Category Archives: Trauma

Children and Trauma

In Defense of Children

Child abuse

by Elisabeth | Feb 13, 2014  from

We underestimate children.  I have been reminded of this fact lately with so many seeking to discredit Dylan Farrow.  I am particularly bothered by the notion that at 7 years old, Dylan only said what her mother told her to say.  I find this incredibly hard to believe.  While I find it painful to watch others label Mia a liar and manipulator, I am going to focus on the child.  Even if mothers would do something this horrible to their children, parental alienation doesn’t work because children don’t work that way.

I know this for two reasons:

1)      I am the mother of two 7-year-olds.  I watch them try to figure out life every single day.

2)      I remember my own experiences of child sex abuse at 7 years old.

Here are my observations about how children actually approach life:

Children Love Unconditionally

There is no population on this planet who loves the way a child does.  When I was growing up, I loved my parents despite what they were doing to me.  I desperately wanted them to change.  I wanted them to stop abusing me.  I wanted them to be real parents.  I wanted that more than anything.  Even as an adult, it was an extremely difficult decision to speak out about my abuse.  I knew that would end any possibility of a reconciliation with my parents.  But as an adult, I was able to see them for who they really were.  I was able to see their selfishness and understand that they were not going to change.

Until I recovered my first memory of parental abuse, my parents were involved in my children’s lives.  When I made the decision to cut ties with my parents for my children’s safety, it was difficult for all of us.  My children were only three, so I could not tell them the whole story.  I spent a tremendous amount of time trying to figure out how to explain it to them.  Originally, I was going to take the fall and tell them it was my decision.  But I received some good advice.  I was told I should not tell the kids it was my fault, because that was a lie.  I wasn’t the abusive person in the relationship.  And my kids look up to me.  They need to know I am a good person – not perfect – but good.  In the end, I told them that nana and grandpa didn’t want me to tell the truth, so I can’t be their friend any more.

Did they accept that answer?  Not entirely.  They still love them.  They still ask why I can’t work it out with them.  They don’t understand how adults can decide to end a relationship.  When they have a fight with someone, they get upset in the moment.  Five minutes later, they love the same.  If I had been evil enough to use them against my parents in some way, they would not have cooperated with that.  They would have told me to work it out.  Anything else goes against their fundamental desire to love unconditionally.

Children Seek the Truth

As a child, I was dying to tell the truth … literally.  My parents didn’t just suggest that I be quiet about the abuse.  They beat me.  In some cases, I was beaten and strangled within inches of my life.  I was threatened with death every day.  And yet, there were times when I still spoke out.  Of course, nobody helped me which is another issue for another article.  I know that I am a willful person.  I agree that some children might have less of a fight in them.  But no child is without will.

My children are no exception to that rule.  They know the truth is important.  And they are willing to embarrass me in order to uphold it.  I will go out on a limb and talk about a situation when I lacked integrity, so I can make my point.  Don’t judge me.  We were in the line for the Empire State Building observation deck.  The tickets are not cheap.  My children were 6 years old, and of course, 5-year-olds were free.  My children are also short for their age.  (You know where this is going.)

I am not proud of what happened next.  I told my son to tell the ticket man that he was 5.  At the top of his lungs, he shouted, “You want me to lie?”  I will never forget the alarmed look on his face.  In that moment, I realized that I had just screwed up big time.  What kind of example was I setting?  When we reached the counter, the man asked me if they were 5, because they looked like they were 5.  With my son listening, I reluctantly told him they were 6, but they looked 5, and I prepared for the extra $50 payment.  He told me it was close enough and he let them go for free.  I was speechless.  My son had just taught me a very important lesson.

I asked him to lie, and he said no.

Children Lie (but not about the important stuff)

With that being said, children lie.  They lie because they don’t want to get in trouble.  They lie about eating a piece of candy that they weren’t supposed to eat.  They lie about who started an argument.  They lie about eating their lunch.  They lie about breaking a toy.  And they always give themselves away.  They will smile.  They will look away.  They will make that face that says, “I’m just seeing what will happen here, so give me a break, ok?”

They are experimenting with the best way to stay out of trouble.  They want to understand what happens when they lie.  They are not manipulating adults with lies.  They are experimenting with the world around them.  And our reactions to their lies (and their truths) will affect their life choices dramatically.

As a child, I lied.  I lied for the same reasons that my children lie.  I wanted to stay out of trouble.  But in my case, I wanted to stay alive.  So my lies covered up my abuse.  I was lying to keep my parents out of trouble because I knew that my punishment would be severe.  I would tell teachers that I fell.  I would tell babysitters that I was fine even when my urinary tract infections were so painful I could not use the bathroom.  I would tell friends that I had a great family.  I would say anything to make my life safer.  I never considered lying to make my life less safe.

Children Fantasize (but not about sex)

Children love to fantasize.  Their imaginations are perfectly honed to help them understand the world around them through their own symbolism and stories.  My children fantasize every day.  In the past week, the fantasies in our house have sounded like this:

“A giant’s tooth would be as big as this apple.”

“Do you think there are unicorns in those waves?”

“When I grow up, I am going to have a white dog and three horses.”

“Do you think we will see real dragons today?”

They fantasize about things they can understand to help them figure out the things they can’t understand.  They fantasize about what they know.  They know unicorns, dragons, gnomes, knights and princesses.  They know love, family, school, friends and sports.  They don’t know sex.  They don’t know rape.  They don’t know the mechanics of the adult body.  They don’t know these things because it isn’t time for them to know it yet.  We don’t read them stories or show them movies about it.  If they know about sex, if they know details about the sexual functions of the human body parts, they are in an abusive environment.

Of course, I was in an abusive environment.  And I fantasized when I was growing up.  I used to daydream about being rescued.  I fantasized about living with a real family that loved me.  I dreamed of running away to another country where the adults were nice.  As a matter of a fact, I was almost never present.  Dissociation was my defense mechanism.  I never fantasized about having sex.  I didn’t want to spend one more minute on that topic.  It was already ruling my life.

These characteristics of children make it impossible for parents to “suggest” false and complicated sexual stories for children to repeat.  Children love their parents unconditionally, even when they are separate from them, even when they may have done something wrong.  Children seek the truth relentlessly and at all costs.  Their lies and fantasies are simple and symbolic representations of what they know.  They are not about complex adult issues.

We have to gain a better understanding about how children navigate the world, so that we can give them the credit they deserve.  They are not just inexperienced adults.  They are complex individuals with their own approach to life that makes it impossible for them to commit the acts we accuse them of.  We must trust our children.  We must believe them.

Note:  To be clear, I am not discussing teenagers.  Teenagers can make up stories, however there are other reasons why they would not make up a story about sex abuse.

PTSD – How Trauma Affects Your Brain

Three Ways Trauma Affects Your Brain

We know that trauma affects the brain. Science has proven that. Yet, have you ever had someone say to you any of these things:

“PTSD isn’t real; it’s all in your head”

“Just get over it already!”

“Only veterans get PTSD”?

I speak all over the country about PTSD symptoms. Mostly, these audiences are comprised of civilians: survivors, caregivers and healing professionals. Sometimes, too, there are people who have no PTSD connection but have been invited to hear the presentation. Inevitably, whether it’s before the presentation has started or after it has finished, someone addresses me to say some variation of one of those three things (on a really awful day, all three!).

Why don’t people “get” what it means to struggle with PTSD?

Essential PTSD Information

As a PTSD survivor I hated those comments while I was in recovery. They made me feel powerless, invalidated, stupid, pathetic and as if people believed I was actually choosing to feel as miserable as I did.

3 important facts about how trauma affects the brain that every trauma and PTSD survivor should know.Now, as a healing professional I make it a point to educate everyone I meetabout what symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder are, where they come from and what can make them go away. A few years ago, I wrote 10 Tips for Understanding Someone with PTSD. It was meant to inform outsiders what it means to be on the inside.

Those ten things were my own ideas about why we behave the way we do and what we need while we’re working on coping. It occurs to me now there is even more basic information that we as survivors need to spread around.

How Trauma Affects the Brain

The science of PTSD, which we know now more than ever, should be shared with every trauma and PTSD survivor. So, today, three important facts about how trauma affects the brain that every survivor should know – and share with those who don’t understand:

Fact #1:

During trauma your amygdala (an almond-shaped mass located deep in your inner your brain) is responsible for emotions and actions motivated by survival needs. In threatening situations it:

  • increases your arousal and autonomic responses associated with fear
  • activates the release of stress hormones
  • engages your emotional response
  • decides what memories are stored and where they should be placed around the cortex
  • applies feeling, tone and emotional charge to memory (including the creation of ‘flashbulb memory’: when strong emotional content remains connected to a visceral experience of fear or threat.)

Your amygdala tunes to dominant experiences. The fear induced by trauma makes a deep imprint on your amygdala and hypersensitizes it to danger, which makes it seek out threat everywhere. In some PTSD cases, the amygdala has actually been shown to enlarge through excessive use. (In healing, this change often reverses.)

Fact #2:

Adjacent to the amygdala the hippocampus is responsible for the formation, organization, storage and retrieval of memories. Technically, it converts them from short-term to long-term, sending them to the appropriate parts of your outer brain for storage.

Trauma, however, hijacks this process: the hippocampus is prevented from transforming the memories and so those memories remain in an activated, short-term status. This stops the memories from being properly integrated so that their effects diminish. In some cases when the hippocampus’ function is suppressed it has been shown to shrink. (In healing this change often reverses, too.)

Fact #3

Lastly, the prefrontal cortex (located in the front, outer most layer of your brain) contributes two important elements of recall:

Your left frontal lobe specializes in storing memories of individual events; your right frontal lobe specializes in extracting a theme or main point from a series of events.

After trauma a few things can occur:

  • your lower brain processes responsible for instinct and emotion override the inhibitory strength of the cortex so that the cortex cannot properly stop inappropriate reactions or refocus your attention
  • blood flow to the left prefrontal lobe can decrease, so you have less ability for language, memory and other left lobe functions.
  • blood flow to your right prefrontal lobe can increase, so you experience more sorrow, sadness and anger

There are many reasons why we know PTSD is not “all in your head”, and why you can’t “just get over it”. With the three offered above I’m hoping we start a conversation around proof of what you and I know to be true: if PTSD were easy to heal from, you would have done it yesterday. Since it isn’t, respect must be paid and support given.

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your IdentityConnect with her on Google+LinkedInFacebookTwitter and her website,


A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People about Fifty Shades of Grey

Article taken from Miriam Grossman MD

February 11, 2015

There’s nothing gray about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s all black.

Let me explain.

I help people who are broken inside. Unlike doctors who use x-rays or blood tests to determine why someone’s in pain, the wounds that interest me are hidden. I ask questions, and listen carefully to the answers. That’s how I discover why the person in front of me is “bleeding”.

Years of careful listening have taught me a lot. One thing I’ve learned is that young people are utterly confused about love – finding it and keeping it. They make poor choices, and end up in lots of pain.

I don’t want you to suffer like the people I see in my office, so I’m warning you about a new movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. Even if you don’t see the film, its toxic message is seeping into our culture, and could plant dangerous ideas in your head.

Fifty Shades of Grey is being released for Valentine’s Day, so you’ll think it’s a romance, but don’t fall for it. The movie is actually about a sick, dangerous relationship filled with physical and emotional abuse. It seems glamorous, because the actors are gorgeous, have expensive cars and planes, and Beyonce is singing. You might conclude that Christian and Ana are cool, and that their relationship is acceptable.

Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated! The people behind the movie just want your money; they have no concern whatsoever about you and your dreams.

Abuse is not glamorous or cool.  It is never OK, under any circumstances.

This is what you need to know about Fifty Shades of Grey: as a child, Christian Grey was terribly neglected. He is confused about love because he never experienced the real thing. In his mind, love is tangled up with bad feelings like pain and embarrassment.  Christian enjoys hurting women in bizarre ways. Anastasia is an immature girl who falls for Christian’s looks and wealth, and foolishly goes along with his desires.

In the real world, this story would end badly, with Christian in jail, and Ana in a shelter – or morgue. Or Christian would continue beating Ana, and she’d stay and suffer. Either way, their lives would most definitely not be a fairy tale. Trust me on this one.

As a doctor, I’m urging you: DON’T see Fifty Shades of Grey. Get informed, learn the facts, and explain to your friends why they shouldn’t see it either.

Here are a few of the dangerous ideas promoted by Fifty Shades of Grey:

1. Girls want guys like Christian who order them around and get rough.

No! A psychologically healthy woman avoids pain. She wants to feel safe, respected and cared for by a man she can trust. She dreams about wedding gowns, not handcuffs.

2. Guys want a girl like Anastasia who is meek and insecure.

Wrong. A psychologically healthy man wants a woman who can stand up for herself.  If he is out of line, he wants her to set him straight.

3. Anastasia exercises free choice when she consents to being hurt, so no one can judge her decision.

Flawed logic. Sure, Anastasia had free choice – and she chose poorly. A self-destructive decision is a bad decision.

4. Anastasia makes choices about Christian in a thoughtful and detached manner.

Doubtful. Christian constantly supplies Anastasia with alcohol, impairing her judgment.  Also, Anastasia becomes sexually active with Christian – her first experience ever – soon after meeting him. Neuroscience suggests their intimacy could jump start her feelings of attachment and trust, before she’s certain he deserved them.  Sex is a powerful experience – particularly the first time.
Finally, Christian manipulates Anastasia into signing an agreement prohibiting her from telling anyone that he is a long time abuser.

Alcohol, sex, manipulation – hardly the ingredients of a thoughtful, detached decision.

5.   Christian’s emotional problems are cured by Anastasia’s love.

Only in a movie. In the real world, Christian wouldn’t change to any significant degree. If Anastasia was fulfilled by helping emotionally disturbed people, she should have become a psychiatrist or social worker.

6. It’s good to experiment with sexuality.

Maybe for adults in a healthy, long term, committed, monogomous relationship, AKA “marriage”.  Otherwise, you’re at high risk for STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault. It’s wise to be very careful who you allow to get close to you, physically and emotionally, because just one encounter can throw you off track and change your life forever.

The bottom line: the ideas of Fifty Shades of Grey  are dangerous, and can lead to confusion and poor decisions about love. There are vast differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, but the movie blurs those differences, so you begin to wonder: what’s healthy in a relationship? What’s sick? There are so many shades of grey…I’m not sure.

Listen, it’s your safety and future we’re talking about here. There’s no room for doubt: an intimate relationship that includes violence, consensual or not, is completely unacceptable.

This is black and white. There are no shades of grey here. Not even one.

drgrossman-aboutMiriam Grossman, MD is a medical doctor with training in pediatrics and in the specialty of child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. She is also the author of Unprotected and You’re Teaching My Child WHAT?


Early Trauma Influences Behavior

Traumatic and stressful events during childhood increase the risk to develop psychiatric disorders, but to a certain extent, they can also help better deal with difficult situations later in life. Researchers have studied this phenomenon in mice to learn how these effects could be transmitted to the next generation.

Traumatic events leave their mark. People exposed to a traumatic experience early in life are more likely to be affected by illnesses such as borderline personality disorder or depression. However such experience can also have positive effects in certain circumstances. Thus, moderate stress in childhood may help a person develop strategies to better cope with stress in adulthood.

Further, it has long been recognised by psychologists and psychiatrists that the negative effects of trauma experienced by parents can be seen in their children, but the molecular mechanisms underlying such transmission are only beginning to be identified. A research team led by Isabelle Mansuy, Professor of Neuroepigenetics at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, has for the first time tested in mice the degree to which the beneficial effects of stress can be passed to following generations.

Flexible and goal-oriented in critical situations

The researchers subjected newborn male mice to traumatic stress by removing them from their mother at irregular and frequent intervals and by severely stressing the mothers in addition. They then used tests to analyse the behaviour of these pups when adult and their offspring in comparison to control mice not subjected to stress. They observed that the offspring of the stressed mice handled complex tasks more efficiently than the control group.

For example, one test revealed that the offspring of stressed fathers adapted better to changing rules on a task to earn a drink reward when they were thirsty. They reacted more flexibly. In another test, the mice had to poke their nose into a hole when prompted by a light signal but only after a pre-determined delay of 6, 12 or 18 seconds to get water. The stressed mice and their offspring performed the task better than the control mice at the long time interval of 18 seconds, which was especially challenging. This result was interpreted by the researchers as evidence for improved goal-oriented behaviour in difficult situations. Since the fathers were kept apart from their offspring and the mothers, the young animals cannot have learned this behaviour. Rather, they must have inherited it via molecular pathways in germ cells.

To determine how this behaviour is expressed and transmitted to the next generation, the researchers examined the activity of a gene, a mineralocorticoid receptor gene previously implicated in flexible behaviour. Mansuy’s team discovered that ‘epigenetic’ marks, which determine how much a gene is expressed, were altered on this gene, both in the brain and sperm of the stressed mice when adult. The altered marks were passed on to the next generation probably through the sperm, and may partly be responsible for the altered behaviour. The mineralocorticoid receptor in question binds signal messengers such as the stress hormone cortisone which initiates a signalling cascade in neurons.

Help in overcoming problems

“Our results show that environmental factors change behaviour and that these changes can be passed on to the next generation,” explains Mansuy. This finding — that not only a parent’s susceptibility to psychological disorders can be passed on to its offspring, but also its improved goal-oriented behaviour in difficult situations — might prove to be of value to the clinic. Doctors could help post-trauma patients suffering from depression to build on these sorts of strength. The implication of the mineralocorticoid receptor gene could also be a good starting point for potential future medical therapies.

“We are not in any way suggesting that early-childhood trauma is somehow positive,” says Mansuy. But she adds that her study on mice demonstrates how extreme stress can affect the brain and behaviour across generations — negatively, but also in some ways positively.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by ETH Zurich. The original article was written by Angelika Jacobs.

Journal Reference:

  1. Katharina Gapp, Saray Soldado-Magraner, María Alvarez-Sánchez, Johannes Bohacek, Gregoire Vernaz, Huan Shu, Tamara B. Franklin, David Wolfer, Isabelle M. Mansuy. Early life stress in fathers improves behavioural flexibility in their offspringNature Communications, 2014; 5: 5466 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6466
ETH Zurich. “How early trauma influences behavior.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 December 2014. <>.