The Power of Play for Trauma Survivors

Play is a powerful and natural part of life and an important part of person’s well being. Research shows not only the importance of play for children but for adults as well. Play is one of the earliest ways that we learn to engage with each other. When a child or adult is able to play then they feel safe in their environment and connected to the people that they are around. Many people who have experienced early childhood trauma find it difficult to feel safe and get close to others and find play difficult to do. It is critical to understand the importance of play, how we lose our ability to play and how we can get play back into our lives.

Importance of play.

When we play we are not experiencing the stress response. In fact the feeling state of play is a part of the Ventral Vagal System. The Ventral Vagal System also known as the Social Engagement System is part of the Polyvagal Theory developed  in 2001 by Stephen Porges. This theory represents three nervous systems, one sympathetic and two parasympathetic. The Ventral Vagal system helps us to feel connected and nurtured in infancy and childhood.  When we play with others we are feeling a sense of safety and bonding.  When we feel safe enough to play our brain will release opiods giving off feelings of pleasure. Our brains will also release oxytocin which fosters calm and connection. Play brings us joy, laughter, enthusiasm and reduces emotions such as sadness, loneliness and depression.

How do we lose our ability to play?

When people have experienced early childhood trauma their emotional play circuit is affected. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, says that mammals are born with seven emotional circuits that are hard wired into our brains. If as children we are not able to engage in healthy ways with our parents or caregivers through positive facial expressions and vocalizations then our emotional circuits get stuck and don’t work correctly. When circuits are not able to flow in healthy ways we are affected in negative ways by feeling distrustful towards others, fearful to get close, shut down emotionally and not able to share both good and bad emotions with others.

Getting play back into your life.

Without emotions life is meaningless. Because play brings us joy and connection to others it is a very important for trauma survivors to experience it. EMDR not only helps to process early traumatic experiences including attachment injuries to parents or caregivers but can successfully reset emotional circuits including the play system in the brain. By resetting emotional circuits clients are better able to use the emotions and behaviors of play in ways that they were originally born to do. They experience reduced depression, isolation and anxiety. They are better able to read social cues and to feel safe with others. To learn more about EMDR for childhood trauma and resetting emotional circuits please visit Lemecia Lindsey’s page http://vancouveremdrtherapy.com/childhood-trauma/.  Don’t wait. Experience the power of play today!

Lemecia & the VWS Team