On my last post, someone asked this question and I thought it is an excellent question. I knew the answer but I went and did some research anyways. Here’s the question:” Why is it I know all I did wrong and think of nothing right? or see mistakes, not successes?”
When humans first roamed the earth they were given a very basic nervous system called the limbic system to protect them. It is a genetic piece of work that still is within us. The system is our warning system that something is wrong and to do something about it. It is fear radar. I have written before how this all works. Through time, the brain became more evolved and we developed the capacity to override the limbic system by learning in reality what is harmful. For example, we know a hot stove can hurt us, but only if we do certain actions like touch the burner. We do not walk around and every time we face a stove, we go into a panic mood or better known as fight, flight or freeze. Unless you hate to cook.
But children who are raised in trauma based environments face a different learning sequence that changes how they react to things as adult. It is not a failure in the child, it is actually another mechanism put into place to protect the child. It appears that genetics predisposes us to develop in certain ways. But our experiences, including our interactions with other people, have a significant impact on how our predispositions are expressed. In fact, research now shows that many capacities thought to be fixed at birth are actually dependent on a sequence of experiences combined with heredity. Both factors are essential for optimum development of the human brain (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000).
I often wondered why my reactions to things seemed so much over the top. I am very sensitive. I have learned to accept this part of me as a gift, along with the desire to learn to live in peace with it. I am definitely prone to hyper arousal. I would go off and very little would sooth me even if I knew cognitively that things were not as bad as I was making it out to be. When children are exposed to chronic, traumatic stress, their brains sensitize the pathways for the fear response and create memories that automatically trigger that response without conscious thought. These children have an altered baseline for arousal, and they tend to overreact to triggers that other children find nonthreatening (Child Trauma Academy, n.d.).
We all have voices in our heads. And those voices are the echoes of conversations we have heard before since infancy. Many can override negative voices through affirmations and other verbal training. They can change the imprints of negativity. However children who grow up in violent or chaotic homes are too busy trying to survive. Consumed with a need to monitor nonverbal cues for threats, their brains are less able to interpret and respond to verbal cues, even when they are in a supposedly nonthreatening environment.- if a child’s caretakers are indifferent or hostile—the child’s brain development may be impaired. Because the brain adapts to its environment, it will adapt to a negative environment just as readily as it will adapt to a positive one. But if a child’s caregivers are unresponsive or threatening, and the attachment process is disrupted, the child’s ability to form any healthy relationships during his or her life may be impaired (Perry, 2001a).
The question is why do some people only hear the “bad” in their lives? I do not take compliments well. I always am waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is my parents voices I hear which is totally unfair since they are both long gone. Why can I not move on? But if the early environment is abusive or neglectful, our brains will create memories of these experiences that may adversely color our view of the world throughout our life. Explicit memory, which develops around age 2, refers to conscious memories and is tied to language development. Explicit memory allows children to talk about themselves in the past and future or in different places or circumstances through the process of conscious recollection (Applegate & Shapiro, 2005).
This study goes into the effect of long term negative environment. It explains that the brain continues to grow and develop with whatever stimulus the child is exposed to. One way that early maltreatment experiences may alter a child’s ability to interact positively with others is by altering brain neurochemical balance. Research on children who suffered early emotional abuse or severe deprivation indicates that such maltreatment may permanently alter the brain’s ability to use serotonin, which helps produce feelings of well-being and emotional stability (Healy, 2004).
This was an excellent study to help understand the long term impact of childhood trauma and sexual abuse. More and more information is coming out on the long term effects which will help with acceptance. But the most important acceptance is self-acceptance. Based on this study and others, the situation is daunting. If you are chemically and physically wired for hyper-arousal, self-deprecation and negativity, how do you overcome it? Can you overcome it?
Yes, I believe so. All humans have neuroplasticity, which means our brains will create new neuropathways for life. The process slows down as we age. And it takes more than just verbal input. You have to train the body as well to not react to stimulus incorrectly. You have to learn your triggers. You have to learn what is safe. And by that I mean feel within your body, mind and soul what is your place of safe. And you have to forgive….forgive your predators because if you do not, you are still giving them power. And you have to forgive yourself when things set you off course or upset you. This process takes a lot of work and I honor any who keep on trying because I know it is hard. Just as the child who repeated falls when learning to walk, they get up and keep trying. So goes our lives. You can teach an old dog new tricks.
Child Welfare Information Gateway ISSUE BRIEF. November 2009, Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development