This short book (approximately 30,000 words) is not a traditional self-help book but explains how severe and protracted or repetitive childhood trauma can adversely affect brain development, especially in early life and at other crucial stages of development. The philosophy behind the book is that when we understand what has caused our psychological problems we are better equipped to recover and treat ourselves with compassion rather than being consumed by shame and self-hatred.
Just as a brain tumor or head injury can dramatically change how our brain functions and, therefore, how we act and behave, so too can disruption to the brain’s biochemistry and architecture caused by years of toxic stress in childhood, as this book will explain. And it logically follows from this that we are no more to blame for the adverse effect of childhood trauma (e.g. abuse and neglect) on our brains and its consequences than we would be in the cases of the tumor or the head injury even though, in the case of the effects of childhood trauma on the brain and behavior, society, in general, is not well informed and, therefore, tends to be far less understanding. This book aims to help correct that. After all, you cannot solve a problem without a deep understanding of what the problem is.
The degree to which a child is adversely affected by childhood trauma will vary in accordance with numerous factors including the age of the child when the abuse/trauma occurred, how long the abuse/trauma lasted, the relationship of the abuser to the child (abuse by individuals the child has an emotional bond with, trusts and is dependent upon for his/her welfare, in particular, parents/primary carers is the most harmful), whether the abuse/trauma was repetitive or ongoing, the type and severity of the abuse/trauma, whether the child had a loving and reliable adult in his/her life, and whether there occurred successful interventions to protect the child.
Fortunately, even if our brain’s development has been impaired, this incredible organ is able to continue to change throughout life as a result of new experiences so that any damage can, to some degree at least, be repaired. There are three specific processes that may enable beneficial physical changes to the brain in adulthood if we expose it to the right experiences. These are neurogenesis, processes relating to synaptic plasticity, and synaptogenesis. In relation to neurogenesis, studies on rats have conclusively demonstrated that, over the course of their adult lives, they can grow new brain cells (neurons) which have the effect of changing their ability to process information. Extrapolating from this, it is thought similar processes may occur in humans, and research into this is ongoing. Synaptic plasticity refers to the fact that a process takes place in the adult brain whereby connections between neurons (brain cells) become strengthened and enhanced. Many studies have confirmed this beneficial process. Finally, synaptogenesis refers to the process by which NEW connections are formed between neurons (brain cells). Studies show the process definitely occurs in animals, and it is likely that it also occurs in humans. These processes will be looked at in much more detail in part four of this book which focuses on the myriad ways in which the brain can repair itself and at the related research.
The book is divided into 4 major sections:
PART 1: REGIONS OF THE BRAIN THAT SEVERE, PROLONGED OR REPETITIVE CHILDHOOD TRAUMA MAY DAMAGE
PART 2: TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES WHICH CAN CAUSE PHYSICAL DAMAGE TO THE DEVELOPING BRAIN
PART 3: SPECIFIC EFFECTS OF PHYSICAL HARM DONE TO THE DEVELOPING BRAIN BY TRAUMATIC CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES
PART 4: REPAIRING THE BRAIN.