Top Three Remarkable Ways To Heal From Development Trauma Disorder

Unlike PTSD, Developmental Trauma Disorder is not yet recognized by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The term was coined by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (psychiatrist, trauma researcher, and best selling author) as a way to describe the effects of trauma experienced in early developmental stages. Often these traumas were chronic in nature and were experienced within the child’s care-giving system. The result is a collection of symptoms that does not fit neatly into the criteria required for a PTSD diagnosis, but is clearly the result of trauma, strongly impacts the child, and alters the path of their growth and development.

Top Three Remarkable Ways To Heal From Development Trauma Disorder


Written by Kianna Morgan, a therapist in training and MSW student. Kianna is passionate about trauma-informed practices and enjoys writing as a way to share empowering information with people suffering from trauma and chronic stress.


What is the difference between developmental trauma disorder and PTSD (aka shock trauma)?

Shock trauma, clinically recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, refers to the impact an acute traumatic event has on the survivor. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which defines and classifies mental disorders, identifies PTSD as a diagnosis that includes symptoms like hypervigilance, avoidance of reminders of the event, exaggerated startle response, and dissociative reactions such as flashbacks. PTSD is a label that is applied to the body’s instinctive response to a traumatic event.

It is important to note that experiencing an acute traumatic event does not necessarily mean that someone will experience the symptoms associated with PTSD. Additionally, after an acute trauma, some people may experience post traumatic stress, but not meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. And finally, some will meet the criteria for PTSD and also experience other maladaptive symptoms that were formed by traumatic events. The bottom line is that how our bodies respond to trauma is not entirely predictable and can vary greatly from person to person. 

One factor that can play a role in determining whether we experience PTS symptoms after a trauma is our trauma history. Prior exposure to traumatic events can prime the nervous system to have a stronger response that may result in PTSD. 

Unlike PTSD, Developmental Trauma Disorder is not yet recognized by the DSM-V. The term was coined by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (psychiatrist, trauma researcher, and best selling author) as a way to describe the effects of trauma experienced in early developmental stages. Often these traumas were chronic in nature and were experienced within the child’s care-giving system. The result is a collection of symptoms that does not fit neatly into the criteria required for a PTSD diagnosis, but is clearly the result of trauma, strongly impacts the child, and alters the path of their growth and development.

Dr. van der Kolk states, “Chronic trauma interferes with neurobiological development and the capacity to integrate sensory, emotional and cognitive information into a cohesive whole. Developmental trauma sets the stage for unfocused responses to subsequent stress, leading to dramatic increases in the use of medical, correctional, social and mental health services.”


What is NARM and how does it inform treatment of developmental trauma disorder?

The NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) was developed by Dr. Laurence Heller, a body-oriented therapist and best-selling author. NARM is a psychobiological approach to working with individuals who have experienced developmental trauma.

Differing from other methods of developmental trauma, NARM focuses on “helping clients establish connection to the parts of self that are organized, coherent and functional.” This focus supports self-regulation and invites clients into an empowered experience of themselves. To accomplish this, NARM supports connection and organization, explores identity, works in present time and regulates the nervous system. 

According to Dr. Heller, connection is a core need. Connection to others, our environment, and ourselves are foundational to molding who we become. For those who have experienced developmental trauma, the maladaptive survival styles they developed as children often carry into adulthood diminishing their ability to connect. The body-based practices and trauma-informed lens we work with at Red Beard Somatic Therapy help create safe opportunities for exploring connection and developing healthy attachment patterns. 


What are the main survival styles that influence the way we live our lives in adulthood?

These survival styles are often seen in people with developmental trauma disorder and/or a high ACEs scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences). The following survival styles were used to survive a toxic environment and allowed us to stand here today. 

Unfortunately, these survival styles are maladaptive in that they can further dysregulate our nervous system and affect our ability to connect with ourselves, others, and our environment in a healthy way.

  1. Connection survival style: This survival style usually looks like a profound difficulty in connection. Disconnection from one’s body, emotions, and other people may be seen. This survival style is born from having unsupportive caregivers and feeling unloved and unprotected throughout one’s lifetime. 

    Somatic therapies can help someone with this survival style connect with their body and inner world. Calming the nervous system with somatic therapy will allow you to reach social engagement following trauma.


  1. Attunement survival style: If you have this survival style you are attuned to other people's needs while neglecting your own. This may have become embedded into your identity because you were raised by a parent that wasn’t attuned to your needs. 

    Often, people with this style are attracted to helping professions such as social work and psychology. Being attuned to others' needs and living with compassion is a strength. However, it becomes our Achilles heel when we fail to hold boundaries and deny our own needs. 


  1. Trust survival style: The trust survival style is a missing or compromised capacity to trust others. This style makes it challenging to connect with others and maintain relationships. Connection is a requirement for co-regulation and allows us to regulate our nervous system.

    In severe cases, the home, community, and/or society the individual was raised in imprinted the message they cannot trust anyone but themself. For example, a child that is a part of a marginalized group and abused by a parent has learned that they can’t trust individuals or society to meet their needs. This may lead to isolation, paranoia, and a lack of ability to co-regulate.


  1. Autonomy survival style: This survival style tends to rear its head when a parent doesn’t support a child’s autonomy. For example, an anxious parent may fear that the child will leave or get hurt so they stifle their autonomy. 

    A rigid and controlling parent may not allow the child to develop their own will and choices. In severe cases, a parent may believe that it is their role to break their child’s will due to that behavior being modeled for them in the past.

    People with this survival style tend to be kind and pleasant to interact with. However, underneath their exterior there is anger and a strong desire to be free from the constraints that come with stripped autonomy. This anger comes out in indirect and passive aggressive ways.


  1. Love- Sexuality Survival Style: Someone that exhibits this style has a poisoned capacity for an open heart and sexuality. This person is challenged by an inability to integrate a loving relationship with vital sexuality.

    People with this style tend to struggle with their self-image because their self-esteem is dependent on their looks and performance. So, energetic perfectionists tend to be in this camp. They are most likely praised for their overachievement, especially in a late-stage capitalist society like America.

    However, behind their achievements is self-rejection. They view themselves with a critical eye that was modeled for them as children. Their achievements and appearance never seem to meet their high standards.


How does sympathetic activation and freeze play a role in developmental trauma disorder?

Sympathetic activation is triggered when we perceive a threat. Our nervous system triggers a fight and/or flight response to protect us from the adversary. This vigilance makes connection with others and ourselves extremely difficult. 

Developmental trauma, high Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) score, and toxic stress increases the likelihood of a freeze response. A freeze response is activated when we face a single traumatic event or series of events that we perceive as life threatening. When faced with an overwhelming threat our nervous system shuts our body down because it deems that fight or flight won’t save us. 

Often, when we come out of a freeze, we experience sympathetic activation and the fight/flight response. We must safely go through sympathetic activation to reach a state of calm. Ultimately, our goal is to help you safely come out of freeze, go through sympathetic activation, and finally reach social engagement and calm.


How can a therapist help me transition from freeze to sympathetic activation safely?

  1. Psychoeducation: Our trauma informed team assists you in understanding your nervous system and reactions to trauma. We provide a picture of the polyvagal curve that explains our transitions through freeze, sympathetic activation, and social engagement. We explain what the road of social engagement will look like for you and empower you to mold your healing process. 

  1. Normalize the experience: Freeze is a natural reaction to a significant traumatic event or series of events. Through psychoeducation we normalize your experience and make it apparent that you are not alone in feeling this way.

    If you enter a freeze state during a session, our clinicians bring this to your awareness and normalize the experience. Then, we show you that this response during treatment is an opportunity to increase capacity and restore nervous system balance. We empower you to walk out of the freeze with us and get closer to social engagement in session.

    Once you are coming out of freeze and entering sympathetic activation we assist you in self-regulation and normalize the process. It is quite common for people to experience irritability, anger, and the need for movement during this transition.


  1. Titration and pendulation: Our clinicians work on the edge and along the boundaries of the freeze response. We empower you to state what you are comfortable with and titrate, slowly move the body to find the right dosage to avoid triggering dissociation and freeze. Our sessions are much like a dance where we collaborate and work together to reach your goal.

    Following trauma, we tend to become locked up, rigid, and in a shutdown state. Pendulation empowers you to be with the sensation of contraction, accept it for what it is, and then open into expansion. Acceptance of your current state of contraction opens you up to expansion and openness. Expansion allows you to move freely and be present and engaged in your life. We guide you through pendulation slowly and at your own pace to avoid overwhelm. 


Red Beard Somatic Therapy has a team of trauma informed therapists that specialize in applying body-based therapies while working with individuals with developmental trauma disorder.

At Red Beard Somatic Therapy we will create a safe holding space for you to connect with your body and untether you from the hold that trauma has over you and your life. Our somatic therapists are dedicated to helping you regulate your nervous system and release tension, stress, and trauma. Our trauma informed therapists would be honored to assist you in reaching social engagement and calm in a safe and supportive environment. Book with us now to begin your healing journey.