I have been studying childhood trauma anxiety lately. My kids probably think I am nuts. I am constantly reading books about family dysfunction and the impact it has in adulthood.
Learning about anxiety from childhood trauma has literally been mind-blowing. Mind-blowing I say. That is not an understatement. Let me tell you why. Because low levels of childhood trauma and ensuing anxiety affect most of us. I would actually say all of us, besides those who have learned to overcome it. Let me share the main things I have learned recently.
First, there are a few types of traumas. “Big T” Traumas are those that literally rock your world and your brain. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, having your life threatened, major accidents and illnesses, etc. are Big T events. More elusive are “Little t” traumas that sneak up on people. They are low-grade and have just as big of an impact on people over time. Emotional neglect for instance has been shown to create trauma in people who have never received the love and comfort that they need to feel safe as children.
Many people ask me what qualifies as trauma. Remember, I am NOT a trauma specialist but the way I see it from a brain standpoint is that traumatic experiences as those that the brain cannot handle. This can vary from person to person. So, what is traumatic for me, might not traumatic for you. However, scientifically there are variables that add up to traumatic. A traumatic event is one that causes physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual harm to the person. Also, the situation feels out of control to the person experiencing it. Thus, with regard to lower grade trauma like emotional neglect, the child tries to invent ways of feeling loved and validated. In doing so, long-term wounds are created.
How does this impact people in the long run? Great question. Let me explain.
Childhood Trauma and Anxiety
Most of people’s unaccounted for anxiety and depression stem from early childhood experiences that felt uneasy to them that they never could emotionally integrate. I see that in people’s qEEG brain maps all the time. The anxiety pattern is one of too much fast brain activity. This can stem from an underlying anxiety that has been eating away at person since childhood. The depression brain pattern, to much couch mode, results to protect a person from having to deal with wounds from childhood. The brain shifts into neutral and stays there. You only really want your brain in neutral when you plan to have a Netflix marathon, not all the time.
If you have met me, then you know that I am a recovering over-achiever who is constantly trying to keep a balanced life. I have created a very busy life in the first place (5.5 kids, two businesses, two dogs, etc.). This busy life threatens to perpetuate an overdrive, anxiety ridden brain pattern. If it wasn’t for all the work I have put in, I would most likely be a hot mess. More about this in a minute.
Childhood Trauma and Attention
The frontal lobe is proven by science to be under performing in people’s brains who have sustained childhood trauma. What this means is it is running slower than it should. This creates difficulty with attention, focus, organization and productivity. Many times, symptoms can be mistaken for ADHD. If you want to know more about what the ADHD brain pattern is like and what to do about it read the post on how to Help ADHD Without Medication.
Childhood Trauma and Addictions
These undealt with emotions create the challenges of anxiety and depression and unfortunately lead to addictions of all types: alcohol, drugs, porn, gambling, shopping, etc. The addictions serve as a self-soothing mechanism for the brain to “numb it out” for just a little while to dull the constant pain. In the end, this leads to a cycle of addiction that becomes never-ending and worsens with time.
In this cycle of addiction, the reward centers in the brain are malfunctioning. The stress centers are over working simultaneously. That means your brain can’t handle stress and doesn’t et the rewards it needs unless you are giving it the rewards in a maladaptive way, like addictions.
Porn addiction is becoming the fastest growing and most concerning addiction that there is for young men. It is creating early sexual dysfunction, lack of interest in real relationships, and massive anxiety and depression issues that are being perpetuated. That is why my new interest, in collaboration with some awesome professionals, is to spread the word and get people the help that they need. Porn is such a taboo subject. Trust I know, I have 5 kids. This makes it difficult for people to not only talk about, but also, get help for it.
Tip to Improve Anxiety, Attention, and Addictions from Childhood Trauma.
The biggest tip I can give you is to research the cycle of addiction if you know that your anxiety pushes you to act out in some negative way. Even if that negative way is to watch 6 hours of TV. Attention and focus problems, am I right? Here is one usable tip for right now.
Take Inventory of Anxiety Triggers.
When you begin to feel particularly anxious, what is happening? When that feeling settles into your chest and your mind starts to race what were you just doing? Triggers can be internal, a thought or feeling arises and sends a cascading effect of stress chemicals through your body and brain. This makes you feel like you want to run or hide. External factors can do the same thing. Like checking the bank account and seeing lots of money come out and not a lot go in. Stress spikes and you want to play video games instead of dealing with it. Start by noticing what it is. Take inventory.
In the ideal world, once you have taken inventory of the triggers you can put space between them and the response you would typically have. You need to break the old habit and create a new one for lasting change. So, if your bank account stresses you out, then automate your bills and spend less. This will keep your bank account in a healthy position and your brain too. I know, easier said than done.
I use a combination of weekly home neurofeedback, daily meditation practice, exercise, and cooking while listening to Michael Buble to stay relaxed. The occasional glass of Chardonnay helps to keep me in balance too. A fairly organized and consistent schedule to be productive with just enough room to be spontaneous.
How to Get Help for Anxiety, Attention, and Addiction Issues from Childhood Trauma?
Science shows that addictions, many times, are related to attachment issues in childhood. This comes from the reasons I talked about earlier and many, many more reasons that show in early childhood. A great book to read on the subject is Heal the Shame that Binds you by John Bradshaw. It illuminates many of these dysfunctional family dynamics and how they affect children and then the adults those children become. Mind blowing, like I have already said.
Most people seek treatment for anxiety, attention, and addictions with mental health professionals and that is a great way to go…except there is a missing piece, namely, re-wiring the brain. Psychotherapists can help you re-boot your behaviors which will eventually, if you can work at it hard enough, re-wire your brain. However, there is technology that can begin to re-wire your brain without you having to think about it at all. When neurological dysregulation is at the heart of a person’s problem. Then neurological regulation is at the heart of the solution.
If you know that tips won’t work for you by yourself and you have worked with professionals to give you strategies without success, then your brain is probably really stuck in trauma mode. Neurofeedback can help. I am not trying to sell you anything, for the record. I am trying to let you, and the rest of the world, know that Neurofeedback exists. Not only does it exist, it works. It is super powerful in helping people break their negative cycles and create positive ones. Read more below. If you want to know more about your condition including tips to overcome it yourself and how Neurofeedback and other neuro-therapies can help you then check out my new Short Courses.
FOR NEUROFEEDBACK EXPERTS
You probably have not thought of Addiction as Attachment Disorder and a White Matter Impairment. This informative article describes the addictive cycle as starting with attachment issues in childhood that ultimately lead to what matter impairments in the brain as the child grows into adulthood. We see this acting out behaviorally in different ways, at many stages throughout the life of a person impacted by childhood trauma. A take-away from this study is that decreases in brain functioning are related to attachment early on and show up as addictions later on in life. The brain has changed in a negative way along the road. Another scientific article highlights the implications that childhood trauma increases anxiety, depression, alcohol use, and anxiety sensitivity in children. What this means is that if childhood trauma is not properly treated it can have long-lasting effects for the kids as they grow up.
What this means is that as a Neurofeedback Expert you want to perform a qEEG Brain Map of your client and look for deficiency in the power magnitude and connectivity within any region of the brain. This will most times be evidenced as low power across the board, of all brain speeds, or an increase in Delta (extra slow speed), and possibly Theta (slow speed). You may also see low power of Beta magnitude within impacted brain areas. This may also be coupled with high levels of High Beta extra fast brain speed that creates anxiety. Trauma slows the brain down, while the underlying anxiety speeds it up at the same time. I know this intuitively doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it is a state of hypo- and hyper-arousal at the same time. This is the most common type of brain map my awesome team sees at Leigh Brain & Spine.