Do you ever feel overwhelmed by negativity? Turning on the news you see a stream of violence, drug abuse, scandal and scary statistics. The weight of our social ills, mental health issues and rates of physical disease can make many feel helpless…or even worse, cynical.
Compassion: The Antidote to Trauma
One research study has begun to transform the way people think about these issues; instead of feeling overwhelmed, they feel hope. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control in the mid 90’s. Surveying over 17,000 patients, they found a strong relationships between childhood adversity and later development of disease, disability and social problems. From crime to cancer, from academic failure to alcoholism, high rates of childhood trauma was the common denominator.
Fifteen years later, scientists have found that toxic levels of stress hurt the developing brains and bodies of children. Specifically, toxic stress from trauma changes the very architecture of your brain, kills your cells and even changes the way your genes are expressed. Getting deep beneath the skin and putting cracks in the foundation for lifelong health and wellness.
Why would this knowledge create hope? Because now, we better understand how to meaningfully solve our most enduring problems with one approach. Since ACEs are the root cause, we need to decrease and alleviate childhood trauma.
When a child is displaying negative behavior, it is often due to stress hormones surging through their bodies which put them in fight, flight or freeze mode. This is a natural survival response. When kids come from traumatic backgrounds, they frequently experience this survival reaction.
The CDC’s recommendations for driving down rates of ACEs are safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. It may seem overly simple, but empowering coaches, teachers, pediatricians, parents and mentors to understand how childhood adversity impacts health and behavior creates a powerful response which is the antidote to trauma. Suddenly these adults change their question from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”
Science shows we heal child trauma and promote resilience through trauma-informed, or compassionate care. When hurt and reactive kids are met with calm and safe adults, they can begin to learn these skills themselves. The brain continues to grow and develop through 25 years of age. This means adults can help kids build neural connections to combat trauma and improve functioning simply by modeling the behavior they want to see.
Many adults are highly motivated to help and support youth but they become burned out because they deal with challenging behavior, they don’t understand on a daily basis.
For example, when a child curses you, it is difficult not to take it personally. When these same adults recognize what is happening in the brains and bodies of these children and adolescents, they can respond in a compassionate way that doesn’t worsen trauma symptoms but begins to heal them.
Programs that treat families and youth break the cycle of physical disease, health risk behaviors, addiction, violence and mental health issues. Realizing the deep impact of trauma, recognizing signs and symptoms, and responding in a way that reduces symptoms are the keys to trauma informed care and a healthier society. By doing what is morally right for children, we are doing what is logically and fiscally right for all Tennesseans. This science provides hope that we can move from marginal to massive results in addressing our most burdensome problems.