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Attachment Trauma Changes the Brain

January 23, 2017

A couple weeks ago, I revisited my observation about the amazing talents that adoptive parents have honed over the years of parenting a child with complex trauma.  These talents seem pretty universal among parents who are working to help their child heal from complex trauma, and honestly, they are pretty impressive.  So much so that I decided I think they are actually super-powers 🙂


A quick recap of these impressive super-powers that adoptive parents don’t intend to develop, but do so nonetheless.

  1. Understanding the neurobiological impact of trauma on the brain.
  2. Understanding how your child’s specific trauma impacted their specific brain.
  3. Understanding how you participate in the trauma tornado (what are your triggers?).
  4. Trauma Mama (and dads…), Heal Thyself. Do the work.  Face those triggers and heal.

How DOES trauma impact the brain??

I want to introduce you to a groundbreaking article written by the brilliant clinicians over at The Trauma Center, Justice Resource Institute, in Boston.  The Trauma Center is THE place researching and getting their research out to clinicians and the public.  WAAAAAY back in 2005, they published “Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents,” kicking off a new era in how we treat children who have experienced early attachment trauma and loss.  The full text is about 40 pages, but you can click HERE to read the shorter, nine-page summary.

The Trauma Center identifies SEVEN domains of impairment in children with complex trauma.  SEVEN.  Did you learn that in your adoptive parent training?  That your child’s experiences prior to adoption would impact their entire system?  Most parents I work with were pretty blindsided by this when their child came into their family.

7 Domains of Impairment

  1. Attachment
  2. Biology (medical problems, sensory integration, neurotransmitter imbalance, brain development)
  3. Affect (Emotion) Regulation
  4. Dissociation (including traumatic memory disintegration)
  5. Behavioral Control
  6. Cognition
  7. Self-Concept

Why does this matter?

Why do I think it’s helpful…maybe actually necessary…for parents of children with complex trauma to understand how trauma has impacted the brain and nervous system?  Well for one, if we understand what the problem is, we are more likely to be successful at fixing it.  If my car doesn’t turn on, do I need gas?  A new battery?  A new transmission?  I want to figure that out, or there could be a whole lot of (expensive) trial and error.

But also, with understanding comes compassion.  If our brain can figure it out, we can let go of some of the fear and bring in compassion.  Understanding is NOT excusing.  Understanding WHY our children are struggling doesn’t mean we excuse the behavior.  Understanding the why helps us know what to do to actually promote HEALING instead of just behavior management.

Here are a few of my previous articles that will help you understand just a bit more about how trauma has impacted your child’s nervous system:

Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time   

What’s Regulation Got To Do With It?

Trauma Is Contagious

When the Cycle is Broken

The Tragedy of Disorganized Attachment

 Attachment & the Impact of Developmental Trauma

Why Good Times can Suddenly Turn Bad


Keep on keepin’ on, moms and dads.  You’re doing amazing.



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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.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. R. Leckey Harrison permalink
    May 9, 2017 10:08 am

    True, that trauma doesn’t tell time. We use a bit of this info in our workshops, and yes it’s contagious across generations, and I wish I didn’t have job security. Looking at #5 in your list, I’m curious if you’d pop addiction into that category?

    • May 9, 2017 11:03 am

      Yes, substance abuse is categorized under “behavioral control” according to the NCTSN (the writers of the article). I long for the day my job becomes obsolete as well!!!

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