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Childhood Disrupted

Join in conversations inspired by Donna Jackson Nakazawa's book, Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. We'll chat about the latest research on how ACEs can affect our health, happiness, and relationships; vent a little; and brainstorm our best ideas for resiliency and healing.

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Mental health in the USA—a time to mourn (

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Author: To read Abigail Mundy's article, please click here.

“I just feel like kids have it harder nowadays,” a 15-year-old boy in Rhode Island, USA, tells his father, shortly before taking his own life. Earlier in Ken Burns' new two-part documentary series, Hiding in Plain Sight, grainy footage from the 1950's shows a boy joyfully throwing a paper airplane. Mid-flight the paper transforms into aluminium and the plane hits the World Trade Center, the scene cutting cleanly to footage from Sept 11, 2001.

The documentary pieces together extended interviews with over 20 young people, varied in age (from as young as 11 years old) and background. Some have spent years in foster care, others have grown up in affluent neighbourhoods. There is an Indigenous young woman, a transgender teen. Their voices join into a chorus of the most excruciating harmony, different in so many ways but united in the anguish they describe. Some recount not caring if they wake up in the morning. Some speak of deep isolation, “How do you admit to friends that you want to kill yourself?” One girl defines her depression, “Something pulling you down and holding you in that dark spot.” Another recounts her delusions. Playing in a field as a small child, she heard the voices of her friends calling, turned around, and found no one there. As an adolescent, she started seeing three shadowy figures, for years telling no one. A young man experiences bipolar disorder, “There's a war going on in my brain.” Some stories involve overdoses, some self-harm and suicide attempts, others incarceration.
Mental health workers and advocates appear somewhat parenthetically, offering context and a few statistics. Psychiatrists discuss the value and risk of diagnosis, the benefits and side-effects of medication, and a health-care system ill-equipped to handle mental illness. They recount how emergency room staff are minimally trained to deal with mental health crises, and labyrinthine health insurance policies make receiving treatment difficult or virtually impossible. The spotlight remains on the young people who have experienced the inside of diagnostic labels (ie, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders codes) and beyond. From the beginning and throughout, in the background, the question of why young people experience mental illness—and at such high rates in the USA—lingers. Psychiatrists point to the interplay of nature and nurture, genetics and environment. But after so many dark experiences told in the first person, these explanations, though not hollow, feel incomplete. The urge to grasp for an answer remains.

The second episode in the two-part series is entitled Resilience, following The Storm. Focusing on the notion of hitting rock bottom and the possibility of rising to recovery, almost jarringly, most of the stories recounted in the first episode take a turn. Some of the individuals who felt like they were underwater start to speak of birdsong and blue skies. The legitimate need for advocacy pushes the documentary toward actionable hope and warmer endings—albeit not perfectly sunny. As one boy says, “I guess I'm not sad, but I still am.” But after the depths of the first episode, the silence of those somewhere off screen and outside the frame, at their rock bottom, resounds. How many will find their way out? While the second episode acknowledges this, it leaves little time to mourn. The pain of The Storm is soothed too soon in its sequel, hope offered too quickly.

Join us for 'History. Culture. Trauma.' podcast — Thursday April 28th at 1PM PT with Donna Jackson Nakazawa

On Thursday, April 28, DonnaDJN headshot Jackson Nakazawa, an award-winning science journalist, joins the podcast "History. Culture. Trauma." Jackson Nakazawa is the author of seven books, and an internationally-recognized speaker whose work explores the intersection of neuroscience, immunology, and human emotion. This podcast is our final episode to acknowledge April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Throughout the month, co-hosts Ingrid Cockhren, CEO of PACEs Connection, and Mathew Portell, director of communities, have looked at how America's history of child abuse and neglect connects to our current child-abuse crisis. In the final episode of this series, Cockhren and Portell discuss how the different layers of influence embedded in our society create conditions for abuse and neglect to fester. Thursday's podcast will examine our collective thoughts, beliefs, and values concerning children.

With Jackson Nakazawa, they will outline how PACEs science can be applied to address and prevent child abuse and neglect.

5EE49F0D-F72D-4495-8525-50FDC121DCCBHer upcoming book, Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media will be published in September. It is available for pre-order now. Screen Shot 2022-04-25 at 4.18.37 PMHer other books include, The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell That Changed the Course of Medicine, named one of the best books of 2020 by Wired magazine; Childhood Disrupted, a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award; and The Last Best Cure. Her writing has appeared in Wired, The Boston Globe, Stat, The Washington Post and Health Affairs. For her writing on health and science, she received the AESKU lifetime achievement award and the National Health Information Award.

Screen Shot 2022-04-25 at 4.20.01 PMJackson Nakazawa has appeared on The Today Show and NPR, and is a regular speaker at universities, including the Harvard Division of Science Library Series, Rutgers University, Johns Hopkins, Learning and the Brain, and the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. She is also the creator and founder of the narrative writing-to-heal program, which uses a process called Neural Re-Narrating to help participants recognize and override their brain’s old thought patterns and internalized stories.

Listen to "History. Culture. Trauma." here online on Thursday, or access this, or prior podcasts, at the podcast service of your choice listed below.

Trauma-Informed Criminal Justice with Special Guest, Becky Haas, Pioneer in Developing Trauma-Informed Judicial Initiatives

Please join us for our new series entitled: Trauma-Informed Criminal Justice. This monthly virtual Zoom series will feature conversations facilitated by Dr. Porter Jennings-McGarity, PhD/LCSW, PACEs Connection’s criminal justice consultant, with special guests to discuss the need for trauma-informed criminal justice system reform. Using a PACEs-science lens, this series will examine the relationship between trauma and the criminal justice system, what needs changing, and strategies being used in this area to create positive systems change.

December 2021 session, Thursday, December 2nd, 2021, 1:00 pm – 2:00 PM CST – “Trauma-Informed Criminal Justice with Special Guest, Becky Haas, Pioneer in Developing Trauma-Informed Judicial Initiatives”. Known for her contagious enthusiasm, Becky Haas is an international presenter of trauma-informed care and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study as well as a pioneer in successfully developing trauma-informed communities.  Her training experience includes presenting to state leadership at the invitation of the Delaware First Lady, as well as courts in the Juvenile Justice system in Virginia and Tennessee.  She developed Trauma-Informed Policing training which is certified in multiple states for officer in-service credit and has delivered it to the Oklahoma City Police Department, Delaware State Police, as well as precincts within Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.  She worked in partnership with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police (TACP) to make Trauma-Informed Policing Training available to officers statewide. She will join us in December to talk about trauma-informed judicial initiatives and share her expertise related to building trauma-informed communities.

To register for this event, please click here*

*Note: If you are unable to join us live, please register for the event to receive a video recording of the session as well as any related copies of presentation slides, handouts, etc.

Beginning the Healing Journey: Return to the Resilient Zone

A recent blog explained that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) cause a very wide range of troubling psychological and medical symptoms ranging from anxiety, depression, and PTSD to heart disease and sleep problems. Dysregulated stress arousal—arousal that is stuck on too high or too low—is at the center of the ACEs/ health outcomes link. That is, ACEs lead to dysregulated stress, which in turn leads to stress-related symptoms.

An important first step to healing the suffering caused by toxic childhood stress is to break the ACEs/health outcomes link by returning stress arousal to appropriate levels. The window of stress arousal that is neither too high nor too low is called the resilient zone. In this zone, key regions of the brain—regions that enable us to speak, reason, cope well with present stressors, and feel connected to ourselves, our bodies, and our emotions—are all on line.

The Resilient Zone

In the resilient zone, a person is also best equipped to process troubling memories, put words to them, and gain a sense that the memory is settled, completed, and in the past. So returning to the resilient zone not only improves mood and the ability to navigate everyday challenges but also facilitates healing. (NOTE: At this point in the healing journey we are only preparing the nervous system to process traumatic memories, but not yet attempting to directly modify those memories.)

Traditional Western psychology tries to tame the stress from traumatic memories with words and logic. However, much of overwhelming traumatic memories, particularly those implanted in the early years of life before the verbal/thinking left-brain is fully developed, reside in the non-verbal right brain, with its strong connections to the emotional and survival regions of the brain. Dr. Stephen Porges has explained that bodily calmness is transmitted to the brain by the vagus nerve. In response, the various regions of the brain calm down and function optimally.

Brilliant pioneering theorists and clinicians like Drs. Pat Ogden, Bessel van der Kolk, and Peter Levine have developed healing “bottom-up’ strategies that first calm the body in order to calm and reset the brain.  These strategies return arousal to the resilient zone so that we can again feel whole, rewire the neural pathways that keep the brain on high alert, and at some future time put words to unspoken memories and settle them.

Here is a sampling of these very effective strategies. The bottom-up strategies all involve tracking, which is intently focusing on what is happening in the body. Tracking effectively and quickly helps to calm the body and brain.


  1. Place a hand over the opposite wrist. Track what it feels like to experiment with different ways to squeeze your wrist—soft or firm, deep or shallow, soothing or mechanical, fast or slow.
  2. When you find the way that feels good to you, slide your hand up your forearm about an inch. Squeeze and track. Release and track.
  3. Continue to move your hand up and down your forearm, an inch or so at a time—at each point squeezing and tracking, releasing and tracking. Really pay attention to the sensations in your arm each time you squeeze and release. For example, notice the sensations on your skin…and deep in your arm. Take your time.
  4. Once your hand has moved up your forearm and back down, pause to track the effect on your body from doing this exercise.
    • First, track what the arm that you squeezed feels like.
    • Then notice what the hand that squeezed your arm feels like. Did the tensing and relaxing make that hand relax somewhat?
    • Does one arm feel calmer than the other?
    • Does your breathing feel a little slower?
    • Are your muscles a bit more relaxed?
    • What place in your body feels the most relaxed?
    • Overall, do you feel a bit calmer?

Whatever your notice is okay. The process of simply tracking is beneficial.


Many bottom-up strategies involve movement, which releases the pent up energy of the stress response and allows high arousal to return to the resilient zone. Movement also reverses the frozen, numb, or collapsed state of low arousal. (Recall that arousal that is too low can result either when chronic stress leads to exhaustion or when attempts to fight or flee from overwhelming stress are thwarted—such as when one is held down during abuse.) Here’s another bottom up strategy that involves movement.

  1. In a standing position, slowly and gently raise your arms skyward as you breathe in. As you breathe out, slowly return your arms to your sides. Notice what you sense in your body as you move—such as the stretch in some areas and tension in others as your raise your arms, the release of muscle tension as you lower them, or the warmth from increased blood flow to your shoulders, arms, and hands.
  2. Expand your awareness as you track what has happened in the rest of your body. Perhaps you notice slowed breathing or heart rate. Perhaps you notice a settling feeling in your gut or throat. Perhaps you just feel a bit calmer.
  3. Place one foot behind the other, shoulder width apart, with the back foot turned outward to form a firm base. From the strength of your core and legs, push slowly and firmly against a wall. Track how it feels to move forcefully and confidently, both in your body and emotionally.
  4. Sit down. Take a few moments to scan your entire body and simply notice what you sense now. Notice a place in your body that feels calm, or at least neutral. The spot might be an elbow, a finger, a toe, or a spot between the breastbone and bottom of the neck. Focus on that long enough to realize that stress is not taking over your entire body.


There is great hope for healing the hidden wounds from ACEs. Practice these foundational strategies for at least a week or two because they become more effective with repetition. Remember, the calming skills you are acquiring begin the healing journey. They will help you reduce distress in the present and later help you deal with distressing childhood memories.

In the next blog we’ll explore ways to manage strong, distressing emotions—such as anxiety and sadness—that maintain and even worsen dysregulated stress.


Schiraldi, G. R. (2021). The Adverse Childhood Experiences Recovery Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.


This article first appeared on Psychology Today blog, November 8, 2021.

Photo Credits: Mathew Thomas/Pexels; Matilda Wormwood/Pexels

About the Author

Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD, has served on the stress management faculties at The Pentagon, the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, and the University of Maryland, where he received the Outstanding Teacher Award in addition to other teaching/service awards. His fourteen books on stress-related topics have been translated into seventeen languages, and include The Adverse Childhood Experiences Recovery Workbook, The Self-Esteem Workbook. The Resilience Workbook, and The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook. The founder of Resilience Training International (, he has trained laypersons, emergency responders, and clinicians around the world on the diverse aspects of stress, trauma, and resilience.

Dr. Glenn SchiraldiThe Adverse Childhood Experiences Recovery Workbook


My position in the Hamilton County Schools was a position that many of the ACE group would envy. My work was directly with teacher, student, family and the courts/jails/police.  If a teacher had a problem with a student very often he/she would come to me for assistance.. If the state recognized this student as conduct disordered or emotionally disturbed services could be established and my network, extensive, brought the problems to understanding and hopeful solutions. Positions such as this one should be available in every school especially elementary years. 

     Perhaps foundation monies could be found to finance a position or two and actually devote staff with university help to measure successes and failures and develop a model program for the entire country. 


  Let me share some of the qualifications for such a person.. First and probably the most important is willingness to really "get dirty"..  The type of home visited ; the people (parent) can be a turn off for someone not equipped to see beyond.. It is that "seeing beyond", undefined, that is the most willing characteristic.  I am male and had a bit of an easier way. Most of my clients were boys and most of the parents were single home with mother only.  The challenges  are myriad and the door in the face just one of the obstacles . The goal, never lost, is the real reward... the child. 

  My regret was having to retire before ready to go. Lost hearing on one side due to Acoustic Neuroma, a benign growth that had to be removed from the acoustic nerve..  Bob Brooks

I am baffled and frustrated at the lack of trauma understanding among therapist especially those who work with couples and adults. Does anyone else find this troubling? My partner attends 12 step program and sees a therapist--but very little of it is addressing his ACES. I encourage the work he is doing but have to bite my tongue on the missing pieces, lest I trigger him. A previous newly trained, couples counselor spent alot of time on "communication" all the while ignoring the ACES related symptoms that were in the room. Does one have to seek out trauma therapists specifically? Any thoughts or perspectives.

Hello friends

   I need help and want to be more interactive in this goup. i have purchased the book. Childhood disrupted by Donna Nakazawa. i am a ADULT TRAUMA VICTIM  and feel like a WOUNDED CHILD.  I JUST STARTED COUNSELING WITH a EMDR Therapist for about 3 weeks now. it hurts. My mother was a  female batterer. Can this group help me to learn WHY do we not want our biograpy to become our biology. i guesss i am finding my voice have the questions now in life to ask why. As a kid i got beat up alot by my impatient mother and my absent father.  Can this group help me to get connected i feel alone and isoloated. I am involved in the 12 step groups as well. Both of my parents were Untreated adult children of alcoholics. I am 58 years old phyiically or i have 58 years chronically years but biological i feel like a wounded lil boy still, please connecwith  me so i can fell aprt of and learn to heal too.




Rick friday 02/17/17 central Fla.

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