Early Trauma

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The primary needs of a child are for safety and protection. If these needs are unmet, or worse violated, the consequences can be traumatic and last a lifetime.

The term trauma can encompass many kinds of experiences.  Francine Shapiro, the originator of EMDR, divides trauma into two types:  small “t” traumas and big “T” traumas. Big T traumas (e.g. childhood physical and/or sexual abuse, rape, natural disasters, losses) often result in the more obvious symptoms of PTSD, and can include nightmares, flashbacks, phobias, intrusive thoughts, dissociative experiences, anxiety, fear and rage.  Small t traumas may appear less dramatic than big T but can be just as devastating.  They often occur repeatedly over extended periods of time (e.g. being consistently neglected by caregivers or being relentlessly teased by classmates at school) and frequently result in lowered self-confidence and sense of competency.  They are at the root of many serious mental health problems and can limit our sense of security in the world and affect the way we relate to others.

Trauma can cause changes in personality:

  • hyper-vigilance
  • compulsive re-exposure to people or situations reminiscent of the trauma
  • psychosomatic symptoms
  • sleep disturbances
  • inability to take in support
  • use of drugs and/or compulsive behaviors to self-medicate
  • inability to modulate emotions

Trauma can negatively affect relationships:Early Trauma Therapy NYC

  • difficulty with intimacy
  • fear of commitment
  • fear of abandonment
  • inability to make healthy boundaries
  • difficulty trusting
  • distractibility
  • misinterpretation of social cues

A trauma occurs when an event or series of events causes an individual to become emotionally, physically or mentally overwhelmed, and fearful that he or she will be hurt, killed or have a psychological breakdown.  It is important to understand that an individual’s own experience determines whether the event will or will not result in post-traumatic symptoms.  That experience depends on the personal history and coping style of each individual, and may be further affected by the following:

  • whether it was a single traumatic event (vs. repeated trauma)
  • the age of the person when the trauma occurred
  • whether it was accidental or inflicted with deliberate intent
  • whether the violation was at the hands of a caregiver or other trusted person
  • how the violation was dealt with in the immediate aftermath

Post-traumatic stress develops, in part, because a particularly disturbing event can overcome the ability of the right and left hemispheres of the brain to work in unison and to process the event in a healthy, integrated way.  Instead, the nervous system literally gets stuck, like a wound to the body that can’t heal.  The memory remains in a split-off or disconnected state in the right hemisphere, cutoff from the left, which is the region that contains the ability to use language, to orient oneself in time, and to formulate personal meaning from experience.

This explains why traditional talk therapy is often of limited value in resolving early trauma.  Therapies like psychodrama, EMDR and art making, which tap into the right hemisphere, allow the individual to experience the split-off memory in the here-and-now, and thus integrate it into current personal context with new understanding and meaning.  These dynamic therapies allow clients the possibility to regain a sense of safety in their bodies and to complete the unfinished past…  two essential components in the successful healing of trauma.