I am attending a six week training on Dialectical Behavior Therapy co facilitated by Dr. Martha Wetter, Ph.D and Cindy Frase, LPDD.
It is fascinating!
Yesterday we concentrated on the developing brain and neuroplasticity. Here are few interesting tidbits regarding trauma and the developing brain:
Neurological Impact of Trauma: When people sustain trauma or attachment losses early in life it physically alters their brain development. It alters the amygdala which becomes hypersensitive to stressful situations for LIFE. Our brains are not fully formed until age 25. Consider what harm can be done to a child who lives in a negative, unstable, unsafe environment. Emotional/verbal abuse can be more damaging and pervasive than physical or even sexual abuse!
The old rhyme “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me” is a lie.
Words can have long lasting effects. The amygdala is at work before you are born, processing danger. It remembers voices, recognizes arguments, loud angry tones and other sensory input. It is affected by the mother’s stress levels in utero. If the mother is stressed, her cortisol levels rise and flood the baby’s brain, triggering the fight/flight reaction.
Studies show that infants know and recognize more than we realized. The social brain is built hourly/daily by caregivers. If you have a depressed, neglectful caregiver, the brain can develop differently.
Neglect, poor attachments and abuse all alter the developing brain physiologically.
Chronic trauma also weakens the immune system setting us up for illness far down the road. Most autoimmune disorders correlates to adverse events in childhood including fibromyalgia, IBS, lupus, MS, psoriasis, migraines, back pain and pelvic pain. Also can predispose one to addiction.
Even into adulthood trauma alters our brain. IF we live in a negative state we form pathways that trigger our amygdala into flight/fight/freeze/collapse/submit patterns.
Research shows that neurons that "fire together, wire together" meaning that yes, trauma changes our brains, but also that therapy skills can change our brains as well!
By fostering positive experiences and validation we can change our brains for the better.
The consequences of an invalidating environment is that one concludes they must be unacceptable or bad to deserve such punishment or neglect. The regard themselves as unworthy of love. The also come to view others as dangerous, rejecting or unavailable and the world as a dangerous place.
This early learning about self and others forms a set of expectations and assumptions that cannot be changed by words from others since they are learned in the first years of life and are preverbal in nature (Wetter & Frase, DBT Training)
These early relational memories cannot be recalled or described, but will be triggered by stimuli in the current environment that appear to reflect the early invalidation. Thus current threats that resemble the earlier invalidating environment, such as perceived rejection, abandonment or criticism will trigger memories, emotions and cognitions from childhood. (Wetter & Frase)
The activation of early memories will motivate behavior that, although intended to keep people attached, appears so child-like and demanding, it does the opposite. Some researchers believe the most dramatic example of activation of early relational trauma may be what is called borderline personality disorder. Thus, much of the "borderline" behavior should be regarded as coming from triggered relational memories associated with early abandonment, rejection or lack of parental responsiveness. Because this behavior appears to come from invalidation early in life, it is triggered by later perceived invalidation. (Wetter and Frase)
We as humans don't realize what damage we do to our children...