Childhood trauma: The kids are not alright, and part of the explanation may be linked to epigenetics

Kristen Hovet | October 30, 2020

This article originally appeared on the Genetic Literacy Project on November 14, 2017. 

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Kids are resilient. Kids bounce back.

Tell that to Dave Brethauer, a performance coach in Chicago, who told Genetic Literacy Project that he spent the better part of his adult life “fighting to find” himself following the trauma he experienced as a child. “From the time I was five till 14 I had an abusive stepdad in my life,” he said.

To cope, he found himself turning to alcohol, sex, overeating, and exercise addictions – anything to steer his mind away from the memories and pain that haunted him. He contemplated suicide, spent “time on a locked psych ward,” sought help at an addiction clinic, and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 10 years ago, at the age of 50. Only in the past decade has Brethauer been able to approach what he refers to on his website as an “optimal life.”

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Three Types of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Illustration: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Statements about kids and resiliency are far from true, if considered in the context in which they are normally uttered: when an adult dismisses the idea that a child might be harmed by a traumatizing situation. The situation is justified or allowed to continue in light of the supposed ability of the child to handle whatever life deals them. The child might seem fine, but the effects of living through trauma are carried in their bodies and minds for a lifetime.

Kathleen Audet, image consultant in Reno, Nevada, also has trouble accepting the myth that kids bounce back. Immediately following the birth of her daughter and while still in the hospital, Audet suffered a debilitating stroke. She was only 33, and both she and her doctors knew the stroke was linked to the adverse experiences she faced as a child. “Bottom line, I was NOT listening to myself or my body,” she told GLP.

“Not listening to myself for years on end made my body shut down and say: ‘If you won’t listen to me, I’ll stop you until you do’,” Audet wrote in a post recounting her stroke and subsequent long road to recovery.

Individuals with histories of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or neglect “are often chronically disconnected from their bodies,” wrote Lisa Ferentz, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, in her Psychology Today blog, entitled Healing Trauma’s Wounds. This chronic disconnection can lead to an inability to respond to normal physical sensations, like hunger and fatigue. It may also manifest as an inability or unwillingness to respond to the body’s signals that something is wrong. Disengaging from the body, Ferentz said, can become “a form of self-punishment and can set clients up for acts of self-harm” and self-destructive behaviors.

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About S. R. Zelenz 102 Articles
S.R. Zelenz has worked in education for 20 years. Working with students from all walks of life, cultures, races, and social diversity, Zelenz’s research in Educational Leadership led to finding a better way to approach learning for students with trauma histories. Many were juvenile offenders, gang members, diagnosed with varying behavioral disorders, or had family histories of violence, murder, or narcissistic parenting. This research could not be effectively accomplished without further understanding: how epigenetic trauma inheritance may be impacting these students; how brain development from trauma may be impacting their behavioral and emotional development; as well as deep understanding of psychology and its varying classifications for behavioral and personality disorders. The goal is to find solutions for changing the conversation and making a real difference for these students. She has also worked with nonprofits of varying focus areas for the last 25 years. Her undergraduate degree in Arts Administration and Music prepared her for managing nonprofits of any size as well as procuring funding so that they can achieve their goals. Pairing her nonprofit background with her education background, she has been able to make a difference for over 200 nonprofits worldwide, written curriculum for schools across the globe, and assisted many arts organizations through performance and management.