The Impact of Trauma

The human brain has three key components and begins to develop during pregnancy. The three main areas of the brain are:

The Reptilian Brain – (Primitive)

Survival and essential bodily functions such as hunger, breathing, temperature, movement, fight or flight.

The Mammalian Brain – (The Limbic System)

Emotional brain, controls fight or flight, rage, fear, separation distress, caring and nurturing, social bonding, playfulness and exploration.

Human Brain – (Neocortex)

Problem solving, kindness, empathy and concern, reasoning and reflection, creativity and imagination and self-awareness.

Our early experiences in the womb and during infancy help to teach our brains what to expect and how to respond. When babies and small children experience intense and sustained levels of poor, neglectful, abusive or unsupported care, their reptilian and mammalian brains are forced to repeatedly respond to that trauma. This reduces the opportunity for the human brain, that supports their behaviour, cognitive, and problem solving skills, to develop.

This will have an impact on a child's ability to express their thoughts and feelings and will have an impact on their behaviour. They may develop feelings of shame and guilt and develop behavioural strategies to express their feelings. The child's behaviour needs to be seen as a language into their world of pain and shame. The emotional gaps in their development make it hard for them to function appropriately or manage emotional and social relationships well. Visit our pages on Therapeutic Parenting and PACE to learn more about handling a child's behaviour to support them to develop and open up a dialogue with them.

Further Reading

What I Hear When My Kids Yell At Me - An adoptive mum blogs about learning to understand her children's behaviour
Developmental Trauma Close up [PDF] - An article produced by Beacon House Therapeutic Services and Trauma Team
Healing Developmental Trauma - Laurence Heller: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image and the Capacity for Relationship (Goodreads Link)
Trauma Is Really Strange - Steve Haines - An illustrated book explaining what trauma is and how it affects our brains (Goodreads Link)