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Trauma is Contagious

April 21, 2014

Like the common cold, influenza, or measles, trauma can actually pass from person to person- airborne and invisible. You don’t have to be exposed to the original source in order to become infected with measles- you can catch it from being exposed to a person with measles. The same is true for trauma.  You don’t have to be exposed to the original trauma in order to feel and ‘catch’ it’s impact.  This isn’t news to you if you’ve been parenting a child with a history of trauma. Overtime, you have started to feel as traumatized as your child. You might think you’re imagining this or developing phantom symptoms. But you’re not- trauma is contagious.

iS TRAUMA CONTAGIOU

Remember from What’s Regulation Got to Do With It that our autonomic nervous system contains the proverbial brakes and accelerator of our body and emotions. Our sympathetic nervous system is the accelerator- amping us up by activating stress hormones and chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline, increasing respiration, increasing heart rate – while the our parasympathetic nervous system is the breaks – slowing us down by releasing calming hormones and chemicals like GABA and serotonin, decreasing respiration, and decreasing heart rate. All day long our sympathetic nervous system gets activated and then our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to bring us back into balance.

When our nervous system is wide open, we are able to tolerate the fluctuations in our autonomic nervous system without difficulty. We can manage stress, deal with frustration and difficulty, and be available for relationship with our kids, spouses, and friends.

Enter one traumatized kiddo (or two, three, four, five etc…)

People who have experienced trauma have a closed and reactive nervous system. They have a harder time managing stress and frustration. Their overactive amygdala believes there is danger when there isn’t. It’s your child’s closed nervous system that can explain all their challenging behaviors.

The thing about nervous systems- is that we match each other.

Think of the last time you were stressed. And your child was stressed and acting out with whatever their acting out behavior of choice is. Your stressed body responds to their stress by doing what? Usually not becoming more calm. We keep upping the ante. Your child escalates, you escalate, your child escalates further, you escalate even MORE. (Don’t worry- this happens to all of me. Me too!).

Our nervous systems match each other. We match each other in the short term- like yesterday morning when you were late, and lunches weren’t packed, and homework wasn’t put away and all of the sudden everyone is yelling. And we also match each other in the long term. So the two years that you’ve been living with a traumatized, close nervous system who vaguely resembles your child? You’ve caught the trauma and now you are closed and reactive TOO.

When families are in crisis, when the child’s trauma is too out of control, when the behaviors have escalated….the first thing to do is to decrease the level of trauma in the parent’s system. This seems counterintuitive. This seems impossible. How on earth can we decrease the trauma in the parent when the child is spinning out of control?

It’s definitely really really really hard. And really really really unfair. To become calm and centered while a tornado is spinning around you? Hard. But not impossible. Not only is it not impossible but it’s imperative. Imagine you caught a life-threatening illness from your child. Can you help your child heal while you are critically ill? No. Does it seem counterintuitive to focus on your own health while your child is ill? Yes. But a sick momma can’t heal a sick baby (or teen).

Trauma Momma. Heal Thyself.

~


Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my newsletter! I try to send it out monthly. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don’t
J

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Is {enter symptom here} Related to Trauma or Attachment?

April 14, 2014

Originally written for and posted on www.ProjectHopeful.org where I have recently been honored to serve on their advisory board.

You knew adoption wouldn’t be easy.  Or maybe you thought it would be.

Just look around… lots of families are adopting.  You know these families from church, from school, or maybe just dance class or the playground.  It was easy for them – they look like happy, normal families.

So maybe you’re wondering – why isn’t it easy for us?  Are we doing something wrong?

Many of you probably did a lot of reading or took a prep class before adopting; in fact, it is likely you heard something about attachment, but it was portrayed as a big problem for a tiny percentage of adoptive families (surely, not yours, right?).

Most adoptive families I know heard about a scary monster called “Reactive Attachment Disorder” and were promised that it is very rare and likely won’t impact their child or, therefore, their family.  In order to help families feel prepared and prudent, adoption counselors and authors tell prospective adoptive families to be on the lookout for RAD warning signs.  These include things like a lack of empathy, a weak or absent conscience, avoidance of physical affection, poor or limited eye contact, physical abuse of animals, and preoccupation with fire.  You think about those symptoms and say to yourself “Well, my child didn’t do any of that…and still doesn’t, thank goodness….so I guess this isn’t about attachment.”

So – what IS IT, then? Maybe your child struggles with impulsivity.  Maybe your child doesn’t seem to be learning from consequences.  Maybe your child is really inflexible, struggles a lot with moving from one activity to another, and seems to be unusually controlling.  Maybe she’s explosive and seems to go from 0-60 in 0.0005 seconds flat.  Maybe an “explosion” looks more like a meltdown, and your child runs to hide on the floor of her shower for a few hours when something (seemingly small) happens. Maybe your child looks like a child who would be labeled “ADHD” or “Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).”  Maybe a doctor has said “depression” or “anxiety.” Likely, you are trying to decide if this is “adoption behavior,” “orphanage behavior,” or just “pre-teen-stuff.”  And now you are reading numerous books, talking to other adoptive families who have had “hard children,” begging teachers to keep trying, learning about strategies to manage ADHD and ODD – and feeling like things are not going the right direction.  You’ve escalated the consequences more and more because your child just. isn’t. learning.  Whatever it is, adoption is a lot harder than you expected.

What if it wasn’t ADHD or ODD or MDD or BPD or any of those other acronyms?  What if someone told you that these symptoms are all about attachment and trauma?

All adopted children experience attachment trauma, even those adopted at birth.  Whether you are fostering a child, adopting domestically, or adopting internationally, without question, your child experienced a significant amount of attachment trauma.  The research is clear that trauma impacts children- sometimes profoundly.  Simply getting on an airplane with people who don’t speak your language and flying to a new country- one that has big houses, water towers, and SUVs- is traumatic.

All children adopted from foster care, the US, or through international adoption have “special needs.”  Experiencing attachment trauma doesn’t mean you child will struggle or display the behaviors mentioned above – but he or she likely will.  Most do. Some of these children adjust to their new families with little difficulty.  Many do not.

Trauma is losing a parent, even if you are too young to have verbal memories of the loss.  Trauma is living in an orphanage.  Trauma is moving to a new home.  Trauma is not being lovingly held and gazed at adoringly by a mother who is simply intoxicated by your smell.

Believe it or not….these traumas (or one or more of many, many others) are most likely what’s underneath the hard things happening in your family.  Inattention, opposition, hyperactivity, anxiety, shy and withdrawn behaviors are all symptoms of attachment trauma.

The good news?  With the right understanding and intervention, your child and your family can heal. More to come…

~


Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Regulate, Refuel, and Reconnect- Registration is now OPEN!

February 14, 2014

CTATC2014Conference_flierJPEG_DATERegistration is now open for Regulate, Refuel, and Reconnect in Austin, TX.  This day-long conference has been created specifically with YOU in mind.

Registration is here: www.RegulateRefuelReconnect.EventBrite.com

WHY ATTEND?

Parenting a child with a history of trauma can be traumatizing to parents and families.  Over time, you may have become exhausted while struggling to cope with the cycle of trauma behaviors. If you know the “how to” but are struggling to do the “how to,” it may be due to the trauma of parenting trauma. Join CTATC for our First Annual Conference to “Regulate, Refuel, and Reconnect.” Drawing on research and innovation from the fields of neuroscience, attachment, and child development, this conference will address the mind, body and spirit of YOU (and your children) to help attendees better understand their critical role in helping a child to grow, heal, and thrive in a relational context.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Conference sessions will include information on how trauma causes our nervous systems to become closed and reactive instead of open and receptive, as well as the importance of attachment and how our attachment styles impact our children’s. The afternoon sessions will be full of fun and practical ideas to reset your nervous system and heal your own trauma through self-regulation, mindfulness, and the power of play. (CEUs available)

PRESENTERS

Robyn Gobbell, LCSW, Suzette Lamb, LPC-S, LCPAA, Katie Spillar, LMFT Associate, Elisha Bidwell, LMFT Associate

More details and registration available HERE.

~


Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

What’s Regulation Got to do With It? (Behavior)

January 27, 2014

Emotional Regulation- Keeping the Accelerator and the Brakes of Emotion in Balance. 
Daniel Siegel, MD- Parenting from the Inside Out.

When I explain emotional regulation to clients in my office, I summarize it as our ability to manage stress without “freaking out.” Most people can resonate with that description! Throughout the day, we experience countless stressors- from missing the alarm, to packing lunches, to rush hour traffic- and countless moments of recovery. Think for a moment about the last small stressor you experienced. Getting out the door is a good example for me. We rush rush rush, getting more and more amped up, and then once we are in the car and backing out of the driveway, the recovery starts to set in. What’s really happening in our bodies is that the accelerator is pressed as I rush around (my sympathetic nervous system) and then the brakes are gently and evenly applied once I am finally on our way (the parasympathetic nervous system). Bottom line is that all day long, the accelerator and breaks are ebbing and flowing in a (mostly) gentle and even way, preventing us from “freaking out.” We all have a “window” within which we can tolerate a certain amount of stress- our “window of tolerance.” Really smart scientists and therapists like Pat Ogden and Daniel Siegel talk a lot about the “window of tolerance.” I didn’t come up with it J When I explain regulation and the window of tolerance in my office, I draw something that looks like this on my white board:

I didn’t come up with this graphic, either. I got it from Peter Levine, PhD, and his website: www.TraumaHealing.com. I DID make this particular graphic so that I could color-code it to match a power-point presentation I’m working on!

Anyway. Some days, we have nice, wide windows of tolerances. (Yes, I made that plural). Some days we don’t and the same stress I handled yesterday without any difficulty makes me freak out today. Like some days I can handle the morning chaos no problem. Some days….not so much. So my window of tolerance is sometimes narrower, sometimes wider. This depends on all sorts of different factors- like chronic stress, sleep, being hungry, the highest cedar pollen count in the history of Austin, TX, etc. Typically my window of tolerance can move back to baseline fairly easily.

This is NOT true for your child of trauma (or you- the one who lives with and parents trauma). Your child’s window of tolerance looks more like this:

The blue lines move closer together….as illustrated by the doted orange line. Well….there is an obvious problem with this. Now, regular ole stress pushes the child right outside their window of tolerance. Most parents in my office can relate to this. Their window looked a lot like the first one BEFORE they became trauma parents. Now, their window more closely resembles the second one.

One more complicating factor. Unresolved trauma comes out looking more like this:

The red jagged line? Yeah, that looks like your kid doesn’t it? There is no even accelerator and brake being applied. This is ‘pedal to the medal’ followed up by a jarring ‘slam on the brakes.’ You’ll notice sometimes the brakes get stuck, and sometimes the accelerator gets stuck. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know!!!! (Again, I did not come up with this graphic. I remade it so the colors matched a power-point presentation I’m giving! www.TraumaHealing.com).

But here’s the piece I think is realllllly important to consider. When children are inside their windows, they are open for relationship. They can use their prefrontal cortex to make good decisions, use some delayed gratification, have impulse control. Really! It’s when your child leaves their window that behaviors start to go south. And being dysregulated doesn’t necessarily mean yelling, screaming, or throwing a huge fit. The path of dysregulation includes opposition, defiance, verbal aggression, physical aggression.

It’s easier to look at a fit-throwing, leg-kicking, obscenity-screaming kiddo and say “Yup….that kid’s dysregulated.” It’s a lot harder to look at the oppositional “NO! I won’t do my homework!” kid and label that dysregulated.

But it IS. And get this- this is true even of non-traumatized kids (and adults). I’ll write more about this, but this article just got really long, so I think it’s time to pause and digest.

The next time your child isn’t compliant….consider looking at the behavior through the lens of regulation. Re-regulate your child instead of punishing, consequencing, lecturing, demanding, or threatening, and see what happens.

PS Obviously for some really traumatized or really dysregulated kids, they live in a chronic state of dysregulation and ‘reregulate’ is way easier said than done. I get it. I’ll write more on that.

~


Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Regulate, Refuel, and Reconnect- A Conference for Parents in Austin, TX ~ April 4.  Save the date- you won’t want to miss this!

Regulate, Refuel & Reconnect- Austin, TX Conference

January 20, 2014

Please save the date for the 1st Annual Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center Conference!

April 4, 2014 ~ Austin, TX ~ 9am – 3:30pm

CTATC2014Conference_headerJPEG

WHY ATTEND?

Parenting a child with a history of trauma can be traumatizing to parents and families.  Over time, you may have become exhausted while struggling to cope with the cycle of trauma behaviors. If you know the “how to” but are struggling to do the “how to,” it may be due to the trauma of parenting trauma. Join CTATC for our First Annual Conference to “Regulate, Refuel, and Reconnect.” Drawing on research and innovation from the fields of neuroscience, attachment, and child development, this conference will address the mind, body and spirit of YOU (and your children) to help attendees better understand their critical role in helping a child to grow, heal, and thrive in a relational context.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Conference sessions will include information on how trauma causes our nervous systems to become closed and reactive instead of open and receptive, as well as the importance of attachment and how our attachment styles impact our children’s. The afternoon sessions will be full of fun and practical ideas to reset your nervous system and heal your own trauma through self-regulation, mindfulness, and the power of play. (CEUs available)

PRESENTERS

Robyn Gobbell, LCSW, Suzette Lamb, LPC-S, LCPAA, Katie Spillar, LMFT Associate, Elisha Bidwell, LMFT Associate

MORE DETAILS AND REGISTRATION INFORMATION TO FOLLOW!  

Nourishing snacks will be provided throughout the day.  A healthy lunch will be served and is included in the cost of admission.  

CTATC2014Conference_flierJPEG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Another Free Webinar

November 18, 2013

Tomorrow- Tuesday the 19th- I’ll be presenting another free webinar!!

Building Attachment: Strengthening the Bond with your Foster or Adopted Child.

The webinar goes from 7pm to 8:30pm Central Time.

You can register by clicking HERE.

P.S. Thanks for sticking with me!  I know I haven’t been adding new content to the blog recently.  Now that I’ve survived the fall and the Adoption Knowledge Affiliates conference is OVER, I will be able to write again!!!

~

Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time….the WEBINAR!

October 3, 2013

Next Tuesday October 8 at 7pm, I’ll be teaching a FREE webinar based on my article Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time.  The webinar is a part of Foster Parent EDU here in Texas, but ANYone ANYwhere can register to take this FREE webinar!  All you have to do it click HERE.  I hope you’ll join me!

 

****I just learned that there is a waiting list for the webinar!  Sounds like we’ll have to do another one soon!  Thanks everyone****

~

Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

PS Don’t forget to register for the 2013 Adoption Knowledge Affiliates Conference in Austin, TX!

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