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Some may underestimate the importance of a strong, caring, and loving home. Homes and relationships like these, can shield children from the impact of negative experiences in life and can be healing. However, without a support system such as so, the effects of trauma and stress can be devastating and even irreversible. The reality is, children are deeply impacted by occurrences that happen around them, both in everyday life, and also during traumatic experiences. Even if children do not completely understand what they hear and see, they are directly impacted by the people they rely on for love and security. For example, toxic stress, is a direct result of constant, unrelenting negative experiences. This takes a major toll on a child’s growth and development. Toxic stress occurs when; a child experiences physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse, or untreated mental illness, exposure to violence, or even the burdens of economic hardship. This form of stress causes children to have an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Resulting in cognitive impairment. However, these negative effects of trauma and stress in a child’s life, are reversible with the proper supportive environment, which allows the child’s brain to recover, and develop a healthy stress response system. Without help, the result can be damaged, weakened systems, and brain architecture, with lifelong repercussions.
Erikson believed people experience a conflict that serves as a turning point in development. In Erikson's view, these conflicts are centered on either developing a psychological quality or failing to develop that quality. During these times, the potential for personal growth is high, but so is the potential for failure. This is comparable to the information above, a child can grow and get through a traumatic experience, with the proper help, or face lifelong repercussions from it. If people successfully deal with the conflict, they emerge from the stage with psychological strengths that will serve them well for the rest of their life. If they fail to deal effectively with these conflict, they may not develop the essential skills needed for a strong sense of identity and self. A traumatic or stressful experience can occur at any stage of development in one’s life, since they are unpredictable or unplanned. There are a variety of ways and resources to help your child recover from a traumatic experience. The book, Honoring Our Babies and Toddlers: When a Military Parent of a Baby or Toddler Dies, suggests that there are six steps to support your child after death or a traumatic experience. The six steps are as followed, talk with them about death, ask yourself, “What is my child’s behavior telling me?” Use everyday moments to comfort your child and nurture connections, care for yourself, and share your child’s pleasure in everyday moments. The importance of supportive and caring relationships and homes are invaluable. Without these, no child can recover, and move forward with their growth and development, after a traumatic or stressful experience(s).
In many ways, I connect to Erikson’s theory and belief on conflicts, and have felt the effects of toxic stress in my own childhood. When my Dad died, my sister and I were separated from our mom and placed in a home. Now, we have gone from the safe, secure, and loving home we had with our father, to fatherless and motherless overnight. We now lived in a house with two other children, and relatives that we did not know. Without a strong, caring, supportive home or relationships. My sister, who was a prior gate student, and loved learning, lost interest in school, failed her classes, and began to lash out. I became very reserved, quiet and unemotional…unnoticeable. Although I am glad we had each other through this time in our life, I feel that we could both be drastically different people if we had the supportive environment to heal from our trauma. Those vital years after our father’s death, everything changed, our homes were unstable, and our Mom couldn’t comfort us the way we needed, because she was kept from us. From that time on, I was constantly exposed to toxic stress, and still never got to heal from my Father’s death. Since then, I have developed an unhealthy detachment to people I love, and people in general, and also trauma anxiety. I am always waiting, worrying, and envisioning the traumatic experiences I feel are just around the corner. All are the lifelong repercussions, and cognitive impairment due to the effects of trauma and stress on a child.