A colleague of mine posted an article from The Atlantic on our Listserv called How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD. I was intrigued by the title as well as its hypothesis, as we have found in our experience as marriage counselors, that marriage conflict tends to create this scenario. The author shares the findings of various professionals who concluded that a lot of the behavior that is common with those who are diagnosed with ADHD is actually a result of childhood trauma. In one case, children were being medicated for ADHD but not responding positively to the medication. This led one pediatrician to question whether her patients were actually suffering from ADHD or something else.
If diagnoses are accurate, they can be helpful. If they are inaccurate, they will fail to address the deeper cause and the treatment of symptoms will not usually be effective. This is common working with couples where one spouse has a diagnosis. While there are many who do have ADHD, and we hope to share with you in the near future a review of a new book entitled The Couple's Guide to Thriving with ADHD, there are others who may have the symptoms or may say that it is too hard to sit with their spouse and actually listen but do not actually suffer from ADHD. Their symptoms may stem from deeper childhood issues that need to be addressed.
Key to Healing a Marriage
We often spend so much time focusing on the surface level of a relationship, yet the true key to healing is to go to the root of the problem. It is easy to dismiss a spouse and give up hope on the relationship because of the "facts on the ground," but once we actually probe beneath the surface, we discover why the relationship is failing and how it can be revitalized.
I was pleased to see this article on childhood trauma because it plays a huge role in the way we act as adults. While it does not mean that the past should be used as an excuse for current behavior, it explains a lot of why we do what we do. We can't not be affected by our past. Our adult lives do not exist in a vacuum; rather they are a composite of our experiences and our natural tendencies.
The article concludes by explaining the effect of trauma on the brain. Trauma puts us in survival mode. Sometimes that survival mode manifests itself as ADHD-like symptoms. It makes sense why kids who experienced trauma would feel like they are constantly on-guard.
Even for those of us who did not experience any major trauma like the children in the article, it is helpful to note that childhood can be a traumatic experience. Events that may seem insignificant for an adult can have a huge impact on a young child. Thus, we all have our mini-traumas that when re-experienced as adults send us back to survival mode.
Most of the intense marital conflict that couples experience is a power struggle to stay alive. Both partners revert to their defenses to protect themselves. Their behavior can become ugly, and they have the potential to do real emotional damage. Once couples become more conscious of what is sending them into stress mode and what traumas are being triggered, they can come to a place of greater calm.
Manage Marriage Conflict with Counseling
When I perform marriage counseling for couples trying to fix their marriage, the main work that we do is creating safety in the relationship. This means stopping the knee-jerk reactivity and the stress, and learning how to work with each other in a calm and productive manner. We owe it to our children to provide them with calm homes. We wonder why we see so much ADHD being diagnosed in our times. Did we not know about this fifty years ago? Was it undetected? Or are our lives so stressful that our kids are manifesting more and more of these behaviors. While the findings of the studies depicted in these articles may mean that the solution is not just taking a pill but working on healing these old traumas, I hope, for the sake of these children, that it will provide for them a brighter future.