Have you ever played the Jenga Stacking Game?  Have you ever felt so emotionally and mentally fragile that if even one block of what gives you calmness and stability is removed that you and your life will topple into a pile of rubble?  It is far too easy for severe infant-childhood trauma and abuse survivors to stumble and crumble if our inner and outer resources are at times not adequate to meet the unforeseen challenges of our adult lives.  We need to anticipate events that might trigger our trauma overload reactions ahead of time if we possibly can.

I’ve never played this game, but my sister brought the image of it up tonight in our telephone conversation about the life long consequences of living within a body that was built in childhood by trauma.  Players are supposed to pull blocks out of the stack with care without toppling the tower.  My sister was talking about how fragile infant-child trauma survivors really are, and about how we have to be so very careful when changes have to be made in our lives not to topple over whatever precarious sense of safety and security we might have constructed within our lives.

I am thinking again about the image I posted yesterday:

I have no idea how life is for people who were not abused as children.  From my point of view as a survivor, finding ways to fill the positive side of this scale is a full time job.

I also want to note that as hard as I try to be in my posts about the possibilities and opportunities we can find for healing, trauma survivors have to ALWAYS be realistic.  When the trauma side of the scale is overloaded, and when our body-brain formed within these terrible conditions, not only is our center point not set at calm and balanced equilibrium in our body-nervous system, but terrible pain and suffering is also built into us.

We need to know, identify, understand and recognize not only the factors in our lives that trigger our pain, but also the signs that we are being triggered and are in danger of melt-down.  We need to know the nature of our woundedness.  Because of the unsafe and insecure attachment experiences we had as our body-brain formed, we can think of our vulnerabilities to threats to our present safe and secure attachment to and in the world as if we have a severe, deadly allergy that if triggered without adequate resources to combat our reaction can destroy us.

If and when we reach a point where our full-blown trauma reactions have been triggered, we are in a state of emergency that is every bit as life threatening as any other kind we can imagine.  The emergencies happen to us when in-built, body-brain based infant-childhood traumas (or any other unresolved, overwhelming traumas) emerge beyond what we have the inner and outer resources to handle, regulate and resolve.  We need to learn how to avoid, if at all possible, reaching these critical states because once we do reach them, we will be caught within what is, for severe trauma survivors, a reaction that is as completely understandable and natural for our body-brain as it CAN be predictable.

As we begin to understand how trauma built our physiology we begin to realize that we have to be as careful as possible to not topple our internal tower.  Not only did our emotional right brain not receive what it needed so that we can smoothly and easily regulate our emotional states, but our emotions were overloaded early in our lives.  These emotions for the most part have gone NOWHERE.  They remain in our body and can overwhelm us in our present life when stress, threat, danger and trauma threaten us just as they did when we were very small.

I remember years ago telling someone that if I ever (so-called) “got in touch with my pain” that I would start crying and never stop.  I knew there was an ocean of tears inside of me.  One time I got myself into a relationship with a man — well, skipping the story — I will just say that the relationship patterns triggered my insecure attachment patterns.  I of course did not know this.  At one point my ancient infant-childhood emotions caused by my severely traumatic childhood exploded through a fissure created in my present within this relationship.

I started crying.  I could not stop crying.  I cried for three weeks.   I cried myself to sleep.  I woke up crying and I could not stop.  (Talk about puffy, sore eyes!)  I fortunately had many close women friends at that time in my life.  One by one they came to visit me, sitting beside me on my bed, stroking my back, patting my hand, bringing me and my children food.  I could not talk about the pain, I could only cry it out and it took a long time for this pain outbreak to begin to diminish.

I do everything I possibly can in my life today to avoid that precipice.  I cannot afford to let the depth of my pain overwhelm me again if I can possibly help it.  That kind of crying is like having an emotional jugular vein sliced wide open.  We can hemorrhage tears like we are imploding and bleeding to death.

As I have written about the chemical that signals our body that we are in pain — Substance P.  Pain, the physiological signaling of it and the experience of the pain itself,  is equally as real for emotional pain as it is for any physical pain.

We cannot afford to allow this pain we carry to be triggered if we can find any way to avoid it.  We need to realize our well-being is at best precarious.  We need to realize that a proactive consideration about how to make changes in our lives, especially major ones, can mean the difference between life and death.  We have to understand that there are times when our inner resources will not be available to match the demands of situations that stress and distress us.

No matter what else happened to us, our deepest and truest childhood trauma, at its core, was our lack of safe and secure attachment at the time of our beginnings.  We have to remember that child trauma survivors who were deprived of the benefits of safe and secure early attachments that would have built a well-regulated emotional right brain translate stress immediately into distress on occasions in adulthood when their safety and security is threatened.

These threats can be caused by such things as change in relationship status including loss and absence of loved ones (including ’empty nest’), threat of loss and of actual loss of financial security including job loss and change, moves, sickness — you name it, anything that makes our precarious tower of safety tremble if not collapse.

Even though these types of situations might not seem to be directly related to our infant-childhood traumas, we need to realize that anything that threatens our degree of safety and security is a trauma trigger because we did not escape our earliest trauma with a strong sense of safety and security built into us as it should have been.  It is also important to realize that some people will react violently, radically and drastically to threat that triggers pain, loss and sadness because they CAN come up with ways to escape the experience of their own pain (dismiss-avoid and/or fight back actively or passively).

These people cannot tolerate the experience of their own childhood pain and will defend themselves against it (often true of men but also true for my mother).  These people will protect and defend themselves first, and anyone dependent upon them is at risk for some kind of harm.  All trauma reactions are un-reason-able because they are automatic and come directly from body memory connected to an unregulated right emotional brain and trauma built nervous system.  Our body-brain does not process threat or stress information ‘normally’ in a way that includes the slower reason-able processes of the higher cortex.

At those times that circumstances of our life threaten to or actually trigger the pain of our deepest traumas, we can so lose our sense of safety and security, of calm, peacefulness and connection in the present that our self seems to completely disappear.  We can become overcome and overwhelmed with the physiological experience of our body, including its emotions.  In this maelstrom it is critical that we find ways to reestablish the anti-distress, anti-trauma conditions that support and affirm our SELF so that we can regain the functions of our higher cortex as we find ways to address the conditions that triggered the severe trauma reactions in the first place.

As my sister mentioned tonight, we need to be careful not to topple the tower of our lives if we can possibly avoid it.  If we have found ways to begin to fill up the un-stressed side of our inner selves, the sense of balance we might be able to finally feel in our lives MUST be maintained.  Our life can depend on it.

We need to understand what our trauma triggers are so we can avoid inner disaster.  The threat and the danger of crumbling inside is very, very real and I do not believe we can survive it without supportive and appropriate help from others.  (So few of us can access the kind of quality therapy we need that I can’t even consider therapy a realistic resource.)

I believe that human beings are more than the sum of our parts.  We are more than the automatic physiological reactions that our body creates in response to threat and trauma in our lives.  We most need to find a way to connect with our own sense of our strong, clear SELF at those times that we experience our ‘falling apart’.  Of course proactive prevention is best for us, but when our trauma is triggered knowing that we are able to accomplish this critical action of regaining our own SELF in the midst of the storm empowers and heals us beyond words.

PLEASE NOTE:  The experience of severe and overwhelming emotion that is related to right limbic brain sensitivity, irritability and lack of adequate ability to regulate emotion — due to having been formed in early infant-childhood malevolent environments — not only FEELS like some kind of ‘seizure activity’, but actually IS closely related.  Please spend some time taking a look at some of the online information about emotional KINDLING in the right limbic brain and its connection to infant-child abuse.

Think of our emotional injuries affecting us like deep splinters and bad burns and other wounds do — all sharing the Substance P physiological pain signaling systems within our body-brain.  Severe infant-childhood trauma and abuse leaves us bruised and battered inside.  Even as we heal gradually over time, we will always still have scars.  Some of us have a broken heart that will never heal in this lifetime.  We have to try to be as gentle and kind to ourselves as we possibly can.

This process must include our being as aware as we can possibly be of what is coming down the road at us so we can be prepared to take wise and protective steps to take care of our self before we get overrun with the ongoing changes and traumas that everyone’s life is prone to.



  1. “I remember years ago telling someone that if I ever (so-called) “got in touch with my pain” that I would start crying and never stop. I knew there was an ocean of tears inside of me. ”

    This is my greatest fear. This is what has prevented me from talking about my past. This is what caused me to continue to stuff everything inside and never let it out. I know it is killing me, but I’m paralyzed by the fear of release.

    • Hello dear fellow sufferer, survivor and fantastic human being!!! I KNOW what you mean and I KNOW we have to be VERY careful of ourselves regarding our pain and at times our rage.

      I just saw the image in my thoughts of a beautiful campfire in a beautiful place. It is a perfect fire. (Do you ever go camping?) Tending that kind of fire is an act of love. Feeding it, containing it, utilizing it for its “intended” pleasure be it for protection (to keep marauders away), cooking of food, warmth, light to see by, and simply for the sheer BEAUTY of it being in our lives.

      We participate in the building, maintaining, keeping of such a perfect fire. Our life force is like this. All that we are, know, have experienced. At whatever stage of our human evolution we were able to make use of the power of “controlled” fire we were far better off than we were before.

      We are not ONLY full of the kind of pain you and I know. We are correspondingly full of a kind of fire that is our intense will to endure and survive, our passion for life, for our self, for others, for all life we are a part of.

      We CAN work to balance these kinds of “elements” that are a part of us. I learned a long time ago that it is NOT possible for people with horrific trauma history to “finish working on it and leave it behind.” It is a part of who we are, and if the trauma happened during our early physiological formative ages then it BUILT us in different ways from non-survivors.

      This blog is packed with that kind of info. If you google “stop the storm trauma altered development” and begin to “boat around” with care, caution and curiosity you might find all kinds of info to build you up — knowledge is power!!!


      Thinking about continuing to “stuff everything inside and never let it out” – again I see the fire. We don’t put EVERYTHING into our perfect fire at the same time. Some things feed it at some times, etc. In very old traditional Native American teachings FIRE is the element of men to work with, tend, care for, use in certain ways while WATER is the element of women. I think it must be very hard to be a man in many ways — because balancing the female elements including vulnerability, etc. is NOT easily allowed to men in our culture.

      SO!!!! Thank you so much for stopping on to my blog, and for posting! I hope to hear from you again!! Remember: YOU ARE PERFECTLY YOU!!!!!!

      We also know when it is safe to “share” and when it is not, and America is NOT a healthy society!! Take a look, perhaps, at Dr. Daniel Siegel’s book “Parenting from the Inside Out.” It is a safe and EXCELLENT place to start unwinding and untangling some of the forces that shape human beings! all the best, Linda – alchemynow

      • Thank you, Linda. ( I need to thank you now or I’ll put it off and never get back to you, LOL ) I rarely talk of write about this. I tend to do this in a moment of weakness, for lack of a better word, and then go back to ignoring. I’m now 46 years old and suffered anxiety since my late teens. I never knew what it was until about 10-15 years ago, I just thought I was crazy. I never saw a doctor, never talked about it…. just ignored and tried to cope.

        The last and only time I can recall letting go and crying was following my fathers death 10 years ago. I watched the movie Smoke Signals and was on the verge of succesfully burying my emotions again until my wife hugged me. (damn her!) lol. That started the floodgates and I just couldn’t stop. I was scared to death. I felt like I would never regain control. After a period of time that felt like hours but was more like five minutes, I was able to suppress it again. This episode was followed by bizarre episodes of laughing attacks in my sleep. I’d wake up laughing and be unable to stop. It was funny at first until my wife realized after a few times that I was most likely emoting in the only way I could. My suffering was coming out as laughter as a release. (maybe I am nuts!)

        Anyway, it is ironic you mention Native Americans as I am through my fathers side. I actually served on a Tribal COuncil. I don’t know why I’m rambling like this, but this is how my goofy mind works. I won’t talk about anything, but when I start I just keep going. I just want to say thank you for your blog. I came across it posted on an ACOA page on Facebook. I plan to continue reading and hopefully learning and growing as I go.


        • I hope to hear from you again, Mark!!! btw, have you seen this movie – Pow Wow Highway? – in my top 10 EVER feelgood movies!!!!!!

    • Mark, thought you might enjoy this free PBS movie streaming online

      Indian Relay

      The hope and determination of American Indian life is revealed in this story about what it takes to win one of the most exciting and dangerous forms of horseracing in the world today. This film follows teams from three different communities as they prepare for and compete across a grueling Indian Relay season — all hearts set on the glory and honor of winning this year’s National Championships.


  2. Thank you for your blog and in particular this post. I think this applies to those of us who have suffered all kinds of childhood traumas. Very insightful.

  3. i think i may need to reread this a few times (or more) . i’m really thankful this showe dup as one of the top posts when i came here today as it feels particularly relevant to my life right now.

    i have been taking on a lot of work and volunteering and trying so hard to be there for some people who are sturggling with emotional issues of their own right now. this time of year is always hard for me. every time feb. and march come around, i seem to fall and get all messed up. since i’ve been doing so well (compared to how i usually am) i think i expected myself to keep up with everything through these months, but it’s only mid february and i’ve been becoming more and more overwhelmed i feel like i could snap at any moment and become a hermit who can’t deal with anything. even the simplest actions are becoming confusing for my overwhelmed brain. iddidn’t realize until i read this that it was happening. i was berating myself for not being able to continue being a good friend to people and volunteer my time and keep up with work. i was angry with myself for fallling apart this week in small but i think significant ways.

    reading this i shelping me to try to not be so angry at myself and see that this is not my fault . i’m not slow or stupid or lazy i’m just overwhelmed. it’s ok i fi need to cut back a ltitle an dmore importantly, i need to really focus on gettingi n some rest time and making sure i’m actually eating and doign basic self care or as this shows i will tip too far to the overwhelm side and not be able to do what needs to be done in my daily life.

    this is a struggle for me, but seeing this written out helps me face that ican’t always do as much as others at least not without a little more time, patience, and self care . i don’t knwo how to do that when i don’t f eel deep down that it’s ok to give myself self care. yet if i reframe it and recognize that i wont beable to contnue to give to others if i dont take care of myself, it’s a bit easier to make myself i guess.

    • K, thank you for your wisdom! I needed to remember exactly what you are writing here concerning what I have taken on myself these days!


      I found myself thinking last eve, as I know so well even how hard eating well (or at all) is for me that I wanted to scream something to the universe — and oh how I would wish what I would scream would be heard so that I would be given what I most most most most missed in my life

      A LOVING MOMMY!!!!!!!

      I believe it is a struggle for me all of my life to understand that I deserve mommying!! No mommy IS going to show up. The struggle to be my own loving mommy is continual for me.

      Yet I was a loving mommy to my own 3 children as they grew up. I DO KNOW HOW to mommy! It is just being able to love myself enough to MOMMY my own self that seems the problem for me!

      I often think of myself, in terms of what I think you might be describing — about how what is termed “Disorganized-Disoriented Insecure Attachment Disorder” is what our earliest years, especially with our inadequate and/or abusive mothers, gave to us.

      This is all rooted in the development of our earliest forming body-brain patterns MOST especially birth to one, but also from 0 to age 2. We can learn to keep our own balance — it is difficult and not natural for us

      but I find that BALANCE is so essential for me to maintain so I don’t keep tipping myself over in my life!!

      I also have my garden, and I watch plants — I am connected to plants from my earliest memories more than to people or even to animals.

      I watch their cycles. I watch how they grow slowly when conditions are not the BEST. Nature has great wisdom for me to watch — and I do watch and try to pattern some wisdom for myself based upon what I see in that wide, great world God has created and put us all in.

      Thanks so much for writing! Hope to hear from you again! all the very best to us all! Linda – alchemynow

      • thank you so much for sharing iwth me. i really relate to what y ou are saying . i too struggle with wanting needing this caring mother to show up. and of course i have to learn to be her but it is so difficult as you say t o feel it’s ok to give myself that mothering to feel i deserve it. deep down there’s that gaping hole that sense of not being worthy.

        that connection to the plants and the wisdom youg ain from nature and its cycles sounds beautiful.

        if it’s ok to ask, how did you do with self care in general today? how about with eating?

        today, my eating was so so but i did take a little time to get myself a cup of coffee on my way to volunteering so i think that’s a good step for me.

        wishing y ou all the best

        • Eating? TERRIBLE!! Somehow I expect myself to be able to function on NOTHING!

          Oh, did I ever learn this WRONGFUL lesson from the time I was born. It is my response-ability to make improvements I need — but I admit, for me, this is a very difficult process for me!!

  4. “The experience of severe and overwhelming emotion that is related to right limbic brain sensitivity, irritability and lack of adequate ability to regulate emotion — due to having been formed in early infant-childhood malevolent environments — not only FEELS like some kind of ‘seizure activity’, but actually IS closely related.” – is that why anti-seizure medications are being prescribed now for PTSD? I was just wondering if you knew. Tomorrow I will be prescribed a mood stabilizer by my psychiatrist, and while I’m most likely starting with Seroquel, we discussed the anti-seizure meds if the Seroquel doesn’t work.


  5. I’m so glad you have such a dear sister who is so tuned into your feelings and experiences as a survivor of severe childhood abuse. Not all siblings are always on the same page and will defend the abuser to the bitter end. This has been my experience with some of my siblings. In this situation, you must slip back into denial and pretending all is fine and nothing ever happened if a relationship is to occur. Denial, however, is incredibly draining!

    • It took many years for the ‘same page’ to be reached, but it was inevitable. My mother’s mind disintegrated further and further as time progressed until at the end of her life not one of her children could have anything to do with her. In fact, it was just that one lady mother met when she first went to Alaska who was able to maintain any kind of relationship with my mother in her later years (the who found my mother dying in her shabby motel room).

      Perhaps as a family of siblings, we were fortunate this way. There was no denying eventually. And even from the beginning there never was any sibling denial about what mother did to me — there was obvious consensus on that. But, as I’ve written, I also participated in denial until I was over 30! And I was her target!

      Sometimes it takes a long time for survivors of truly nutzo childhoods to even figure out how nutzo their childhood even was!

      I guess at this point, I cannot even imagine defending an abuser. In our case, until time marched on far enough, the ‘trouble’ was more with justifying and perhaps excusing my parents’ complete inadequacies rather than with denying — and all 6 of us still have troubles being really clear about my father. (Now that they are both dead it hardly matters except in terms of our own individual growth and healing.)

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