Childhood trauma affects both children and adults who have not been able to heal from difficult childhood experiences. Trauma refers to emotionally and physically difficult, distressing or overwhelming events ranging from accidents, emotional upsets such as bullying or being shouted at, and parental divorce, to moving house, losing your favourite teddy or being raped by a relative. The range of traumatic events is large, however the symptoms are similar, though may differ in severity. Craniosacral therapy is one effective way to tackle trauma and restoring functioning and everyday confidence. The earlier childhood trauma is treated the better, though it can still be addressed in adulthood.
Childhood Trauma – Causes
When something out of the ordinary happens, that causes either strong emotions or extreme physical pain, the mind needs to detach from it, or deny it, so that the mental stability and nervous system functioning of the individual is not permanently damaged. It does this by dissociating or splitting off part of the energy or memory away from the core identity, to keep it separate. This often results in loss of physical sensation as well, since the mind and body are completely interconnected. If for example the trauma seems to threaten physical survival, such as rape or moving country, or parental divorce, then the legs and lower abdomen, which relate to the root or survival issues, often lose sensation. This results in dissociation, disembodiment or ungrounding, which is then often misdiagnosed as ADD, ADHD, and a host of other learning disorders. Sadly then the original trauma does not get addressed, and the individual lives as if frozen in time, unconsciously reliving the original situation over and over, and never able to move forwards, or move out into the world.
Other causes of trauma include failure to bond with the mother early on, or being rejected by one or both parents. Such experiences have effects on the nervous system that make a child withdrawn and unable to trust. Rejection creates an extreme sense of alienation, and a sense of not belonging, as well as preventing the ego from developing a level of coherence that is essential for practical functioning. Trauma affects both nervous system functioning, and the ability to sense and express one’s own needs, as well as to have the confidence to look after oneself by verbalizing clear boundaries.
Dissociation as Defense
In more technical terms, if childhood trauma is severe, then the mind needs to deny what happened, and the child may develop Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). This originates when severe, repeated childhood trauma produces intolerable conflicts that the young psyche, under extreme stress, resolves by splitting itself into separate identities. This enables part of the person to encapsulate the unbearable event so that other parts can live as if it had never happened.
Intolerable conflicts arise whenever seemingly vital beliefs are threatened. These beliefs may involve survival, safety, functionality, identity, morality, religious commitments, or any other issue that is viewed as unable to be compromised.
For instance, most young children, because of their extreme vulnerability, believe that they cannot survive without a protective parent or caretaker. Therefore, if Daddy violently hurts the children, this creates an intolerable conflict with the child’s belief concerning what is necessary for survival. The child resolves the conflict by creating a dissociative split in its own mind, which allows part of him/her to “not know” about the event and thus continue believing he/she has a protective caretaker and therefore the means to survive. This doesn’t mean the child’s personalities are as extremely split as having different names. Rather that, even as can often be seen in adults, different facets of the personality present themselves at different times, and seem to contradict each other, or not to know what the other has said. This is a bit like different parts of a merry-go-round presenting themselves at the entrance to the ride. At each stop different people get on and off. This is in fact probably an extremely widespread phenomenon in any random sample of the population, though it often goes unnoticed, unless it is severe enough to affect everyday functioning.
Processing Trauma with Craniosacral Therapy
Craniosacral therapy can help resolve these kind of splits in awareness, partly because the unprocessed memmory or emotion is often stored in or associated with particular parts of the body. By working gently with the body in accordance with the sequence that the body dictates, it is possible to release the emotions whose denial continues the splits, and to bring disconnected parts of the psyche back into relationship with each other. Then the energy that is held separate can reintegrate into the person’s core so life can go in a more unified and focused direction. Discharging the held emotional energy also de-activates the associated neural patterns in the brain and the recurring images they produce, bringing the person more into the present.
So craniosacral therapy can be of use in the first instance in accessing and helping bring the trauma into conscious awareness. The next step is to allow the emotional energy and shock to discharge from the nervous system and body, which often occurs in a number of ever deepening cycyles, over several successive sessions.
In children the process of trauma release can be very fast. In adults it often takes longer as the core energy has been repressed for longer and overlaid with many additional behavioural and emotional patterns.
Many people affected by trauma experience that they are constantly pulled backwards as if by an elastic band, or that they are separated from life as if by a glass wall. Working with craniosacral therapy over a period of time can dissolve this effect, as the core energy is stiumlated and eventually brought into a full and free healthy expression. Getting in touch with the body sensations and emotions increases self-acceptance and brings individuals in contact with the real world again. At this point most symptoms of trauma will have disappeared, and life may feel really very different to the individual concerned. Even children are able to notice and verbalize this shift, and it is wonderful to observe them appreciating being happier and freer, being really here, and able to have fun once again. The same thing also applies for adults, who find that their creativity is rekindled and their social relationships get easier and warmer. Life becomes less frightening and more fulfilling…