While it is important to love yourself, having an experience of being loved, having someone there for you when things get tough is critical to maintaining your mental and physical health.
More than anything else, it is the feeling of being safe with other people that define mental health. That being said, we are subjected to trauma by fellow humans, especially through our earliest caregivers. This can be through physical or emotional abuse or absence or neglect. Trauma takes away our language and means to express our experiences. The only means left, then, is the language of the body.
Numerous animal studies showed that minor stress during infancy could permanently impact the development of the brain and, therefore, on behaviour. This could be true for humans as well. The developing brain is sensitive to experiences, both good and bad. The fact that the brain develops sequentially explains why highly young children are at high risk of suffering from the lasting effects of trauma. Yet, we continue to say ‘’children are resilient’’. Children become resilient purely due to the nurturance that they receive early in life. As much research has shown, the impact of trauma is far more significant on children than it is on adults.
“Why are you overly sensitive?’’, “I don’t understand your impulsivity to stress’’ are statements that convey that we are nowhere near to becoming a trauma-conscious society. The painful experiences one has had can result in being genetically sensitive to stress. This is due to a repeated and intense activation of one’s threat-mediating stress-response neural system.
Research suggests that if children are not allowed the chance to develop permanent relationships with either of the primary caregivers during the first three years of life, it can have lasting effects on people’s ability to relate normally and affectionately to each other. This shows why attachments can overwhelm when traumatized children become adults. These adults suffer from their memories. Therefore, to cope and survive, they either disappear and disconnect or engage in destructive behaviors. Emotional numbing, a dissociated fragmented sense of self, a feeling of floating in space, becomes common defensive survival states of existence.
Coping can take a toll. To appreciate how children heal their trauma, we need to primarily understand what they have learned about love, how they cope with challenges, and how stress affects them. Children raised in chaos become adults triggered by peace. Although trauma’s effect may not always be visible to the untrained eye, you begin to see its consequences everywhere when you realize what trauma can do to children and adults.
What has also occurred to me is that what is traumatically stressful for one may be trivial for another. The context, the timing, and the response matter a lot.
Because humans are social beings, the worst catastrophes that can happen to us inevitably involves relational loss. As a result, recovery from trauma is about relationships and gaining professional help mentally and physically. What heals a traumatized child are the caretakers, families, mental health professionals, and folks around them who are tolerant of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and patient in helping them slowly build new ways of learning and unlearning. In therapy, what doesn’t work well is coercing children to open up or to let go of their anger. To let go may have to do with denying its roots and while consulting traumatized children, identifying a symptom is not just enough. Instead, look out for the meaning the person makes of that symptom. I certainly do not have all answers on creating a world that respects a child’s needs.
Most importantly, what I know is that children need healthy touch, affection, and approval. An excellent place to start is at the beginning. Infants and children need the devoted attention of caretakers, and those caretakers need the daily support of a loving community. Rather than focusing obsessively on the cognitive development taught in schools, children’s emotional and physical needs should be given significance. Our brain development follows the rule ‘’Use it or Lose it’’. If we don’t give children time to learn how to be with others, connect, deal with conflict, and negotiate, those areas of their brain will be underdeveloped. I want to quote Sigmund Freud here, ‘’How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved ‘’. This explains how vital relationships are to the healing process. Understanding trauma and its impact is crucial, not only for helping those who have suffered but also for preventing this for generations to come.