Tag Archives: Childhood trauma

Effect of childhood on our genes

Yesterday I attended a conference about ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences. It was about making Scotland the first ACE aware nation in the world. It was certainly thought provoking. 

I particularly enjoyed the talk from Dr Nadine Burke Harris about the physical implications of what she refers to as “Toxic stress”. 

Toxic Stress

The stress response is a physical and emotional response designed to help us escape sabre toothed tigers. This set of responses is designed to give us the best chance of surviving when fighting or running away from a predator.

  1. The pre-frontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain – is disengaged, because it’s too slow to help us survive. Taking time to think and work out options, in the middle of an attack, is a bad idea.
  2. The heart rate increases
  3. Adrenaline and cortisol flood the body – preparing our organs for instant response. Adrenaline also impacts on the immune system. Not really possible to ask the tiger to come back tomorrow because you have a bad cold right now. Our immune system is directed to preparing to fight infection from any injuries. 
  4. The pain response is adjusted to allow us to keep fighting or running even when injured. 

This all makes total sense – when fighting tigers. 

But what if the threat is violence from a parent, that could happen every day of your childhood. 

What if the threat is emotional or sexual abuse where you are being hurt but not necessarily physically. 

In these situations, the body reacts in exactly the same way. It treats the thing that hurts you emotionally in exactly the same way as if it was going to hurt you physically. 

Epigenetics

In itself this is bad enough, but this toxic stress has an effect on your genes through Epigentics. 

Image result for musical notes and notations

The way Nadine described Epigentics was great. If your DNA is the music notes on a piece of music, Epigentics are the musical notation that tells you what to do with the notes such as speeding up, slowing down and pausing

Epigenetics are like a series of little switches that activate and deactive things in your DNA

Because of these Epigenetic switches, right through into adulthood, when the threat is no longer present, the physiological response can remain.

This can lead to physical issues such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, weight issues and chronic pain conditions such as Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. 


All is not lost!

There are two ways to address this:

  1. We can work we children to offset the effect of any adverse experiences and prevent them from becoming toxic stress
  2. We can work with adults to re-programme the interpretation of the childhood experiences and switch the Epigenetic switches off again. 

Don’t give up on yourself

This weekend I was at Regents University in London for a course run by Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy. To get to the Uni, you walk through Regent’s Park. It’s a stunning park right in the centre of London, close to Baker Street, and behind Madame Tussauds.

I have experienced many moments in this park.

  • There was a conversation with Trevor Silvester about how I would one day look back on my childhood experiences and be thankful for them. I remember that conversation. It seemed a ridiculous thing to say. He could tell it unsettled me and quickly switched to a distraction. But I remembered it. And, of course, he was right. I am in that place now – but only just!
  • There was a moment just a year or two ago, where those of use who were qualified came together for an annual Cognitive Hypnotherapy event. I felt so different. I felt like I didn’t belong. And I felt sad, because I always felt different. I sat on a bench with a Starbucks over the lunch break. I left everyone else behind to chat. I isolated myself. It was just me and a squirrel that wanted what I had (no way it was getting my Starbucks!). I have since learnt to accept my differences – even like them. I can be comfortable with people I don’t connect with, in the same was as those I do. Not everyone is my tribe.
  • There were many Saturday mornings where I walked along, having had a session with Trevor on the Friday, desperately trying to process the barrage of emotions and thoughts that flooded me following yet another fundamental shift.

As I walked through the park on Saturday, I felt a deep, calm peace.

It occurred to me that I was unrecognisable in comparison to the person that first walked through the park just over 6 years ago. So much so, that you would swear it was not the same person.

There have been many times in the last few years that I have felt that I have reached the limit of change. Often, with things that I still was unhappy with. I would try and accept the version of me that I was. I would try and convince myself that some things just couldn’t be changed.

But I didn’t believe that to be true for my clients, so how could I accept it for myself?

And like that 18 year old me that didn’t take the bottle of tablets, there was a part of me that still fought; a part of me that still believed there was something better for me.

And then another shift has happened. In many ways, this was the most profound shift yet. And I realised that I was wrong: everything can change.

Bowling

I often tell my clients that this process is like bowling

Image result for bowling images

When you go bowling, you don’t know how many pins you are going to knock out of the way until you actually roll the ball down the alley. You have to bowl, and wait.

Each session we bowl.

You also can’t take the bowling ball and go round the back to get the back pins first.

You have to start with the front row.

So sometimes you feel that you have gone backwards. You uncover a row of pins, and because the others have been cleared out of the way, they feel significant. It feels like that was the main problem all along.

But as with bowling, you can only get at the back row once the rows in front are gone.

Don’t give up

So my message to you is: don’t give up on yourself.

Keep bowling. Keep going. If you are not happy with anything, it can always be changed. It might take a while, and it might even catch you by surprise, but everything can change.

And remember, whatever you think, the fact that you are reading this blog post means that you have not given up on yourself yet!

We’re all screwed up – including me

It’s not secret that I have had my struggles.

It’s also no secret that I had a very difficult childhood. In fact, people who have heard the story have said I should make it into a film. It is a bit ridiculous!

Cognitive Hypnotherapy has been the thing that freed me up.

Even though the actual number of sessions of therapy I’ve had is relatively low (8 in total over the last 7 years), I have been able to find an amazing level of peace, happiness and contentment with my life. But it’s not been a short journey. Every day has been about learning.

Recently I was getting very frustrated with myself.

I still hated myself. I couldn’t look in the mirror without sneering. I wanted to be someone else. I found it impossible when people said nice things. It was actually upsetting. How could they be so cruel as to say something that was so obviously untrue? It wasn’t fair.

I knew this wasn’t right. It was frustrating. How could so much else have changed but not this?

I also knew I had some behaviours that weren’t right. I would never ask a question in a meeting or at Uni, because I assumed that nobody would pay any attention to what I said. When courses didn’t sell, and videos didn’t get many views I would think “Of course, why would anyone listen to me?”. When someone disagreed with something I said in a forum I would back off and not argue my point. I physically would shake and dwell on what I said and what they said.

I know enough to know that isn’t right, and, more importantly, I don’t have to accept it.

And then I got help from a fellow therapist. And we changed the hurt child girl so she was happy.

And things began to change.

I went to my daughter’s school to talk to them about an issue. I could have avoided it but I didn’t. I felt calm when I was there.

I started engaging in discussions on forums.

I went to the doctors about a lump above my stomach. I’d done this before and they dismissed it but I knew it was not right. I had been putting off going but I made the appointment and stuck to my guns to get a scan.

I went to the hairdressers and closed my eyes and relaxed while I was having my hair washed. Something I have never done before.

To many these may seem like small things, but to me they were huge signs of change.

And then I had an opportunity to do a talk to our local ACES group (Adverse Childhood Experiences). I want to become the sort of public speaker that talks at large events. Ultimately, I would love to do Tony Robbins style conferences (obvious they will be Dawn Style by then). I know that I need to share my personal story – what brought me to this point – if I really want to connect with people. I know I have a hell of a story.

I’ve always been able to write this but never talk. This was because of my mother telling me at 12 years old never to talk about the abuse again. But she didn’t say to never write about it lol!

In the past, when I’ve tried to talk, my subconscious has shut me down. I lose the ability to speak or move. So I’ve avoided telling my story.

On Tuesday I went along to this group event with a plan to talk through my story. ACES is all about resilience, and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on our physical and mental well-being. I know that my story shows how it is possible to be happy no matter what. I know I am a better therapist because what I’ve been through shows that it is possible to overcome anything. This was a good audience to start with.

My passion is to help everyone realise that we can all find happiness, no matter what has happened in our childhood. I have never made it so personal before.

I have never told my life story to anyone out loud, from start to finish before, let alone a room of strangers. I spoke to about 15 people. I told them everything from when I was 6 right up until I took my abuser to court. I told the whole story. I explained how if I’m ok, then anybody can be, if you just have the right help.

It was liberating. I felt so free afterwards. I had told my story and I was fine. That’s all it was – a story. Something that I could use to help other people. It did not leave me shaking (although I was a little nervous when I started talking!). It did not stir up nightmares. I did not go into the ‘no-speaking’ state. I was absolutely fine.

I felt exhilarated and I feel so lucky to have been given that chance.

So now I’m working towards a new TED talk next year. A talk that will draw on my experiences both from childhood, and from working with over 600 clients.

“Our past creates us but doesn’t define us – lessons from over 600 clients”

(if anyone can think of a better click-bait style title please let me know!)

This is my next step and I can’t wait.

One part, many parts, or both

I am absolutely fascinated by this woman.
 
We are all made up of parts. And not all of us can accept that. In most people it becomes about denying there are different parts of us and attributing behaviours to us as a whole.
 
For this woman she has gone the other way and fully dissociated from her parts. She regards them as not belonging to her and paints as them. She has many different painting styles. She talks as if her parts are totally different to her. 
 
I believe we are neither one part, or multiple distinct parts.
 
I believe all behaviour serves a purpose, and all behaviour has a positive intent.
The problems we have often come from a battle between the parts. So I believe that harmonising the parts is the answer – not separating them or ignoring them. (I am not sure if this media file will load)

I recently went on my own journey of bringing some parts together, helped by a fellow therapist.

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The effect of childhood trauma

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As a child I discovered a little black box in my head.

I was trying to find somewhere to escape – a place I could go to hide that was away from everything. A place that was safe for me and where no one could find me, touch me, hurt me. A place where I didn’t have to feel anything, physical or emotional.

I found a little black box.

When I needed to I would go into my head and climb into the little black box. I would stay there until it was safe to come out again. As time went on I spent more and more time in the little black box.

Eventually the real me hid there most of the time.

I liked my little black box. It was safe and no one knew about it.

One day, when I was at University, when I had just got together with my hubby he decided he would try a sort of hypnotic relaxation on me (what a charmer!)

I lay on the floor and he talked me through relaxing.

Within a minute or so tears were streaming down my face. Not the result he was expecting. Needless to say we didn’t do it again.

Many years later I began training as a Cognitive Hypnotherapist. Something that often requires going into a trance state. On weekend 2 of my training, when we were doing positive trance work with a partner I found myself freaking out as my partner tried to take me into a trance state. I left the room confused, upset and shaken.

Meanwhile I went on this amazing journey with the help of Trevor Silvester, founder of Cognitive Hypnotherapy. I reached a point where I was happy and was able to feel those emotions I had kept locked away for my whole life. I was able to be myself.

I visited the box less and less. In fact, I almost forgot it was there.

Then I went on another course where we were being taught Self Hypnosis. Again within minutes of starting I had tears streaming down my face and I was shaking.

I thought the work I had done with Trevor had sorted this.

But we had never been near the little black box.

Then a fellow Questie and lovely lady called Michala and I were chatting one night. She made a statement that maybe for me going into a trance state had a different meaning/purpose.

And whoosh! just like that I returned to the time I first went looking for and found my little black box.

And I realised that every time I had tried to go into a trance state it had reminded me of going looking for my little black box. For needing to escape.

And so I went back to Trevor. I told him about my black box. I told him how I used it. I asked him to help me get rid of it.

Trauma is not created by an event. Trauma is created when the event is so emotionally overwhelming that your only option to cope is to shut down (to escape into something like the black box). This is why each of us will process events differently. For some they will be traumatic, for others they will just be horrible.

The problem with triggering a traumatic episode in your brain, is that it then creates a barrier, a void. Everything that went before the void is cut off. And whilst those things before the void are outdated and primitive, they at least provided some structure; some guidance, for how to deal with life events.

Everything after the void becomes uncertain, a risk. Without rules there is no structure and without structure, nothing is safe.

This is what trauma does.

Trevor worked with me to help removed the black box. It was one of the hardest sessions I have ever had. It was also one of the most transformative. Even now, over 4 years after that session, I notice things that are safe that didn’t used to feel that way.

There is a trend right now to define child abuse as trauma. Clients often come to me with a PTSD label after being diagnosed by mental health professionals.  They then work with the symptoms of the trauma. This can detract from the root cause, the traumatic moment.

That traumatic moment is not what you might expect. It is often not the worst act or event in a stream of abuse. It is usually a moment that you simply can’t bear to think about. A moment that your brain won’t allow you to go near: A person walking into a darkened room, a bag left on a chair, a sound of breathing, a physical moment. It was for me. It has been for many of my clients.

When a client comes to me that has clearly got a traumatic memory, we first clear that. I recognise that while I can do other stuff, as long as the void/barrier/black box remains, they will remain on alert. And the great thing is, the work I do doesn’t require them to tell me anything about the moment that created the trauma. All the work is done in their head with me as a guide.

A traumatic event does not have to create a lifetime of trauma. It can be changed. Email dawn@thinkitchangeit.com to learn more.