How much do you know about brain neurobiology? Some of us who have adopted kids from hard places are learning way more about it than we want to know. On Tuesday, Brenda Benning from Minnesota was here to train my staff about attachment disorder and it had to have been God's timing to help me personally. Because that night and all day the next day, the amygdalas of several people in our family were hijacked. If you are interested in knowing all about what that means, I need to point you to this blog post that I wrote over a year ago.
If you don't have time to read the post on the amygdala hijack, let me explain in very simple terms so that I can tell you about life in my world. The limbic system of our brains is basically the emotional center of who we are and is responsible for forming memories. Memories, as you may have figured out, are triggered by our senses and that input comes directly into our limbic system and causes an INVOLUNTARY emotional reaction.
Why is this important? In being caregivers to children who come into our lives at an older age it matters because we see crazy behaviors and have no idea where they are coming from. A great example that Brenda gave in her presentation was a child, walking through a department store, with their caregiver. Suddenly the child is completely dysregulated for "no reason." Except that, at the counter she just walked by, the cologne that she smells is exactly what the uncle who sexually abused her wore every day. That child has NO IDEA why she is suddenly freaking out and can't control or stop herself.
It is also important because we have it happen to us all the time. A situation that is similar to another situation that was traumatic brings it all back. A song, a smell, a place, even another person can bring back memories that are either frightening, painful, or stressful. Those sensory inputs are called trauma triggers. And they come at us all the time.
When the emotional part of our brains receive input that awakens a negative emotional memory -- we head into a "flight, fight or freeze" mode. Our cognitive brain shuts down and we have to recover and regulate ourselves before we can make any rational decisions.
The trick is knowing your body well enough to know when you have been "triggered." I know exactly what happens to me. My extremities get cold, I feel nauseous and my heart rate goes up. This can happen to me multiple times a week or even a day depending on what is going on in my world (I have experienced a LOT of trauma and secondary trauma in raising my kids and working in child welfare).
There are many times when I am not even recognizing what has happened that has triggered an emotional memory -- but I do know that I am experiencing those physical symptoms and that I need to call it for what it is, breathe deeply, and work my way through it. I also know that I should NOT have emotionally laden conversations, respond to an email, or make a decision during a time when my body feels that way.
Wow, that was a long explanation to what I'm trying to tell you about yesterday. So I came home after a great lunch with Brenda to discover a situation that would take a lot of paragraphs to explain. It involves Tony being kicked out of Job Corp, us not allowing him to come here, and him convincing them to send him near Bart's family, which we had BEGGED them not to do. We ended up resolving it by asking a couple of his brothers to take him in for a week in the Cities so that he doesn't end up near people who should not have to deal with him, but I have a short window to find him some stability. He won't last at Jimmy and Rand for long. (Ideas welcome).
I cannot even begin to describe the layers of trauma that are associated with this situation for Bart, for me and for the other kids here who lived with him for 7 months last year. But having just been reminded of all of this brain stuff, I was at least able to remain calm when others were not. I'm grateful for that, because typically I am NOT the calmest person in this house. :-)
If you have not heard about any of this stuff, it's fascinating. There are a ton of resources out there about trauma and how it affects the brain Check out Bruce Perry or the work of Karen Purvis. Transformational stuff.
I wasn't intending to write all that, so if it was for you -- I'd love to hear about it!