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Childhood Trauma, Adult Consequences

Alex's story



Alex lived in a small, quiet, and unassuming town. Alex's world, from the outside, seemed ordinary, but within the walls of their home, a different reality unfolded; one of neglect and abuse.

 


Alex arrived at therapy as a grown man. The shadows of his childhood had stretched long into adulthood, manifesting as anxiety, depression, chronic stress, fatigue, and pain.



Polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, posits that the autonomic nervous system, which regulates our bodily functions and emotional responses, is key to understanding trauma's impact. It describes three hierarchical states of nervous system response: the ventral vagal state (social engagement and safety), the sympathetic state (fight or flight), and the dorsal vagal state (shutdown and dissociation).

 



In Alex's early years, the unpredictability of care and the presence of fear meant that his nervous system rarely experienced the ventral vagal state of calm and connection. Instead, Alex's body was often in a heightened sympathetic state, ready to fight or flee from danger, or in a dorsal vagal state, numbing and disconnecting from the harsh reality around him.

 

As Alex grew, the chronic activation of these survival states rewired his nervous system. His body, which should have been a safe haven, became a source of constant alert. This sympathetic overdrive kept Alex always on edge, leading to anxiety. The world seemed fraught with threats, and trust in others was a foreign concept. The repeated activation of the dorsal vagal state, on the other hand, led to depressive symptoms. Alex often felt disconnected, listless, and hopeless. The shutdown response that once served as a refuge now trapped him in a cycle of disengagement from life.



The constant oscillation between hyperarousal and shutdown took a toll on Alex's body. The stress response, meant to be temporary, became chronic. Cortisol levels remained elevated, and the body's systems were always on alert, leading to chronic stress. This state of perpetual readiness drained Alex's energy, resulting in chronic fatigue. The body, never truly resting, could not recover from the daily demands of life. Moreover, the sustained stress response and emotional turmoil manifested as chronic pain. The muscles, always tense and braced for impact, developed patterns of pain that no physical ailment could explain. The pain was a language of the body, speaking of the unprocessed trauma and the need for healing.

 



As an adult, Alex sought help. Through therapy, he learned about polyvagal theory and began to understand the physiological roots of his struggles. With the guidance of a compassionate therapist, Alex started the journey of retraining his nervous system. He learned to recognize the signs of sympathetic arousal and dorsal shutdown and developed strategies to engage the ventral vagal state. Mindfulness, deep breathing, and safe social connections became tools for Alex to invite his nervous system back to a state of safety and trust.

 

It was not an easy path, and there were setbacks, but with time, Alex's body began to understand that the dangers of the past were no longer present. His healing journey is ongoing, and some days are harder than others, but Alex now carries the knowledge that his responses are not flaws but survival strategies that once served a purpose.

 

With this understanding, he continues to work towards a life where anxiety, depression, chronic stress, fatigue, and pain are no longer constant companions, but rather, reminders of the strength it took to survive and the possibility of a future filled with moments of peace and connection.

 

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, overwhelm, chronic stress, chronic fatigue, or chronic pain, you may not have a “disorder”. We can help you reprogram your nervous system, just like we help so many people like Alex.

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