Impact of Trauma on Development: Biology and Beliefs

In this post we are going to discuss how biology, body and beliefs are impacted by trauma. If you haven’t checked out previous blogs about trauma, and ACEs. Make sure to read Impact of Trauma on Development: Brain and Brain Continued before reading this post.


Biology is impacted by trauma in similar ways that ACEs affect health (CDC, n.d.-c). We see negative effects on development and overall health outcomes. Many health outcomes that we see due to ACEs can be explained biologically through the impact of trauma on the neural networks of the body and brain. As we can see in the ACEs pyramid from the CDC, some of these impacts include disrupted neurodevelopment, social, emotional and cognitive impairment, disease, disability, social problems and even death.


The third area that trauma affects is the body. The effects on the body are generally seen in sensory processing issues, which many times can be classified as a sensory processing disorder. A sensory processing disorder is a condition where the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses (Goodman, 2021). A few examples are tactile sensitivity, taste/smell sensitivity, movement sensitivity, auditory/visual sensitivity, auditory filtering challenges, and sensory seeking behavior. We generally see this when a child is distressed by heightened sound, show awkward or fearful movement, clumsy, lacking balance and coordination, afraid of new things, along with being oversensitive or under sensitive about touch (Purvis, Cross, & Lyons Sunshine, 2007). As a 4-H volunteer, you should be aware that some youth may have a sensory processing disorder. Please note, this awareness is only to help support youth in your 4-H environment, not to diagnose.


The next thing that trauma affects is beliefs. Trauma changes how one thinks about themselves and the world around them (Tello, 2017). This can affect self-esteem, regulation, and one’s self-concept. A few changes in beliefs that we see can be categorized into four categories: safety and trust, responsibility, power and control, and esteem and value (Purvis, Cross, & Lyons Sunshine, 2007).

These are a few examples of core beliefs. As I read through these, please picture yourself as a child at the age of fourteen believing these statements about yourself and those around you.

-Safety and trust

  • I’m not safe
  • I can’t trust anyone
  • Everyone always leaves
  • Everyone is going to fail me
  • I am in danger


  • I should have done something
  • It’s my fault
  • I did something wrong
  • I ignored the signs

-Power and control

  • I am helpless
  • Nothing that I do makes a difference
  • I must control everything
  • People are always going to hurt you
  • I am weak
  • It’s not okay to show weakness

-Esteem and Value

  • I am a bad person
  • I am not good enough
  • I am stupid
  • There’s something wrong with me
  • I am worthless
  • I am not loveable

How did these beliefs make you feel? Now think about how you would interact with the world as a result of these thoughts. This leads us into the last effect of trauma, which is behavior.

Complex trauma can lead to an interactive set of psychological and behavioral issues. We will generally see negative behavior when a child has a fear of abandonment, hunger, being in an unfamiliar environment, feel out of control, receive too much sensory input or do not receive enough sensory output (Purvis, Cross, Dansereau, & Parris, 2013). This may look like hitting, kicking, yelling, running away, melting down, clinging, changing the subject, an unexpected and exaggerated response when told no, difficulties learning, reckless and risk-taking behavior, self-harm, difficulties with trust, emotional detachment and/or “zoning out”. Negative behavior for a child is their way of expressing a need in the only way they may know how (Purvis, Cross, & Lyons Sunshine, 2007).


Posted: December 1, 2023

Category: 4-H & Youth, Clubs & Volunteers
Tags: #Supporting Youth, 4H

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