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Therapist’s Corner…Attachment Patterns in Children Following Trauma

     Hollywood movies are good at painting a pretty picture when it comes to welcoming a newborn into a family. Often the first visual of the new family is a loving father stroking his exhausted wife’s hair as she adoringly holds their newborn child to her bosom for the first time. This is seen as a time of joy, love, connection, renewal, and potential. We are left with good feelings; we know that child will be loved, cared for, and adored its whole life. 
     But what happens when this picture is not painted? What about the women who do not want their babies, who are scared and alone, who experienced stressful life situations during pregnancy, or who turn to drugs and alcohol for relief from their pain? Not every child is born into a loving, happy, healthy family; even some who are experience unimaginable hardships in their young lives. What happens when a child does not learn to find comfort, love, and support from parents? 
     These experiences result in different attachment styles. Children who struggled or failed to form healthy attachments early in life, due to trauma, often need a little extra guidance and attention to make up for the deficit they experienced early in life.
     People are born with the capacity to organize their brains through the experiences they have throughout the lifespan. These experiences determine what neural pathways are activated and genes are expressed. Interaction with caregivers, such as playful interactions and having emotional and physical needs met, create neuronal connections and shape circuitry within the limbic system (Siegel, 1999 as cited in Friend, 2012). In order for the brain to mature to its full potential, a secure attachment is needed during the brain’s largest growth spurt which occurs within the first two years of life (Schore, 2001 as sited in Friend, 2012). 
     Trauma has a great effect on the ability of a child to form attachments. Adults who have experienced childhood trauma, such as neglect or abuse, that resulted in poor attachments can have issues such as introversion, unassertiveness, self-consciousness, low self-confidence, signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, hostility and violence, are more likely to experience posttraumatic stress disorder, and withdrawal. This population is more susceptible to these issues because stress actually causes neurons to die.” Without these pathways, the brain struggles to moderate stress as the brain does not know how to effectively cycle between hyperarousal and dissociation (Siegel, 1999 as cited in Friend, 2012). Trauma and the effects it has on the development of healthy attachments is a complex and only slightly explored topic of research.
     Various professionals and research have suggested the power of narratives to be most effective in helping children work through experienced trauma. In many cultures, storytelling is common and encouraged. Social sharing of difficult emotions and memories allows for a child to process through their story and the negative feelings to become less potent. Some stories are designed to gradually help children to process the trauma they experienced. Theraplay was developed by Jernberg and is centered around four dimensions of normative attachment relationships: structure, engagement, nurture, and challenge. Caregivers interact with their children in a playful manner to help them develop the necessary pathways between the two hemispheres of the brain. Caregivers can bring subjectivity, playfulness, empathy, and co-regulation of affect into relationships with their child to help them experience feelings. There are various other therapeutic frameworks used to aid in helping people work through their childhood trauma.
     The pretty picture often painted by Hollywood is what children need in order to develop healthy attachments to set the base for successful adulthood. From the first touch, an attachment is formed between caregiver and child. Children are very resilient. Although trauma has a large impact on the attachment development, interventions have been developed to help children tell their stories and process through the trauma they experiences. Early intervention and a strong support system give children the best chance of success when working through the trauma they experienced.

~Carlene Reichmuth, Therapist (no picture available at this time)

JMcCasslinTherapist’s Corner…This Word Gave Me Hope After Miscarriage

     Several months ago, I was at a wellness training. It was unlike any other training I've attended because it required vulnerability and disclosure of some of the most traumatic events in our lives. As I sat there listening to others' stories, I couldn't help but think "Gosh, my traumas are nothing in comparison to that. I'm not even sure I want to get up there and share my story because they'll just laugh and tell me to sit down and let someone with REAL trauma do the talking."
     My thoughts came out of fear - fear of judgment, fear of exclusion, fear of hurt, fear of being vulnerable, and definitely a fear of crying in front of this group of peers.
     And yet I stood in front of the group and told them all about me and my past. These strangers whom I'd known for only a few hours came to know the things I don't normally talk about. Then the group facilitators gave us an assignment: Go home and find a word that gave you hope and be ready to explain it.
     I didn't give the assignment much thought that evening as I ran around, getting kids ready for bed, feeling exasperated as I loaded up the dishwasher and laundry machine, and picking up toys.
     On my way back to the conference the next morning, I realized I hadn't come up with a word that gave me hope. I started tossing around the usual ideas: love, faith, hope (itself), strength, etc. but none of those words really stuck with me any more than the other. 
     So I took a different approach and thought about the traumatic events in my life and how I healed from them. One of the most traumatic events for me was the loss of my third child through miscarriage. 
     I found solace in talking to others and finding out I was not alone. I found comfort in remembering my child, and partaking in memorial ceremonies during October’s National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Month. I have hope that I will see my child again, someday.
     But what gave me that hope? My faith and belief, yes. But there was more. It is like my child is still a part of me. I'm still attached to that child through my thoughts, feelings, and prayers. Plus, I feel physically attached to that child. There's a bond, not unlike the bond with my living children.
     And suddenly, I knew what my hope word was - microchimera. At another conference, I learned this word and was immediately drawn to its meaning. In mythology, the chimera is an animal with different parts of several animals. It's now used to describe something that has distinctly different parts. Research indicates that women carry cells from every conception for the rest of their lives. When women say their children are a part of them forever, they aren't making it up or even speaking metaphorically. It is called “human microchimerism." The mother absorbs distinct and different cells from every child she carries, no matter the duration of the pregnancy.
     In addition to carrying the cells from every child I conceived, I also found comfort in another form of microchimera. Sibling microchimerism is where a child, while in utero, absorbs cells from their mother's tissue, effectively taking on cells not specific to their own body, but cells from every sibling who came before. I thought I never got to hold my Jordan in my arms but now I know, while it isn't quite the same, I get to hold my unborn child every time I hold my youngest 2 children. 
     I take comfort in knowing that I carry all five of my children with me, and it's nothing that can be taken from me. I talk openly about the miscarriage and how it affected my life so that I can offer companionship, courage, and hope to others who've also lost a child through miscarriage.
     I would like to extend an offering of hope to you during National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Month. Find those connections with others who've experienced loss. Be vulnerable and share your story because you never know who needs to hear your words. And rekindle that connection with all your children because they truly are a part of us. Light a candle on October 15th in remembrance of your children, and know that you carry them with you, always.

~Jessica McCaslin, Therapist

LenzTips from Our EAP...The Work vs. Home Balancing Act

     Answer these questions, and if you answer "no" to any, you may benefit from some of the steps that follow.  

Work & Family Balance “Quick" Quiz
    * Do you successfully allocate time in your day to the things you want to do with your family?
    * Can you participate in meaningful activities with family without feeling
anxious or talking about work?
    * Do you participate in family activities without the gnawing feeling of so much work being left undone?
10 Steps To Work & Family Balance
   1. It’s a Conscious Decision. Work and family don't "balance" automatically. Achieving balance is an ongoing process.
   2. Family Goals. Family needs change over time. Opportunities to build a tree house for the kids or participate in a new family pastime don't last forever. Decide what is important and write it down. Assign a date, and make these goals happen.
   3. Stick to Your Values. Sometimes it can be tough to make a choice between a family and a work activity. Knowing where you stand on your values can make tough choices easier.
   4. Imbalance is Sometimes Inevitable. It is important to recognize jobs and responsibilities are important and they sometimes take priority.
   5. Revisit Your Schedule. When your work schedule changes, new opportunities may become available to participate in family activities. Claim the high ground!
   6. Benefits of Balance. Balancing work and family has pay-offs for children, home relationships, and everyone's future happiness. Recognizing this can help you keep balance in mind.
   7. Manage Distractions and Procrastination.  Working long hours causes stress that sometimes finds relief naturally through workplace distractions and procrastination. If you are at the office for 12 hours, do you really work only 10? If you are searching for more family time, it might be found here.
   8. Discuss Expectations and Responsibilities. When one family member is taking on too many responsibilities at home, resentments can build. Periodically discussing the perceptions of others can provide awareness you need to consider opportunities and choices for work and family balance.
   9. Organize Your Work. Improving your delegation and time-management skills can buy you time needed for family life. Learning how to put work down, say "no," and let go of workplace worries are skills that are learned through practice.
  10. Despite these suggestions, improving balance of work and family may be a lot easier said than done. The EAP can help you find sources for defining priorities, acquiring assertiveness skills, making tough decisions, or even identifying family goals that you want to pursue so you can look back and say, "I did it." 

~Lana Lenz, EAP Coordinator (article from Daniel Feerst, LISW-CP, WorkExcel.com)

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