Not all scars are visible. Childhood trauma affects the brain, impairing both the brain’s function and structure. While these hurts may seem invisible, they are not. The effects of trauma on the brain are noticeable to those who look for the signs and symptoms in children. Our June blog posts explore how trauma affects the brain and how you can be an attentive adult who sees these ‘invisible’ scars.
Trauma and the Hippocampus
The hippocampus, part of the brain’s limbic system, is responsible for memory and learning. This part of the brain specifically ties meaning and associations to our memories. As a result, childhood trauma and related memories are relevant to the hippocampus.
Children who are victims of trauma may have a hippocampus that functions at a decreased capacity. This part of their brain may actually become smaller than their peers, as well. These children may specifically struggle with:
According to an article on ChoosingTherapy.com, survivors of childhood trauma are “three times more likely than others to develop depression.” One reason may be the impact that trauma has on their hippocampus, which impacts moods and emotional regulation.
- Chronic Stress
In a healthy brain, the hippocampus helps manage stress. A child who has lived through trauma often has a higher baseline stress level than their peers. This leads to them feeling overwhelmed or irritable.
- Interpersonal Problems
Children with an impaired hippocampus may have social interactions that are more riddled with conflicts. They are challenged by emotional regulation. This is a challenge that can be overcome, leading the healthier relationships and attachment.
When a child’s brain makes associations between various memories – people, places, and things – and trauma, it can take time to reprogram those associations. There are an array of therapies that could be beneficial to children, including cognitive or behavioral therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). In addition to therapy, peer support groups and meditation can also be extremely helpful.
Do not forget the important role that you play as a nurturing adult. You can encourage hobbies and healthy outlets for relieving stress. However, more than anything, your presence alone can bring hope and calm to a child.
June is PTSD Awareness Month. If you or a loved one are struggling with PTSD, you can call 988 to be connected with mental health resources.