Subtitle: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal
Recommended to me by: a friend
Science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa carefully researches and clearly describes how Chronic Unpredictable Toxic Stress changes the growing brain of a child, pruning neurons and stunting growth in some areas. Because the toxic stress is unpredictable, the fight or flight response remains activated, bathing the body in an ongoing soup of inflammatory chemicals. She covers research that says girls’ brains are more susceptible, although I suspect correlation rather than causation at work there.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are linked as strongly with later auto-immune diseases and other health issues as smoking is linked with cancer, or unprotected sex is linked with pregnancy. Here is the original ACE study. You can go ahead and take the 10-question ACE questionnaire. There is also a resilience questionnaire with some factors that can shield a child from the negative effects of chronic unpredictable toxic stress.
The book contains many people’s stories, and some suggestions for healing as well. Fortunately the brain is plastic, and at least some of the negative effects can be reversed.
The briefly covered suggestions for healing are: take the ACE questionnaire and resilience questionnaire, write to heal, draw it, mindfulness meditation, tai chi and qigong, mindsight (self-awareness/empathy/integration), loving-kindness, forgiveness, mending the body/moving the body (yoga, trauma release exercises, bodywork), managing the mind through the gut, and only connect (supportive relationships).
Professional help is also recommended, with therapy, somatic experiencing, guided imagery and hypnosis, neurofeedback, and EMDR.
For parents who want to protect and help their children as best they can, suggestions include: manage your own “baggage”, look into your child’s eyes, validate and normalize their experience, apologize as needed, amplify the good feelings, name emotions, hug them, have safe and open conversations about what’s happening, bring more safe adults into their lives, teach them mindfulness.
Highly recommended book! The section on trauma’s specific effects was depressingly long, and had a lot of sense of inevitability in it. The “how to heal” section was shorter and less specific. I was both reassured and disappointed to see that I’m doing a lot of the recommendations already. Being on the right track is good, and I guess there’s no magic wand to speed up the process.