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Developmental Trauma and the Role of Resilience in Re-establishing Brain Integration
Every child must undergo a rite of passage to become an adult. This journey is one that has become more complex in recent history due to the increasing complexity and challenges in their life and the lives of their parents.
There has been an explosion in the last 20 years of child learning disorders such as ADD and ADHD. There has also been a rise in childhood mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, speech and socialisation disorders.
These issues not only are exacerbated by the complexity and chaos in society and our parents, but there are other factors involved such as diet and health that also play a part. We now know also that developmental issues such as developmental trauma can play a significant role in creating these problems in our children.
Developmental trauma is that incident, incidents or pattern of sustained behaviours that compromises the child’s development and which stems of the actions or inactions of the caregivers and parents of that child. Developmental trauma typically occurs in the relational space between child and the parents.
There is an overall concern in our community that our children collectively are not all developing into healthy adults. As a result parents are looking for answers outside the domain of medication of their children for a solution.
There is reason to believe that parents do not possess the information they need to guide their parenting styles with their children. It is timely that the field of neuroscience has in the last 10 years now uncovered more detail about what happens in children around developmental trauma.
This research also is complementary to the concept of building resilience in our children as a potential way of creating health, as well as to repair any developmental trauma that has already occurred. Taken together these two educational threads create the basis to assist parents in being the parents they hope to be in offering their children the support they need to navigate childhood into adulthood.
Retrospectively we must now face the fact that as a society we have somehow lost our way in parenting our children. We may need to face the fact that the way in which many of us we were parented by our parents as we grew up was not optimal and in turn will not be appropriate for our own children.
Many of us experienced interactions and experiences in our own childhoods which that once were considered OK but are now known to have been damaging to our development, and if repeated will in turn be damaging to our own children’s development.
For many families parenting was a skill that was best efforts based simply on what was shown and mirrored to them by their parents, and from whatever state of coping they could offer to their dependent children. Most parents were well intended and had tried their best but some just lacked education and skills as to what a parent needs to be and to provide to children.
Some parents had addictions or trauma and were compromised in being able to cope as parents. There are some adults who simply should never have been allowed to bring children into the world.
The goal for our children should be that they not simply survive but that they thrive and evolve into their potential. We need not get defensive but simply acknowledge that we need to in our generation as parents access new information and new skills and awareness for that to happen in many instances.
All too often we find that the Baby Boomer parent gets defensive around parenting skills and then tends to state “well it never hurt me!!” or “well we tall turned out OK!!”. When you dig deeper things are not all OK and there are wounds, addictions and defences all though those family systems in each member in different combinations.
There is a subset of our child population who struggle with the left brain dominant school system we have to educate our children in our society. They find they simply cannot learn and their brain defeats them or simply does not show up when it’s time to concentrate and learn.
For instance, Lisa Fernandez, the former radio presenter from 92.9 FM, who was diagnosed with Adult ADD, explains her own adult experience this way:
“My inability to concentrate no matter how hard I tried or how much I told myself I must.
About my over focus on tasks I was passionate about to the detriment of everything else including food and water.
My boredom with general tasks, my continual procrastination, my lateness, my psychotic disorganisation, my constant feeling of impending doom, my obsessing with being hit by a car, my confusion as to why my brain jumped from one subject to the next on a minute by minute basis. My exhaustion just thinking everything every second of every day.
I ended our fun-filled session sobbingly reflecting on people’s perceptions of me as being flippant, vague, distracted, unreliable, lazy, indecisive, distant, an ambitionless procrastinator. None of which were true assessments of who I was. All of which made me feel like I was worthless, stupid, useless, and a complete failure.”
Children with ADD or ADHD report an even more overwhelming experience as they have not come to consolidate frameworks about life, themself and the world in order to map their chaotic experiences. What could be an issue for these children?
BRAIN HEMISPHERE DIFFERENCES DEBATE
We all have a brain but we cannot assume that our brains all process sensory input the same, or process conceptually information the same way. At the front of our forehead region there exists inside the skull two frontal lobes or two hemispheres of brain which only us humans have and which separates us from all other animate creatures.
This “front brain” is critical to our human consciousness and reality making in many respects. This prefrontal cortex area or frontal lobes as they are often called, are that part of the brain only found in humans.
The concept that parts of the brain has specific localised function in one area, which sometimes is called localisation, is an area of heated debate in neuroscience circles. There are certainly areas of cortex or brain that perform specific functions, and pretty much these have been mapped out and understood at the functional level.
There remains other parts of the brain which are not yet understood in terms of what function they primarily own or oversee. The neuroplasticity of the brain means that any of these functions appear to rewire where needed such that the brain can perform them elsewhere, and indeed may always be performing them elsewhere as a mirrored backup according to some theorists.
This article concerns itself with the cross-hemispheric localisation of specific functions in the “front brain”. In this area we find that we have two pieces of brain which have a corpus callosum “cable” connecting the two together for communication purposes. The two brain hemispheres are asymmetrical or different sized as a starting point of how we understand their functions and collaboration with each other.
The left hemisphere appears to be dominant and this appears to be to accommodate language in its various forms of understanding, comprehension and expression, whilst the right hemisphere appears to have primacy for visual imagery. Yet each hemisphere can also deal with both language and visual imagery but in a different way than how the other hemisphere performs its tasks.
Another observed generalisation about brain hemisphere differences has been the finding that the left hemisphere tends to break down information into isolated pieces in a serial fashion.(e.g. words), whilst the right hemisphere processes the entity as a whole (e.g. picture or vision). Hence each hemisphere may process received information in a different way.
The result is that information put through each hemisphere will have a different flavour and may lack the finesse or power of the dominant hemispheres output in the same area or function. It would appear, according to renowned psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, that every identifiable human activity is actually served at some level by both brain hemispheres.
He notes however that there is some striking differences in the information processing abilities and propensities of the two hemispheres. Brain processing creates cognition and our perception of reality and how we would describe that reality.
This means that meaning making which occupies much of the brains safety seeking and comprehension tasks will likewise produce altered perception in affected individuals. If how we process reality changes at the systemic or brain process level then the knock-on effect will be to create a new or novel outcomes in perception and reality.
This is at one level how there is so much diversity and creativity in humans. It will affect us at the level of our being and doing and the way in which we view ourselves, others and the world itself.
It will therefore shape our experiences and so have the ability to shape culture and cultural expressions. We know that traumatised individuals may go on to be those who pioneer new forms of art, philosophy, business, science and all expressions of what we have as output from our brain processes as their “output” is altered by trauma.
We know that an episode of trauma, or what we term developmental trauma in terms of negative relational experiences with caregivers and significant others, can be a trigger to cause a hemisphere of the brain to no longer perform optimally. It may as a result create an over-use of one hemisphere for processing all significant tasks, instead of routing all tasks to the nominated primary part of the brain that best performs that function.
It is through this type of lens that we can examine how some forms of childhood developmental trauma can be created, and how resilience techniques offer a way to assist the brain in repair of cross hemispheric processing where there may have been some form of developmental arrest.
DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES AND THE BRAIN
What we now know is that our brains are wired through the experiences we have and the emotions those experiences generate. As we grow and develop the primary developmental task is for our brain, connected with our body, to have experiences which integrate sensory data to enable us to learn and adapt successfully to our environment, so that we survive and thrive.
The overall developmental task for a child is integration. By this we mean that as they grow and evolve they unfold in terms of a developmental timeline where they must face and incorporate or integrate new tasks, skills, and experiences into their bodymind whole.
The integration is the linking of differentiated elements of the bodymind and of the different regions of the brain as the brain wires up in childhood. This integration is the enabler for harmony and the ability to cope with increasing complexity in the world. It is the enabler of action, change, flexibility and growth.
Trauma causes disintegration of the whole down into functioning and non-functioning parts which then present through the personality as either chaos or rigidity rather than a flowing uniform self. The developmental tasks for children are now harder to achieve whilst the ability for that child later on as an adult to function in a complex adult world is now compromised.
NEUROPLASTICITY AND TRAUMA
Luckily for humans we can change at any stage in our life even when we have had either developmental or an adult episode of trauma. We can build resilience in children who will be resourced up to face adverse situations so they will be less likely to be overwhelmed or permanently damaged, or we can use resilience as part of the process of trauma recovery.
Neuroplasticity, which is at its most active state in early childhood, is the brains ability to organise and reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout our entire life. It allows neurons (nerve cells) to compensate for injury, disease, and trauma and to adjust their activities in response to changes in the perception of their environment.
Trauma may be thought of as any single, ongoing or cumulative set of experiences which result in responses to a perceived threat and where that perception may decide it is at the level of possible death. The arousal of feelings and sensory data overwhelms us and floods our capacity to cope, and we feel unable to function or stay in control.
The trauma threat activates a form of physiological and psychological set of responses based on fight or flight principles (fight, flight, freeze, collapse, dissociate, submit, etc). The overwhelm damages and affects both the body and nervous system responses, and affects brain function.
Our brains are designed to make us social creatures and we are in health and wellness when we are socialised, in relationships, and in communities and groups. Relationships are a form of resilience. Trauma damages relational aspects of self and often leaves a felt sense that the world and relationships are unsafe.
Traumatised people tend to become either rigid or chaotic in terms of subsequent personality traits and the defences they evoke to defend against further perceived threats. A child who gets traumatised by a parent or teacher learns what is expected and what to expect in relationships based on those traumatising experiences.
As the brain is a relational biased processor then the expectation of what to expect from others and relationships is shaped through epigenetics and neuroplasticity into the child’s physical body structure, and mental action tendencies of self and relating to others.
There is an old impulse in all of us towards social bonding and group affiliation that equates to safety making. Our brains guide us towards the herd as in the herd is safety in numbers from predators as well as resources we all need that are harder to locate and access in isolation.
Trauma compromises the ability to create healthy social bonds and so isolates us and makes us unsafe which paradoxically is often is the very thing we fear. We can state from a neuroscience perspective that the brain relies on our emotions to help organise its complex activities into what is known by The Australian Childhood Foundation as an optimal state we call FACES:
The great fault of most school systems as practiced in the West is that teachers are trained to rely on left brained rules and logic and quantitative analysis in discharging education. Our emotions are typically seen as weak and are like the school bag which should left outside in the locker and not brought into the classroom.
The best policy for educating our children is to develop a fun based, sensory rich, curiosity and exploration based culture within the classroom. Education ideally should be a left and right brain experience that exposes and develops both left and right brain functions and capabilities.
I have reflected in horror at my own private school education, and that of children I see in schools with rigid, critical, perfectionistic and idealistic teachers. These leaders just make school an experience that is soulless, controlling, left brain focussed, and which becomes potentially damaging and traumatising to the sensitive or already traumatised kids in those classes.
The recent studies of the biggest business entrepreneurs in the world including Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Stephen Jobs, shows a degree of early life setback or trauma can facilitate this rewiring of the brain towards right brain functions. This is not what great school report cards are made of but as these entrepreneurs show us, get out of school and watch the emotionally available, right brain oriented person find their feet in business if their circumstances or traumas are not too disabling.
They end up employing all those left brain specialists to do the “boring” work for them while they envision their future and have distracted fun. In a healthy society we need both left and right brain types as the diversity of minds creates the best problem solving environments as each type brings their strengths and unique perception into the problem arena.
Emotions play a critical role here as they are enablers of intellect in this world and not separate or an “either/or” choice that we should be forced to make. Emotions inform intellect and reasoning rather than be judged as some annoying overhang of weakness in us. Just consider how emotional intelligence is now a sought after commodity in the workforce.
BRAIN HEMISPHERE DEVELOPMENT THROUGH A TIMELINE
Neuroscience now informs us that as we develop in the womb and then through childhood we actually undergo brain development by more or less living out of one side or hemisphere of our brains for a period of time. In that time the experiences from our environment will stimulate the growth of that hemisphere of the brain more so than the other side.
When we swap over to the other hemisphere then that side will get a growth spurt and so in children there is naturally what we call temporal asymmetry in the brain as part of their development. There is some evidence that this hemisphere swapping that occurs in stages over time actually creates emotional intelligence by wiring each side and then integrating cross hemisphere processing as the brain becomes more complex as we grow.
It may also be the case in childhood that if we are traumatised whilst residing in one of those hemispheres then the trauma may cause us to have a developmental arrest in terms of we no longer swap hemispheres properly anymore and compensate by over-developing the hemisphere we remain stuck in.
The age timeline and which brain hemisphere is undergoing brain development are outlined to be:
- Age 0-2 Right brain hemisphere
- Age 2-4 Left brain hemisphere
- Age 4-6 Right brain hemisphere
- Age 6-8 Left Brain hemisphere
- Age 8-12 Left brain but integration of both sides towards co-processing and complexity.
Colin Trevarthen is a neuroscientist who has studied emotions and development in infants and children. He notes that for the first 18 months to 2 years the right hemisphere of the infant brain is more advanced and growing faster than the left.
This focus is associated with the primary preoccupation of the infant with relational attachment to the mother, firstly in the womb and then outside the womb after birth with a wider population of caregivers. The baby is totally dependent on others for care, resources and protection so the brain discharges these relational attachment functions through the right hemisphere.
From about the age of 2 years the baby swaps over to the left hemisphere where the left hemisphere is more about self, communication and identity. The infant now forms an ego or self or “I” via its left brain. This is seen in what is popularly called “the terrible twos” where the infant starts to express itself via enhanced communication skills (left brain function), more self-expression, more independence of the self, and more complex communication and understanding of the content of another person’s words.
From the age of about 4 years we find the emergence of an understanding of the concept of “we” rather than just “me” which comes from an orientation that develops by a primary habitation in the developing right hemisphere. The more complex child now starts to master collaboration, play, exploration, curiosity and social engagements of companionship.
From about the age of 6 years when many children start year 1 at school we find another shift back to the left hemisphere where the child is ready to learn, take on concepts and use the emerging timeline that develops in the left brain about the concept and context of past, present and future.
They are also now able to better master hand-eye co-ordination and so bring the body and emotions fully into the service of making things, play, sport, music making, storytelling etc. From this point on and especially from about the age of 8 years when another shift occurs as the Corpus Callosum and other brain areas wire up in integration we find the emergence of the nuanced and balanced child if all has gone well in previous stages.
However it is true that if some trauma occurred along the way then the child may be stuck along that timeline in one of the brain hemispheres and without that later complexity and integrative set of processes having fully expressed themselves through both hemispheres developing as they should.
EMOTIONS AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Emotional intelligence is an easy concept to define by a heady left brain person but ever so hard to embrace by the same person once you ask them to engage with their emotions and feelings in order to become that person or mindset. The thinking an emotion or feeling is a left brain dominated process that many mistake for feeling the feeling or emotion.
This is an example of how our left brain can attempt a right brain function. It is a major obstacle for a left brain dominated person to feel their feelings as affected people cannot easily swap hemispheres of the brain to get into their emotions.
The concept of brain gym assists here by causing what we call horizontal integration of left and right brain function via increased corpus callosum bridging between hemispheres. Play, fun and exploration are the easiest ways of cross location firing of neural circuits of the brain.
Adults can benefit from these activities as much as children but the resistance of many adults to engage in these emotional healthy activities shows the entrenched problem we face in society. We have a situation now where generations of emotions having gone missing as family systems have become left brain dominated and disown right brain functions and pleasures.
Prominent neuroscientist Dan Seigel reminds us in his ground breaking books “The Mind Up Programme” and “The Developing Mind”, how the body and its feelings, impulses and emotions drive our mental, emotional and even physical wellness and development. An absence of emotion equates to illness whilst emotional availability is a form of resilience and stability that promotes wellness.
When we ignore or block emotions and feelings we block out the truth. What we mean by this is that our body and the lower unconscious brain segments (reptilian and limbic centres) are always in truth in terms of what they try to convey. It is only our ego function of the left pre-frontal cortex areas of the brain that gives us the ability to lie, deceive, mask over, and repress what is in truth into some form of denial or lie.
Dan Seigel is quite explicit in what he defines as health in humans. In terms of the bodymind he notes that “neural integration is fundamental to the capacity of the brain to create a sense of self …. It is a key process.”. He also notes that hemispheric specialisation to the frontal lobes of the brain mean that the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere need to work together to achieve optimal adaptive states of being and health”.
LEFT AND RIGHT BRAIN HEMISPHERE FUNCTIONS
For instance what he means in one example is that knowing a feeling (right hemisphere) and giving that feeling a language (left hemisphere) requires an integrative capacity of the two hemispheres concerned. When we block our feelings and emotions we start to effectively switch off the contribution of the right hemisphere in this process of creating consciousness.
The result is we lose contact with our feelings and their contribution to our cognitive functions of discernment and judgement. Our language become proscribed by less sensory input, which increases the risk of making a mistake or error.
It also means that the ability to socialise, read social cues from others, have empathy and compassion is diminished as the mirroring of emotions and the way we process what are known as “mirror neurons” becomes impaired. This is one instance of how emotional intelligence and the ability to be social and read social cues is a missing experience of some people.
Some children may get traumatised and then start to live more or less in their left brain hemisphere and lose access to their right hemisphere resources. Some other children may experience the reverse situation, depending on the age when they experienced developmental or other trauma.
If a person becomes locked in their left hemisphere they importantly lose contact with their emotional and empathy generating brain centres. They become too dependent on logical, thinking, rational and black and white perfectionistic thinking.
In extreme cases there may arise an obsessiveness and a preoccupation with mechanical objects, mathematical systems, words, ideas, and mental constructs. These objects will get attention and will prevail over socialised activities and behaviours, relationships, and emotional relating to others.
Left brain orientation that arises from trauma can result in intense anxiety and recurrent thinking, hyper-vigilant consciousness, and the left brain dominated personalities may often be overly self oriented, object focussed, and reactive-defensive.
In-utero or later childhood trauma can have a compounding effect where a child is hyper-vigilant. Any later threatening behaviours such as intense criticism, yelling, staring, physical, emotional and mental abuse can traumatise a child who is already now in a left brain hyper-vigilance at the unsafe gestures and behaviours of care givers.
The trauma can wire a child into a left brain reality and many of our personality disorders show these overly mental and underdeveloped emotional traits. We become more “me” and less “we” as the social-relational right hemisphere is no longer having a significant contribution to the way we behave and act.
When we lose our emotions and emotional processing capabilities we become more inhuman and robotic. The sociopathic and psychopathic spectrum of personalities plus issues such as autism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD), to name a few, also speak to us of potential left brain stuckness and isolated left hemisphere processing.
In the reverse context some people get trapped in the right hemisphere of their brains and the lack of balanced access to left brain hemisphere input causes a different set of problems. Classic trauma scenarios and inappropriate parenting commonly create this outcome in children where the child is in a stage of right hemisphere brain processing.
For instance developmental trauma in young children may result in that child living more or less from the right hemisphere of their brain. Remember this adverse event in childhood is one determinant that studies found contributed to the emergence of the entrepreneurial adult mind, but what was missing from that study is that it also can create mental illness, marginalised children, and non-adaptive children who struggle in adult life.
What happens is that the child will tend to become overwhelmed in schools, in stimulated environments, and with attempting to process sensory input, and so learning new information is a constant struggle. For instance the child who lives traumatised in their right brain hemisphere will struggle to hear and process the words and content of those words of the teacher or their parents as this ability is a left hemisphere brain function.
Likewise the child may find an inability to speak, they may develop a stutter, and they may freeze and lockup when trying to speak, as communication is primarily a left hemisphere brain task. Their right brain will however amplify the facial expressions of others and go into hyper-vigilance where the child searches for signs of disapproval, criticism, anger or rejection in interactions in the face of their accuser.
From this aroused state of being the child’s right brain hemisphere then becomes sensitive to the tone or prosody of their voice of the accuser rather than the content of the words in that voice. Often this “startled rabbit” state then invites criticism, anger, bullying and punishment from those trying to get through to them such as teachers or parents.
These same children will often be sensitive or labelled emotional as they are more in their feelings (right brain) and less in their rational logical parts of self (left brain). They are in heightened arousal and so hyper-vigilant much of the time and may explode into emotional outbursts to discharge the built up tension. This will often invite punishment, rejection, isolation, ridicule or retaliation.
The child in this form of hyper-vigilance will acutely now notice the postures and gestures of the parents or teachers attacking, yelling, criticising, hitting or confronting them. They are looking for signs of danger in those adults whose confrontation re-traumatises the child and deepens the injury.
SENSORY BANDWIDTH AND THE WINDOW OF TOLERANCE
Parents and teachers do not realise that children’s nervous systems cannot handle too much sensory stimulus and that an overload can create trauma or “fight or flight” mode in the brain. For instance the instance of a parent admonishing, yelling or threatening a child just before school to do better at school creates the exact opposite result in the child.
A child placed under such pressure or attack is likely to lose optimal left brain functioning such as the left brain learning, reasoning and analysis functions that our western schooling is built upon. Such a child may live out their day in a mild to severe form of traumatised state depending on prior incidents of trauma.
A child who is already traumatised will always be operating just at the breach point of their nervous systems window of tolerance, or “bandwidth capability” to tolerate sensory input. They will often withdraw or shutdown to cope by reducing the possibility of encountering too much stimulus again.
The child may dissociate or split off or “go away” into a dream world a lot and be ungrounded at home and at school where they no longer feel safe. They may get stomach upsets, minor colds, flues, bugs, and other ailments frequently as their immune system gets suppressed as a consequence of living more or less in a form of fight or flight mode much of the time.
The child will also tend to register the way we try to use eye contact with them as the eyes are a primitive conveyor of aggression. Parents and teachers unfortunately demand direct eye contact of children in conflict situations which the right brain reads as threat and which further arouses the nervous system and escalates fear and hyper-vigilance in the child.
Children struggle to stay present in such circumstances, and normally cannot understand or process instructions, thus often infuriating the parent or teacher who escalates and deepens the trauma. Sudden movements by the parent or teacher, such as threatening hand gestures such as pointing, raised hands as if to slap or hit, bunched fists, a tense jaw, rageful expressions, will also potentially have the same heightening and traumatising effects.
Children simply cannot process such events as adults do as adults have a wider bandwidth, greater tolerance, greater experience, greater understanding, and more resources and defences than do children. Adults simply do not often understand that what we can absorb in our nervous system is potentially an overload to an infant or child’s nervous system and so creates a totally different outcome to that of our adult reality.
A child will also potentially lose their timeline of the past, present and future as this is a left brain function that may go missing in any confrontation. The child will then often be not able to confess the past, remember and convey the sequence of events that caused the conflict, or project forward and grasp the potential consequences of their actions in future, present and immediate past times.
This is often misinterpreted as being ignorant, defiant or resistant and can often then lead that child to being punished or labelled a liar, rebellious, stupid, or some other negative label. The child then feels faulty, wrong, flawed and will often internalise a bad sense of self which will set them up for later depression or self esteem issues in adult life.
The consequence of all these types of trauma is that there is often an impaired ability for the child and then later adult to have self regulation of their own states of emotional arousal and a stable and consistent sense of self. They may struggle to adapt to situations and be overly rigid or chaotic, and to be socially withdrawn or awkward.
The optimal state for the child is to grow with good cross hemisphere processing of left and right brain hemispheres and where emotions are kept within the bandwidth of their nervous systems tolerance most of the time. The creation of safety for the child by the parent will predicate much of that child’s later success in life and their adaptability and mental, emotional and physical health.
PSYCHOLOGICAL RESILIENCE AND TRAUMA RECOVERY AND PREVENTION
The concept of psychological resilience is directly an embodied state where the other faculties such as left and right brain functions then come into play. Resilience is then the ability to cope, recover and repair from peak positive and negative experiences without lasting damage and trauma.
Resilience is the presence of resources that allow one to cope, stay safe, stay present, and to have the ability to navigate a way through an experience that is optimal in the circumstances. We know that resilience is something that we ideally should create and learn and experience as we grow through childhood.
However resilience can be learnt and adopted in adulthood for trauma recovery, and for increasing wellness and brain function. The neuroplasticity we all possess throughout our lives gives us the ability to adapt and rewire all through life and resilience practice does create neuroplasticity rewiring in the brain.
Resilience is about resourcing up the child or adult so they are able to better cope. It does not directly heal the trauma that may have created the problem in the first place.
Resilience directly works firstly at expanding the bandwidth or the technical term called the Window Of Tolerance(WOT) of the person to stay present and not be overwhelmed by increased levels of sensory stimulus and environmental chaos.
It secondly promotes the bi-lateral integration of left and right hemispheres of the frontal lobes of the brain as discussed in this article. This neuroplasticity engaging process will allow the cognitive fog of such children to lift as the critical functions of both left and right brain are allowed to be in service to that child or adult.
The resilience model is accessible to all of us at any age. It is intuitively sound as it incorporates body and mind and the vertical integration of the body to the brain stem and then reptilian brain segment, then the mammalian or limbic brain segment, and then into the frontal lobes part of the brain.
In a sense it is like fine tuning the bodymind system back into alignment and attunement within one self, and then allowing for the attunement with others from the right brain led relational space. The resilience creation activities can overcome the developmental arrest where that is the problem and allow the progression and repair of trauma related stuckness to be overcome.
Resilience is an activity in the toolkit of trauma recovery but is not directly the sole trauma resolution process itself. Embodied trauma resolution techniques for either episodic trauma or developmental trauma are still needed in conjunction with resilience techniques. Each supports the other.
The resilience techniques are embodied and encompass the integration of body, mental, emotional and energetic dimensions of self. A particular activity may have more emphasis on one of these areas but taken in a cluster they should ideally target all of these areas as a complete practice.
Some important types of resilience building activities that we can use to build resilience in children and adults (remember neuroplasticity for life) are:
- Get the child or adult into their bodies through play and movement
- Expand their Window of Tolerance (WOT) through increasing sensory stimulus
- Soft grounding by soft movement of body in time and space mindfulness
- Mindfulness of body impulses
- Expanded in/out mouth breathing
- Yoga and Meditation
- Play and fun based activities
- Re-parenting – safe enough parent
- Mentor for child who meets child in their reality
- Increase safe relationships
- Story telling with parents and mentor
- Child keeps diary for timeline and memory recall
- Less TV and internet and gaming devices
- Sports for body co-ordination
- Abandon demand for sports performance
- Permission for emotions and feelings and not just thinking
- Brain gym processes
- Any game that crosses midline of body (e.g. Hokey Pokey, clapping games)
- Mirroring games with parent faces to build attunement
- Counting for relaxation
- Practice tolerating stillness and quiet
- Create Soft music + practice opposite body shape posturing
- Create safe, predictable environments at home
- Create safe parental relationships
- Create safe stable routines in home
- Explain transition experiences of shifting school or home or new sibling
- Prepare and tell child what is coming up next & in the future
- Drawing and painting for expression
- Trampoline bouncing and play
- Pets and care for pets as a relational activity
- Reading time alone
- Cultivate a hobby or interest
- Parents argue away from children
- Parents do not yell or become rageful, unpredictable around children
- Meet child in their reality and their world rather than make them be little adults
- Notice the child and their feelings, states and postures and check in
- Make child parent relationship a positive one for child’s esteem and self image
- Spend time with children and give children alone time when asked for
- Cranio-Sacral balancing therapy
- Chiropractic – especially the Network Spinal Analysis (NSA) forms
- Naturopathy to ascertain if chemical or nutrient imbalances or toxicity exists
In summary a child is a sensitive being whose little nervous system has no capacity to cope with aroused adult behaviours, or threatening encounters where they are over stimulated, made to feel unsafe or overwhelmed. Trauma is a common outcome when this occurs and the more often it occurs the more likely there is there will be wiring of the brain towards either left or right brain hemisphere dominance.
As Pat Ogden (2009), one of the world’s pre-eminent trauma neuroscience researchers and therapists notes:
“Trauma and negative attachment experience both leave their imprint on the body’s procedural memory system, shaping the posture, gestures and movement of the body. Long after the childhood environmental conditions change, we remain in a state of readiness to perform the procedurally learned actions that were adaptive in the past but often now maladaptive in the present”.
We owe it to our children to each examine how we parent and how we relate to our children, and to what experience they get at home and school. Their future selves are wholly at stake by what occurs in the early life years.