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What is Trauma?

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

In very basic terms trauma is characterised by fear alongside loss of control. Or a frightening experience over which we have no control.


Trauma is not competitive. One person's trauma might be another's mild inconvenience. We each have resilience factors unique to us. This means we each experience and perceive trauma differently. Our experiences are as unique as we are.


Why is trauma history or trauma experience significant?


In very basic terms trauma heightens our amygdala response. Our amygdala has one job - to keep us safe. Human beings are all about survival - survival of the fittest. When we experience danger, or perceived danger, our amygdala springs into action. We have a fight, flight, freeze, friend or flop response. This response is hard wired. It kept our ancestors alive when they lived in caves. The amygdala is key to the survival of the species.


When our amygdala is triggered we have a chemical response. We get a rush of adrenaline. Adrenaline is a bit like a super power. In times of danger it can empower us with almost super human strength and speed.


The easiest way to explain the amygdala response in adults who do not have significant trauma history is when we're driving a car and we have a near miss. In our car in a near miss situation we have no use for a fight, flight, freeze, friend, flop response. We're safe. We are not in danger. We had a big scare and we felt out of control or indeed we were unable to control the situation.


Our response is that we feel physically jittery. We get the shakes. We have the sensation of our heart beating in our throat. Our heart rate increases. We feel just awful. Now try to focus, concentrate or learn something new. Best of luck.


It takes around forty minutes for our adrenaline levels to return to normal.


For a young person in a school environment forty minutes, with raised levels of adrenaline, is pretty much an entire lesson.


Trauma might be an isolated event or sustained over a period of time. In either circumstance trauma sensitises the amygdala so that it over responds and perceives danger where there is none.


Young people who have trauma history have triggers they do not recognise or understand. Schools with trauma informed practice support their students to understand their triggers and support their students to develop strategies to calm their amygdala response. Trauma informed practice lifts significant barriers to learning not always addressed by sen/aln practice.


Human beings are all about survival of the fittest. Human beings are competitive. We enjoy being good at stuff. We enjoy receiving praise and recognition for our achievements. We enjoy achieving. If this is not the case there is a problem.


There. Are. No. Bad. Kids. There are sad kids. There are angry kids. There are frightened kids. There are kids who have trauma history. We can support our traumatised learners. It is our responsibility to support our traumatised learners.


** Plug alert - look out for my book, 'What Happens When I'm Scared?', in the new year.



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