I've just watched Liz Mulliner ask me why there's silence around childhood trauma. She questions why people who try to commit suicide are rarely asked about their childhood. Is it more important to boost the profits of drug companies, than it is to deal with the root causes of mental health? Liz tells me high percentages of people with Bi Polar Disorder, Borderline personality disorder, and a host of other mental 'disorders,' have experienced chronic trauma in childhood.
Liz thinks rather than asking 'are you ok?' We should be asking 'what happened in your childhood?' She might be right.
There are good reasons to ask someone why they're struggling. By understanding someone's history we can understand their behavior. Through that understanding we gain empathy and tolerance. The personal, social and economic impact of doing this would be huge.
So let me share with you what I've learnt through my own journey.
Sufferers of chronic trauma lack a number of 'functions' the more 'healthy' among us take for granted. The effects of trauma affect our brain significantly. Trauma doesn't just affect our conscious state, it affects us on a deeper level. Chronic childhood trauma impacts our Autonomic Nervous System. The non cognitive, non conscious and non verbal parts of us. If you'd like to know more watch this video on stress, trauma and the body.
I'm grateful for this knowledge and other recent advances in Neuroscience, particularly the diagnostic tools that show the effects of trauma on the brain. We can see that areas of the brain that deal with cognition, are relatively inactive in childhood trauma victims. Maybe I need to share this with my therapist, before he tries to implement mindfulness, or other cognitive behavioral therapies. These diagnostic advances also allow us to see the overactive parts of traumatized brain. And give us the ability to track it's progress. Of course we don't all to have access to these diagnostic tools. Which is a shame because potentially it could help us fine tune our therapies. Help us feel better, faster.
Nevertheless this knowledge has had a profound impact on my sense of self. The realization that there's little I could have done to eliminate this pain, brings me some peace of mind. It doesn't change what happens in my body when I'm 'triggered,' but it's still valuable.
If you think people with mental health issues should just 'get on with it', or 'over it' then you're potentially adding to a sense of isolation. Ignorance that perpetuates people's pain and sense of worthlessness is unwarranted. I urge you all to watch Bessel van der Kolk's presentation, Trauma, Affect Regulation, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Not just for the knowledge he shares, but also for his humanistic, empathetic approach.
I am a survivor of chronic childhood trauma. From my earliest memory my primary feelings oscillated between fear and terror. When you weigh fifteen kilos, being thumped by a one hundred kilo, tattooed, ex army sergeant, is terrifying. I'm sure my father had no idea how I felt, but when he hit me there was a real fear that I might die. He also told me on countless occasions I was 'a fucking idiot.' This did little for my confidence. Just after my father left the family, I was sexually assaulted by someone who lived on my street. This experience extinguished the little self worth that I'd clung to. All of these experiences were traumatic, all of them affected my brain development. All of them have defined my distorted, mostly negative sense of self. All these traumas have influenced my ability to 'prosper'. My life has been a journey focused on survival.
With these 'posts' I intend to challenge the continuing silence and stigma around mental health. I hope that in some small way it contributes to more understanding and better outcomes.