This is your brain on trauma.


After years of loving and working with Romanian youth who have grown up in abusive, dysfunctional government institutions, we at Mercy Ministries have come to recognize the crucial role Complex Developmental Trauma plays in the challenges our youth find difficult to overcome.


Complex Developmental Trauma is chronic abuse or neglect that occurs in a child’s important early developmental period, and in the context of a caregiving relationship. This kind of trauma disrupts a child’s ability to form attachments with caregivers and makes regulation of emotions and behavior extremely problematic. It affects the physical development of the brain, interrupting typical emotional, relational, and cognitive development. It primes sufferers for frequent and extreme triggering of the "fight or flight" response, as well as chronic dissociation.


Complex Developmental Trauma shares many of the hallmarks of situational trauma (that can result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), with the added burden of a child’s limited ability to formulate adaptive strategies at an early stage of brain development. The unresolvable conflict between a child’s absolute dependence on a caregiver, and that caregiver’s failure to provide for the child’s most basic needs, causes an internalization of pain and the development of identity around a core of shame. This relational component to Complex Developmental Trauma makes recovery more challenging and its effects more global.



Complex Developmental Trauma negatively affects a child’s ability to:

  • Self-regulate
  • Trust
  • Develop healthy relationships
  • Develop an appropriate sense of self and self-efficacy
  • Meet emotional and sometimes physical developmental milestones

Complex Developmental Trauma can also adversely impact:

  • Language development
  • Overall learning
  • Cause and effect thinking
  • Understanding one’s inner states
  • Understanding how the world works (development of an accurate internal schema) 

Although extremely debilitating, none of these difficulties make a child "crazy." Unfortunately, many of our young people fear this in themselves and can be labeled by society as such - compounding their sense of shame. Properly understood, the effects of trauma are normal responses to abnormal conditions during one's formative years. With this understanding, children and adults who come from these hard places can begin to overcome the life-limiting effects of early trauma, and take steps toward healing and healthy connectedness with others.


more trauma-informed resources

for information on "Understanding Trauma" trainings