Death of a Thousand Cuts: young people and trauma
— Amanda Robins
When we hear the word trauma we often think of a terrible life-threatening event – a car accident, natural disaster or an act of violence which changes us forever. But psychological trauma needn’t be caused by a single event – it can be – and often is – the result of a cumulative process of traumatic interactions in childhood which can permanently change the brain and leave young people with a vulnerability to mental illness. As trauma theorist Bessel van der Kolk puts it:
“Chronic trauma interferes with neurobiological development and the capacity to integrate sensory, emotional and cognitive information into a cohesive whole. Developmental trauma sets the stage for unfocused responses to subsequent stress leading to dramatic increases in the use of medical, correctional, social and mental health services.”
Trauma such as this (complex developmental trauma) occurs during particularly sensitive periods in a child’s development – usually from birth to 3 years. This is the period during which important regulatory functions are developed and brain structures, pathways and connections are formed or “turned off.” The important experience-dependent development which occurs at this early stage allows us to adapt to our social environment, helping us learn to regulate ourselves and recognise our own and others’ emotions. Although the brain does remain plastic into adulthood, certain functions and pathways set in motion during this early period are difficult to change and can influence our ability to handle stress and manage our emotions across the lifespan.
So what happens when something goes wrong? (Click below for the full article)