Many frustrated parents regretfully feel as though all of the years that their child has spent in their safe, loving home has not made much of a positive impact on the child. This can leave parents feeling bewildered and incompetent. When I talk with parents about how their child’s behaviors are being driven by their earliest life experiences, many are overwhelmed by that idea that everything they have done to provide a safe and loving family has not helped their child let go of those earliest traumas. Despite years of “safe mom” behaviors, the child’s brain still believes “moms aren’t safe” or “moms leave.” Despite years of never going hungry, a full pantry, and never being told “no” to food, the child’s brain still believes “I’ll never get food again” or “Hungry = Starving”. Parents start to feel hopeless and helpless. When will the child FINALLY believe they are safe? Not going to go hungry? Parents feel justifiably skeptical when I attempt to convince them that their 9 year-old child’s meltdown over being told “no” to a snack right before dinner triggers the part in their brain that believes “I’ll never get food again.” How can this be possibly true when the child has not gone without food for seven years AND mom is in the middle of cooking dinner- an obvious sign that food will be plentifully available very shortly.
Traumatic experiences, even the earliest and preverbal traumatic experiences, remain stored in our children’s brains. The normal information processing system that stores memories in the appropriate places in our brain is thwarted by the cascade of hormones and neurochemicals that are released during a traumatic or frightening experience. The memory- along with the images, feelings, and body sensations, remain literally frozen in their nervous system.