Stress & Trauma – How do they really affect us?
Whilst our minds don’t remember everything at a conscious level (there’s just too much information being taken in minute by minute), our subconscious mind, brain and our body really do “keep hold” of everything that has happened to us…
I have just read an amazing book called The Body Keeps the Score by the psychologist Bessel van der Kolk, which goes into so much depth about how our bodies and minds really do hold the minutiae of our lives from the outset and how this affects us emotionally and physically long-term.
He reconfirmed my clinically experienced and already held belief that from the moment we are conceived and begin growing in our mother’s womb we can be affected by external factors – some kind of shock, disturbance, accident, pain or a form of distress – which subsequently becomes part of our internal characteristics and physiology.
I have worked with clients who have, unbeknown to them until we worked together and started looking to the root cause of their anxiety and self esteem issues, suffered from gestational trauma (shock).
This leads me to the belief that children really are a product of their childhood in so many ways.
As a young child something may happen that has a profound effect, shifting the perspective of that child’s world to change it forever. Children just do not have the same mental capacity as we adults do to process trauma, and I believe this is something that we as parents sometimes forget.
Their brains haven’t grown or developed enough yet and their frame of reference to the world is so small that even being called names in the playground and being made fun of, or having a teacher not understand, or repeatedly not listen to them properly can change everything for them – can shift their world and how their mind and body deals with stress responses forever….
So think how a child’s frame of reference would develop if something even more traumatic were happening either around them, or if something happened to them?
Children don’t always know how to show or verbalise how they feel – what’s going on in their world (frame of reference). They may act-up, “behave badly”, maybe having a temper tantrum or going quiet. This behaviour can continue or escalate, even after the trauma (whatever that may be) has gone away.
Don’t forget, what may seem okay, not okay, or even stressful to us adults, is going to mean something very different to a child.
I have worked with clients who have suffered various childhood, adolescent and or adult traumas in many different guises, and whilst I fully accept and agree that growing up is also about becoming desensitised to our environment, imagine if there were continuously distressing (traumatic) situations happening all the time in your child’s early lives?
How do you as the adult cope in stressful situations? Then think about how your child might cope… my clinical experience is that they will be anxious, unconsciously become hyper-vigilant (tense and on high alert), which in turn will put stress on their physical systems and potentially cause long-term anxiety issues and in some instances ill health.
This can lead to teenagers struggling to articulate what’s happening to them “inside”. Fear of not being good enough, or not fitting into what is expected from peers and parents all has a profound effect… not being listened to, or not feeling understood and then “acting up”.
Any single or repeated trauma over the course of our lives can change our bodies response and physiology long-term, manifesting at any time to leave us feeling unable to cope with the world as we experience it.
Each person’s physiology “feels” and “keeps” their experiences “held” within according to their life history.
So I wonder…… what does your body hold and how does it affect you?