PRISONERS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA
“I’ve always had a gift for seeing inside…I work with people to bring out the truth of their experience so that they’re no longer prisoners of their childhood, and they can make a conscious choice about how to live in the present moment, not based on how they were programmed in childhood.” ~ Dr. Gabor Maté
This school year, I have presented to staff on the importance of trauma-informed care along with the impacts of adverse childhood experiences. Many of our students today are not only bringing their backpacks to school, but bringing all of their trauma along as well.
In 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Studies in California which looked at the relationship between childhood adversity and adult outcomes. The studies looked at different types of abuse, divorce, incarceration, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, death of a family member, and others. The more adverse experiences a child experienced growing up, the more likely the risk of drug use, suicide, obesity, auto-immune disease, addiction, heart disease, and other mental/physical health problems. These studies have been repeated multiple times in different countries with the same results.
As adults, many of us may feel outwardly successful but inwardly tortured. Many of us are deeply troubled inside, experiencing anxiety, depression, discouragement, maybe becoming driven workaholics or busying ourselves.
We become experts at distracting and hiding our own suffering — even from ourselves. The link may be due to childhood trauma.
“Trauma isn’t what happens to you, it’s what happens inside of you.” ~ Dr. Gabor Matè
Why do we suffer? Why are we the way that we are? Dr. Gabor Matè’s life’s work has been motivated by these questions to help people become liberated from their prison of childhood. Matè made a recent appearance on an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. Matè is a speaker, best-selling author, and focuses on topics such as addiction, childhood development, and stress.
Matè states that things happen to us as children, and they may be negative things. We then adapt to those things by taking on certain defensive ways of being. As a result, we live the rest of our lives in those defensive modes, not really experiencing the present.
We are constantly reliving the past from a perspective that we acquired when we were helpless, vulnerable children.
In schools, many of our students are either diagnosed or labeled as ADHD. With being trauma-informed, it is crucial to know that trauma and ADHD can look a lot alike. The symptoms are very similar, and there is some overlap. This is important to note because a child may be treated for ADHD when it is actually trauma, and the treatment plans are very different.
Matè, who also expresses his own struggle with ADHD, believes that “tuning out” begins as a coping mechanism rooted in early childhood trauma. In early childhood, there may be circumstances where we can’t escape, fight back, or seek help. What then do we do?
We tune out.
Tuning out is a defensive part of the brain as a way of dealing with stress as the brain is developing. Young children, even toddlers, can sense and feel the pain and suffering of their parents. Tuning out helps serve them as a young child, but causes problems later on. Matè believes that the most important part of brain development is the parent-child relationship.
Matè states that what we need to do is learn how to reconnect with our bodies, which is where healing happens. Children have basic survival needs for attachment and authenticity. Children who experience trauma learn early on how to disconnect from their gut feelings, where their authenticity comes from. At times, a child’s authenticity may threaten their attachment to their parents. For example, when a child receives a message that “angry little kids” don’t get loved, they will disconnect from their authenticity to remain attached to their parents every time.
It is very hard to reconnect and do this alone. There are many forms of therapy that can help people understand what happened to them. Traditional talk therapy, Somatic Experiencing, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing), (EFT) Emotional Freedom Tapping, Yoga, etc.
This month, Oprah Winfrey gave a story on 60 Minutes discussing the impacts of childhood trauma and the need for trauma-informed care. With all of this said, healing is possible. We need more understanding of childhood trauma in medical, legal, and educational settings — especially as social and economic stressors increase.
“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we created our world.” ~ Dr. Gabor Matè