As teachers and parents, we have two aspects of trauma to consider and mitigate – the impact of trauma on our own lives and the impact of trauma on our children and students’ lives. As we explore ourselves and the coping strategies that we have developed over time, it is possible for us to reflect on children’s behaviours as ways that they have grown resilience and survival.
This post is the first of two. It focuses on empowering ourselves to mitigate our own trauma, while the next post focuses on strategies to support our students.
This two post series on growing resilience is a collaborative effort with myself, Nancy Barr of NMBarr Consulting, and Kyla Bouvier of Back2Nature Wellness and Events. It is designed to take us on a journey of understanding and empowering ourselves and the children in our care.
To begin to understand ourselves and the children we care for, it is important to know the foundations of brain function and how our experiences impact brain biology.
You can read more about the different parts of the brain and how they control our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.
Three things are required for learning to take place:
- Access to specific brain functions,
- Ability to integrate these brain functions, and
- Ability to maintain integration of these functions under varying degrees of stress.
Dr. Daniel Siegel explains how the parts of the brain work together to create neural integration:
Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model of the brain states that the brain is undeveloped at birth, and organizes itself from the bottom up.
The brain organizes itself sequentially, which is a key idea when considering the impact of trauma on the brain and the types of strategies that might mitigate that impact.
It is important to recognize that the Amygdala is very strong BIOLOGICALLY. It controls our fight, flight or freeze impulses. This means that if someone is in a fear response, the biology of their brain will not allow them to function in their prefrontal cortex. Similarly, if someone is in the emotional part of their brain, they are not able to work in their prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex controls thinking, logic and learning and is the weakest part of the brain BIOLOGICALLY. The prefrontal cortex is not able to overpower a person’s emotion or fear.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to reorganize itself, both in structure and function. Think of your brain like a garden.
Based on our experiences, our brain will re-organize neural systems.
Impact of Trauma
Neuroplasticity tells us that our brains are constantly changing. When negative experiences cause us to get trapped in the gateway part of our brain, our brain biology – both structure and function – are changed. One type of negative experience is trauma. There are many different types of trauma.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).
Intergenerational and Historical Trauma
Brain scans show clearly that there are portions of the brain that do not develop and/or are not active when people are exposed to neglect and abuse.
Continued exposure to trauma creates an environment filled with relentless fear, resulting in the development of a self-defence mechanism in a child’s brain that requires a fight, flight or freeze response. Stress responses are maintained due to:
- A persistent fear response that ‘wears out’ neural pathways;
- Hyperarousal that causes children to overreact to nonthreatening triggers;
- Dissociation from the traumatic event in which the child shuts down emotionally; and
- Disruptions in emotional attachment, which can be detrimental to learning.
Trauma impacts brain development by keeping a child trapped in the limbic system and governed by flight, fight and freeze. A child will spend most of their time in survival mode, which leaves fewer resources for social/emotional regulation and cognition.
Neuroplasticity: Implications and Hope
Many years ago, it was thought that if a brain was damaged it would stay damaged for a lifetime. The research around neuroplasticity, however, gives us great hope.
Your brain is always learning and changing, but the brain is neutral. It does not know the difference between a good pathway or bad pathway. We have all developed coping strategies that we repeat to help us to survive and be safe. Some of those actions, thoughts and habits might be anxious, obsessive or over-reactive patterns. The hopeful research is that there are strategies that can help our brains let go of those negative patterns and develop positive pathways and mitigate the trauma that we have experienced.
The Mind-Body Connection
Our mind and body are connected. Our thoughts affect our bodily systems and we store limiting belief systems and memories in our body that were first created in our mind. The mind is made up of both our conscious (5%) and subconscious mind (95%). Our conscious mind is aware of beliefs and our surrounding environment. Our subconscious mind is the storage room of all beliefs and memories, but we are not aware of them. These subconscious programs and patterns run how we perceive and behave in the world.
Our memories are stored in our subconscious mind. There are two types of memories:
- Passive memories are uncomplicated and have no emotional charge.
- Active memories are stored with an associated emotional charge.
Each time we remember an active memory, we re-experience the emotion over and over again. Dr. Joe Dispenze describes the impact on our brains and bodies.
The subconscious mind influences our conscious mind which influences our energy systems and finally, our physical body and environment. In order to transform ourselves, we need to become aware of our subconscious ways of being. So how do we increase our awareness?
Our external environment is a reflection of our internal environment. The goal of mirroring is to move us from wondering “How is this happening TO me?” to wondering “How is this happening FOR me?” By viewing frustrating experiences as opportunities to learn, we can move from victim to gratitude.
The Present Moment
To be in the present moment is to be completely conscious and aware of your thoughts and emotions. When our lives are dictated by the constant mind chatter, the “voice in our head”, we become attached to past events and potential future outcomes. This can prevent us from being fully in the moment and lead to depression, anxiety and fear.
Catching Our Stories
Sometimes, we tell ourselves stories about other people’s motivations and actions. These stories recreate active memories that carry negative emotions over and over again.
Being More Present
There are several strategies to help us be in the present moment.
- Blue Sky and Clouds
- Breathing Exercises
- Using a Mantra or Affirmation
Filling Your Cup
It is important that we take time to let our minds and bodies rest, digest and repair. What ‘fills our cup’ is unique to each person.
Other Healing Practices
There are other simple ideas that we can infuse into our daily routines to help to heal our minds, emotions, bodies and spirit.
Learn More about the Mind-Body Connection
The following researchers are important contributors to our understanding of the mind-body connection.
- Dr. Joe Dispenza studies the fields of neuroscience, epigenetics, and quantum physics. He uses that knowledge to help people heal themselves of illnesses, chronic conditions, and terminal diseases so they can enjoy a more fulfilled and happy life, as well as evolve their consciousness.
- Eckhart Tolle teaches about the transformation of consciousness and transcending our ego-based state of consciousness.
The Body Talk System is a healing modality which looks at the big picture. Kyla of Back2Nature Wellness is a practitioner who looks at the whole-person, emotional, physical and environmental influences, the true underlying causes of dis-ease. BodyTalk can address limiting belief systems and emotional memories held in the subconscious mind and the body.
Where to From Here…
By focusing on our own beliefs, actions and patterns, it is possible for us to forge new pathways and patterns in our brains. These new patterns lead to transforming the beliefs that limit us and shift what we store in our subconscious minds. This is the key to altering our energy, which can impact our bodies and environment.
The next post of this two post series will focus on trauma in children and how we might, as teachers and caregivers, create learning experiences that help to mitigate trauma and create new neural patterns to grow resilience.