Childhood trauma has a significant impact on shaping one’s self-concept and view of relationships, but it also changes perception of social stimuli on a physical level. Many people become hypervigilant to their surroundings and hypersensitive to sensory stimuli in their environment. Sensory processing issues after traumatic events are common and can trigger negative memories, making it harder to re-establish a sense of safety in the present.
Sensory Processing Issues and Trauma
Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk argues that after traumatic events, our brains adapt to monitor for signs of danger and the body keeps the score. Especially as many people dissociate from what has happened to them and repress memories, “body memories” serve as a self-protective reminder. The body often responds to signs of potential danger before the brain is able to recognize them. Fight-or flight mode was adapted as a survival instinct.
Obstacles to Re-establishing Healthy Relationships
A recent study by Bonn University Hospital was conducted to investigate the role of adverse childhood experiences in sensory processing, particularly physical contact. While many teens who have experienced trauma develop a rational fear of violence in relationships, this study wanted to explore why this fear often extended to all relationships, even previously positive ones.
Researchers found that traumatized people found social stimuli, like touch, less comforting than people who had not experienced trauma and maintained a greater social distance from strangers.
Social stimuli includes:
- Any kind of physical touch
- Physical distance
- Eye contact
- The sound of someone’s voice
Neurological Changes Affecting Sensory Processing
The study compared brain activity to patients’ responses to various social stimuli. In many cases, there was a slight incongruency between the participant reporting few changes and their brain sending flashing signals of perceived threat.
They found that three main areas of the brain were significantly affected by physical contact in participants with trauma. While areas responsible for body-movement and body-perception rapidly spiked with touch, areas related to emotional memory responded much slower to touch, showing a negative association.
This suggests that some physiological effects of childhood trauma linger beyond cognitive awareness and explains why teens often struggle with developing healthy relationships after traumatic events.
Elements of Trauma-Focused Therapy
- Helps teens identify triggers
- Teaches teens about how trauma impacts them
- Helps them re-establish safety
- Encourages teens to practice somatic experiencing and relaxation techniques
- Empowers teens to develop healthier coping skills
- Allows teens to explore what healthy relationships and boundaries may look like for them
Solstice Can Help
Solstice RTC is a residential treatment program for young girls ages 14-18 who struggle with issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and unhealthy relationships. Solstice takes a holistic approach in understanding how these issues affect girls’ minds, bodies, and spirits. We create individualized treatment plans for each student considering their individual needs, strengths, and goals to help them regain a strong sense of self. Students will leave with the skills they need to transition into the world feeling confident, happy, and able to manage their emotions. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 866-278-3345 for more information about how we help teen girls struggling with trauma.