Link to Blog - Overcoming Childhood Trauma
A new documentary film by Gabor Maté, The Wisdom of Trauma, investigates childhood trauma from the perspective of how its persistent imprints continue to affect us as adults. While many people sadly experience overt physical and/or sexual abuse, for many others, childhood trauma is more emotional than physical, can be subtle, and might not fit into most people’s definition of "trauma". Dr. Maté postulates that childhood trauma, for many of us, sets up default behaviors that we carry with us into adulthood, and we mistake these behaviors for "who we are”. For example, if a child experiences loneliness and abandonment, he or she may develop coping mechanisms such as suppressing their anger, sadness, and despair, or learn to disassociate from their emotions in order to feel less pain. As an adult, this individual may continue this pattern, not showing or even feeling many emotions, and avoiding intimate relationships that might trigger these painful memories. While it is tempting to blame our parents, or anyone else who may have raised us for these outcomes, Dr. Maté is careful to point out how childhood trauma is multi-generational; each generation imposes the same imprinting on the next generation as they themselves experienced in childhood. Unless the primary caregivers have taken extra steps to heal themselves, they will inevitably pass along an imprint that includes their angers, fears, hatred, shame, and guilt.
Researchers have known for at least 25 years that childhood trauma is far more insidious than we might have suspected. The landmark CDC – Kaiser ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experiences) included over 13,000 patients who were scored based on the number of ACEs they recalled from childhood. These scores were evaluated in relation to their health status in adulthood. As stated in the study abstract, The number of categories of adverse childhood exposures showed a graded relationship to the presence of adult diseases including ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease. The seven categories of adverse childhood experiences were strongly interrelated and persons with multiple categories of childhood exposure were likely to have multiple health risk factors later in life. [https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(98)00017-8/fulltext] One would think that these findings might have elicited a more broad-based response from the medical community to consider childhood trauma in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Other experts in the field, have delineated the childhood trauma/disease connection in considerable detail. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s authoritative book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, defines how childhood trauma affects our adult neuroendocrine system resulting in the release of stress hormones and other chemicals that can ultimately impact health. He also discusses various modalities for overcoming this imprinting before it negatively impacts the immune system to such an extent that disease occurs. These modalities include everything from psychoanalysis, to acupuncture, yoga, psychotropic drugs, and newer therapeutic modalities such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), internal family systems, and somatic experiencing. He suggests that the best modality is the one that fits the predilections of the person looking for self-improvement.