common occurrences such as accidents, falls, medical procedures and divorce can cause children to withdraw, lose confidence, or develop anxiety or phobias. 

In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness  ,  Medical procedures are a big area of concern for children, Peter Levine notes in his works. Particularly with hospitalization, surgeries or anesthesia. If they go into surgery in an agitated state, are held down, removed from their parents and then surrounded by gowned and masked monsters, they come out of anesthesia in a state of frantic and possibly violent disorientation. In a study conducted, over 33% of children undergoing even “minor” orthopedic procedures exhibited high levels of post traumatic stress disorder symptoms. 

How many times in hospital settings, or accidents are patients subdued and told to stay still, immobilized. I would garner a guess that this number is pretty high. 

Trauma arises when one’s human immobility responses do not resolve; that is, when one cannot make the transition back to normal life, and the immobility reaction becomes chronically coupled with fear and other intense negative emotions such as dread, revulsion and helplessness. After this coupling has been established, the physical sensations by themselves evoke fear. A traumatized individual has become conditioned to be fearful of his or her internal (physical) sensations that now generate the fear and deepens the paralysis. 

As an example of an extreme case, Peter Levine describes how he had the opportunity to speak with the mother of Ted Kaczynski and the father of Jeffrey Dahmer. Both of these men we know are notorious serial killers. The parents described how, after terrifying hospitalizations, each of these children retreated into his own world. While such rage leading to perverted violence is rare, the terror and anger evoked by medical procedures is unfortunately not. 

It is normal when coming out of an agitated immobilization to experience rage, and the body wants to work it out. Typically by shaking, trembling the process is completed. If this is subdued and not allowed, the immobilization can become stuck. 

Teaching ourselves and our children to understand our physical sensations is critical because they, in signaling action, guide us through the experiences and nuances in life. If one has been traumatized, however one’s sensations can become signals not for effective action, but rather for fearful paralysis, helplessness, or misdirected rage. 

Somatic Experiencing works to help cultivate and regulate the capacity for tolerating extreme sensations, through reflective self-awareness, while supporting self-acceptance, allowing you to modulate your uncomfortable sensations and feelings. Peter Levine believes that the people who are most resilient, and find the greatest peace in their lives, have learned to tolerate extreme sensations while gaining the capacity for self-awareness. Although this capacity develops normally when we are very young, one can learn it at any time, thankfully. 

I am not a trained professional in this area of expertise, and note that Peter offers self learning in his works, but also suggests that some situations most definitely require the help of a Professional trained in Somatic Experiencing in order to resolve past traumas. My interest in his works, is to relay the message that some of our behaviors are based on past experiences that were not resolved and that we have the ability to resolve them. 

Peter Levine has a very good book on teaching your children confidence, joy and resilience that I would highly recommend. Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience .  

Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing is another book that I would highly recommend in understanding how children perceive frightening situations, and helping them work through them. 

“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not however need to be a life sentence. Peter A. Levine”

All of this was amazing to me. But what really stood out to me, was that Trauma, Anxiety, and phobias could be created so easily. From seemingly normal experiences that we typically cannot avoid. But yet, we treat trauma, anxiety, stress as though they are something to be ashamed of. 

Trauma, PTSD is not a life sentence! It should not be named PTSD, it should be named PTSI – Post Traumatic Stress Injury not Disease. It can be cured. 

I knew for myself, that I was a fairly resilient person so I was on the right path really leaning into the emotions that came up and allowing them to do what they needed to do to resolve.  

It convinced me that there needed to be more understanding around how easy it is for us to develop fears, phobias, stress reactions and traumas. It wasn’t okay for us to just assume that those that had been exposed to horrifying things were the only victims of PTSD. Trauma was not reserved for only those that had experienced the most violent situations, it was relevant for all of us. And the more resilience, and understanding we had of the body-mind connections, and understanding our own cues, the better off we would be. 

Time for being a little more understanding of ourselves, and others was in order. It seemed that understanding our physical sensations, recognizing them, and working on our resilience appeared to be the key. 

We have all met someone who seems ‘stuck’ in certain situations. Perhaps it is even ourselves. This knowledge for me, allowed me to feel more compassion for those that were struggling with situations. It also allowed me to feel very hopeful that trauma could be resolved, and with the right knowledge prevented in the future from occurring at all. 

Let’s take the shame out of people’s problems, and show them they can be resolved!

Until next time, Love and Light!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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