The effect of trauma on the brain

Published on 10th October 2021


You may know that I became a mum through adoption in 2011 and have now developed a business supporting adopting adopters and carers who have challenging children.

The reasons children are so challenging are multiple. They may have learnt the behaviour from their birth family, but more likely is that they have lived in a hostile environment in both the womb and their early life and they have developed coping strategies which can make them controlling and difficult to live with. Lack of stimulation in their early years may lead to an insufficient development of their limbic system causing an impairment to their executive functioning and working memory. School becomes difficult as does following instructions. 

They also become hypervigilant with an over developed amygdala, a part of the brain that processes emotions. 

The issue is such an important one to be addressed that an organisation called the UK Trauma Council  this link provides a very good explanation of what trauma is and how it affects us, which if not addressed can be carried forward into our adult lives.

Trauma has an effect of all of our anatomy and physiology, not just the brain. In his book, The body keeps the score, Bessel Van Der Kolk explains how we have muscle memory that can hold traumatic incidents within the muscle cells.

I remember massaging a woman's leg when she cried out. I hadn't hurt her but it transpired that she has been skiing with her children a few years previously and had fallen and broken her leg. She hadn't wanted to alarm her children so had kept all the emotion and pain in. Years later I touched the site of the pain and the trauma was released in her scream. 

Movement, touch, cuddles, laughter and play will all help the brain develop and for the child to begin to process their trauma, so that it doesn't inhibit living a healthy happy and fulfilling life. 



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