Some people can remember hiding away when the parents would “go at it” or the fear of the “bad things” when dad was drunk. Unfortunately some people have experienced never being taken care of as a child, not protected, alone trying to cope as a little kid.
The unpredictable and scary environment has a long-term impact on how we respond to others, especially in intimate relationships. As children, our brains are like sponges: We watch, learn and then replicate.
Some people have this idea that infants don’t remember. Wrong. The most critical brain development is infancy to childhood. As children are exposed to violence and coping with the fear alone, this impacts the long term coping as adults.
There is a phrase: “A witnesses of violence is a victim of violence.” This statement stands true. The exposure to violence impacts how we feel emotionally and how to cope during difficult times throughout life.
Growing up learning to zone out, detach from the craziness, scream out, blame ourselves for the bad things, or hide away. The survive cues that we learned as children tend to follow us as adults.
The amygdala is a small almond-shaped nuclei located center of brain the primary function in formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events, the fight or flight mode. The exposure to violent situations imprints how to react. Press fast forward to adulthood: When the going gets tough in relationships, the brain has learned how to survive the hard times by fight or flight - shutting down, detaching, self-blame or attacking back.
The body can go to the imprinted survival technique at slightest signs changes in the environment such as a tone changing or the voice being raised. WHAMO! All the body knows is that it is unsafe, find safety. Logic is nowhere to be found.
The great thing is that the brain can heal and relationships can be built in a healthy way. The brain can heal with corrective experiences. The more we are around healthy relationships, the better we can change how we respond.
One helpful technique is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). It pinpoints the emotional response that our body has, understands the triggers and helps the clients create a healthier and more secure attachment in relationships. It is experiential and a roadmap helping couples learn to communicate and have corrective experiences together.
The video below is from the California Attorney General's Office. It discusses how the brain is impacted by violence. The more volatile a situation, the more the brain learns to focus on self-survival and less on exploring the world. It also talks about how the brain can heal.
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