This Journal considers the negative impact that traumatic events in early life have on our health.
This entry will also bridge the prior entry, which covered important aspects of maternal-infant bonding, with an earlier Journal entry from January, 2011. This earlier writing, “Parenting, Part II,” explained the important contributions of Danish psychologist Eric Erickson who gave definition to the 4 stages of child development which occur from birth through the first 12 years of life.
Erickson defined child development as a series of psychological milestones which occur largely as a result of good bonding and parenting in the first 12 years of life. Each of the 4 phases of childhood growth should result in the acquisition of important life virtues: hope, trust, purpose, and competence. If the parenting is favorable and is marked by good bonding experiences and guidance, then the child grows experientially through normal life encounters which accentuate resolution of particular “tensional opposites.”
Each of Erikson’s stages of psycho-social development is marked by a necessary conflict of tensional opposites which are healthy for the growth of the young consciousness. A successful resolution of new tensional experiences will result the favorable development of the life virtue of that developmental stage. For example, the first developmental stage is marked by the tensional opposites of trust vs. mistrust. Normal life events during this preverbal time will allow the child to experience both trust and mistrust. Balanced resolution of these tensional opposites in the psyche of the child results in the learned life virtue of hope.
Each of the other 3 stages has a pair of tensional opposites which the child must encounter and master in order for the resulting life virtue to emerge as an integrated working fabric of their psycho-emotional make-up.
Here is a recap of those 4 stages, the necessary tensional opposites, and the acquired life virtues:
- Hope— Trust vs. Mistrust – Infant stage. Does the child believe its caregivers to be reliable? This virtue is learned during the preverbal time of the first year of life. We are learning the first feelings of what it feels like to be me.
- Will— Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt – Toddler stage. The child needs to learn to explore the world. This can turn out not so well if the parent is either too smothering or is completely neglectful. This period is a time of transition from the preverbal to the verbal time of early life.
- Purpose— Initiative vs. Guilt – Kindergarten – Can the child plan or do things on his own, such as dress himself or herself. If “guilty” about making his or her own choices, the child will not function well. In Erikson’s positive outlook on this stage, most guilt is compensated by a sense of accomplishment.
- Competence— Industry vs. Inferiority – Around age 6 to puberty. The child is comparing their self-worth to others, such as in a classroom environment. The child can recognize major disparities in personal abilities relative to other children. Erikson places some emphasis on the teacher, who should ensure that children do not feel inferior.
The Influence of Heart Electromagnetics
The 4 Journal entries preceding this one detailed important information about the electromagnetic activities of the heart. This is a growing body of knowledge that I often describe as “what the heart is doing besides pumping blood around.” These 4 earlier Journals are: “The Pulse of Life,” The Spiral of Life,” “The Prayer of Life,” and “The Beginning of Life.” Each of these writings builds upon the earlier ones and describes a different aspect of the science of the heart and its functional primacy in our electromagnetic field and life process.
“The Beginning of Life” explained how good parental-infant bonding is developed in the life of the child via the quality of heart electromagnetic resonant coupling field dynamics which are generated by the parents. It is no great stretch to understand that the parent adult developed its own heart electromagnetic qualities as a result of its childhood bonding experience with its parents. The parent then passes on to their child what it is that they learned about growing up and parenting. Thus, the intergenerational passage of family tendencies is propagated.
Traumatic events which occur in the stages of growth of the child are influential in the future health of the child. It is now well established from a large body of research that one’s long term health is significantly impacted by earlier traumatic events.
Traumatic events are an important dynamic in the lives of all people during the early phases of life. We can sense from Erickson’s teachings that traumatic influences would have to have a major impact on the development of the 4 life virtues. If the parent learned the 4 life virtues from its parents with accompanying traumatic influences which go unresolved, then that parent will pass elements of this kind of derangement on to their child via heart electromagnetic resonant coupling, as well as in the behavioral manner in which the parent raises the child.
In the Parenting, Part II Journal there is a listing of behaviors which accumulate in the adult as a result of unmet needs in childhood. I refer the reader back to this Parenting Journal for a review of these 4 sets of learned distress behavioral patterns. Each of the 4 childhood phases has a list of these qualities which are signs of some degree of traumatic experience which the child experienced during this and earlier phases. If an adult shows a number of these behaviors from each of the 4 phases then development of the life virtues of hope, willpower, purpose, and competence will be impeded and dampened.
Faulty development of the 4 life virtues is one way that trauma from childhood is expressed in the adult. However, there are more significant consequences of childhood trauma, as will be explained below.
Adverse Childhood Events (ACES)
Neurobiology researchers have shown how “fight or flight” stress chemicals (norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol) flood the body when someone is threatened, and can cause lasting damage in the brain and body of a child who is exposed to prolonged, repeated, and unmitigated stress. This is now commonly known as toxic stress. Toxic stress weakens the architecture of the developing brain, which can lead to lifelong problems in learning and behavior, as well as physical and mental health.
There are essentially three types of responses to stress. The positive stress response, known as eustress (true stress), is a normal and essential part of healthy development. Eustress is characterized by brief increases in heart rate and mild elevations in hormone levels, as well as development of resiliency and confidence. Physiology returns to normal when the stressful situation resolves.
A tolerable stress response activates the body’s alert systems to a greater degree as a result of more severe longer-lasting difficulties, such as the loss of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a frightening injury. If the activation is time-limited and buffered by relationships with adults who help the child adapt, the brain and other organs recover from what might otherwise be damaging effects.
A toxic stress response (distress) can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, or prolonged adversities such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse, caregiver mental illness, exposure to violence, and exposure to the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment well into the adult years.
Events significant enough to cause toxic stress are known as Adverse Childhood Events, or, ACEs. Common ACEs include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, violence, substance abuse in the home, parental separation or divorce, death of a loved one, and others.
Questionnaires are available to screen for ACEs. As the number of ACES one experienced in childhood increases, so does the risk for future health problems and shortened lifespan. Each instance of toxic stress is given a score value of 1.
Compared to people with no childhood trauma, adults who scored four or more ACEs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, seven times more likely to be alcoholic, six times more likely to have depression, and 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide. Adults exposed to six or more ACEs in childhood died 20 years sooner than those who had none. Emotional distress during childhood — even in the absence of high stress during adult years — can increase the risk of developing heart disease and various metabolic disorders such as diabetes in adulthood.
An important consideration in tabulating ACE scores is that trauma is contextualized in terms of one’s perceptions and biases. A difficult experience can be perceived by one person as being non-traumatic and is not relegated into deep memory circuits as a triggering life event, while another person who has a different psycho-emotional sensitivity setting may experience the same event as being highly traumatic. For instance, 2 or more siblings who experience the same parents and the same set of domestic events may come away with differing adult perceptions of the events and differing ACE score associations.
Another point to be noted here relates to the functional belief system of participants of potentially stressful events. If a victim believes that the events were traumatizing, then they will be held in memory as such. How a person remembers difficult events and is able to reframe their beliefs about toxic stress events will impact one’s adult perception and ACE score in a more favorable or less favorable manner.
Teaching children and families about trauma resolution and coping mechanisms can help victims constructively deal with whatever future triggering stressors may come their way. Additionally, supporting the body’s general biochemistry, and particularly the endocrine system, can help children become more biochemically and physiologically resilient to the effects of stress.
It is important for everyone to self study and understand their individual adverse childhood events since these events always have far reaching implications. It is now clear from the research that emotional stress and adversity in childhood have a profound impact on one’s health over a lifetime.
Calculating your ACE score
I refer the reader to the website of Niki Gratrix who has contributed much in assisting the dissemination of the information about ACEs. Here is a link to her website article containing the questionnaire which you can use to assess your ACE score, as well as your Extended ACE score.
I have listed 2 other articles from her website on the subject of ACEs in the reading list at the end. There is also a link to a nice Guardian article profiling James Redford’s documentary about ACEs entitled “Resilience.”
It is helpful for positive life growth when one comes into self awareness about their trauma symptoms and where they came from. It is only through recognition of one’s problems and accepting that they are real and ongoing that one can begin to embrace some kind of healing process.
Acute and long term emotional and psychological symptoms of past and present trauma include:
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Anxiety and fear
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Feeling disconnected or numb
- Feeling depressed
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is diagnosed after a person experiences symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However symptoms may not appear until several months, or even years later. PTSD disorder is characterized by three main types of symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event such as in flashbacks and nightmares.
- Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
- Increased arousal responses such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling on edge, and being easily irritated and angered.
Shortcomings of Conventional Medical Therapy for Trauma
Upon encountering any of these symptoms in their patients conventional medical practitioners can frequently do no better than write a prescription at the end of a brief patient encounter. This kind of reaction to a patient’s pain is inadequate and only makes the problems worse as symptoms are numbed into further suppression. More is needed from mental health care providers.
I do not endorse contemporary talk therapy that is not combined with a form of both contemplative and action therapy. In many cases, such talk therapies will result in a cook-book prescription for medications which dumb down one’s innate healing abilities and mechanisms. In these cases it is the therapist themselves who may need to engage in their own contemplative and action therapies to heal the trauma that they cannot see in themselves, and hence they cannot recognize it in their patients. Then they will understand with more authenticity how to help their patients move forward.
There is an old saying, “Physician…heal thyself.” I have never known a physician who has not been traumatized somewhere along the way. Because of this, and because of the fact that they usually do not engage in their own healing, we often encounter the physician who is layered in ego, defense, denial, and the problems with lack of empathy and unimaginative thinking which are promoted by their formidable intellectual laziness. When medical schools begin to figure out this problem and develop courses of trauma healing in all 4 years of their curricula, then we may begin to see a deep shift of the current medical paradigm into a truly compassionate form of healing. One can only hope for such.
If the therapist is wise enough and compassionate enough to recommend both action and contemplative techniques to help move the trauma energetic up and out of the patient, then much good can be achieved for both the patient and the therapist.
Therapy for Trauma
A simple listing of trauma healing techniques which I have explored and found useful for myself and others include:
- Exercise…all forms except extended endurance training
- Nature therapy (ecotherapy)
- Somatic Experiencing (SE)
- Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Understanding and engaging in one’s spiritual life process, life gifts, life purpose, and life goals
- Energetic healing techniques
- Ongoing contemplative forgiveness
Because these modalities work in a positive synergistic fashion, trauma healing becomes more effective if more than one type of therapy is practiced. Some of these techniques and activities can be explored via some of the links in the references and reading section below.
The process of healing accumulated layers of trauma usually takes a lifetime. It is helpful to begin understanding this principle at the outset of the healing effort. This statement is not intended to discourage one away from the effort, but should be viewed as an invitation to encourage one’s patient ongoing daily understanding and healing efforts in releasing the imprinted memories of past hurtful events.
Such a daily effort will involve a willing acceptance of one’s past and a heart felt desire to further the negotiation of moving the traumatic imprints out of the flesh where they have been memoried and stored, often since our time in utero. It is most helpful to embrace trauma healing as a spiritual process at every level of the engagement.
It is also useful to study some of the many good works of explanation about how traumatic experiences are memoried in the flesh. This will involve understanding some of the body’s basic physiology, biochemistry, and cellular activities; much of which has been explored in writings on this website. I believe that one the best resources is the writings of neurologist Robert Scaer, M.D., who is linked in the reference and reading list below. Likewise, it is helpful to start exploring some of the effective techniques of trauma release which have been developed over the past 4 decades. I have posted some helpful links about techniques in the references and reading list.
The evolution of a healed life is a life long process. Much good can come from any effort whatsoever which one may extend for one’s own betterment. Such an effort will spin off into the hologram of time past, time future, and time Now. Such an effort will also spin off into the lives of others.
The heart is the central organizing intelligence of the human. It is the ultimate processor of our embedded entanglement in the deep multidimensional matrix of Creation. A happy heart is a healthy heart and a healed heart is a healed life.
Our lives are a continuum through our pre-birth spiritual existence, our uterine existence, our post uterine existence, and our reemergence back into our afterlife spiritual existence. These are the major milestone chapters of our ongoing and ever evolving spiritual healing journey. It is helpful to contemplate one’s own understanding of this healing continuum.
I wish you the best that life and love have to offer.
Signing off from Crestone and Beyond
References, Reading, and an additional contemplation:
- How childhood stress can knock 20 years off your life… An article from The Guardian, April, 2017, featuring a documentary about ACEs made by James Redford, who is Robert Redford’s son.
- The CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Events Study…the original study of over 17,000 people which defined the ACE influence on health.
- Toxic Stress, from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child…a writing about toxic stress.
- Distinct Contributions of Adverse Childhood Experiences and Resilience Resources: A Cohort Analysis of Adult Physical and Mental Health by Logan-Greene Patricia, et al., Social Work in Health Care, 2014; 53(8): 776-797.
- Disorganized attachment in early childhood: meta-analysis of precursors, concomitants, and sequelae…an abstract report in Developmental Psychopathology reporting on a study of over 6000 mother-baby interactions from 1970 to 1999 with the finding that 45% of babies insecurely attach to their mother. This is the well known Strange Situation study conducted by Mary Ainsworth.
- “Silent ACEs:” The Epidemic of Attachment and Developmental Trauma…a writing on Niki Gratrix’s website.
- 7 Pitfalls of Dealing with Emotional Detox Reactions…a writing on Niki Gratrix’s website.
- Somatic Experiencing…the website of Boulder, CO based psychologist Peter Levine who began exploring the mind-body relationship in the 1960s when he worked at NASA. His technique for healing trauma, known as Somatic Experiencing, is considered a gold standard in the field, as is his classic text on the subject, Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma.
- The website of Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.,…another very important early researcher on trauma and PTSD who has been contributing since the 1970s.
- The Body Bears the Burden, Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease by Robert Scaer, M.D., 2001.
- The Trauma Spectrum, Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency by Robert Scaer, M.D., 2005…a friend and neurologist colleague in Boulder, CO, writes 2 of the most important foundational texts on trauma and human disease. Bob is a student of Peter Levine, and has extended Peter’s work.
- 8 Keys to Brain-Body Balance, by Robert Scaer, M.D., 2012…Dr. Scaer continues his noteworthy contributions to the healing literature in the field of traumatology. Bob has co-authored a number of other books with well know traumatologists.
- The website of TRE and David Bercelli, Ph.D. …Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) is one of the best and most accessible techniques you can utilize and practice to help heal trauma and ongoing trauma triggering. It is worthwhile to seek out a TRE practitioner.
- Bob Scaer explains the elegance of TRE
- The website of EMDR therapy
- Bob Scaer explains the elegance of EMDR
- A montage and palette of links about trauma
- Resilience–A Key to Fulfillment…a 4.5 minute video from the HeartMath Institute about the importance of developing resilience, a key determinant in self regulation after trauma.
- Minding your Meditation…a writing on this website about an important life practice.
- Nature Genius…a writing on this website about our connection to Nature.
- The Daily Tinkering…Transforming Pain, Part II…a writing on this website with general perspectives about trauma.
- The Daily Tinkering…Transforming Pain, Part III…more perspectives are explored.
- Stress…a helpful early writing on this website which explores some considerations about stress.
An additional contemplation…
I often post readings and comments from Franciscan priest Richard Rohr who teaches with more clarity than most anyone I read. He teaches at The Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here is part of his daily message for July, 14, 2017, entitled “Order, Disorder, Reorder” which is an appropriate accompanying message for this Journal.
First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God. —Julian of Norwich
“Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it’s going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we’re used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger (John 12:24). If we’re not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won’t enter into any new or sacred space.
The role of the prophet is to lead us into sacred space by deconstructing the old space; the role of the priest is to teach us how to live fruitfully inside of sacred space. The prophet disconnects us from the false, and the priest reconnects us to The Real at ever larger and deeper levels. Unfortunately, most ministers might talk of new realms but rarely lead us out of the old realm where we are still largely trapped and addicted. So not much genuinely new happens.
I see transformation and change occurring in three stages: order….disorder….reorder.
A sense of order is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first ‘container.’ But this structure is dangerous if we stay in its safe confines too long. It is small and self-serving. It doesn’t know the full picture, but it thinks it does. ‘Order’ must be deconstructed by the trials and vagaries of life. We must go through a period of ‘disorder’ to grow up.
Only in the final ‘reorder’ stage can darkness and light coexist, can paradox be okay. We are finally at home in the only world that ever existed. This is true and contemplative knowing. Here death is a part of life, failure is a part of victory, and imperfection is included in perfection. Opposites collide and unite; everything belongs.
We dare not get rid of our pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Most of religion gives answers too quickly, dismisses pain too easily, and seeks to be distracted—to maintain some ideal order. So we must resist the instant fix and acknowledge ourselves as beginners to be open to true transformation. In the great spiritual traditions, the wounds to our ego are our teachers and are to be welcomed. They should be paid attention to, not denied or even perfectly resolved.”