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What is childhood trauma?



“I have attended one of your workshops for Health Professionals and found it to be one of the most enlightening and useful trainings I have attended. In particular, I really got an understanding of how to best deal with people in crisis related to past trauma.”


“The workshop was outstanding - could be used for all practitioners no matter what their discipline. I would hope that you would promote it among psychologists - particularly because the focus was on "abuse" without putting the various types of abuse into boxes.”


“I recommend Blue Knot Foundation's trauma training to every professional, worker of all setting, survivor, and carer. The better trained the earlier the diagnosis and a better chance for survivor recovery.”


“I would highly recommend Blue Knot Foundation training. The information and research is impressive and relevant; the facilitator knew her stuff, was engaging and provided relevant examples.”


Childhood trauma and stress response

The stress response is a survival response.  It is an innate biological response to threat or perceived threat. It prepares the body to fight or flee. If we can’t fight or flee, we freeze and shut down.  When a child is in danger and feels trapped, these ‘survival’ responses are activated. They are not conscious responses; they are often triggered without the child knowing. They stop the child or adult from being overwhelmed.

Under stress we can all lose our ability to stay calm, reflect and respond flexibly. Adults who were traumatised as a child are often sensitive to stress. That’s because their fight-flight-freeze response was repeatedly reactivated. It has stayed switched on. Many survivors live on high alert. They can be triggered by what seem like trivial stressors in everyday life.

These triggers remind the person’s system of their prior trauma. They throw the person back into a fear-based stress response, just like during the original trauma. Many people re-experience aspects of the original trauma, as if it is occurring in the present. When the triggers aren’t obvious to the person, or others, the triggered person can seem to overreact for no apparent reason.

What happens when a person is triggered or overwhelmed?

When a person is overwhelmed they can become hyper-aroused. This means that their nervous system is over-activated. They can be agitated, shaking, sweating. They might raise their voice, and become angry or argumentative. They can also become hypo-aroused. This is emotional numbing or “shut down” Their eyes can be glazed. They might zone out, and become quiet.

Both are trauma responses. Adult and child survivors can move between being hyper-aroused and hypo-aroused. They can also experience strong emotions at the same time. Often they stay hypervigilant, checking for possible threats.

Children are often unable to fight or flee. This makes them more likely freeze or dissociate. The younger the child the more likely they will dissociate in response to trauma. The process of dissociation enables them to divide their experience. This is a protective ‘survival’ response to being overwhelmed. The child can then separate aspects of the experience from their awareness.

If you experienced childhood trauma or child abuse please visit this page, for self-soothing and grounding strategies which can help if you are overwhelmed. 

How can you support someone who have been triggered or overwhelmed?

  • Recognise that being hyper- or hypo-aroused is a fear/distress response
  • Focus on the person and be there with them
  • Try and identify that a person is becoming overwhelmed early. Notice if they go quiet, or become easily angry, agitated or argumentative
  • Validate and check in around their feelings e.g.

 “I can hear from what you are saying that calling us hasn’t been easy,”

 “It sounds like what I have told you has made you angry”

  • Give the person as much control and choice in your interaction as possible
  • Be flexible in your approach. Focus on what the person needs
  • Work on your own response. Find ways to settle your nervous system if you are impacted. Stabilise you own responses. It may help you to sit with your feet on the ground. Feel your feet connect to the floor. Take some calming deep breaths. Close your eyes and focus on the other sounds around you. Take a sip of water, etc. All until you can settle your own response.

If you are a family member, friend, colleague, or practitioner supporting someone who is triggered or becomes overwhelmed please see here

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Health Direct


Head to Health


“Blue Knot Foundation has a key role to play in the building of community capacity in care provision to those who have experienced childhood abuse and trauma in any environment.”

NIALL MULLIGAN Manager, Lifeline Northern Rivers

“I think Blue Knot Foundation is a fantastic support organisation for people who have experienced childhood trauma/abuse, for their families/close friends and for professionals who would like to learn how to more effectively work with these people.”

Psychologist Melbourne

“It's such a beautiful thing that you are doing. Helping people to get through this.”


“It was only last September when I discovered the Blue Knot Foundation website and I will never forget the feeling of support and empathy that I received when I finally made the first phone call to Blue Knot Helpline, which was also the first time I had ever spoken about my abuse.”


"At last there is some sound education and empathetic support for individuals and partners impacted by such gross boundary violations.”


Contact Us

Phone: 02 8920 3611
PO Box 597 Milsons Point NSW 1565
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Blue Knot Helpline
Phone: 1300 657 380
Hours: Mon-Sun, 9am-5pm AEST

For media comment, please contact:
Dr Cathy Kezelman
+61 425 812 197
+61 2 8920 3611

For media enquiries, please contact: 
Jackie Hanafie
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The information and resources on this site are provided for general education and as information and/or a guide only. They do not replace, and should not be used as a substitute for, counselling, therapy or other services, and should at no time be regarded or treated as professional advice of any kind. Personal needs and circumstances should always be carefully and thoroughly considered to determine the optimal approach in each individual case.