There is no shortage of information as it relates to the impact of stress, trauma and adverse experiences.
As a parent who has both studied trauma and lived through parenting a child with trauma, I’ve read volumes on the subject.
There are a few reads that remain, even after many years, particularly salient either because they explained the subject in way I could truly understand or, they touched a deep chord that resonated with me personally.
I’d like to share, particularly for those parents just venturing into the area, a list of my personal recommendations:
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach us About Love, Loss and Healing
This book reads like an engrossing novel. Dr. Perry details fascinating accounts of his experiences working with emotionally fragile and traumatized children. Perry educates readers in an easy to follow conversational style, about how early life stress and violence affects the developing brain. The stories which include experiences of violence, sexual abuse and severe neglect are painfully difficult to read at times though, they ultimately reflect compassion, understanding and most importantly, hope. Perry’s main point is made loud and clear which is what makes this book so important: As trauma involves the shattering of human connections, “lasting, caring connections to others” are irreplaceable in healing; medications and therapy alone cannot do the job.
“Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.”
It’s hard to find sections of this book I have not highlighted. Dr. van der Kolk eloquently explains “the extreme disconnection from the body that so many people with histories of trauma and neglect experience.” He also outlines the most fertile paths to recovery covering everything from traditional therapy to newer modalities such as EMDR and acupuncture.
“Many people feel safe as long as they can limit their social contact to superficial conversations, but actual physical contact can trigger intense reactions. However … achieving any sort of deep intimacy — a close embrace, sleeping with a mate, and sex — requires allowing oneself to experience immobilization without fear. It is especially challenging for traumatized people to discern when they are actually safe and to be able to activate their defenses when they are in danger. This requires having experiences that can restore the sense of physical safety.”
Though close to thirty years since I read this book, the impact it had was profound. The Drama of the Gifted Child is a valuable resource for anyone coping with difficult or suppressed feelings related to stressful life experiences. Originally published in 1981 under the title “Prisoners of Childhood,” it addresses the question: “Why are many of the most successful people plagued by feelings of emptiness and alienation.?” Miller writes of how far too many children have been raised to skillfully hide their feelings, needs, and memories in order to meet their parents’ expectations and win their “love.” The Drama of the Gifted Child helps readers reclaim their life by discovering their own crucial needs and truth. A valuable read for any parent trying to work through their own emotional difficulties in an effort to help their child grow or heal.
”When I used the word ‘gifted’ in the title, I had in mind neither children who receive high grades in school nor children talented in a special way. I simply meant all of us who have survived an abusive childhood thanks to an ability to adapt even to unspeakable cruelty by becoming numb… Without this ‘gift’ offered us by nature, we would not have survived.”
It can be difficult to help a child cope with emotions from a devastating experience if a parent is still grappling with residual emotions from their own trauma. For many mothers, this involved early childhood sexual abuse.
The Courage to Heal has been called the bible of healing from child sexual abuse. Consistently recommended by therapists, the book offers hope and a map of the healing journey to every woman who was sexually abused as a child
Weaving together personal experience with professional knowledge, the authors provide clear explanations, practical suggestions, and support throughout the healing process.
“… it is possible to heal. It is even possible to thrive. Thriving means more than just an alleviation of symptoms, more than Band-Aids, more than functioning adequately. Thriving means enjoying a feeling of wholeness, satisfaction in your life and work, genuine love and trust in your relationships, pleasure in your body.”
Trauma can result not only from catastrophic events such as abuse, violence, or loss of loved ones, but from natural disasters and everyday incidents such as auto accidents, medical procedures, divorce, or even falling off a bicycle. At the core of this book is the understanding of how trauma is imprinted on the body, brain, and spirit, resulting in anxiety, nightmares, depression, physical illnesses, addictions, hyperactivity, and aggression
“Although the event may have disappeared from conscious memory, the body does not forget. There is a physiological imperative to complete the incomplete sensory-motor impulses that were activated before the body is able to return to a state of relaxed alertness.”
Anyone who finds themselves overwhelmed and stressed as a result of caring for, working with or loving someone who has undergone a traumatic experience should read this book. Prior to reading I had never heard the term “vicarious trauma.” Vicarious trauma, also called “compassion fatigue,” describes the phenomenon generally associated with the “cost of caring” for others. People working or living with trauma survivors often experience the emotional residue that comes from hearing trauma stories and being witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured.
“Trauma stewardship is not simply an idea. It can be defined as a daily practice through which individuals, organizations, and societies tend to the hardship, pain, or trauma experienced by humans, other living beings, or our planet itself.”
While waiting to pick up my daughter from pre-school one morning, anther mother asked what I was reading. When I showed her the cover to Frankl’s book she commented on my “strange” choice noting that she preferred lighter fare.
Little did she know what she was missing.
If you have time for only one book here, I recommend Man’s Search For Meaning. The underlying message is not that we can avoid suffering but rather, that we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl ought to know. He spent years laboring in different Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished.
Frankl reminds us what it is to be human even in the face of extreme pain and darkness.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. “