What traumatized you in your youth

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Sonja Katrina Brauner

Expert voice

Sonja Katrina Brauner

The challenges for educators are growing steadily. In a public group of children you will find positive diversity as well as complex problems. It was important to me to develop explainable and understandable models of trauma for children and adults.

What is trauma

The term trauma (Greek: wound) can be understood figuratively as a "mental injury" that can occur if the psychological protective mechanisms are overburdened by a traumatizing experience. Events such as serious accidents, illnesses and natural disasters, but also experiences of considerable psychological, physical and sexual violence as well as severe experiences of loss and neglect are generally referred to as traumatic.

How a trauma is experienced or processed varies greatly from person to person. The essential thing is to experience too much, too quickly and too suddenly.

Traumatizations by other people are classified as particularly bad. The men-made disaster is beyond any concept of humanity and development. Children in particular face these situations with great powerlessness and helplessness.

I have developed pictorial explanations for children that can be used in everyday educational life to support the child:

1.2 Explanation of the traumatic illness for children

“Imagine something bad happens and you are at the mercy of it. You cannot run away, you cannot defend yourself, you have to somehow endure what happened. Your body then reacts in a similar way to when you hurt yourself physically, maybe falling and a wound bursts. At first you are frightened, you see the blood, but most of the time you don't feel any pain, it comes later. Your body is smart, it helps us to survive in every situation, no matter how bad. But the pain is not gone, but "freezes".

It is like when a block of ice forms around what has been experienced. Sometimes you may no longer feel your feelings or your body. This is part of it, because your body reacts normally, to something completely abnormal, which should not happen to people.

When your body is more secure and calm, the pain you have suffered will freeze. Then it happens that you feel what you have described to me. It's like a jug in which all the melting water overflows and there is still no tub to catch it. "

1.3 The fire brigade in your head

There is a kind of fire brigade in your head that goes out when there is danger and tries to put out what has happened. If you have to run away from home because your house is on fire, your body will usually react perfectly to the situation. He tries to run away, to fight back and do everything possible to cope with the situation. Your body reacts normally to an abnormal experience. At this moment, however, you can no longer remember that you want to pack your favorite toys or that you have an appointment with your best friend. Your body helps you survive. But if everything is too much, your body pretends to be dead.


In this situation, your head is so busy that it cannot plan. You don't think about tomorrow and what you need for school. You can't think of your favorite food either. Sometimes you may even be speechless and mute. Your body reacts and parts of your head are locked away.

There are three large areas in our brain that are important for you to feel good every day and to be able to do your tasks. There's the great area of ​​planning. If you have to pack your school bag for the next day, you know which compartments are on the next day and which notebooks you have to pack in your school bag for them. You can do your homework in the same way if you have crossed out the numbers that you then fill out.

Another big area is the language center. If you think, see or feel something, you would like to express it so that you are understood. Perhaps you know the phrase "I was speechless". This happens when everything in your brain is too much and what you have experienced can no longer be expressed verbally.

Surely there are memories that are beautiful. Your last birthday or when your grandma cooked your favorite dish for you. If everything happens too quickly and too violently at once, your memories may suddenly be gone for you. But our body is intelligent, it tries to organize everything again, just like you organize your books and toys on a shelf.

After a while, you may have forgotten what happened. You are fine, you play with your family and friends, and you have fun. Suddenly you experience a big stab in the heart with your friends around a campfire and you see the burning house again, from which you had to flee. The house is in your head now, the fire brigade is trying to put everything out, but it's too much for your head. You feel exactly the same as in the situation in the first picture.


You sit around the campfire with your friends and maybe roast sausages or marshmallows, the fire brigade in your head is now trying to put out the burning house.

She drives around the house in your head, but you don't feel any better. It may be that one of the three large areas is separated as if by barbed wire. You want to pack your school bag, but keep forgetting the right notebooks for the next day. At school you experience that even though you are listening, you do not understand what the teacher is trying to say.

Your brain reacts like it does in an emergency situation. Maybe you want to tell a story and all of a sudden you can't think of important experiences. It can also happen that you forget things that you did not forget before. The bad experience, the trauma has gone on the journey again in your body.

1.4 We will find a solution together

You tell me that your head feels bad, you can't sleep, and you feel uncomfortable overall. I explained to you before where that came from. You can't help it. But now you need someone to help you rearrange that.

It's like when your room / school bag etc. is not tidy and someone helps you to do it with you. I will help you to organize / tidy things up in kindergarten / school and to learn together where the rules are. It's like a mosaic being laid anew. Imagine it fell, some stones came loose, maybe broken or gone. We re-lay parts of the mosaic so that it is nice again, but looks different.

The 10-point plan: the necessary help after a trauma

After a child's traumatization, I have developed a 10-point plan in my decades of work, which has proven very effective in my educational and psychotherapeutic practice. No special training is required to observe these points. The essential prerequisite for providing good support to children is sensitive and loving interaction with a binding presence.

2.1. The child needs a safe place

After a traumatic experience, every child needs a place where they can feel completely safe and secure. Everything that was stressful and threatening for the child must no longer be present in this place. First of all, the people who caused harm to the child must be refused entry. Each contact causes a new trauma (retraumatization). Children are not allowed to have contact with the perpetrator!

Memorabilia from the trauma, such as photos, clothes, gifts should no longer be in the child's field of vision. The child should have a space to design it themselves (often with help). Supportive and loving adults have to be by his side to come to terms with the terrible experiences.

2.2. The child needs loving and trustworthy adults

After terrible experiences, the child finds itself in "free fall". All the more it needs loving and compassionate adults who take responsibility and support it on the necessary levels. Most important are the attachment figures who do the child good and give them trust.

The focus is on the emotional relationship, but (if necessary) medical and psychotherapeutic support, possibly also legal help, is required. All helpers should network well and work together professionally. The focus must always be the child's best interests.

2.3. The child needs a place to calm down

After a trauma, the excitement on all sides is often very great. A lot is happening at the same time and all the helpers try to do their best. With all good will, however, it is sometimes overlooked that the child is still in a state of extreme overstimulation. It doesn't want to hear, see or feel anything of everything that has happened. It needs rest and protection. This should be taken care of, especially if it takes a lot of activity to take steps to protect the child.

2.4. The child needs stability and structure

Every child needs stability and protection in order to be able to grow and develop well. If the foundations of trust are badly shaken, an additional network of support is necessary.

Traumatized children often reassure themselves of their relationships much more often. "Are you still there?" Do you love me "? Are you protecting me? "Are the central questions we have to deal with. Answers such as" You can see that "or" Sure "are not enough for some children. They need significantly more physical contact and attention than before.

A regressive behavior after severe trauma is part of the normal symptomatology. The child wants to walk by the hand, sleep in bed, keep an eye on the attachment figure in order to rebuild its safe terrain.

2.5. The child needs play options

Children who have played enthusiastically may no longer be able to enjoy anything after trauma. The favorite hobby is gathering dust in a corner, the child seems indifferent. The motivation to do something yourself is sometimes too great and almost impossible to overcome. It takes us to find joy in the game together again. In the beginning it is necessary to play games with the child that they have done themselves or to try out new games. In this respect, it is very important that we support a child and rekindle enthusiasm and joie de vivre with a variety of games.

2.6. The child takes time

Everyone has their own time to deal with traumatization. Symptoms can show up very quickly or after many years. The body develops its own intelligent model for dealing with great stress. In this respect, it is very important not to want to accelerate anything where a process has not yet been completed. Give the child time to develop their pace. It will clearly show when and what support is needed.

2.7. The child needs a place that does not judge what has happened

A child classifies its traumatisation with its childlike understanding for itself. As adults, we see the scope and what happened much more clearly. We can also judge the consequences for his future life differently. It is now very important not to give any evaluations to the child. It lives in the here and now. Statements regarding consequential damages can be very frightening. Younger children have not yet developed a temporal perspective. It is very important to give him his time to develop his own evaluation criteria.

2.8. The child needs normality

As terrible as it was, life goes on - in kindergarten, at school, in your free time. Normality and everyday life stabilize and support. Children who are traumatized need this very urgently. In addition, natural and age-appropriate treatment is required that does not differ, or only slightly, from that of peers. A very exposed position is not good for any child. Children want to play and develop in a group with their friends.

2.9. The child needs therapeutic offers as needed

Not every child needs a therapeutic offer right away. A judo club is often more helpful to build up self-confidence, the football club that friends visit and give support or the local youth group that provides stability is the better alternative to therapy. Stabilizing everyday life and finding oneself-in-the-world are the most important and first steps in order for a child to be able to cope with their traumatization. Of course, there should always be therapy offers if symptoms appear that are a hindrance in everyday life and the child feels stress and urgently needs professional support. But therapeutic support is not the right thing for all children right away.

2.10. The child needs patience

Children show their traumatic symptoms very differently. It is often very hidden and not understood. Forgetfulness as well as avoidance tactics can be clues. Forgotten homework, items of clothing that can no longer be found, anxiety where fear never existed are some of the symptoms that often drive adults to despair. The most important thing is a lot of patience. After trauma, everything in the brain is rebuilt and it takes time, love and patience until everything is in its right place again.

"Every child is unique and has unique potential to develop a complex, multi-networked and lifelong learning brain. Whether and how he succeeds in developing these faculties, as the latest brain and attachment research shows, depends to a large extent on whether a child can develop a feeling of trust, security and security in intensive relationships with different people. If such optimal development conditions exist, it learns to evaluate new situations and experiences not as threats, but as challenges, and to develop the interconnections in their brain to develop and consolidate. "

(see Prof. Hüther: The importance of emotional security for the development of the child's brain, In: Children need strong roots. Karl Gebauer / Gerald Hüther, 2005, page 5 ff).

Sonja Katrina Brauner, psychotherapist, pedagogue, supervisor and lecturer since 1987. She has been active in private practice since 2002 and in the Hemayat care center for victims of torture and war survivors (2007 to today) in Vienna.