On June 4, 2021, I was deeply honored to receive a Brighter Futures Award from Laura’s House, an incredible organization that serves the needs of those who have been victimized by domestic violence (DV). In addition to providing emergency shelter and safe transitional housing, they offer counseling and other supportive services to help adults and children increase their resilience and move forward with their lives.
I am deeply impressed with the work they have done over the years, and even more so with all that has been going on because of the pandemic.
Along with the rise in mental health problems (many left untreated), rates of domestic violence also have gone up. It’s thought that economic hardship, job loss, social isolation, increased alcohol and substance abuse, and many people having to stay at home contributed to this growing problem.
The Toll Domestic Violence Takes on Children
As I learned more about it, my mind focused on the many children who were unable to leave their homes and get a break from the toxic chaos and frightening circumstances in which their families lived. Of course, I also thought about the adults who were unable to escape from abusers, but the thing that really hit home for me is knowing that kids are generally powerless to get away from it all.
A lot of people think that children are naturally resilient because of how they appear to adapt pretty quickly to changing circumstances—even if they’re surrounded by trauma, chaos, and abuse. But what is often not seen—or goes unrecognized—is what is happening to a child on the inside.
How Chaos and Trauma Affect Developing Brains
Developing brains are very sensitive to the environment around them, and chronic childhood trauma can actually damage and reset the brain, affecting behavior in many ways.
- Their brains can get stuck in fight-or-flight mode, which is our natural survival instinct, except that with trauma it stays in overdrive, releasing a steady flood of stress hormones into their brains and bodies. This can cause them to feel threatened when there is no reason for it—even later in life. There is research that suggests children who grow up in trauma have brains patterns similar to soldiers in war.
- It can lead to having low activity in the front part of the brain, which then can negatively affect important executive functions like being able to have good judgment and make healthy decisions.
- The risk, reward, and pleasure center in the brain often becomes less active, which can lead to increased risk-taking and addictions in order to stimulate the release of the “feel-good” brain chemical, dopamine.
- The memory center of the brain becomes overwhelmed, which can cause poor memory and cognitive issues, and affect a child’s ability to learn.
Being able to get children the help they need as early as possible can make such a difference in the outcome of their lives and can help prevent them from falling into the same trap that their parent(s) did.Being able to get children the help they need as early as possible can make such a difference in the outcome of their lives. Click To Tweet
Helping to Rebuild Young Lives
In my newest book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, I talk about my nieces who were raised by parents struggling with addictions, domestic violence, and depression. Life was very unpredictable and terrifying. Eventually, Child Protective Services placed my nieces into foster care, where yet more traumas occurred.
Ultimately, my husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, and I were able to become the custodial parents of my nieces and provide them with a safe and consistent home environment and positive role-modeling. It’s been a few years since they became part of our family and both of them are thriving. They are happy and social, along with being “A” students.
While I understand we are fortunate that we have the resources and parenting experience to love and support the girls the way we do, I also know that even small gestures of help and kindness for a troubled child can make a positive difference.
When children know that someone cares about them, it can help to buffer the trauma they face at home, which in turn can help them develop greater resilience against their circumstances.
I encourage you to become aware of any children you know who might be struggling in this way, and if you can, reach out and let them know you see them, that they matter—and that you care.
To learn more about how I overcame my past trauma, order my recent memoir, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child: How Persistence, Grit, and Faith Created a Reluctant Healer.
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues and need professional help, Amen Clinics is here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.