Often trauma can be associated with emotional or physical injury or abuse; however, did you know that complex trauma occurs and impacts children all over the world every single day?
What is complex trauma? It is a trauma that defines children’s exposure to more than one type of traumatic event. Neglect or abuse generates instant and long term emotional injuries; however, other types of trauma make a huge impact on a child’s life as well. The witnessing of domestic violence, parents who are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, war, the child welfare system or a combination of any of these can cause complex trauma.
What are the negative effects of complex trauma?
The fundamental ability to feel comfortable in social situations, in close personal relationships and the ability for self-regulation can be irrevocably damaged in a child who has suffered from more than one type of trauma. This in turn leads to more traumas and or addiction and other psychiatric problems. Many of these children will be diagnosed with: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sleep disorders, defiant disorder (ODD), separation or reactive attachment disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, or combinations of these afflictions. Damage to the growth and development of the child is always present with complex trauma, and the most damaging circumstance involves the absence of a consistent nurturer and care giver. When chaos is a constant, the child cannot use the energy needed for development and growth, but must use it to survive instead. A secure and nurturing environment is important for the child to learn a sense of safety, the ability to regulate emotional and physical states, his or her capability for influencing his or her world, and for crucial communications. All of these things become problematic for the child who suffers from complex trauma. Fundamental stress capabilities are greatly reduced and the integration of left and right hemisphere brain function is impaired in such a way that a child does not have the ability to access rational thought in the face of overwhelming emotion. The IQ, reasoning, intuitive and perceptive abilities of the child are damaged along with the ability to create healthy interpersonal relationships.
Rage, withdrawal, and or tremendous feelings of helplessness take over, and the stressors create deficits in the child’s ability to self- regulate and to be self-soothing. Because of these difficulties, they may display dissociation, chronic numbing and avoidance of emotional experiences both good and bad, maladaptive coping strategies (alcoholism, sexual or drug abuse), depression, and other problems managing stress. Many victimized children have been shown to cultivate aggressive behavior and oppositional defiant disorder. Feelings, thoughts and physical perceptions become detached outside of consciousness, causing disassociation. In other words, overwhelming stressors have created a defensive mechanism that cascades into repetitive problems for a child’s future. In order to gain mastery and control, negative automatic behaviors such as alcoholism, drug dependence, aggression, the use of sex in order to create a sense of intimacy and many other maladies that have a negative impact on the individual’s life become the norm.