Step 2: How Did Your Child’s Trauma Impact THEM??
Step 2 in the Super-Powers of Adoptive Moms and Dads. How did my child’s trauma impact their brain? (In step 1, you learned about trauma and the brain, just in general. In this step, you start to personalize it to your child. Theory becomes personal. This can be hard!!!)
As you learn about how trauma impacts the brain, it’s important to start personalizing that information and weaving it into your child’s story. Was your child raised in a securely attached home, only to have tragedy impact their parent’s ability to care for them when they were older? Was your child’s birthmother a victim of severe domestic violence while your child was in utero? Did you child experience severe neglect in their first months of life, rarely held, snuggled, or even looked at?
Is this your first time reading about the 4 Super-Powers of Adoptive Moms and Dads? If so, head over to the article where I give an overview of these amazing super-powers and how they developed. The 4 Super-Powers of Trauma Mamas (and Dads too).
Think first about the developmental level they were when the trauma began.
In utero? First few months of life? Toddler? Preschooler? School age child? And think about the areas of the brain that were developing at that time.
Children who experienced in utero trauma and early early life trauma often have brainstem dysregulation, which leaves them chronically dysregulated. Even their body systems like sleep, appetite, and heart rate can be irregular. These children can have negative beliefs that are focused on how bad they are or if they even exist, or have the right to exist. You are having a hard time staying connected to this child because they are literally almost always dysregulated. This child can be extremely impulsive and seems to be operating at warp speed without using their thinking brain much to help them make decisions.
Children who experienced trauma before they had words or explicit memories may have an overdeveloped amygdala/limbic area of the brain. The amygdala helps the brain know if your are safe or not safe. It is scanning for danger four times PER SECOND. When children live in a chronically unsafe environment (due to neglect, abuse, or other trauma), their amygdala remains on high alert. It determines they are NOT SAFE more than SAFE and this keeps their system in a chronic state of fight/flight. This was necessary for survival, but it also left them with an overactive amygdala that is oriented toward the catastrophic. The brain develops around what it uses the most, so if the most used part of your child’s brain was the part that determined the environment was unsafe, well….that’s the part that gets developed. These children may be constantly in a state of fight/flight- hypervigilent, always assuming the worst. They have great fears about safety. They are easily triggered by the most innocuous things because their overactive amygdalas believe everything is a threat. This child might have beliefs about how they are not safe, or that the world is not safe, or nobody can protect them.
Or maybe your child experienced profound neglect in those early years and lacked the necessary adult/child interaction that babies need to help their nervous system mature. Your child might be extremely shut down, and when they get stressed they dissociate instead of acting out. This child learned that the world was so unsafe, their only refuge was to go away in their mind. They might not have a lot of clear negative beliefs that they can articulate because the dissociated mind isn’t thinking. Whether they can articulate them or not, their negative beliefs are about how they are bad, unsafe, and will always be left. A parent who is physically present isn’t enough. What about the parent who was too depressed, too checked-out, or too high on drugs? A child left without adult face-to-face interaction experiences adults as always leaving them. They may go back and forth between the fear that they will be left again AND just giving up, hoping to be left again because they are sure it’s inevitable anyway.
How did your child’s trauma impact THEM?
Notice your child’s negative beliefs about themselves. Notice their triggers. Make a list. Compare this to what you know about their trauma. And remember to include traumas that might not seem like traumas to you. Witnessing domestic violence (or hearing it in another room) is just as damaging- and maybe more so- than experiencing violence. Not getting enough eye contact or presence from a parent- even one who was physically present. Even coming to your family was a trauma. It’s easy to overlook this because it was a joyful occasion for you, and your child might even have seemed happy. But when they came to your family, they lost something- even if that something wasn’t very good. And their brain had to be on high-alert until it figured out that you were OK. Because their brain didn’t know you were OK. Most adults weren’t. You had to prove that you are.
It might be frustrating that I’m not telling you how to fix this. Remember! This is just step two!!!
And this four-step cycle isn’t necessarily about healing your child’s trauma- though it is a non-negotiable piece of it. When you develop these super-powers, you enable yourself to stay more present and regulated in the face of your child’s dysregulation. Meeting dysregulation with regulation is crucial. Is it enough? Not always. Is it necessary? Yes.
In the next two weeks I’ll tackle step 3 (understanding how you participate in the trauma tornado) and step 4 (heal thyself).
I’m also plotting out an online parenting course that will give us the opportunity to really dive into these four steps.
There. I said it. It’s no longer just an idea, one I can choose to abandon. I’ve put the idea out to you, and will hold myself to it! I’m imagining a multi-week course- possibly starting in the spring- focused on these four steps and helping you put them into action. What do you think? ONLINE!!! So anyone anywhere can access it! Interested? If so, be sure to sign up for my newsletter so you can stay up-to-date on my online offerings.
Sending you peace. You’ve got this.
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