Being able to feel safe and secure in the world is a major lifetime occupation for survivors of childhood trauma. I am writing this post in connection with the following:
Comment February 26, 2010 to this post: +PTSD AND SEVERE ABUSE SURVIVORSHIP – CONCLUSION
I absolutely agree! My 7 year old suffers from PTSD and it has started rearing it’s ugly head when he was 3 1/2. It is a nightmare we live everyday and it effects every aspect of our lives. I am so tired of hearing people say children are resilient even doctors will tell me this. You have expressed every point I have believed for myself but have not had the words to quite articulate or the extensive background in knowledge. I do feel I am very intuitive with my children and people or doctors cannot tell me where they are at, because I know exactly what is going on with them. My son has been diagnosed as having PTSD and High Anxiety, but there is so much related to this diagnosis that they do not take seriously. My son is on medication to help, but I still do not know who he is because all I see is the effects of the trauma that has been caused to him. I do not know his personality, he is on a constant fight or flight response.
Thank you for bringing so many reasons for people to understand that children are not resilient and we need to be more sensitive to their needs and get them help as soon as we suspect anything. I think if we miss those opportunities can only inset the damage deeper and longer.
There is a universe of concerns contained in this comment. At the moment, I want to respond regarding the connection as I see it between insecure attachment and anxiety disorders including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Even as I think about my severely abusive Borderline mother I understand that it was her response to the anxiety of being in the world, as it operated in relation to her vagus nerve system, that kept her stuck in a high-alert state of “The world is a dangerous, unsafe and insecure place to be.”
My mother never knew this. She never knew that all of the anxiety that she experienced was abusively focused on me from the time I was born. At the same time I think about all the problems that I have within my own body-brain as a direct result of the terrible abuse my mother did to me. How might my adult life have been different if I had known a long time ago HOW her abuse affected by developing body-brain-mind-self?
What if someone had told me when I first sought therapy-help in 1973 that the number one priority for my body-brain was to be safe? What would it have meant to me to have been told that more than anything else in my lifetime my physiology would be constantly and continually reacting at my core AS IF all the trauma of the 18 years of my childhood was STILL HAPPENING or COULD HAPPEN at any given second of my life?
I think about the massive amount of life force energy a traumatized person’s body consumes in this continual, constant process of having to be on high alert, always scanning every ‘input’, every stimulus to that comes in to the senses, always always always knowing for a FACT that the world is malevolent and dangerous, and that the storms of trauma are very very real.
A traumatized child’s busily growing and developing body-brain builds all this trauma response into itself. Nobody ever told me that I became a trauma-survivor ‘machine’, that everything about me is connected in its foundations to the process of surviving.
I think about all the growth and developmental stages infants, children and young adults are doing, and I think about how the life force energy being consumed by this trauma-monitoring robs these young ones also of the ability to go through ANY of their later developmental stages normally or easily. Problems can compound and compound and compound.
Not only is our body-brain constantly scanning and assessing degrees of threat and danger in our environment all of the time, but our body-brain is also constantly preparing itself to freeze, flee or fight. I am making a point here that I, at 58, do not have a physiology much different than the one this mother is describing for her 7-year-old traumatized son. So when I think about what learning about the developmental consequences of trauma actually DO TO US, I realize that the process of learning how to live a better life applies equally to both of us.
That makes the most important information we can learn to consciously give to our body-brain is that WE ARE SAFE IN EACH ONGOING MOMENT. True, there are many complex prescription drugs that offer some help, but in the end we are complex living beings who need far more than drugs to improve our well-being in our body in the world.
By becoming increasingly aware of how our trauma-formed body-brain is continually involved in assessing whether we are safe and secure in the world or not, means that we are changing the dynamics of the energy being continually consumed within us. We can learn what safety and security ACTUALLY is. We can learn how to assess our degrees of safety and security in the present moment at the same time we can become increasingly aware of what our body-brain is physiologically telling us through how we FEEL.
If I just limit my thinking at this moment to PTSD, I can say that our body-brain does not know that the traumas that affected us are IN THE PAST and not in our present moment. If there IS trauma in our present, then we better know what to do about it to MAKE ourselves more safe and secure. Because early trauma survivors have a different body-brain formed with the trauma as a part of it, this assessment and response process will never be the same for us as I believe it is for non-early traumatized people.
We need to understand this fact and accept it, and then find ways to regulate our threat-response systems in better (and conscious) ways. Our body has ONLY one goal: To keep us alive. We are still here. Our body did a darn good job at its job! We can thank it for that. But what about quality of LIFE for us as we continue down our pathway of life?
I continually have to work on my ‘YES, BUT….!” “Yes,” I can tell my body-brain consciously, “you have kept me alive. Yes, you are very good at your job! BUT, we need to work this out a bit better now. You need to learn how to understand when and where threat ACTUALLY exists in the present and when it does not so that you can feel safe and secure in the world as much as possible.”
This might sound simple, but it is the number one occupation of my lifetime. Yes, that’s a terrible SHAME and it SUCKS, but it’s very, very real. Constantly that question has to be asked, “Am I safe and secure AT THIS MOMENT?” Even if/when I can negotiate this question and its answer with my body-brain, being able to FEEL something other than anxiety, sadness, fear, or even anger becomes a whole other problem. (It’s important to remember, too, that depression is a ‘hypo’ anxiety response rather than a ‘hyper’ one – but an anxiety response it still is.)
But it is a possible process! And anything that is POSSIBLE gives me hope – for myself and for others including children. I think the more we can learn about how our body is very, very busy keeping us alive ALL OF THE TIME the more we can begin to find even the tiniest of niches where we can KNOW and FEEL when we are safe and secure. Our ability to maneuver confidently in our life, to explore the opportunities of our lifetime, our ability to feel safely and securely connected to others, to truly empathize and care about them is dependent upon the extent we can help ourselves to realize how critically important this feeling of being safe and secure is on a continual ongoing basis.
Early trauma survivors (and even later onset trauma survivors) face anxiety negotiation for the rest of their lives. I thought about this tonight in relation to this commenter’s son because any efforts that caregivers can put toward helping traumatized children learn to do the process I am describing the more proficient they will become. It’s like learning anything new: Possible, and practice practice practice helps any skill grow in strength.
Anything we can ever do to help ourselves to actually BE and to recognize WHEN we are safe and secure in the world is a step in the best direction we can take for ourselves as early trauma survivors working to live a better life in the present.