My experience dealing with childhood trauma

My experience dealing with childhood trauma

Emotional numbness is often used as a coping mechanism that can be necessary to protect us psychologically from traumatic events. It has helped many people survive adverse childhood experiences – however this can later damage their ability to build healthy relationships and complicate the need to access emotions for healing in the future.

Kirsty*, (name changed for anonymity) studying nursing (mental health), explains her experience of dealing with her own childhood trauma.

What did the feeling of emotional numbness feel like for you?

Squeeze any person hard enough and they will disappear. We instinctively have three responses to trauma – fight, flight, or dissociation. For me, it was the third of these. I couldn’t become interested in anything or anyone and I could never escape this feeling of feeling cut off. It was a vicious cycle which I was strangely always on the outside of.

If we are frightened as a child or spent much of our time feeling threatened, an unconscious response is to ‘switch off’.

How does switching off from childhood traumas affect you now, as an adult?

It is sort of like growing up with a magnetic field around you – but you’re constantly trying to put 2 blue ends together that are always repelling. As you grow older, trying to comprehend ‘why’ is difficult as you watch other people form strong bonds with friends and romantic partners.

The biggest problem for me was this:  Although I couldn’t feel any real sadness, it meant I couldn’t allow myself to feel any moments of happiness either. Everything was just dull.

Excessive anger can become a normal response to people who are ‘emotionally numb’ when they are exposed to threat or things that remind them of their childhood angst, even unconsciously.

Repressing my emotions and experiences was exhausting. I was just consistently tired or trying to counteract this ‘deadness’ with anything that would make me feel something; excessive smoking, drinking or dangerous sports.

Physically I was really unwell too – headaches, bloating, hormonal imbalances, amongst other things which had no apparent reason behind them. Numerous trips to the doctors and test after test showed nothing.

How did you overcome it?

Slowly, very slowly. Uncovering any childhood adversities can sort of feel like taking the lid of a shaken bottle. All at once and it’ll just make a huge mess, slowly release the pressure and you will eventually be able to take the lid of – with no mess.

The very nature of trauma is overwhelming, and it can leave your body in a constant state of fear. It’s about re-finding safety, building a secure environment and making meaningful connections with the people around you.

 We need to promote the idea that investment in early action is just that – an investment – just like investment in our physical infrastructure. And that it yields a long term return at least as good, if not better than, roads and railways.’

Are we missing dads from the mental health conversation?

Are we missing dads from the mental health conversation?

There has been an increasing emergence lately of social enterprises and charities campaigning for men to speak up and ask for help with mental health issues and for good reason: suicide is the biggest killer of young men.

This positive growing awareness brings up another contested issue – are we giving fathers enough support?  From reading WAVE Trust’s Conception to age 2 report we know these stages are crucial years for a child’s development. This is a profound period in which we can shape children’s lives and ultimately the world around them.

We also know that pregnancy is a particularly important period for the well-being of mother and baby. Maternal stress, diet and drug misuse can have a lifelong impact on any child. Carefully looking after them is all too important. So – what effect can dad’s mental health have on this crucial period?

A report from Learning lessons from serious case reviews shows one of the biggest problems with the mishandling of significant child maltreatment cases was marginalising the role of the father and missing the parents’ own needs. By failing to include men in the conversation around prevention and well-being, we are putting children at a higher risk of experiencing abuse or neglect.

Unfortunately, men often face the stigma of being labelled (or labelling themselves) ‘weak’ when discussing poor mental health. This is despite dads having to face the pressure and rapid change of bringing a new baby into the world, and often being an emotional buffer for mum too.

One father blogger, who experience the effects of post-natal depression, writes in his blog:

‘I had come back from hospital with no real help, they didn’t want to admit I had male PND, if they admitted it they would have to admit it existed in men and would have to then treat men as well as women’.

Promoting early screening and preventive support for both parents, the 70/30 campaign hopes to see more children, and families, given the opportunity to have a healthier start to life.

How many of us are aware that dads can experience post-natal depression too? Take 5 minutes today to read through the signs here and ask a another father/male in your life how they are feeling today; let us know your thoughts and experiences by following us on @7030campaign with the hashtag #7030dads.

World suicide prevention day – Wheres the link between child maltreatment and suicide?

World suicide prevention day – Wheres the link between child maltreatment and suicide?

Sunday 10th September marks the 15th World Suicide Prevention Day. We talk about the potential for child maltreatment to push people towards taking their own lives and how the 70/30 campaign plans to reduce the number of people affected by reducing child maltreatment by at least 70% by the year 2030.

The number of suicides per year has reached around 800,000 worldwide, with an average of 13.1 per 100,000 people aged 10-29 being affected. People who experience four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – such as child abuse, neglect or witnessing domestic violence – are a full 14 times more likely to attempt suicide. [1]

Ben Zeller was a talented programmer who took his own life at age 27. Following much torment and abuse as a child, in his last letter he wrote, ‘The darkness is with me nearly every time I wake up. I feel like a grime is covering me. I feel like I’m trapped in a contaminated body that no amount of washing will clean. Whenever I think about what happened I feel manic and itchy and can’t concentrate on anything else.’ [2]

There has been a vast amount of research dedicated to establishing a link between child maltreatment and suicidal ideation, showing some strong patterns. Child maltreatment, the umbrella term used for sexual, physical, emotional abuse and neglect, all show a link towards the likelihood of suicide attempts.

It is well documented that those who are victims to sexual abuse as a child are especially likely to have attempted suicide or self-harmed before early adulthood. Often, these attempts are brought on by other coping mechanisms such as substance abuse and other risk-taking behaviours.

However, other forms of maltreatment have been linked to suicidal ideation in young people through, for example, the increased incidences of having an anxiety disorder. Suicide in young people has been described as ‘a consequence of their experiences, which tends to de-stigmatise it and lead to it being viewed as a reasonable option’.

It can be difficult for younger people to identify anxiety and depression as symptoms and realise that outside help is available to them. Learning to identify mental illness and understanding alternatives is something that can aid those with suicidal ideations long into adulthood. Prompting to seek social support, help and guidance is a strong protective factor.

The sentiment of this year’s campaign is ‘Take a minute – save a life’. One small action from you today could make real a difference to someone’s wellbeing. Something as simple as taking an extra five minutes to play your child’s favourite game, giving them a hug or giving a neighbour a bit of moral support if they look stressed – these little things add up and give us resilience.

On the 70/30 campaign website, you can make a pledge to give just this kind of moral support to someone in your community. Take a moment to go to https://www.70-30.org.uk/ways-to-help/make-a-pledge/ and then let us know what you did with the hastag #pledgefor7030 and tag @7030Campaign. You never know what difference you could end up making.

Worried about someone? Follow world suicide prevention: https://iasp.info/wspd2017/