The Effect of Trauma
When the brain perceives a
threat, it responds based on biological and/or psychological
systems. The two major responses to threat are dissociation,
also known as freeze and surrender, and hyperarousal,
also known as fight or flight.
When the brain activates these
systems, there are changes in its development and organization.
These changes affect the emotional, behavioral, cognitive,
social and physiological behavior of the child. The actual
response of each individual to threat varies tremendously.
According to Dr. Bruce Perry, dissociation is “the
mental mechanism by which one withdraws attention from
the outside world and focuses on the inner world.”
It is a primary adaptive response that all children and
most adults use. The level of dissociation depends upon
the intensity or duration of the threatening situation.
Low levels of dissociation can include daydreaming or
gazing off into nowhere.
This response involves removing yourself either physically,
psychologically or aggressively from a threat, or trying
to flee from the situation.
Reminders of the Original Event
People are often faced with reminders of the original
trauma that cause pain and anxiety. They may act stunned
or numb, gaze off into nowhere or seem unfocused, evasive
or unclear when answering a question. These responses
occur because they are trying to dissociate from the original
trauma. The more prolonged the trauma, the more pronounced
the long-term chronic and potentially permanent changes
in the emotional, behavioral, cognitive and physiological
functioning of the child.
Children who make it through traumatic events and have
a low level of fear are often impulsive, hypervigilant,
hyperactive, withdrawn or depressed. They may also have
sleep difficulties and anxiety.
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