Rewiring The Brain After Childhood Trauma: How To Heal and Reclaim Your Life

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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Published on

June 05, 2024

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Updated on

June 05, 2024

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Robert Stevens

Neuroplasticity

Dealing with childhood trauma is a profound challenge that millions of people face worldwide, leaving invisible scars that can last a lifetime. The aftermath of experiencing trauma during childhood often leads to a complex array of adult mental health problems stemming from the brain's physiological and functional transformation as a response to said trauma. 

Recent studies, including those led by experts like Lippard and Nemeroff (2019) and Karadag et al. (2020), along with the groundbreaking work reported by the University of Essex, provide enlightening insights into how trauma affects developing minds and the potential for healing and recovery.1 Rewiring the brain after childhood trauma is not only achievable, but doing so can help you live a healthier, happier life!

If you've experienced childhood trauma, there is hope for healing with the re-origin program. We help you use the power of neuroplasticity to rewire vital pathways in the brain that influence one's ability to live a life of joy after experiencing childhood trauma. 

If you'd like to learn more about the program, book a free info call today!

Understanding the Impact of Childhood Trauma on the Brain

Does Childhood Trauma Rewire the Brain?

Childhood trauma can disrupt the development of vital brain pathways. Traumatic experiences can lead to alterations in the brain's structure and function, particularly in areas like the prefrontal cortex (also known as the "thinking center" of the brain), which is crucial for thoughts, decision-making, and regulation of emotions. In addition, the amygdala, which is involved in processing fear and emotional responses, can be affected.1

The study of cognitive neuroscience through brain scans has shown that trauma triggers marked differences in brain development, affecting neural pathways and causing symptoms of chronic stress like chronic physical illness, hormonal imbalances, and mental health problems, including anxietydepression, and PTSD.1

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?

ACEs are defined as "unexpected, stressful events that occur during childhood and adolescence." They can include anything from abuse and neglect to witnessing violence or experiencing a major accident, illness, or even growing up in an impoverished community. These experiences often activate the hippocampus and the amygdala, known as the memory and fear areas of the brain, respectively.2

If you are unable to process and heal from a traumatic event, you may find yourself in a state of stress due to flashbacks. These flashbacks can cause an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, a startle response (easily startled by sudden or threatening stimuli), and difficulty sleeping. Because of this, ACEs are linked to several health problems later in life, including heightened stress responses, post-traumatic stress disorder, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.3

What are the 8 Childhood Traumas?

The term "childhood trauma" encompasses a range of experiences that can have lasting adverse effects on mental and physical health. The eight recognized forms of childhood trauma, often referred to as ACEs, include:

  1. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  2. Physical or emotional neglect
  3. A family member who is incarcerated
  4. A family member with a mental illness
  5. Experiencing parental divorce or separation
  6. Natural disasters
  7. Terrorism
  8. Witnessing community or school violence4

These traumatic experiences can profoundly impact brain development, stress hormones, and the ability to form healthy relationships.

Can Brain Damage from Childhood Trauma Be Reversed?

While the effects of childhood trauma can be deep-seated, current research and clinical practices offer hope for recovery. Emerging research suggests that the brain damage resulting from childhood trauma can, to some extent, be reversed. This possibility is grounded in the brain's remarkable plasticity—its ability to form new neural pathways and adapt to new experiences. 

Trauma treatments that primarily focus on rewiring the brain after childhood trauma, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and mindfulness practices, have shown promising results. These trauma therapies work by helping individuals identify patterns in their trauma triggers, enabling them to develop new strategies for coping with stress and recalibrating the stress response system.5

Engaging in therapy, particularly trauma-informed therapies that focus on understanding and healing the neural networks involved in trauma, can lead to significant improvements. Moreover, large-scale studies like those referenced by the University of Essex highlight the brain's ability to rewire itself after childhood trauma treatment, demonstrating that with the right interventions, individuals can reclaim their lives from the shadows of trauma.6

The Role of Brain Rewiring in Healing

Healing from childhood trauma is a deeply personal and complex process, but one of the most promising approaches involves the concept of "brain rewiring." This process refers to the brain's remarkable ability to change and adapt throughout life, known as neuroplasticity. By leveraging neuroplasticity through specific therapeutic techniques and practices, individuals can develop new neural pathways, alter existing ones, and, in essence, rewire their brains. This can significantly aid in healing from the effects of childhood trauma.

Brain rewiring aims to foster a healthier brain function. Here's how it can help:

  1. Developing New Coping Mechanisms: Trauma therapies that focus on rewiring the brain help individuals identify and modify trauma triggers. Techniques such as EMDR therapy and CBT encourage the formation of new, healthier neural pathways that support positive coping mechanisms.
  2. Regulating Emotion and Stress Responses: By forming new neural connections, individuals can better manage their emotional responses and reduce the hyperactivity of the stress response system. This can diminish the intensity of trauma-related symptoms, such as anxiety and flashbacks.
  3. Enhancing Cognitive Functions: Therapies aimed at brain rewiring also support the development of cognitive functions impaired by trauma, such as attention, memory, and executive function. Improving these areas can help individuals handle challenging mental tasks more effectively and enhance their problem-solving skills.
  4. Improving Self-Perception and Relationships: Healing from trauma also involves rewiring the brain's pathways related to self-perception and social interactions. Through therapy, individuals can develop a more positive self-image and enhance their ability to form healthy relationships.

Practical Steps to Rewire Your Brain

  • Engage in Trauma-Informed Therapy: Seek out therapies known for their effectiveness in treating trauma, such as EMDR, CBT, and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). These therapies can help address the root causes of trauma and foster positive brain changes.5
  • Join a Self-Directed Neuroplasticity Program: While it is always valuable to work with a trauma-informed therapist, engaging in self-directed brain rewiring can also provide relief from childhood trauma's impacts. In the re-origin program, you will find tools and techniques to interrupt unhelpful thoughts and behavior patterns and create new neural networks involved in improving overall mental health and physical symptoms. In addition, the re-origin program offers a connection with a community of healers, which can be extremely valuable in healing from trauma.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Regular mindfulness practice can improve brain regions associated with attention, emotion regulation, and the sense of self. These changes can help reduce symptoms related to trauma and enhance overall well-being.
  • Build Healthy Habits: Physical exercise, adequate sleep, and a nutritious diet can support brain health and contribute to neuroplasticity, aiding in the healing process.
  • Cultivate Positive Relationships: Supportive, understanding relationships can stimulate the brain's social networks, encouraging healing and providing a buffer against stress.

Beyond the Clinical: Embracing a Holistic Approach to Healing Through Brain Rewiring

The journey to healing from childhood trauma is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the adaptability of the human brain. By understanding and leveraging the power of brain rewiring, individuals who have experienced trauma can embark on a path toward recovery, transforming their pain into strength and resilience.

If you want to hear more about how re-origin's program can help you rewire vital pathways to help you heal, schedule your free info call today.

References

  1. Lippard, E., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2019). The Devastating Clinical Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect: Increased Disease Vulnerability and Poor Treatment Response in Mood Disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 177(1), 20–36. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19010020
  2. Preventing adverse childhood experiences. (2021, August 23). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aces/index.html
  3. Sanderson M, Mouton CP, Cook M, Liu J, Blot WJ, Hargreaves MK. Adverse Childhood Experiences and Chronic Disease Risk in the Southern Community Cohort Study. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2021;32(3):1384-1402. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2021.0139. PMID: 34421038; PMCID: PMC8462987. 
  4. Recognizing and treating child traumatic stress. (2023, October 3). SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/recognizing-and-treating-child-traumatic-stress#:~:text=Neglect%20and%20psychological%2C%20physical%2C%20or,Commercial%20sexual%20exploitation
  5. Karadag M, Gokcen C, Sarp AS. EMDR therapy in children and adolescents who have post-traumatic stress disorder: a six-week follow-up study. Int J Psychiatry Clin Pract. 2020 Mar;24(1):77-82. doi: 10.1080/13651501.2019.1682171. Epub 2019 Oct 30. PMID: 31663396.
  6. World’s largest childhood trauma study uncovers brain rewiring. (2024, February 24). ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/02/240205165831.htm

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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