Accepting the Impact of Childhood Trauma

Accepting the impact of trauma is the most important step in the healing journey:


What Does it mean to accept the impact of trauma?
To become aware of and address the longstanding physical, emotional and mental effects of traumatic experiences. To make the journey back into the body and begin the process of discharging chronic stress so the body can move itself into a state of repair and regeneration.


I have worked with A LOT of high performers. And one thing I have noticed is that accepting the impact of trauma is VERY challenging. I experienced this myself early in my healing journey. There’s a protective denial that unconsciously forms around the pain of the past. 


And we unconsciously look away from these painful, shocking or terrorizing experiences that have happened to us. This is partly because this deep understanding of trauma and what it actually IS is very new - it’s very cutting edge. And so for the most part it’s still understood as an emotional affliction or psychological and it is - but those are the top layers of trauma. 

So - Here is My Working Definition of Trauma

I think of trauma as an injury - really as an injury to the core self - both the physical self (brain, spinal cord, cells and nervous system). Trauma is a physiological injury caused by intense stress released in the body that is not released - it prevents the body from moving into a state of harmony - homeostasis. This stress can be caused by too much too soon to fast OR too little for too long. And increases the likelihood of negative health outcomes including chronic disease, addiction, cancer, ADHD, etc. 


The way I explain this is that this creates a burden in their bodies, a burden of oxidative stress that if it is not released/discharged, will diminish the resilience of the body. So as the child is developing the burden is constantly increasing, as new stressors are introduced without being released.

So today on this podcast I am going to explain the impact of trauma to your physical body at the cellular level, DNA level and nervous system level. And I’m going to go over some of the barriers to accepting this impact.

Again, we are increasingly understanding the emotional and psychological impact of trauma. However, where we are lacking is in our in-depth understanding of the physiological & biological impact of trauma.  So I want to talk about the ACE study. What the ACE study did, which is the Adverse Childhood Experiences study that was published in 1998, looked at health outcomes for people who had experienced adverse experiences across 10 categories in childhood. This study confirmed what we already knew, which is that when children experience trauma, the chronic and toxic stress of those experiences (also known as trauma) highly impacts their brain and bodies and creates high probability of chronic illness

And when I say released - I am talking about a physical discharge - that can’t be “manufactured” or cathartic. There is a specific way to actually “discharge or release chronic” stress which allows it to move the body into a place of self-repair. 


So let’s talk about the categories of ACES:

Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
No___If Yes, enter 1 __

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
    No___If Yes, enter 1 __
  2. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
    No___If Yes, enter 1 __
  3. Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
    No___If Yes, enter 1 __
  4. Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
    No___If Yes, enter 1 __
  5. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
    No___If Yes, enter 1 __
  6. Was your mother or stepmother:
    Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
    No___If Yes, enter 1 __
  7. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
    No___If Yes, enter 1 __
  8. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?                        No___If Yes, enter 1 __
  9. Did a household member go to prison?
    No___If Yes, enter 1 __

If you’ve had any of these experiences throughout your life, your physical body has been impacted. At a Cellular level, nervous system level and DNA level. At the cellular level, this kind of constant, chronic stress creates dysfunction in the cell wall - causing it to either become too rigid (unable to let in proper nutrients) or too flexible (unable to keep out toxins and unhealthy intruders). The cells also become less efficient at making energy, because the mitochondria is damaged by oxidative stress. At the nervous system level, the sensory experience is either overstimulated or dulled. Natural orienting responses - our paying attention systems are overactivated defensively, or dulled also. 


Where there is trauma - there is always a freeze response. So when your nervous system stores trauma - there is usually  a constant vacillation between the freeze response and 


So let’s talk about some of the barriers to accepting this impact in your own life as a successful, high-performing, ambitious person. 


Barriers to Accepting Impact:
I Don’t Want To Be A Weak or A Victim - There is a huge difference between accepting and dealing with reality and being a victim. When we refuse to accept the impact of trauma in our lives we are not avoiding victimhood, we are actually just in denial. 


It Happened Such a Long Time Ago - Time in and of itself does not heal toxic stress. There is a process for helping the body move into a state of repair. When someone has a longstanding physical injury we don’t say “oh that happened such a long time ago, your hip shouldn’t still be acting up from that” instead, we accept that the injury needs additional maintenance and support in order for life to be better. 


I’m Successful & I’ve Been Able to Build A Great Life - YES! Andddd you’ve been able to build that great big life without addressing these stored trauma patterns. What would it be like if you had to use less energy to be in your life? If you felt at home inside your body  in your life? If your physiology was supporting you through your life, rather than you trying to run away from your physiology?

It Would Take Too Much Work to Accept That Impact - Actually, from a cellular perspective it will take a lot LESS work to accept the impact. Your body will finally be able to move into a state of rest and repair. It may take some intense work in the beginning, but in the long term, you will need less work to function in your day to day life because your body will literally be using LESS energy to function.


If I Allow myself to accept the impact of that, I might not ever come out of my emotions - This is a very common fear. I also hear that people are afraid to be committed to mental institutions if they really felt the impact of their childhood. For this, somatic work is absolutely ESSENTIAL and this is the work that I do with my clients - teaching them to titrate their experience and learn how to use their own body as a resource to ground when these sensations become too intense. There is way to do trauma work where it is not TOO intense, it is not cathartic or manufactured, and it allows for a gradual embodiment that allows for increased resilience and release of chronic stress without re-traumatizing you. 


My parents did their best - I am sure they did do their best. And some of our parents, including mine - particularly my mom - I do believe she did her best. But her best was paranoid schizophrenia, pathological narcissism, abuse, and criminal behaviour.  So whether she did her best or not - my brain was still impacted by that. My body was still impacted by that. And to ignore the impact of my childhood on me, does nothing for her or anyone else. Yes she did her best. AND I have been very impacted by the trauma of my childhood. They are not mutually exclusive. 


It Wasn’t So Bad - If you’re listening to this podcast, your body begs to differ on that. The chronic stress, auto-immune, patterns of high functioning depression and anxiety, and moving in and out of chronic freeze and feelings of disconnection from yourself are all signs that it might actually have been SO BAD. And that is OKAY. It’s okay that it was really bad and it really hurt. And it doesn’t mean that there weren’t good times. It doesn’t mean there were good memories. And finding the silver lining is probably a resource you’ve had for many many years that has benefitted you and helped you create the life you have now - however…. HOWEVER…  now to move forward in your healing journey, listening to the story your body is telling you about how bad it was is what is going to allow your body to release the stored stress of the past. 


Ego & Self Image - This is a tough one to swallow but it’s real and it exists in all people. Especially high performing, successful people. We have this image of ourselves as successful, and smart and strong and resourceful. And we often believe that that is what other people are too - and that that is what will bring us happiness and protect us and we build up this ego armor about who we think we’re supposed to be - who we think we are. And when we start to see these areas in our lives that have been really hurting as a result of pain we thought was long over - it can be really - identity shaking. It really messes with our image of ourselves. And I really see this as one of the many rebirths in life - when we come to accept and understand the impact of trauma on us and our families.

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