- Daylong Workshop on Childhood Trauma was organised at DANA on 18th November, 2018. The Key Speakes were Dr Amal.Mullick, Dr Sheila Banerjee, Ms Rita Roy and Dr Amit Chakraborty. Dr Gautam Bandyopadhyay and Dr Sayandip Ghosh also highlighted various aspects of Child Abuse. The parcipants shared their experience individuals and therapists.
- CHILDHOOD TRAUMA by Dr Amit Chakraborty
Prior to 1980, the link between childhood trauma/abuse/neglect and adult-life issues like depression, anxiety, and addiction was for the most part unacknowledged. In fact, most people thought that as long as a child was fed and sheltered, his or her emotional and psychological development would take care of itself. The idea that caregiver issues (depression, anxiety, addiction, and the like) could impact a child’s development and future life just wasn’t a consideration.
In the 1980s, it was officially recognized that that adult-life psychological symptoms and disorders could be caused by early-life family dysfunction and traumatic experiences rather than some inherent flaw or weakness in a person’s character or genetic makeup. In other words, it was finally understood that many of the people with emotional, psychological, and even behavioural issues were simply responding in a misguided way to past events. A lack of fortitude and moral fibre had nothing to do with it. So advising people to suck it up and get on with their lives, which therapists had been doing for decades – with little to no clinical success – was not the right approach.
Generally speaking, trauma is any event (real or perceived) that is physically and/or emotionally overwhelming. Trauma can occur on a one-time basis (getting mugged), a limited-time basis (experiencing a temporary health crisis), or repeatedly (ongoing childhood abuse). Some things are traumatic for just about anyone – physical and/or sexual assaults, armed combat, terrorist attacks, and the like. However, most potentially traumatic experiences are subjective in nature, meaning that one person might be highly traumatized, while another is barely fazed.
One form of trauma that tends to affect pretty much everyone is childhood abuse, especially if it occurs within the family. In general, intra-family child abuse (emotional/psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, inconsistent parenting, and the like) is more damaging, with a wider array of later-life problems, than trauma that is more impersonal or random. This is caused by three primary factors:
• When abuses are committed by a loved one, the abuse also involves significant betrayal.
• Children, especially in regard to parents and other primary caregivers, are in a position of dependency and vulnerability, and cannot easily find recourse or even a sympathetic ear.
• Abuses within the family tend to be chronic (ongoing) in nature – one incident after another.
Chronic childhood trauma is usually much more difficult to deal with than single incident trauma, because chronic traumatization creates a complex layering of emotional damage, with each layer building upon and reinforcing earlier harms. In time, chronically traumatized children learn that they cannot trust their caregiver(s), but this does not mean that their need/desire for healthy connection to the adult(s) in their life goes away. Is it any wonder these individuals sometimes struggle as adults?
Childhood trauma typically does more damage than adult-life incidents of trauma. In fact, research shows that kids are much more likely than adults to develop trauma-driven disorders (PTSD, depression, anxiety, addictions, and the like), particularly if the trauma is chronic and no relief or support is available.
Other research shows that the more times a child is traumatized, the more likely he or she is to experience adverse reactions and consequences later in life. For instance, individuals with four or more significantly traumatic experiences prior to age 18 are:
• 1.8 times as likely to smoke cigarettes
• 1.9 times as likely to become obese
• 2.4 times as likely to experience ongoing anxiety
• 2.5 times as likely to experience panic reactions
• 3.6 times as likely to be depressed
• 3.6 times as likely to qualify as promiscuous
• 6.6 times as likely to engage in early-life sexual intercourse
• 7.2 times as likely to become alcoholic
• 11.1 times as likely to become intravenous drug users
So yeah, early-life trauma is a driving factor for adult-life anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, attachment deficit disorders, addictions, and more.
3 Ways to Help Children Heal from Traumatic Life Experiences
1. Promote Embodied Awareness
Be willing to listen and respect the embodied and subjective experience that each child holds to be true. What does this mean? Neuroscience research shows that every traumatic experience is felt in the human body. When children become aware of their bodies, that awareness communicates important information to their brain. The brain, in turn, makes corrective changes and restores healthy functioning.
A simple shift in conversation can help children become more aware of their bodies. For example, instead of simply asking, “How do you feel?” you might ask, “How and where do you feel that (fear, anger, sadness) in your body?” When children become accustomed to connecting their feelings with bodily sensations, they achieve embodied awareness. Aided by embodied awareness, we can look more closely, hear more accurately, and feel more actively in the moment, a mindfulness that can shift habitual autonomic fixed patterns from trauma.”
2. Create Meaningful Rituals
We can help children recover from painful events and hurtful relationships by working with them to create meaningful rituals. Again, body-based activities should be front and centre, engaging the right hemisphere of the brain to connect to a child’s subjective way of knowing. Integration of the arts, music, contemplative practices, and dance, says Stanley, can transform the chaos of trauma into relational resources for growth.
The goal of rituals is to create human connections. When parents and teachers create safe spaces for children to express themselves, explore their feelings, and become aware of the sensations in their bodies, children feel what it means to be human. Stanley suggests that ceremony changes the brain in ways that convert fear to love, facilitating growth and development.
3. Connect through Somatic Empathy
Somatic empathy communicates to people suffering from trauma that they are seen, felt, and understood just as they are, allowing them to feel felt. Parents, teachers, and all caring adults have the ability to help children heal through our interactions with them and through our mindful attention to their body-based cues.
For example, when a child aches in his stomach, feels tension in her jaw, or experiences tight sensations in his chest, we can help that child more consciously connect these sensations to a deeper self-knowing. We do this through authentic listening and a sense of respect for how a child feels and experiences those feelings in his or her body. We are consciously present, helping children reflect and gain embodied self-awareness.
Through compassionate relationships based in somatic empathy, a child’s brain changes in ways that repair the effects of trauma.