Brain Dysregulation is at the Root of Childhood PTSD: Learning to Re-Regulate Is Where Healing Begins

To heal from Childhood PTSD, it’s crucial to understand the role of dysregulation, which is the underlying problem that most conventional treatments have never really repaired or understood.

Why I say Childhood PTSD, I mean the physical, neurological, emotional and behavioral effects on adults who had trauma as a child — abuse, neglect, exposure to addicts and alcoholics, and other adversity. If you’ve been watching my videos and reading my posts, you know that Childhood PTSD is not just a bunch of psychological hurts from the past.

Rather, it begins with neurological changes that happen in response to trauma early in life. These changes can produce dysregulation in our brains, which in turn, dysregulates the whole nervous system. The nervous system is what organizes everything our bodies do — our immune systems, our hormonal systems, our mental capacity to pay attention and learn, our capacity to handle stress, and our natural tendency to connect and bond with other people.

When we’re calm, brain activity is even and it’s driving body responses and emotions in an even and predictable way. With dysregulation our thinking and behavior can become erratic. We may put on a happy face when we feel panicked. We may plunge into depression out of nowhere, or our emotions can suddenly explode and flood us with adrenaline (the fight/flight response). Or we might feel physically numb, clumsy, forgetful or scattered. It can be hard in these states to read reality correctly. We may see danger where we are actually safe, or safety where there is danger. We might drive off from the gas pump without detaching the nozzle, or believe a sexual hookup is true love, or say cruel things to a loved one — that for the moment — we think we mean. Just when we need good judgment most, it can fail us. And so we may find ourselves making the same mistakes over and over.

This (and not so much the terrible events of the past) is how Childhood PTSD does most of its damage in adulthood.

Once we are dysregulated, it can take hours or even days for our brains to become re-regulated. We may have picked up semi-effective strategies to speed it along, such as overeating on carbs, smoking cigarettes, drinking or doing drugs, or jolting ourselves with adrenaline through risky acts like reckless driving or sex or spending, or just by getting into an argument.

These dysregulated periods are not always overtly self-destructive, but they always impair our ability to be present, productive, responsible and connected with people. They also leave us exceptionally vulnerable to re-traumatization.  Left untreated, dysregulation becomes the main mechanism by which PTSD damages our health, our immune systems, our mood, our relationships, our careers, and our ability to learn, remember and relax.

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What are some signs that you might be dysregulated?

  • You feel spaced out, at a loss for words, or can’t remember where you are
  • You feel scattered, trying to do a lot of things at once and finishing nothing
  • You are tripping over things, dropping things, losing things
  • Your voice and facial expression are flat
  • You are in a rage, or you feel a HUGE urgency to express what is bothering you
  • You can’t feel parts of your body — hands, mouth, face, nose, feet
  • You pretend to feel happy when you’re hurt, or calm when you’re afraid, or agreeable when you’re angry — even when it’s normal and OK to have negative emotions.

Dysregulation rises up because of strong emotions, and then causes negative impulses  that we think (in the moment) will help us feel better. These impulses, in turn, lead to self-defeating behaviors — and though your therapist and your friends may not want to talk about it — it’s through your behaviors today (not events in the past) that Childhood PTSD is causing most of the trouble you’re experiencing now.

It’s not your fault. You didn’t ask for these problems.

The good news is, you can learn to re-regulate your own brain, and then your emotions, and then your behaviors. Best results happen when you take them in that order — brain, emotions, behavior. Getting stronger in each of these areas is critical to recover from Childhood PTSD, and it’s a daily practice. You can recover, and you can do it whether or not you can afford expensive professional treatments.

This is a message I keep repeating. Lately, a lot of readers have been contacting me to ask exactly how to recover..

I’m excited to announce that my new course, “Healing Childhood PTSD”  is now open! It’s a self-paced course with 32 videos and a 28-page workbook.

Here’s what I teach:

  • What Childhood PTSD is, and what we know about it
  • Tools to identify how trauma in your childhood may be affecting you now
  • Why the approach I teach you is completely different than any conventional therapies out there
  • The underlying problem of brain/nervous system dysregulation, and how it harms physical health, cognitive functioning, emotions, and behaviors
  • Ten strategies that help re-regulate your brain, your body, your emotions and your life (these are the ones I use)
  • A daily program that includes the basic techniques I practice twice a day, to get regulated, calm and focused (it’s great for relieving depression and anxiety, too)
  • Support to begin changing trauma-related behaviors that are common for people with Childhood PTSD, and that can sabotage your relationships, your work and your happiness

That’s what it’s about — understanding the problem, healing dysregulation, and changing self-defeating behaviors. It’s a process, and I’d be very happy to give you tools and support to start the journey.

If you’d like to learn healing strategies to heal dysregulation and stay regulated more of the time, register for my Online 20-Day Dysregulation Bootcamp


Ready to heal your childhood trauma? This online course is a good place to start: HEALING CHILDHOOD PTSD

You can access ALL my courses and more in my MEMBERSHIP PROGRAM

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FREE COURSE: The Daily Practice