PTSD is a chronic illness and depending on your history, it might never be gone completely. Especially if that trauma was ongoing and happened young, before your brain is fully formed. And thats pretty much any age under 25.
So the reason the shit that happened when you were a pre-teen or a teenager? That’s why it’s still not ok.
That’s why you might not be experiencing your expected results from therapy, because it’s not enough to treat your trauma as though you are/were an adult.
Popular theory states that it’s only in early childhood development that ongoing trauma or abuse* forces physical and permanent changes in the brain, because it’s still forming.
But the fact is that human brains aren’t fully formed until adulthood
(which can be between 18 and 25 – the same reason you can’t get car insurance till then and why they say you shouldn’t drink) and this extreme trauma forces the brain into what is essentially a ‘reset’ state, where it then adapts to the environment of constant abuse and is harmed in exactly the same way.
(*Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, mental, or environmental (neglect, emotional neglect etc), and/or being witness to extreme ongoing abuse of someone else.)
So what’s the damage?
Well there is a few things that happen.
Trauma affects what children anticipate and focus on (y’all are children till you’re adults in terms of brains remember), and how you can view and understand the information that you receive.
Changes in how you perceive threats because of trauma end up being expressed in how you think, feel, behave and even how you regulate your biological systems.
This presents in problems with
- self regulation (being able to start or stop doing something when you think you should, overeating or over-doing anything really is a good example of this)
- aggression against themselves and others
- problems with attention and dissociation
- physical problems (I will expand upon this later)
- difficulties in self concept (who am I, what am I, believing you have worth, believing you are a person, etc)
- and the capacity to negotiate satisfactory interpersonal relationships. (Why do I keep ending up in abusive relationships, why can’t I make friends or connect with people etc)
Trauma is so powerful because the amygdala starts functioning almost immediately after birth; children rapidly are able to experience fear and assess danger. Babies get scared even when they can’t think properly because of this.
Basically, early abuse and neglect can affect the development of the limbic system which makes individuals with traumatic histories to become highly sensitive to sensory input, which is known as hypervigilance.
Your amigdala is part of the limbic system that controls instinct, your “lizard brain” that keeps you safe and controls your “fight, flight, freeze, or feign” instinct. (The amigdala and the limbic system are so heavily affected by this hypervigilance that I am going to write a whole nother post just on it’s effects on the body.)
SO. We now know PTSD from your developmental years is more damaging than if the same abuse occured later in life.
That’s why regular therapy focusing only on CBT might not be enough, that’s why you might not be fully recovered when you feel like you should be. And there are heaps of us with this shit. So you’re not alone, and now that we know why, we’re going to get through it.
I’m capping this off with some important notes:
- ongoing abuse of any kind between the ages of ‘born’ and 25 will result in the same physiological and mental damage as abuse as a child
- Abuse can be emotional, physical, sexual, or environmental. It can be from a caregiver or from a relationship you chose to enter. Abuse is abuse is abuse and it affects us profoundly.
- Many of you reading this might actually have been told (like me) that because of your PTSD symptoms you must have also experienced abuse that you don’t remember as a small child. This is not necessarily true.
(NOTE: for some people it might be true as well. do not use this to invalidate people or i will come for you. This part honestly is here because you have no idea how relieved I am to know that there doesn’t have to be more horrible memories lurking in my head)
- Trauma affects our ability to process information, to retain information, and to process threats. This means that sometimes everything is a threat (hypervigilance) and sometimes we don’t know what is abusive because that’s our normal.
- Being constantly surrounded by potential threats results in hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is when you are so hyperaroused (sensory arousal not sexual) that you are trying to anticipate the reactions and read the emotions of the people you interact with to be prepared and stay safe. It is constantly being in a crisis state, and it is exhausting. You know when you’re so wired you’re trying to see out the back of your head and you can hear which room your neighbour is walking to? That.
- This shit makes you physically sick. Asthma, allergies, immune disorders, fibro, lupus, chronic fatigue, osteoarthritis, osteoperosis, gastrointestinal disorders, migrane, vertigo, vomiting and constant nausea are some of the possible physical symptoms.
- Mental health wise you get depression, anxiety, self harm, dissasociative disorders, and DID.
That’s it for my intro to PTSD from trauma during developmental years. Which I need to find a shorter name for.
Next up I’ll be discussing the physical changes that this trauma causes in the brain, and how it affects our bodies.