Tag Archives: 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. 

Can trauma be controlled?

Trauma is where your brain has encountered something so difficult to process and comprehend, that your only option is to not process it. It’s a tipping point, often from an event that is no more than 20 seconds long. This is often referred to as a flashback. 

These tipping points are often not what would be perceived as traumatic by an outside observer.  Everyone processes in different ways, depending on their experiences in life, the perceived consequences and meaning in the event, and, to some degree, their perceptions of how they should have conducted themselves versus how they actually did.

So if a child is being brutally beaten regularly, that is not necessarily traumatic. The trauma can be caused more by something the perpetrator says while delivering the beating, rather than the direct, obvious pain caused by the violence.

Problems come, not from what happens, but from the meaning found when processing what happened. 

When dealing with trauma, it is common practice for therapists to wait at least a few months after an event before starting any therapy. 

The brain is an amazing thing, that processes and files, and organises everything that happens to us. 

This process takes time. It will be different for everyone. 

If you start trying to ‘fix’ trauma before that processing has taken place, it can do more damage than good. The event may not have registered as traumatic with an individual. Treating it as traumatic will then result in the memory being enhanced and processed as traumatic.  

Image result for flasher cartoon pictures

My husband once told me a story about a time when he was in the police:

2 teenage girls had been walking down the road and a man had flashed at them. 

They reported it to the police and my husband went along to interview both girls in their home. He interviewed them individually in their homes, with their parents present. 

The first girl was distraught. The mother was raging, talking about how disgusting it was and how traumatic it was for her daughter. The daughter was really affected by it and struggled to be interviewed. 

The second girl was calm and bemused. Her mother was joking about it and saying how ridiculous the stupid man was. 

You do not decide if something is traumatic or not, your brain does. 

So whilst we should be aware of the potential of things to be traumatic, we should not presume to know how someone else will experience and process an event. What we class as traumatic will be very different to someone else.

So be cautious about labelling something as traumatic based on your own perceptions of trauma. 

Everything can change. 

I can help you clear that traumatic block from your head. It only takes one session to clear the trauma, and then a follow up session to work on some of the structures in your brain that have been effected by it. 

Email dawn@thinkitchangeit.com to talk about how I might be able to help you. 

Hold on to your past – it defines you.

When I was 3 I told that my grandfather was molesting me. Nothing changed and it continued until I moved to live with my mother at 8 or 9 years old.

When I was 12 I told my mother I was being abused. Nothing changed and the abuse continued for some time after.

3 years ago I faced my abuser in court and he walked out of the court free. The jury found him not guilty. Nothing changed.

Before I went to live with my mother, I was starved and looked like a skeleton, beaten to the point of being covered in bruises and neglected. School knew. Social Services knew. Nothing changed.

At 14 years old my brother ran away for the first time. He was returned home. At 16 years old he ran away again and this time they couldn’t bring him home.

I stayed.

I went to university, got a degree in computing, met the man who would become my husband, and went on to have a very successful career, eventually ending up on a 6 figure salary in BT. I had a wonderful house, husband and daughter. Everything was amazing.

Except I was still the broken little girl inside. It was all a pretence.

Then I found cognitive hypnotherapy and everything changed.

Nothing changed what had happened, of course. It was me that changed inside. My internal story changed. The meaning behind the events changed.

One day a friend suggested that I should let go of my past as it didn’t serve me any more. I got really upset.

Who would I be if I had not experienced my life?

I am where I am not just because of who I am, but also because of the experiences I went through.

 

If I wasn’t the person I am, I wouldn’t be here writing this, helping people, trying to change the world, one person at a time. I would be like my brother, a drug addict struggling to keep going each day.

If I hadn’t gone through the experiences I did then it would be unlikely that I would dedicate my life to helping others escape the demons of their past.

So I don’t want to let go of the past. It made me who I am.

I sometimes learn new things about my past. Recently I reconnected with a relative (there are very few people from my past allowed in my present life). I learnt things about what was done, and what people new, that floored me a little. I felt angry and upset. I asked why no one protected me, as I have done many times before.

But this time it was different for me. I didn’t ask what was wrong with me. I didn’t feel even more evil and broken.

I felt upset. Genuinely upset that people would treat a little girl that way.

And I felt in awe of the person that I am. The person that got through that. And the person I have become as a result of that.

So don’t let go of your childhood experiences. You need them. They go with your personal qualities to make you who you are today.

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!

The Black Box

black box

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.

Anything could happen to me physically, but it couldn’t reach me in the 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, we were doing an exercise to go back to a positive memory. I was working 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.

Eventually, after working with Trevor Silvester (founder of Cognitive Hypnotherapy) for a few sessions, 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, one day, once I had qualified, I attended a course on how to use Cognitive Hypnotherapy to help with childbirth. One of the things we learnt was how to teach a client to get themselves into a relaxed state. We always practice these techniques on ourselves. As the exercise began, I found myself scared to close my eyes. As everyone else relaxed, I once more found myself crying.

I was incredibly frustrated. I thought I should be sorted by now. I shouldn’t have this sort of reaction.

But in my therapy sessions, we had never been near the little black box.

One evening I was chatting to a friend and fellow Cognitive Hypnotherapist. 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.

I have done work on that black box since then, and it’s been profound. Actually it’s been life-changing. There is a calmness without the need for that. Although that black box felt like a safe place, I was only going there because everything else didn’t feel safe. The work I’ve done has been to see the rest of the world, the world outside the box, as safe.

That makes for a much calmer life.

I still have the box. When I took my abuser to court I went there a lot. I’m not sure that I will ever lose that space. I just hope, eventually, to never need to go there again.

Often I work with my clients on their version of a black box. Those who have had bad childhood experiences, or traumatic events later in life, usually get by through some sort of black box strategy. It might be a wall, or a black hole, but what it does is create a numb part in their head that feels safe. Unfortunately, this means that everything outside of it is unsafe. It can lead to a permanent state that might be described as hyper-vigilance.

I help them blur the boundaries between safe and unsafe so that everything becomes safe. As a result, my clients get to be present and to live their lives without the fear.

If you feel you have your own version of a black box, I can help. Nothing needs to be the way it’s always been.

Email dawn@thinkitchangeit.com