1. Human beings develop through relationships. Therefore brains can be rebuilt only through relationships. Humans are hard-wired to seek attachment, especially when danger is present. The primary goal of attachment for humans is safety. However, we cannot forget that one method of engagement is aggression and provocation.
2. Infants are born dependent. Before they have words, the form impressions of other people. The well-cared-for infant associates people and touch with pleasure. She gets her needs met, gets relief from distress, which calms anxiety. Her brain develops a sensory pattern of human interaction associated with pleasure. Other children learn to associate touch with anger, pain, hurt. Others receive little touch. Therefore, our most important job is to establish that pattern of associating people with pleasure.
3. Early attachments sculpt the brain and make it more or less able to regulate emotion when faced with stress. Secure attachment facilitates thoughtful processing, counters the survival-in-the-moment reactions to stress. Although attachment is necessary for safety, humans are also our most dangerous predators. Therefore we are very sensitive to the moods, expressions, and gestures of others. Our stress responses are very closely tied to systems that read and respond to social cues. Therefore, a safe calm relationship is the best vehicle to teach emotion regulation.
4. The brain develops sequentially from the brainstem up to the more complex parts of brain. The primitive parts of brain are the most difficult to change (least plastic). Each part depends on the parts below it. A child who is hurt early in his life may have damage in the lower brain parts. Change is possible, but is slow. To change, we need repetition, repetition, repetition.
5. The brain neurons grow in a “use dependent” fashion. Those parts that are used grow stronger. Those parts that are used together grow connected. Implication: Interventions need to be consistent, predictable, patterned, and FREQUENT. Kids with attachment problems need many, many positive nurturing interactions. Kids need to practice being happy while connected to other people. Whatever you use in the brain gets stronger; you get better at whatever you do most.
6. Parts of the brain change only while you are using them. So if we want to change the lower, body-regulating parts of the brain we have to be engaged in physical activity.
7. Human connection is in itself reinforcing because it stimulates our reinforcing brain chemicals. If a person gets inadequate supplies of the reinforcement of connection they are more vulnerable to other activities that stimulate these same chemicals, such as self harm, drugs and risky behaviors.
8. Because early trauma, neglect and attachment, the biochemistry and brain structures of our clients have been changed. They have become caught in the human danger response, which leaves them hyper-aroused, over responsive, and with difficulty regulating and relaxing. They may also have developed a dissociative, freeze response to stress. Safety, love and being noticed create an environment in which the body can calm down, leaving the brain open to relate and learn.
9. In order to develop, we need repetitive, patterned interactions. Rhythm is very important to human functioning. The brain changes through repetitive, patterned activity. Rocking is a human comfort response. Healing is facilitated by repetitive, rhythmic activities such as drumming, dance and music. Regular structured predictable schedules are also important.
10. The pre-frontal cortex, the thinking part of our brain, is created by a caretaker doing cortex-functions (care taking, safety, meeting needs, figuring out problems). If no one is doing these things, the cortex will be under-developed. The cortex is responsible for complex thinking, analyzing, and using cognition to control emotional impulses. Caretakers can develop this part of a child’s brain by thinking for them until they gradually learn how to do it themselves.
11. People with “good enough” childhoods have arousal/relaxation cycles and know ways to calm down. Trauma survivors start at a higher base-line arousal, have rapid spikes, and rely on the external environment to help them calm down. This leads them to have to do something to draw in external control (i.e. cutting). We can help by providing calm and compassionate external control while teaching self-control strategies.
12. The ability to calculate the potential risks and benefits of an action is a very important human function handled by a certain part of the brain. For children growing up in abusive households it is essential and life saving. However, due to the unpredictable nature of events, the over-exposure to danger, and the struggle to survive, this ability will be compromised. The child may both over and under estimate danger, and also may over and underestimate potential pleasure. They may not be able to see any future for themselves. We can help by envisioning the future, both risks and benefits, in kind and caring ways.
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