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How Trauma Disrupts Development

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How to Repair your Para/Sympathetic Nervous System

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) increase the risk of failure to self-regulate and creates a chemical imbalance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, or unconscious actions. This autonomic nervous system controls the delicate balance between the body's rapid involuntary response to danger, fear, or stressful situations (flight/fight) and its need to rest, digest, feed, and breed.

This means, that if we remain in a flight or fight state of mind/being it will alter our bodies in such a way that we cannot get enough sleep, our digestive system does not run smoothly, we cannot eat food without tying an emotion to it, and infertility becomes a problem. An imbalance in this system leads to chronic health illnesses, such as: Fatigue, Insomnia, IBD, Diabetes, Fibromyalgia, PTSD. Chronic illness costs $$$ money due to absenteeism from work, job loss, hospital stays, doctor visits, medication.

The fear response is present at birth through the function of the amygdala, one in each cerebral hemisphere, and play an important role in emotions/behavior. It is through the attachment cycle or the experiences that we have in the first three years of life that teaches us how to trust, our self-worth, develop self-efficacy (I matter), and learn to have a compassionate understanding (empathy) for others. To reach optimal development we must first regulate the body and give yourself what you should have gotten as a child.

What Happens When our Survival Needs are Not Met?

As infants, we enter the world depending on our parents for survival. An infant will die if it is not cared for, at the least on a basic level: food, shelter, clothing. When a need is expressed (I cry) and my need is met (You come) it teaches me how to trust in relationships. Each time I cry out in distress and you come to comfort me it builds the healthy attachment cycle that will later guide me through the rest of my life. When you come it teaches me self-worth, I must be important and valuable. It also teaches me self-efficacy, I have a voice, I am precious, and it matters what I do, because when I cried, you came.

Neglect can result in developmental problems for children. As a result of physical and/or emotional neglect in infancy, a child can reach developmental milestones more slowly because of a caregiver's failure to provide adequate opportunity and/or stimulation for the infant and then the toddler to develop. Once a child reaches preschool age and enters school, effects of neglect upon academic achievement can be seen. The academic performance of neglected children is worse than that of non-neglected children Horner (2009).

How to Gain your Voice Back and Strengthen Relationships

It takes three (3) years of back and forth between distress and comfort to teach self-regulation, whether for a child or an adult. That includes building trust, changing my attitude/belief about my self-worth, and finding my voice. Once I have laid the foundation for self-regulation, my neurochemicals become balanced and I can then begin to lay the foundation for my mental health.

After caring and loving yourself, you are better able to create healthy boundaries with friends/family, not react emotionally to situations, and select the resilience building blocks that you want to add to your character, such as: learning to ask for help, sense of control, showing empathy, forgiving ourselves/others, self-discipline, acknowledging when you are wrong, critical thinking skills, giving back to the community, working as a team, empowerment, communication skills, identifying your triggers, etc.

Why Self-Regulation is the Foundation for Resilience

Resilience is often defined as the ability to bounce back from a difficult situation, but I would like to add a different perspective to the definition. Bouncing back means you are the same now as you were before you were faced with the difficult situation, essentially unchanged. Shifting the definition, resilience is the ability to push through difficult situations, essentially changing for the better by learning from each obstacle we are faced with in life from road rage to long-term goal planning.

This character shift is easier obtained when we can control our emotions, behavior, thoughts, and impulses through self-regulation. For example, we set a long-term goal to pay off our car in two years, but you don't like your supervisor and quit your job out of the blue one day, before getting another job, and with no plan on how your bills will get paid in the meantime. If we used our self-regulation and resilience skills, first we will be aware that it is time for a new job, then create a plan on how to achieve the new job, look for new job, obtain new job, and leave old job in good standing without torching the bridge as we crossed over.

How Dehydration Causes Absence Seizures

The brains of children who experienced adversity have an increased level of a major excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system called glutamate. Glutamate should be present at the right concentration, place, and time in the nervous system because too much will lead to exciting nerve cells to their death or excitotoxicity Zhou (2014). When a child is dehydrated, glutamate is more active in the brain and causes aggression, agitation, irritability, medical problems, and seizures.

By the time you feel thirst, you have lost 10-15% of your cognitive abilities. Staying hydrated is the single, most important thing we can do to keep functioning at an optimal level.


Horner, G. (2014). Child Neglect: Assessment and Intervention. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. 28(2), 186-192.

Zhou, Y., & Danbolt, N. C. (2014). Glutamate as a Neurotransmitter in the Healthy Brain. Journal of Neural Transmission (Vienna, Austria : 1996), 121(8), 799–817.

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