The new Ralph Fiennes film about Rudolf Nureyev offers a glimpse into the world of unhealed childhood trauma. It also highlights the physical and spiritual genius of a troubled child who learned to soar despite early adversity. Please Note: Because this article contains secondary-trauma potential, please tap while reading.
In Russia, ‘White Crows’ are Shamed and Isolated Misfits
Rudolf Nureyev was given the name White Crow as a child. One of the reasons was because his father was a soldier absent from home for his first five years. It was also because of his family’s extreme poverty. Nureyev was a sensitive child, one unusually preoccupied with the arts. This was and is a dangerous character trait in a militaristic, patriarchal culture. Fortunately, his mother became his champion. She took him to theatre events and ensured his place in the world of dance. In the last few moments of the film, we see a very young boy transcend his humiliating circumstances by perfectly executing a Russian Folk Dance. This performance is the one that earns him the tutelage of his first ballet teacher.
Not all traumatized children are so fortunate. Nureyev found his place on stage. However, his unhealed early trauma earned him a reputation as tyrannical, arrogant, and narcissistic. Such defense mechanisms signal unhealed trauma. Educators and child-care workers often bear the brunt of children’s trauma-induced behaviours.
Early Childhood Trauma’s Legacy
Many talented and sensitive children live in circumstances they cannot escape. Violent families and neighbourhoods, systemic poverty, parental illness and death, all compounded by an overly zealous criminal-justice system. These are but a few of the forces that prevent far too many children from feeling safe during childhood. Stephen Porges, Daniel Siegel, and other childhood-trauma specialists have made significant inroads into the research in this area. They are proving how unsafe circumstances limit the brain’s ability to grow through the developmental stages that lead to self-regulation and executive function. The results are poor impulse control, high-risk behaviours, and inability to focus. These become the traumatic soup in which educators and child-care workers live out their daily lives.
Unpredictability and Traumatized Children
All children thrive in safe environments – spaces and routines that meet their needs for predictability, creativity, fairness, and joy. Adults thrive in safe environments, too. A teacher or para-educator who has trained in EFT can regulate her or his own nervous system in chaotic classroom circumstances. They can also calm children simply through sharing the physical space in which teaching and learning take place. EFT is especially useful for adults working with traumatized children. This is because adult, in-the-moment tapping can short circuit reactivity that spreads throughout classrooms when an unpredictable event occurs. The tapping could be on the finger points, or visualised.
In the years following my own childhood trauma, I remember how wind slamming a classroom door felt like thousands of bee stings. Forget reading or arithmetic after such an event. Think of today’s children’s reactivity to sudden, unexpected noise if they have heard gunshots or witnessed the brutalization of loved ones.
EFT and Adult Self-Regulation
A trauma-sensitive adult who self-regulates using EFT can soothe an explosive situation by talking about the fear such unexpected events trigger. Speaking calmly and asking quietly what each student felt during and after a sudden noise or any unpredictable event helps to end the isolation of the traumatized child. Calmness and kindness invite frank expressions of fear, rage, and/or the urge to run. Such expressions soothe frightened, blustering, and dissociating children. Calm adults are more resourced, optimistic, and assuring, and communicate their calmness to the children in their care.
Looking back on my own career in classrooms, I know first-hand that being rattled by traumatized students’ reactive behaviours is part of the territory educators traverse daily. Identifying one’s own reactivity and employing EFT to return to centre is a peace-making process. It nurtures creative problem solving, kindness, and the skills to repair ruptures caused by reactivity.
An EFT Time Traveler
I learned EFT a year before I began a ten-year teaching adventure with adults at the Community College of Vermont. Many of the students I met in my Humanities, Education, and Literature classes had interrupted school experiences, often because they had been traumatized children. As unhealed adults, they frequently blamed themselves for their failures in school and in their personal relationships. Teaching EFT and its relationship to trauma-sensitive attitudes to themselves and others provided many “aha” moments for them and for me.
After decades of work with children and adolescents, I finally understand why bright, creative children fail and why sensitive, effective teachers leave the profession. As a recovering traumatized child, I had always been able to spot the “White Crows” in my classrooms. Before I learned EFT, this knowledge came with a sense of overwhelming impotence.
Once I began practicing EFT daily, I became a time-traveler. I revisited the children of my past, those I taught before I learned skills that could effectively calm my own reactivity to my students’ tragedies. There has been much tapping on my regret that I could not do more for them, and on my sorrow for their pain. I could also tap to release my sense of inadequacy in dealing with the monumental problems of systemic violence and poverty.
An Unspeakable Tragedy
One vivid example of my EFT time traveling comes to mind. In my last year of teaching in Ontario, before my move to Vermont, I lost a homeroom student to a house fire. It was a devastating event for our entire middle-school population, made worse by the fire’s ambiguous circumstances. Since that time, I have never forgotten that impish twelve-year-old. Bright and mischievous, he was a delightful participant in all our home room activities.
One of the worst moments after his death occurred when his mother arrived at the school to pick up his things. She was calm and kind, comforting her child’s classmates and doing all she could to calm the tsunami of adolescent emotion surrounding her. After she left, my Principal revealed that since the accident his mother slept in her son’s jacket, in his bed. I went into the staff bathroom and cried for a long, long time.
From the beginning of my EFT studies, I jumped headlong into my past using Gary Craig’s Personal Peace Procedure as described in his EFT for PTSD manual (pp 150-52). Not surprisingly, two of the many experiences I chose to work on were this beautiful child’s death, and the image of his mother sleeping in his bed while wearing his jacket. I cannot say that the ache around losing a student ever disappears. However, I can say that EFT has helped me to carry their story in my heart without breaking me.
My EFT journey has taught me a vital lesson. A self-regulated adult is better able to support others in the experience of conscious re-connection after a rupture has caused reactivity. When we are self-regulated, we create a climate of safety in which others feel safe. Even after the worst has happened, EFT supports this climate of safety.
Jane is an EFT International Accredited Master Trainer. Her areas of expertise are Grief and Loss, Women's Well-Being, and Ageing.