When a child experiences severe trauma, the trauma remains trapped in the various layers of the child’s being – not just the physical body – unless it is released and prevented from hijacking the child’s body, heart, mind, or spirit again. The traumatized child may react in fear or powerlessness to harmless situations. Some hyper-vigilantly look out for danger, even when no danger is present. Simply put, the child’s sense of safety has been destroyed.
Trauma can program the intelligence of the physical body to protect and defend itself. When the child sees or hears the abuser approaching, the body begins to panic and engages in a stress response. This stress reaction can be triggered by anything that reminds the child of the abuser or anyone the child suspects will behave like their abuser. The stress reaction is triggered by even the thought or memory of the abuser.
But there’s hope. The sense of safety can be restored. Of course, the child must be removed from hostile and unsafe environments. The child also has to learn not to unwittingly create a hostile environment.
Research by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dr. Gabor Maté, and Dr. Peter Levine reveal effective ways to restore the traumatized child’s sense of safety.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk found performing in theater plays help restore agency and power, yoga helps reconnect their consciousness back into their bodies, and that specific eye movement patterns provide relief from chronic, overwhelming emotions.
Dr. Gabor Maté delves into the impact of childhood trauma and resulting symptoms, such as addictive behaviors used to sooth and calm themselves. The addictive behaviors expand beyond just alcohol and drug abuse. He affirms the need to restore the child’s sense of self and approach the behavior with compassion and understanding.
Dr. Peter Levine guides traumatized clients to mindful awareness of their physical body’s translation of the harm experienced in the past. He presents somatic techniques to release chronic stress and reprogram the body to exist comfortably in safe environments.
With better understanding of the root causes of trauma and with the various tools and techniques shared by these trauma experts, we can seek alternative approaches of relief of childhood trauma.