photo image: ky_olsen
I spent 10 minutes belly crawling with all of my kids today, and I felt like I was going to throw up afterwards. It wasn’t because I was ill, or because my tummy really hurt–my head hurt so bad that it made me want to puke. Belly crawling does something to the brain. It brings up emotions we felt when we were pre-verbal and couldn’t tell anybody that we were sad or scared or needed to be taken care of. If we keep belly crawling long enough, it helps us deal with those emotions, rather than stuffing them…More on How to Heal the Brain later. For now, why might someone’s brain need to be healed?
1. Head Injury
This is an obvious one, so let’s get it out of the way. Head injuries can cause all kinds of issues. If you’ve fallen on your head or face, had something heavy drop on your head, been in a car accident, etc., there may be underlying problems going on that you don’t even think about. Trouble sleeping? Loss of appetite? Moodiness? Your brain is a precious organ–and yet, when it is hurt, most of the time, doctors do nothing about it. Think twice about “brushing off” a head injury just because it didn’t cause the eyes to stop dilating, or because you can remember your Birthday and hop on one foot….If the brain was injured, it may need some therapies to heal it…
2. Past Trauma
Were you hurt? Physically abused? Sexually abused? Emotionally abused? There is evidence that when a child is abused, their brain growth is stunted. This is through no fault of your own, and your brain can be healed!
There’s the obvious neglect: not feeding babies, leaving them in dirty diapers all day, leaving them in their crib all day, never holding them. But there’s also a kind of parenting that I never understood as “neglect” until I started learning about how babies attach to their caregivers.
Babies have a “Need Cycle“–have you heard of it? They cry for help. They’re hungry, or their diaper needs changing, or their tummy hurts. It’s their only way of communicating with us. They’re not “testing us.” There’s no conscious thought going on in a newborn baby, everything they do is because of their desire to survive–that’s it. There needs to be a response to their cries, or the baby’s stress hormones go crazy, flood the brain, and the baby feels like she is going to die. If the response is inappropriate or abusive (“you’re ok baby, just shut up” or a spanking, etc.), the infant stays stuck in that “I’m gonna die” mentality. If this cycle is repeated over and over, the baby’s anxiety level will be high and there will be damage to the brain…
It’s important to note that neglect physically damages the brain, I’ve been told that it looks like “a blow to the brain” on a qEEG brain map. It’s not that anything physical ever happened to damage the child’s brain (like a head injury or car accident). Neglect leads to physical brain abnormalities.
4. Unhealthy Parenting Techniques
I’ve been reading Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud, and he mentions 2 types of parenting: Grace-based parenting (too free, too overly indulgent) and Truth-based parenting (too harsh, too many rules, too much criticism). He mentions that what children need is a healthy mixture of the two, so that they feel safe (with boundaries and rules) and so that they can connect and have relationship (grace). If the way we were parented was extreme in one of those areas, our brain suffers.
I believe that there can be an unhealthy, extreme, unpredictable mixture of these types of parenting, as well. An alcoholic parent (or a parent with an unhealthy brain) may get caught up in projects, or work, or their own issues in life, and let the children run free without seeming to notice what they are doing. So the child plays–and gets the impression that what they are doing is ok. Without warning, this unhealthy (or drunk) parent might start screaming at the child or spanking the child in anger because of whatever the child is choosing to play with. The next time the parent is pre-occupied and neglectful, the child is confused–afraid–not sure what to do–tentative to play with anything or try anything. (Or the opposite personality may say “I get in trouble for whatever I do, so I’ll do whatever I want!” When clear boundaries and gentle re-direction is absent, a child’s brain suffers.
My Grandpa likes to give people a book called Lifetime Guarantee. In the book, Bill Gillham points out what it’s like to live with a parent like I just described. It’s like this: you see a poisonous snake in your house, and your emotional richter scale jumps from a 0 to a 10. You’re freaked out. There was a poisonous snake in your house! Someone takes care of the snake for you, and an hour or two later, you’re able to calm down and get your emotions down to a 2 or 3. That’s healthy. If you lived in a home where poisonous snakes appeared at any given moment, out of the blue, you’d never be able to calm down. You would always stay at a 7, 8 or 9 on your emotional richter scale. You wouldn’t even begin to understand what peace feels like. You’d always be anxious. Living with a poisonous snake of a parent (and staying anxious all the time–always having stress hormones flooding the brain) hurts the brain. Living in a state of fear damages the brain and can lead to ADD and other learning disabilities.
Overly critical parenting damages the brain too. Were you never good enough? Dr. Phil does a good job explaining how damaging it is for a child to hear over and over that they aren’t doing things good enough, right enough, that they’re stupid, or that someone else is always better than them. Have you heard of the concept of saying “3 positives” for every negative comment said? It’s a necessity, if you want to raise healthy kids. A child’s “love bank” is totally emptied–dry–overdrawn–when they’ve got a parent who treats them like the person God created them to be isn’t good enough. There’s a part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) that can be physically damaged by this kind of criticism.
“Children under stress have a harder time learning than those who are calm and secure.” -The Oxytocin Factor
5. Drug and Alcohol usage
We know what drugs and alcohol do to a baby in the womb. These babies need help to heal their brains. And we all know that illegal drugs can damage an adult’s brain as well. I am not going to tell all of you that you should never drink alcohol, and I haven’t studied this subject enough to tell you to only drink “___” amount and you’ll be fine. We know this: too much alcohol (which depends on the type, the proof, your weight, your body’s ability to deal with toxins and other factors) leads to impaired judgement. It impairs the brain’s ability to function the way God designed it. Some of the effects of the overconsumption of alcohol do not go away when the hang-over ends. Alcohol can permanently damage the brain.
6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Maybe you witnessed a traumatic event. Maybe you fought in a war. Maybe you grew up in a home where there was a lot of yelling. Maybe you live with a child or a spouse who rages. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder changes the structure and the function of the brain.
7. Gut Issues = Brain Issues
If you’ve got diarrhea or constipation, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ve got brain issues going on. Your brain needs healing (and so does your gut).
8. A lack of touch
Healthy touch teaches our brain to stay calm. In a home where there is a lack of healthy touch (like hugs!), brains will not be calm. Brains that are not calm will not develop appropriately.
“Touch, as we will see, appears to be one of the strongest sources of input to the calm and connection system. When a family or another group of people does something together, touch, smell, and other senses play a natural part of their interactions. As a result of modern cultural trends toward greater independence and fewer daily communal activities, such sensory impressions decrease. This altered pattern reduces the activity of the calm and connection system and ultimately poses a danger to our health.” -The Oxytocin Factor
9. Disruption of Attachment with Caregivers
This can happen because a child is placed in foster care or adopted. This can also happen because a child was really sick and just couldn’t attach (the “Need Cycle,” in the baby’s mind, was never met, because the caregivers couldn’t make the child feel better). If the need cycle wasn’t met, the baby probably won’t attach. If there was ongoing stress or trauma in the home, the baby very likely won’t attach. When a baby doesn’t attach, their brain looks different on a brain map. There are areas of the brain that are “awake” too early and areas that are “asleep” for too long. Depending on the level of stress that a child was exposed to, they may live in a constant state of “fight or flight,” even into their adult life….Their brain needs healing.
I’ve got more to say about this subject, so come back tomorrow! There is hope!