Research has shown that there are four main characteristics that children who have suffered significant childhood trauma very frequently display. These are:
1) Repetitive Behaviours
2) Repeated Memories
3) Specific Trauma Related Fears
4) A Profoundly Altered View Of Other People, The Future, And Life In General
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
1) Children who have experienced significant trauma frequently act out their trauma in repetitive and obsessive ‘play’. I place the word ‘play’ in inverted commas as it is devoid of any ‘fun’ element; it is also often referred to by psychologists as ‘post-traumatic play.’
The reason for this ‘play’ is believed to be an unconscious attempt to mentally process and emotionally master the trauma that they experienced.
Usually the child is not consciously aware that s/he is repeatedly acting out the traumatic experience through the post-traumatic play. This is made clear by the fact that the child may repeatedly carry out the ‘play’ activity that relates to the original trauma even if s/he has no verbal memory of the traumatic event/s themselves.
Above : Post-traumatic Play.
2) Repeated memories of the trauma are vivid, intrusive and distressing. Usually, they are visual, but may also be aural (relating to hearing), tactile (relating to touch) or, even, (if relevant), olfactory (relating to smell).
Such intrusive memories are particularly likely to occur just before the child falls asleep. However, they may also occur in other contexts, such as at school in the classroom, leading often to dissociative states.
Repeated memories may also take the form of nightmares. Often such nightmares will represent the trauma in a highly disguised form.
3) Specific fears relating directly to the traumatic experience also usually occur. To take a simple example, if a child is seriously injured by being knocked down by a motorbike s/he may come to fear the sound of motorbikes revving their engines.
Also, however, children frequently develop more general fears after a significantly traumatic experience. For example, they may develop fears of the dark, being alone or of strangers etc.
4) Children who have suffered significant trauma often develop an extremely restricted view of their own future and become devoid of ambitions, hopes and dreams; they also often assume their lives to come will be filled with yet further traumatic experiences.
They also frequently develop a lack of basic trust in others and develop feelings of helplessness and a general lack of autonomy (Erickson).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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