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Trauma is experienced individually and uniquely. Whilst there are many similarities in the trauma aftermath symptoms, trauma should not be compared, however it is acknowledged that disorganized attachment trauma predisposes the child to develop complex post traumatic stress later in life if they are exposed to any further trauma. All trauma  can have a profound long term psycho-neurobiological impact upon the human organism and has the potential to impact the developing psyche and thus the establishment of identity Trauma has an intergenerational impact ie: a child with an disorganised attachment, to an inconsistent and traumatised parent, is predisposed to repeat the cycle.

Examples of childhood trauma:

  • Disorganised attachment to primary care-giver

  • Emotional, physical, spiritual abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Family violence

  • Cultural abuse

  • Intrusive interventions, ie: medical interventions

  • Separation, ie: hospitalisation

  • Any other shocking, overwhelming experience creating a sense of helplessness and powerlessness

Mutual Connection and the Developing Brain

Allan Schore (1994) and Bruce Perry (Perry et al., 1995) have both proposed neurological models for understanding the importance of infant attachment in the mediation of stressful experiences throughout life.  According to both models, the primary caretaker, in addition to providing for an infants basic needs, plays a crucial role in helping the infant to regular sometimes very hig levels of stimulation.  A healthy attachment between infant and caretaker enables the infant to eventually develop the capacity to self-regulate both positive and negative stimuli.  Perry and his colleagues (1995) further propose that positive early experiences are crucial to optimal organization and development of specific brain regions. (Rothschild, B. 2000)

The Developing Brain and Attachment 

"The newborns brain is by no means a 'fait accompli', not even close.  At birth the brain is among the most immature of the bodys organs.  In fact it is much like a new computer, equipped with a basic operating system that incorporates all that will be needed for future development and programming, memory file storage and expansion, but as yet unable to do much beyond the basic system requirements. 

The human brain is, for the most part, malleable programmable and reprogrammable in its organization.  It is highly responsive to external influences.  In fact, the higher and more complex the brain structure, the greater its malleability (Perry, Pollard, Blakeley, Baker, & Vigilante, 1995).  The cerebral cortex is the most complex, as well as the most flexible and easily influenced structure.  The brain stem is the least complex and least malleable structure in the brain.  The brains susceptibility to influence and change is necessary to growth and development.  Without the ability of our brains to adapt and change it would be impossible to learn anything.  Growth , development, and change are necessary to health and to survival.  Though it remains flexible throughout the lifespan, the brains capacity for alteration does decrease with age.  And, of course, the first days, months and years of life are crucial for establishing the foundations of later capacities and talents, as well as deficits. 

How a brain first organizes is dependent on the infants interactions with its environment.  How a brain continues to grow, develop, and re-organize is dependent on the subsequent experiences encountered throughout a childs life.  As no two life experiences are the same, even for identical twins, it is the brains malleability that makes each of us unique.  Recognizing that the brains organization is flexible and subject to influence is crucial to understanding both how dysfunctional emotional patterns, such as PTSD, can develop and how they can be changed."

"The infant brain has the instincts and reflexes that are needed for existence (heartbeat, respiration reflex), the ability to take in and make use of nourishment (search, suck, and swallow reflexes; digestion and elimination) and to benefits from contact (sensory pathways, grasp reflexes), etc.  This basic brain system through, is not enough to ensure the infants survival.  The baby needs a more mature human (the primary caretaker usually, but not always, its mother) to care for and protect it.  Moreover, many believe it is the interaction between baby and caretaker that determines normal brain and nervous system development. 

None of this is new.  Babies depend on their caregivers for every aspect of their survival.  Caregivers who are able to provide for infants emotional as well as physical needs nurture them into toddlers, children, teens and adults with a wide scope of resources.  Increasingly they are able to take over caring for their own needs in adaptive and beneficial ways.  Well-cared-for babies become adults with resilience who are able to swing with the punches dished out by life.  Their brains are able to process and integrate both positive and negative experiences adding adaptive learning to their repertoire of behaviours and attitudes.

On the other hand, babies raised by caregivers unable to meet significant portions of their needs are at risk of growing into adults who lack resilience and have trouble adapting to lifes ebbs and flows. Their brains may be less able to process lifes experiences.  They appear to have more difficulty making sense of lifes events, particularly those that are stressful, and to be more vulnerable to psychological disturbances and disorders, including drug addition, depression, and PTSD (Schore, 1994). 

There is a growing body of research that describes how healthy bonding and attachment are crucial to healthy development from the first days of life (Schore, 1994; Siegel, 199; van der kolk, 1998).  The attachment relationship stimulates brain development which, in turn, expands and enables an individuals ability to cope emotionally throughout life.  Science is finally catching up with parents and psychotherapists, who have always known that this was true but didnt know why or how.  It is now believed that the nurturing interaction between caregiver and infant goes a long way in promoting health emotional development, because that relationship, in itself, stimulates normal maturation of the brain and nervous system.  Disorganized attachment is a pre-determinant for PTSD." (Rothschild,2000)

The Strange Situation experiment:

The Kinds of Attachments the Researchers found revealed two general categories of infant attachment styles:

• 1) Secure attachment (Ainsworth)

• 2) Insecure attachment:

o   1) Avoidant attachment

o   2) Ambivalent attachment

  • 2a) Avoidant attachment

  • 2b) Ambivalent attachment

  • 2c) Disorganized attachment (this style was discovered later by researcher Mary Main) *

Obviously there are long term consequences of each of the four attachment styles.

Trauma memory that has not been processed in the usual way is often encoded by the limbic system in the right side of the brain in a ‘state dependent way’. 

This traumatic event memory is unavailable to conscious attempts at remembering because the material has never been ‘processed’.  The cortico-hippocampal region or the ‘processor’ in the temporal lobe of the brain is inhibited in its functioning at the time of the trauma whilst, it seems, that the limbic, more primitive area of the brain responsible for amongst other things  affective and sensory functioning, is fully operational and therefore encodes the incoming signals. 

These signals are often recovered much later, sometimes, years, when a similar level of arousal is experienced which seems to access the material enabling a second chance to more completely process the trauma. Whilst trauma material is stored in the right side of the brain it is not able to be understood or consciously retrieved.

The ability to make conscious sense, or articulate the traumatic event through words is limited as these are Left hemisphere processes. When state dependent memory is triggered it is experienced as if the traumatic event was ‘just happening’ in present time. The lack of cortico-hippocampal involvement in the original processing and in the consequent retrieval of the ‘state dependent trauma memory’ there is no ‘localization in time’ or ‘date stamp’ on the memory.  With no time orientation the memory is experienced as just happening. 

Neuro-biological research has demonstrated that body chemistry changes with long term stress. In a single traumatic event the body returns to its normal levels of functioning (homeostasis) quite quickly, however in the situation of repeated and severe trauma the system is unable to return to homeostasis because the ‘alarm state’ is unable to be turned off.  The implications of a human system in continual alarm state are obvious.  The system cannot sustain itself long-term, leading to the many symptoms associated with complex post traumatic stress disorder.

Long term aftermath Symptoms of Childhood Sexual Abuse Trauma.

  • Low Self Esteem

  • Confusion

  • Self injury

  • Somatic complaints

  • Isolation and alienation

  • Difficulty managing emotions

  • Chronic depression

  • Anxiety

  • Sensitivity to medical procedures

  • Sleep difficulties

  • Substance abuse

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

  • Depersonalisation

  • De-realization

  • Dissociation

  • Eating Disorders

  • Trust issues

  • Interpersonal difficulties

  • Revictimisation

  • Social phobia

  • Sexuality issues

  • Sexual problems

  • Underachievement

  • Inability to sustain positive experiences

  • Attachment issues

  • Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Note the first symptom on the list is predictably ‘low self esteem’ – the ‘I’m bad’ core dynamic.  Then confusion – if you have been taught not to trust your feelings everything becomes very confusing.

Difficulty managing feelings is a core dynamic of BPD.  Research has demonstrated that Over 85% of BPD patients have childhood abuse histories. (Vander Kolk) This same population often have a fear of adults reflecting the gender who abused them (this fear can generalize to all adults).  


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