disconnected from her body as the body “plays dead” in preparation for
injury (Perry 2004).
When the brain and body go into this “emergency mode,” other areas of
the brain that deal with things like language, logic, and abstract thought
are not primarily used. A perceived threat can generate a fight/flight/
freeze reaction that is survival driven and automatic (Szalavitz and Perry
2010). It can be said that the brain’s emergency response “hijacks” other,
possible, slower or more rational responses.
While the body can have a variety of reactions to traumatic events,
what is important is that all of these reactions are a physical, neurological
response that the body experiences and the brain remembers. The body’s
response to trauma is a normal reaction to an abnormal experience of
insecurity. Levine and Kline say, “Vulnerability to trauma differs from
person to person depending on a variety of factors, especially age and
trauma history. The younger the child, the more likely she is to be over-
whelmed by common occurrences that might not affect an older child or
adult” (2007, 4). The stressed child in the following story presented an
automatic survival reaction to a perceived threat: the teacher’s tone of
voice and what he interpreted as angry words. He needed his teacher to
use her own powers of self-regulation to help him reclaim his self-control.
A kindergarten class in an urban school had been practicing writing their full
names. A very tense and overactive boy had begun to draw and color, when a
teacher’s aide noticed he had not written his full name on his paper as directed.
She sternly stated that he had not followed directions and needed to write
out his full name. The student began to scream, “No,” ran around the room, and
threw his chair at the aide. This shocked and frightened the entire class.
The aide took him to the office and maintained he had to learn the conse-
quences of his behaviors. None of the children in that class was able to focus on
learning for the rest of the afternoon.
Trauma That Lasts: Automatic Survival Reactions
to Fears, Threats, and Shame
Humans are born with one hundred billion neural cells. The majority of
these cells are not immediately incorporated into synaptic networks—the
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Early Traumatic Stress