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Is it time to get ‘comfortable’ with trauma?

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Is it time to get ‘comfortable’ with trauma?

Childhood trauma is common and damaging. And it's time we talk about it

By Jane Evans

The word ‘trauma’ means such different things to us all. When I am speaking or training I always ask “what do you think trauma is?” and give people time to discuss it and then feedback. A wide range of descriptions, thoughts and insight come back to me as it is not clear cut. Some say, “a serious accident, death, domestic violence, a life-limiting injury, child abuse, terrorist attacks, living in a war zone”, all of which makes sense. What does trauma mean to you?

Writing in the book by Emmerson, D. and Hopper, E. (2011) called Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, Stephen Cope says of trauma:

“Trauma may result from overwhelming or violent experiences, or from difficult psychological and emotional experiences. Its impact may be sudden and dramatic-or the result of gradual and unrelenting violations of our very sense of self. “

Why should we ‘get comfortable’ with trauma?

Surely the whole point is to feel deeply UNCOMFORTABLE that trauma exists, especially in the lives of babies, children and young people? I can’t disagree with this and, having shared the stage on several occasions with the inspirational. Dr. Eunice Lumsden, Head of Early Years at University of Northampton, who, when talking about how our youngest children are being failed, and continue to be traumatised at a time when we know the value of early intervention in their lives. Eunice always poses the question,“Where is our outrage?”

Statistics on the Young Minds website show the levels of trauma in our children and young people which appears in their mental health,

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (1).

  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm (2).

  • There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self-harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68% (3).

  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time (4).

  • Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression (5).

  • Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression (6).

  • 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society (7).

  • 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder (8).

  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s (9).

  • The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999 (10)

I want people to get ‘comfortable’ with the fact that trauma is a common, shared experience for many children on a continuum, from a tiny amount, up to the unimaginable. We need to become far more comfortable with this FACT, rather than continue to believe it’s just ‘those children ‘from ‘those families’.

How should we get ‘comfortable’ with trauma?

By becoming educated in what trauma is, what it does to the developing body and brain, how it presents in a baby, child, young person or adult, what is helpful to them and what is NOT helpful to them. This doesn’t mean we have to be diagnosing anything or anyone, there are far too many people rushing to do this so no need to join in!

It means we have to put our ‘trauma glasses’ on so we don’t see things which are not there, after all we can easily take them off if it is obvious what has happened.

We need to get comfortable with the fact that it is relatively easy to traumatise a child’s developing brain and nervous system, by:

  • Isolating them when they are upset

  • Spending too much time absorbed in a screen so their emotional needs go unseen and unmet

  • Numbing children out by repeatedly giving them a screen, dummy, food, bottle or anything else to distract them

  • Shouting at and shaming children when they have made a mistake

  • Giving them a consequence which put additional barriers between them and us at a time when they need to emotionally re-connect to explore what went wrong and how to feel calm again

  • Repeatedly giving the message that acceptance comes through achievement

These are all ‘mini-traumas’ which can accumulate over time and give the message, ‘you have to please me to be in my good books’, whereas children crave and need ‘unconditional’ connection and closeness to feel calm, well and to experience life fully and joyfully.

It’s always time to learn about trauma.

Having educated myself about the impact of early emotional and developmental trauma, I can safely say it’s a) possible b) essential c) time everyone did!

I am fortunate to have linked up with Mike Armiger, someone who fully and deeply shares my passion and determination that all who are present in the lives of children and young people, and/or support their parents/carers, REALLY  become comfortable with the fact that trauma is wide-spread.

Together we are holding a series of conferences around the UK to share our extensive front-line knowledge and our studies on how the body and brain are impacted by early trauma.

Our clear aim is to share what we know and to back it up with practical tools and techniques practitioners can use in whatever capacity they are working with vulnerable children, young people, parents and carers. (See below for details of our first event)

Why getting comfortable means offering hope to many

If we each do SOMETHING which pays attention to trauma then things WILL change!

We can develop methods and experiences that utilize the brain’s own natural neuroplasticity to help survivors feel fully alive in the present and move on with their lives.”

“The vast increase in our knowledge about the basic processes that underlie trauma has also opened up new possibilities to palliate or even reverse the damage.

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