Tragedy and child trauma

Tragedy and child trauma is a topic I’ve had too many occasions to write about lately. I’ve modified this post and reposted it in respect for the sorrow and death that occurred in Texas on 11/5 caused by an ex military person with a history of domestic violence in the hope that it may help children. Talking about traumatic events can help children and adults work through the pain or fear of a memory and in the process move the memory from a more emotional short term storage area of the brain into a less emotionally triggering long term area of the memory.

The number of deaths and injuries that occurred is devastating, heart-breaking, and my thoughts & prayers are with the families and also anger at the injustice of a random act of violence disrupting and ending so many lives. Calls for more stringent gun control and gun safety classes may make it more difficult for law abiding citizens to have guns while criminals would likely still have a black market for them but the graph in this link suggests it would help: https://twitter.com/JustinWolfers/status/927866872401416192

The shooter wouldn’t have been able to legally obtain a gun if his history of domestic violence had been properly reported to the current system however, and the shooter was stopped by an NRA member who was nearby and was called for help by a witness. http://www.bizpacreview.com/2017/11/06/nra-member-involved-shooting-took-shooter-558745

This link includes many statistics and a variety of ways that gun safety might be increased without necessarily taking away the right to own guns. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/06/opinion/how-to-reduce-shootings.html?smid=tw-share

The current administration recently made it easier for people with mental illness to obtain guns legally, https://twitter.com/TODAYshow/status/927509432015171585

However most mental illness doesn’t increase risk of mass violence. A history of child trauma or domestic violence is linked to it. And copying previous acts of violence is also a risk. This comment sums it up https://twitter.com/bpshow/status/927872165717962752

Men and society support of kindness might help. Research suggests testosterone may have a role to play in men copying good or bad behavior. Testosterone in men can lead to trying to be better, bigger, faster, more whatever – the crowd of other men seem to approve. More positive acts being approved leads to more better, bigger, faster, etc positive acts and when negative honor killings or other negative treatment of people, women or children seem to be supported then that may lead to more extreme negative acts. (p106-107, Sapolsky) Men and women, boys and girls can help promote safety by not supporting violence or harassment of women and girls or other minority groups or poor people. We as a group also tend to like to feel superior to someone when in reality we are all just a brief moment in geologic time. the planet has had many long phases without humans and may yet again if we don’t start working towards a more sustainable way of using our planet’s limited supply of resources.

We all have quirks and good days and bad days but not like the shooter in Texas. Most of us are caring and can control ourselves or punch a pillow if we’re angry. The common theme of random mass violence is a male with a history of domestic violence or who experienced child trauma and who may be a binge drinker. From a previous post: Regarding potential underlying reasons for a person to resort to mass violence – typically it isn’t due to “mentally ill” people unless they were already prone to violence. An increased risk for violence is not associated with depression, anxiety or ADHD. Increased risk for mass violence is significantly associated though with being a male who had experienced child trauma and who is a binge drinker.  (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318286/ )

So addressing poverty and binge drinking would likely help more than focusing just on gun control methods, 50% of children live in poverty, which is associated with stress for the household.

Until we change our approach to equality in general and regarding gender relations we may not achieve the peace that I knew as a child.  It can help children and survivors to talk about their experience or fears, otherwise there can be a risk of PTSD, an over active fear response which can worsen with repeated trauma.

From a previous post: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur in observers of trauma even if they weren’t harmed. There are many helpful articles available on the topic: (Talking about trauma may help prevent PTSD)

Some other tips for helping reduce symptoms of PTSD https://www.organicfacts.net/post-traumatic-stress.html

More information about early childhood and developing trust through secure attachment parenting styles is available on my new website, in the section Trust is Learned Early.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

 

PTSD resources for veterans, their families, and for the general public

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur in people who experienced a fearful event or who lived with daily trauma. The condition may occur in veterans after their return to civilian life. If symptoms occur for more than three months without improvement than getting outside help is recommended.

The following short video illustrates the most common symptoms that may occur with PTSD: [upworthy.com]

Common symptoms include:

  1. 1) re-experiencing the traumatic events as unwanted memories or nightmares;
  2. 2) avoidance of reminders of the trauma;
  3. 3) feeling worse about yourself or the world; and
  4. 4) hyper-arousal, feeling constantly on alert or experiencing sudden rushes of anger or irritability after being startled or hearing a loud noise.  [upworthy.com]

Services for veterans and their families coping with PTSD are available at the Veteran’s Affairs website and the site also has self help resources and referral information available for the general public: [ptsd.va.gov] [PTSD treatment can help]

A previous post about talking to children about traumatic events that includes a list of resources about EMDR, a type of therapy that may be helpful for PTSD treatment. [link]

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

Talking about trauma with kids; PTSD, neural mapping, EMDR and reframing

/This article was originally posted on March 21, 2011. It is still important to have open conversations with children about traumatic events or other information they may find confusing, troubling or frightening. EMDR therapy can be helpful for adults with PTSD./
We all need comfort and we gain it from sharing our burdens, talking about troubles and letting out worries. Listening is more important than talking – let kids talk to you about trauma – we don’t know what they are thinking or are worried about until we let them talk it out. Don’t worry too much about “how to talk about it“, pause, listen, and accept – “yes, there are worries but we’ll stick together and work through it“, is a strong message for all of us to hear.
Children and all of us have “hot” emotional memories centered in the amygdala and milder long term factual memories stored more generally throughout the neocortex. Electrical activity of the brain can be recorded and associated with the topic being considered. The amygdala centered emotional memory can be tied to smells, sounds, places or people and can be unexpectedly triggered leaving the person with panic attack type symptoms unique to the individual’s memories of the early traumatic event.

Neural connections in the brain can be flexible or can be linked together in behavior patterns that might be described as being a bit like playing with a line of toy dominoes. The designers spend hours placing the dominoes in line, each the perfect distance and angle from the last, carefully balanced on end and poised for any slight shock to send the entire chain tumbling down. Emotional memories may be triggered by something like a car door slamming shut. A toddler memory may be submerged regarding something as trivial as mom and dad fighting over who has to carry in the groceries and the car doors were slammed shut violently. To a toddler the words may not mean as much as the tone and the violent sounds. A description of brain cell connections without the dominoes analogy is available on ScienceDaily: Brain pattern flexibility and behavior, (ScienceDaily)

 

After the event, immediately, and maybe later that day, the next day, the next week – the toddler may pester with questions of what is wrong and what did I do to cause that fight? The child’s world is centered around themselves – natural while young but prone to self blame. The memory can be stored with feelings of “I caused that arguement – I am a bad person – I don’t deserve attention or explanation” and so on. If their worries are left unanswered or are denied as real then the hot memory is ignored and is left unprocessed, instead it is pushed down and forgotten at the daily level. A car door slamming with a combination of shouting voices might trigger a panic attack though.

 

The hot memory can be toned down and moved to long term storage if time is allowed to discuss the event – and more than once. It might pop up in the toddler’s chit chat daily, and then weekly, monthly, and maybe even over the years if it was bad enough triggering event. Once the connection is made though, (negative event associated with a negative symptom) and discussed, usually the power of the slamming/shouting sound is reduced and similar events in the future may not trigger a panic attack or it might  be a milder reaction.

 

Children are absorbing knowledge and building their neural pathways – good habits and bad habits are learned by watching the people they love and trust. Spending a few minutes whenever possible to listen to children share their worries allows them to move the memories from the ‘hot’ button zone of the amygdala, to the mellower long-term storage of the neocortex.

 

Symptoms of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can be effectively reframed  and reduced using cognitive therapy techniques like EMDR. A problem or trigger event is visualized and then a state of deep relaxation is reached and the memory is discussed or pondered with guidance from the therapist. New insights from the perspective of the adult framing of the situation can be considered and then the relaxation method is repeated using the new perspective.  The neural maps of the traumatic events can be reached  from a deeply relaxed state of theta waves. EMDR, attempts to help the patient reach the theta state with rapid stimulation of the right side then left side of the brain, either visually with a moving hand or object, or with sound or a vibration buzz in the palm of the hand. Children under seven are already living in this more meditative level of consciousness. In the zone – flow time – playing like a child – we could all use a little relaxed theta time these days and a chance to free a little worry from the hot zone of the amygdala.

 

The world is changing but denying reality never solves problems it only pushes them down to a submerged hot zone. When we talk about our troubles then we can look for solutions and change. Denying problems, denies a chance for change.

 

Art therapy can be a useful way to give children and anyone freedom to explore feelings – color to feel not to produce. Playdough and other free form play can help reach a relaxed state where gentle talk about hot topics can be released  as they surface. Picking at the problem with needling questions may not be as quick as open ended play time. Adults may find a walk or bike ride their ticket to free flow brain time.

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Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. Terrorism, and talking to kids about catastrophic mass violence, guidance sheets from The National Child Tramatic Stress Network [nctsnet.org/trauma-types/terrorism]
  2. by Carol Boulware, MFT, PhD, “EMDR Therapy, EMDR Therapists, EMDR information, PTSD,” [emdr-therapy.com/].
  3. by Carol Boulware, MFT, PhD, “EMDR-Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress,Trauma and Self-Sabotage,” [emdr-therapy.com].
  4. by Carol Boulware, MFT, PhD, “Do I Have Anxiety Needing Therapy?” a discussion about anxiety and PTSD focused on adults [emdr-therapy]
  5. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network [nctsnet.org/]
  6. Trauma and Your Family – a guidance factsheet from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network pdf: [nctsn.org]
  7. by Tanya Anderson, PTSD in Children and Adolescents, Great Cities Institute, GCP-05-04, November, 2005  pdf: [uic.edu]
  8. This website is a non-profit 12 step based program for the Adult Children Of Alcoholic (or Dysfunctional) Families. PTSD and neural mapping aren’t discussed but the symptom list includes similar problems: The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (or Dysfunctional Family) ,  [adultchildren.org]