Trauma and Low Grade Stress

truama and low grade stress

I just finished listening to a podcast interviewing Dr. Bruce Perry, the topic was about the possibility of childhood trauma and long term low grade childhood stress producing the same effects. If you would like to listen to the entire podcast please click on the link.

Let me summarize the first part of the interview to give us the background for the important point I wanted to talk about in this blog.

  1. There are core regulatory systems inside the brain.
  2. Those systems help to “build” the brain as it is developing.
  3. When those regulatory systems are disrupted by stress/trauma, the brain will still develop but the construction of the system as a whole will be disrupted.
  4. The brain’s regulatory networks are like a switchboard. They receive inputs, then send out responses. If those signals become dysregulated, they can have far-reaching changes on other parts of the brain.

Capital T Trauma

They discussed how traumatic events (Trauma with a capital T) and low-level long term stress can produce the same effects. A quote from Dr. Perry – “Traumatic stress has an extreme impact on a child’s development. But you can get the same kinds of abnormal organization if there are disruptions of the primary caregiving relationship.” Over time, enough stress can change the regulatory set point of brain networks. What happens is that a person gets a fight or flight response that is permanently ‘turned on.’ One of the more important recent research understandings in this area is that you can move that set point without a “capital T” trauma.

The pattern of stress is almost as important as the type of stressor that it is. Even relatively “low-grade” stress, when activated in haphazard ways over a long enough period of time, will eventually lead to the same point as if you had a capital T trauma.

Some of the specific stressors named in the podcast include inconsistent, unpredictable parenting, being a minority student, and housing or food insecurity. One-way food insecurity can show up developmentally is through the impact of nutrition on the growth of the brain.


Another quote from Dr. Perry is: “The best predictor of how you’re doing in the present isn’t your history of adversity, it’s your history of connectedness.” Many studies were mentioned that report how positive relationships in childhood can lead to good outcomes well into adulthood. Positive relationships between students and teachers can counteract developmental vulnerabilities. Strong childhood relationships can reduce risk-taking behaviors in adulthood, and the benefits of secure forms of attachment can show up well into adulthood.

The Real Heros

This brings me to a point I have mentioned in the past, the parents that bring their children to the Center are the real HEROS! Through all the difficulties some of our children have experienced these parents still have hope and see “the light at the end of the tunnel”.  They do not have a cape and superpowers, but they still are my Superheros.

If you would like to read more about the Centers work with trauma victims please click on the button below.

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