The Science of Trauma.

Every second of every day, there are thousands of children and teens among us who are caught up in a cycle of trauma and drama; victims of risk factors such as poverty, high-crime neighborhoods, and exposure to drug and alcohol abuse. Victims of physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and/or neglect. Not to mention bearing witness to domestic violence, parental incarceration, or caretaker mental illness.

Extreme and chronic trauma and stress however, especially during childhood, can result in lifelong health and psychological complications when left untreated.

We’ve all seen videos from African safaris showing a lion attacking a gazelle. When the gazelle smells a lion on the prowl, her ears perk up, her nostrils flare, muscles tense. Sensing danger, her body releases adrenaline so she has more sugar in her blood for energy. Her blood pressure raises as does her heart rate, so she can run faster. Her immune system kicks in to heal if she sustains an injury, and all areas of her brain not associated with her immediate survival shut down. She becomes hyper-vigilant. At the same time, cortisol is released to calm those agitated body systems if she survives. In the videos when the lion does catch the gazelle, do you remember how her eyes will glaze over and she’ll stop fighting? As that gazelle is dying and can’t fight or flee, her brain floods with dopamine so she can detach from the trauma and float away.

 

That’s what psychologists call a “freeze” response.

Children who suffer chronic abuse, neglect, bullying, screaming, fear, or regularly witness violence experience the fight/flight/freeze response over and over and over.

The total lifetime estimated financial costs associated in just one year of child trauma in the U.S. is approximately

$2 trillion.

 

​​This figure doesn’t include prevention and intervention programs, but simply the price for the aftermath.

For perspective, the entire world will spend $174 billion fighting cancer. The government’s response to treating and developing a cure for AIDS will cost taxpayers $34.8 billion.

 

- Center for Disease Control,

2020 Study

How does this affect their emotional growth,

their developing brain, their physical health? How does this affect their DNA?

It changes it.

As humans, we are designed to deal with a certain amount of temporary stress and trauma. With proper support and coping mechanisms in place we are able to suffer loss, experience grief, and face harrowing situations with negligible long-term negative effects.

BEHAVIOR

  • Poor self-regulation

  • Social withdrawal

  • Aggression

  • Poor impulse control

  • Risk-taking/illegal activity

  • Sexual acting out 

  • Adolescent pregnancy

  • Drug and alcohol misuse 

COGNITION

  • Impaired readiness to learn

  • Difficulty problem-solving

  • Language delays

  • Problems with concentration

  • Poor academic achievement 

      PHYSICAL

       HEALTH

  • Sleep disorders 

  • Eating disorders 

  • Poor immune system functioning 

  • Cardiovascular disease 

  • Shorter life span 

RELATIONSHIPS

  • Attachment problems/disorders 

  • Poor understanding of social interactions

  • Difficulty forming relationships with peers

  • Inter-generational cycles of abuse and neglect

MENTAL HEALTH

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Negative self-image/low self-esteem

  • Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Suicidality 

EMOTIONS

  • Difficulty controlling emotions

  • Trouble recognizing emotions

  • Limited coping skills 

  • Increased sensitivity to stress

  • Shame and guilt

  • Excessive worry, hopelessness 

  • Feelings of helplessness/lack of self-efficacy

BRAIN

DEVELOPMENT

  • Smaller brain size

  • Less efficient processing

  • Impaired stress response

  • Changes in gene expression

IMPACT OF 

CHILDHOOD

TRAUMA 

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