I grew up in foster care. I was a foster child. Now I am an adult and I need help coping with my triggers.
May is National Foster Care Month. This is a month where the media, articles, and videos focus on children in the foster care system. This often includes statistics and how to best support them. But what if you were a child of the system? What if you are an adult now? What if you have challenges and difficulties related to your upbringing and you still need support now?
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Research shows that most children have an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score of 3 or below. However, 70 percent of children in foster care have an ACE score of 5 or higher. This means that children who have grown up in foster care have endured significant amounts of trauma. Especially in comparison to their peers. We are expected to be able to manage the events of our past when we grow up. We might be told to “get it together” or “get over it”. However, what do we do when we are triggered by our upbringing and therefore have difficulties in emotional coping and responsible decision making?
Tips from a former foster child
Here are some helpful tips and ideas from someone who gets it. Not only as a former foster child, but as a therapist. These tips are intended to help increase hope and healing for adults who grew up in foster care.
Be kind to yourself
Trauma gets stored in our brains and bodies. Negative childhood experiences can trigger us emotionally and return us to the same place where the trauma occurred. The circumstances may look different as an adult. However, the feelings you had during the original abuse will most likely provoke the same response now. Especially if it was something that was helpful to you and kept you safe in childhood.
The difficulty with this is that it may not be the same skill that will keep you healthy as an adult. It takes a lot of work to rewire the brain for safety and to challenge past circumstances. Being kind and supportive to yourself in this process is an example of self love. Unfortunately, self love can be lacking in foster children. This is because they may not have experienced a strong sense of love from others. Therefore, they do not understand how to love themselves. Kindness with yourself is a great place to start.
Take charge of your mental and emotional health
Therapy is a place where growth and insight happens. It may be the first and only place where we are provided with a safe and supportive environment to be seen, heard, and valued. This is where individuals can let down their walls, lean in, trust, and begin to rewire their brains to create healing for the wounded parts of the self. What happened to us is not our fault, but it is up to us to heal from it. Therapy can take months or years depending on the nature and duration of the abuse. It may take several therapist interviews to find the right person for you to walk this road with, but it has the potential to create a significant impact, so don’t be afraid of it. As Helen Keller says, “Although the world is full of suffering it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
Consider EMDR Therapy
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is “a psychotherapy that was designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories”. Through EMDR the distress is relieved, negative beliefs are changed, and psychological arousal is reduced. Individuals who complete EMDR develop healthier adaptive memories. In addition, they are less triggered by the abuse they endured. Find an EMDR therapist in your area. We have several at Covenant.
“Grounded means that you can feel your butt in your chair, see the light coming through the window, feel the tension in your calves, and hear the wind stirring the tree outside. Being anchored in the present while revisiting the trauma opens the possibility of deeply knowing that the terrible events belong to the past.”Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
When you notice that you are triggered, focus on staying grounded in the present moment. Ask yourself what are 5 things I see, 4 things I touch, 3 things I hear, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I can taste. This simple tip keeps your brain focused on the here and now when it wants to escape into the past. When you are present in the current situation you can ask yourself what decision would be most helpful to you now, rather than automatically revisiting choices that belong in the past.
Remember that you matter
Every individual’s story is different. All foster children experienced trauma prior to entering foster care, several experienced even more trauma after being in foster care. No matter what your story is, your story matters. Your healing matters. Your voice matters, and your recovery matters. I hope these ideas support you, help you, and encourage you in the next steps of your journey. The brain’s plasticity is incredible and because of this healing can happen at any age. With desire, healthy support in our environment, and professional nurture we can utilize the resilience and stamina to do immeasurably more than we could imagine.
If you or someone you know suffers from abuse in childhood or challenges related to growing up as a ward of the court please share this article and consider making a phone call to Covenant Family Services for support in a healing journey today.