How Trauma Affects the Brain

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HOW EARLY TRAUMA AFFECTS THE BRAIN

The first few years of life are crucial for brain development. From 0-2 years the child is learning how to go from a regulated state to dysregulated and back again as caregivers attend to their basic needs. Babies move from being comfortable to being frightened, hungry, wet, or cold causing dysregulation. As the caregiver attends to the child’s needs, the child moves back into a state of regulation. This pattern of regulation, dysregulation to reregulation shapes the brain and is the foundation for secure attachment. These experiences are also stored throughout the nervous system, becoming the background of our experiences. When adequate assistance in regulating affect or making sense of emotions is absent, the brain organizes itself very differently, employing a variety of defensive coping strategies to reduce the anxiety of not having its needs met. Ultimately this wiring is what controls anxiety and fear, what our attention is drawn to, what we will approach or avoid and how we interpret our experiences.

TRAUMA’S IMPACT ON SELF-REGULATION

Children coming from homes where neglect or abuse happened, often times did not learn how to self-regulate as there was not a safe adult to consistently take care of them.  These experiences are traumatic, which have profound effects on the nervous system.  Now as older children, adolescents or even adults they find it difficult to self-regulate.  Self-regulating takes various forms but in general it is the ability to control one’s behaviors, emotions and thoughts in order to achieve long-term goals. 

Examples of dyregulation include:

  • angry outbursts

  • hyper vigilance

  • anxiety

  • the absence of empathy 

Behavioral dysregulation can look like outbursts such as:

  • throwing objects

  • acting aggressively towards others

  • threats to kill oneself

While the opposite of outbursts would be:

  • withdrawn behavior

  • lack of engagement. 

Physiological dysregulation is experienced in a variety of ways:

  • chronic constipation

  • hyperarousal

  • rigidity

  • lack of body awareness

  • stomach aches

  • physical tension

  • lack of focused and sustained attention

NEUROFEEDBACK’S AFFECT ON THE TRAUMATIZED BRAIN

Neurofeedback is an intervention aimed at the circuitry of the brain that regulates the traits of fearfulness, shame and rage.  Through repetition the brain can create new neural pathways, calming fear and the over aroused autonomic nervous system.  Neurofeedback is used to stabilize the brain and improve resilience, which allows for the development of more choices in how to respond.  With the advances in our understanding of the brain and the technology available, we have to treat the brain! Trauma does not have to have the pervasive, long enduring grip on one’s life.

Neurofeedback’s Impacts Can Include:

  • Improved sleep - falling asleep and staying asleep easier

  • Improved emotional control - less temper tantrums, more affectionate

  • Greater feelings of calm

  • Improved ability to handle change

  • Improved social awareness

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