Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Gift Of A Calm, Structured Environment - Living With Trauma

Trauma creates a cluttered brain. By a cluttered brain, I mean a brain that is full of unresolved trauma, ready to flare at a moments notice. This brain will run at maximum capacity at all times, with the fight, flight or freeze system continually primed and ready to jump in at even the slightest hint of trouble. 

This frantic brain activity is necessary for survival when a child is in a dangerous situation. It is constantly assessing the surroundings to make sure nothing will catch it unaware. The tone of voice people use, their posture, the people in the room, their interaction with others and social cues are being evaluated at all times. Imagine how tiring that must be? No wonder these children have a difficult time doing school work or following directions!

Therapy, felt safety and TBRI are all necessary to heal. However there is one more thing that is absolutely essential to the healing of traumatized brains: A quiet, calm atmosphere where the child has plenty of down time to journal and think. A calm atmosphere will include these things:
-A setting where the child will be required to make as few decisions as possible
- A place where the child will not have the opportunity to manipulate or triangulate
- A safe place for the child to decompress when life gets to be too much.

Basically what this looks like in real life is something we refer to as  having "a small world." The parent makes all but the most basic decisions for the child, leaving his brain free to work on processing trauma. You say, "But how will the child ever learn to function in the real world? That isn't even practical, I could never do that! Beside's my child is ___ years old and it wouldn't be fair."

First, for a child to be able to function i.e. have correct relationships, avoid the pitfalls of unresolved trauma, he will have to heal. If your child is physically ill, you keep the house quiet, keep the child quiet and supply nutritious foods and drinks to help him heal. The difference between physical illness and trauma is that most illnesses do not last for years. In a few days or weeks your child is up and running and you can go back to normal life. Trauma typically isn't healed in weeks or even months. If you required your physically ill child to lead a normal lifestyle, chances are he would become more ill as time goes on. Our traumatized children's brains are the same way. If we do not provide the things they need to heal, they continue to add new trauma's.

For those who say it isn't practical -  Remember you cannot provide this with the life style of a "typical" family. You have to revamp your parenting, perhaps rearrange your house and continually debrief with your spouse. It isn't easy, but as time goes on you will see your child begin to heal and realize that it is so worth it.

Each family has to decide how this will look for their child. every child is different and each will have his own unique struggles. Be prepared to face opposition when you begin enforcing strict boundaries for your child. When you begin to second guess yourself, here is what a friend told me, "Look at this quiet lifestyle as a gift to your child, versus a consequence for poor choices." She is right. As I mentioned before, if your child was physically ill you would provide the setting he needs to heal. I will agree that there is a difference though, because a physically ill child will agree to the healing methods whereas a traumatized child may have a fair amount of resistance to the idea! You will need to keep the long term goal in mind that though the present may be unpleasant, you are bettering your child's future.

Some children with trauma have permanent brain damage. These children/adults may require a life time of living in a "small world," because they cannot cope with the responsibility of making good choices in the outside world. If you have a child like this, remind yourself that you are giving them a gift by providing an environment where they can thrive.

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