For this blog I am going to refer to what I have learnt from doing the SMART training developed by the Australian Childhood Foundation.
Science was never really my thing and this will start off with a bit of biology but I found it invaluable to my understanding of how child abuse can affect children and the multitude of problems it creates.
Some people may be aware that when the brain develops its starts from bottom to top. The brain stem develops first and it is responsible for the basic human survival stuff like breathing and eating, it starts developing in utero and is fully formed by birth.
Next stage of development is the limbic system – this i will cover is some detail – to the best of my ability in layman’s terms as it is the big stand out for me in my training on how trauma affects the developing brain.
I’m sure everyone has heard of the flight or fight response right?? It’s our bodies natural hormone called cortisol that is released in times of danger that makes us run like crazy or pumps us with adrenaline to stand our ground and fight, or floods our system causes us to freeze. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands that sit just above our kidneys. The part of the brain responsible for triggering the release of cortisol is called the amygdala. The amygdala has a left and a right side and when it is enlarged it basically forces the brain to go offline and it is concerned with survival nothing else. Which is why the freeze part has been added because some people can’t function either to fight or to flight.
When the amygdala enlarges in interferes with another part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is responsible for memory retention and regulating emotions.
Both the amygdala and hippocampus are part of the limbic system of the brain which is responsible for unconcious feelings, associations and memories (good or bad) and basic drives as well as learning and behaviour.
The other parts of the limbic system I need to touch on in relation to this blog is the thalamus and the hypothalamus. The thalamus is the part of the brain responsible for regulation of motor functions, sensory perception and sleep.
The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that controls the essential hormones of the body that control things like body temperature, mood, sex drive, hunger, body weight and blood pressure.
So now I have gone through the particular parts of the brain and their functions, I am going to leave you to think about how family violence may interfere with these specific areas – especially those on a developing brain. I will come back to this in future blogs.
Here is a link to a short youtube clip which shows evidence that trauma does change the brain in a negative way
My next blog, I will look at what is trauma.