Decoding the Mind: Is it ADHD or Complex Trauma?


is it ADHD or complex trauma

The very first time I said this out loud, “is it possible that your ADHD is actually trauma?” I got a sh*tty response from some woman on Tiktok–she was ruthless and nasty. I was simply trying to pose a legitimate question based on my own research and hypothesis. I know that there are some ADHD-advocate Karens out there that will literally try to bite your head off if you in any way, shape, or form try to imply that ADHD might be something that develops and you’re not born with.

Let me start by saying nothing is black and white. Ever.

That’s why a lot of medical maladies are so complex, and it’s difficult to pinpoint a source. So let’s talk about ADHD (and ADHD symptoms).

ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s a way to describe when someone has trouble paying attention, controlling their impulses, or staying still. People with ADHD might find it harder to focus on tasks, sit quietly, or think before acting. It’s a condition that affects how the brain works and can make certain things more challenging for them.

But ADHD is still very misunderstood.

Did you know that ADHD can include hyper-focus? Yep. A bit contradictory to most definitions.

People with ADHD can sometimes experience something called “hyperfocus.” This means they can get really absorbed in an activity that interests them a lot. It’s like they’re in a zone where they’re able to concentrate deeply on that one thing for a while, even if they usually have trouble focusing on other tasks. Hyperfocus can be helpful, but it can also make it difficult for them to switch their attention to something else when needed.

I absolutely 100% do this.

I have started to notice that my daughter does it too.

Do I have ADHD? Does she?

Here’s the problem that I see. Again, I am not a doctor, and I do not claim to have all the answers.

The symptoms of ADHD and those caused by complex trauma can sometimes overlap, creating similarities in how they affect behavior and brain changes.

Are they inherently the same diagnosis since they share symptoms? In both cases, there might be difficulties with attention, impulse control, and emotional regulation. However, the underlying reasons for these overlaps are distinct.

In ADHD, the brain’s functioning is believed to be impacted by differences in certain chemicals and neural pathways, leading to challenges in focusing, sitting still, and controlling impulses. The prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in decision-making and impulse control, may function differently in people with ADHD.

Complex trauma, like childhood trauma, has the potential to induce brain changes that bear a resemblance to those observed in individuals with ADHD.

For people who suffered from childhood trauma, the amygdala, responsible for processing emotions like fear and stress, can become overactive. This can make individuals more sensitive to potential threats and result in emotional responses that are difficult to manage. The prefrontal cortex, involved in reasoning and regulating emotions, might not develop as effectively, which can lead to impulse control issues.

Clearly, you can see how misdiagnosis could be a very real problem. Yet, no one is talking about it.

Since the symptoms can look similar, overlooking the impact of trauma can result in an inaccurate diagnosis entirely. This can lead to inappropriate treatment plans that don’t address the root causes of the symptoms.

Did you know that doctors don’t take complex trauma into account when diagnosing you with any medical issue?

They aren’t trained too.

(Again, it’s not black-and-white. Functional medicine doctors usually take into consideration trauma, but Western medicine doctors do not.)

To differentiate between ADHD and trauma-related symptoms, it’s important for doctors to take a comprehensive and holistic approach. This involves gathering a detailed history of the individual’s experiences, including any traumatic events, family history, and the timeline of symptom onset. Collaborating with mental health professionals, who are skilled in recognizing trauma-related patterns, can also provide a more accurate understanding.

Treatment approaches for ADHD and complex trauma should be tailored to their respective causes.

ADHD management often involves behavioral interventions, educational support, and in some cases, medication to address the brain’s chemical imbalances.

For those impacted by complex trauma, therapy & somatic healing are cornerstones of treatment. Trauma-focused therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), can help individuals process and cope with their traumatic experiences. Addressing underlying emotional wounds is essential for long-term healing.

This is where I see so many people struggling to heal. We aren’t being given the proper tools because the medical community isn’t trained properly. This leaves complex trauma survivors feeling medically gaslit and lost.

So what can you do? Recognize the potential for misdiagnosis and advocate for a thorough evaluation that considers your trauma history. This is essential to ensuring an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment for both ADHD and the effects of complex trauma.

Remember that while there might be similarities, the causes and underlying mechanisms for these changes are different. ADHD is often considered a neurodevelopmental condition with genetic and brain-related factors, while complex trauma’s impact on the brain arises from experiences and environmental factors. Accurate diagnosis by a medical professional is crucial to differentiate between the two and provide appropriate support.

Are you interested in checking the sources?

I keep track of the sources I cite so you can dive deeper if you want and validate for yourself. Click here for the supporting research page.

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