13 May, 2021 Childhood Trauma: How To Be Restored
by Angie Camp
Can God restore what was stolen?
One evening, my family had gathered at the table for dinner. After saying grace, everyone began to dig in. As I started to take my first bite, I noticed something wasn’t right. I blurted out to my husband, “Oh, I have a bigger fork than you do! Here, swap with me!” Puzzled, he asked, “So? What does it matter?” After pondering his question for a moment, I replied, “That’s a good question.”
That question haunted me.
It didn’t make sense, but at that moment, it did. Realizing I had a bigger fork provoked feelings like I’d done something wrong and I was going to be in trouble. Sometime later, it hit me. As a young girl, it was my job to set the table for dinner. My abusive stepfather would pick up his fork and compare it to everyone else’s. If he didn’t have the biggest fork, he whipped me in front of everyone. Now I understood why I felt the way I did. Unknowingly, my childhood trauma had conditioned my mind to think like that.
Mental health is trending.
Offices of counselors and therapists, clinical and ministerial, are overwhelmed with clients. Rehabs and behavioral health facilities have waiting lists. Many are driven to an appointment because of a crisis situation. While there are different paths that lead to mental issues, I will focus on one specific cause…childhood trauma.
I loathe the phrase, “Children are so resilient.” Childhood trauma is the root cause of many disorders identified in mental health. When children act out, are hyper, angry, destructive, or seem immature for their age, they are labeled as “troubled” or “rebellious.” Although these terms may be accurate descriptions of the behaviors, they are probably abused kids, not bad ones. Not all abused children react the same. Unfortunately, as a result of abuse, some may actually become introverts who hold it all inside. But, somehow, in some way, it will surface.
So, why does it impact us so deeply?
Childhood trauma is a major factor in mental health because it physically damages the brain by triggering toxic stress. Consequently, frequent abuse over a prolonged period of time causes the toxic stress to rewire several parts of the brain, altering its activity and influence over emotions and the body.
Furthermore, the primary part of the brain responsible for this is the amygdala. It’s about the size and shape of an almond and is called the watchdog of the brain. Its primary job is to quickly process and express emotions, especially anger and fear. When sensing danger, it can hijack the brain and completely take over. This allows us to act before we think, for example. It’s why someone yells, “Stop!” before he even knows he’s said it. It is most often referred to as fight, flight, or freeze.
What does this look like?
For a better understanding of childhood trauma, think of a young boy who was taken out of his home after years of abuse. In fits of rage, his alcoholic father would repeatedly draw his hand back and slap him across the face. He was placed in a safe environment with loving, Christian parents. Several months passed. One day, the struggling student handed his report card to the Mother. His greatly improved marks caused her to become very excited. In a quick movement to give him a hug, the boy threw his arms up in a defensive stance and screamed, “Please don’t hit me!” He had only experienced gentleness with her. As a result, his amygdala flagged the motion as dangerous, triggering a fearful response.
There are several different issues that may arise.
Some of the mental health issues that develop from childhood trauma are PTSD, ADHD, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar, and emotional detachment. Unfortunately, for many healthcare professionals, the go-to treatment plan is a prescription for a pill(s) that will sedate the brain to help the patients cope, never dealing with the root cause. As a result, they are robbed of a true healing process and abundant life.
Don’t be discouraged or ashamed!
Thankfully, there is hope! God designed the brain with the capability to be rewired. It’s called neuroplasticity. It is the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structurally and functionally in response to experience. Because of this, neuroplasticity is the key element of mental health counseling. New coping skills build the neural connections that promote resilience. As a result, when people learn new habits, the connections that prompted unhealthy behaviors and cognitive distortions are replaced.
Childhood trauma and the mental health issues it creates can be overcome. The truth and power of God’s word, combined with neuroplastic methods and a commitment to change, can only lead to victory.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17
Angie Camp is an author, speaker, and Christian Counselor. Aside from being a Mother and Grandmother “Peaches,” her primary focus is walking with women and girls along their journey from brokenness to healing, reminding them that the goal is not merely to survive, but to soar.
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