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Is it neurodivergence or past trauma?

Fuzzy, newly-hatched chick looks sideways at a brown egg, illustrating the question of which came first? Sensitivity or trauma

If you’re highly sensitive or neurodivergent – especially if the diagnosis came in adulthood – you’ve likely questioned whether your sensitivity or neurodivergence is biological or whether it came as a result of past trauma.

Similarly, if you have a history of trauma, you might sometimes wonder whether you’re neurodivergent too.


Thus begins a chicken-and-egg series of questions as you try to make sense of who you are and why.


Here’s the truth: Highly sensitive and neurodivergent individuals are a lot more likely to experience trauma.


  • We can be easily targeted by individuals who intend harm.

  • We’re a lot more likely to be traumatized by situations that our neurotypical counterparts might spring back from easily.

  • And we’re very likely to be further sensitized by our traumatic experiences, thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle that might compound over time.


Similarly, neurotypicals who undergo a heavy load of trauma become sensitized at the level of the nervous system – even to the point where their brains diverge from the norm (yes, that’s neurodivergence by definition). Even without a diagnosis like ADHD, autism, OCD or other neurological distinctions, a nervous system stuck in an unresolved trauma state does not function the way it is designed to function.


It’s really a Venn diagram:


  • Not every neurodivergent person has experienced trauma, but the majority have (and do).

  • Not every highly sensitive person is traumatized, but most are.

  • Not every sensitive is autistic, but some are.

  • Not every trauma survivor has ADHD, but many do.

  • And so forth.


We all have one major commonality: a nervous system that differs from the norm by hypersensitivity in one or more of its functions. And that means we can all benefit a great deal by learning the contours of our own unique nervous system so that we know how to support ourselves on a second-by-second basis.


That’s why I work with clients to train their nervous system for a baseline level of safety.

  • A safe nervous system can process emotions and release trauma.

  • A safe nervous system allows the body to heal itself.

  • A safe nervous system stops sending threat signals in the form of pain, anxiety and compulsions.

  • A safe nervous system allows creative flow and moves you through the world with a sense of ease.


Before nervous system training, I would try to release past traumas but find myself just reliving them again and again. I’d journal about them and feel some release, but the triggers that stemmed from the trauma were still alive inside my body. By approaching trauma reversal with neuro-somatic practices, my efforts to release trauma finally started to progress in a durable way.


In fact, pairing nervous system training with trauma healing has been so effective that even old resentments are starting to dissipate – resentments as large as the anger I used to feel at being rendered homeless when my then-husband changed all the door-locks on my house. I’ve now achieved enough distance from the fear-triggers hidden in my nervous system to sincerely say I'm grateful that it happened.


If you feel yourself in a storm of big emotions and overwhelming sensations when you reflect on key moments from your past, know that there is a way to move them out of your nervous system. You do not have to live with them forever. You can take the sensitivities it gave you without paying the steep price of dysregulation.

And once you do, you’ll find a degree of peace and ease that absolutely heals you.


Interested in learning more? I invite you to take my online, self-paced video course on evolving trauma toward post-traumatic growth by leveraging the power of your nervous system. Introductory pricing runs through Mothers’ Day 2024.

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