+RETHINKING THE CONSEQUENCES OF EARLY (DEVELOPMENTAL) TRAUMA

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Most of us are familiar with the sideways “8” symbol for infinity.   It’s a simple image, but is designed to represent a continuation of something that flows smoothly without having an end in itself.

I was thinking about the symbol this morning in terms of how we use resources in our life from the time we are conceived.  When we came into this world as a fertilized egg we could live off of our own inner resources just long enough to receive signals from our mother’s body that told us it was ‘safe’ to attach to her uterine wall.  Signals from her body told us where to attach, and the ability to receive those signals and act on them allowed us to accomplish this required attachment.

During the length of time we remained attached to the world through our attachment inside our mother we grew an increasingly more complex body by using resources we received from our mother.  From the time we were born as a breathing being into this world outside our mother’s body we were still completely dependent on outside others to provide all our resources for us.  We needed our early caregivers to allow us to breath, to keep us warm, to feed us, to protect us from harm.

During our most dependent stages of growth and development outside our mother’s body we were using the resources given to us by our early caregivers to continue our growth and development which included our nervous system-brain, immune system, and our entire body.  Nature has designed this process to work very well!

If safe and secure attachments continue to exist as they operate through our early caregivers’ attention to us, we continue to grow along an ‘ordinary’ and optimal pathway.  If trauma is introduced into our growing environment, and if it is allowed to overwhelm what is needed for our ‘ordinary’ and optimal growth, changes in our development HAVE to happen so that we can continue to remain alive.

I was thinking about our early growth and development in terms of the infinity sign because in a benevolent world our increasing ability to find and use resources can be represented by an expanding infinity sign.  In a safe and secure attachment environment we have a need, resources are provided to us, we take those resources into our bodies, can use them to our best advantage and we continue to grow.

If trauma in an unsafe and insecure early attachment world that threatens our ‘ordinary’, optimal development by directly interrupting our ability to access and use the resources we need to grow up in a benevolent world, what is changing in our developing body-brains as a consequence is our ability to get the resources we need in order to continue to grow to fulfill our potential for living in a safe and secure world.

As I have said many times in the past, the changes our body has to make due to interruptions through trauma during our early development are not maladaptive or ‘pathological’.  They are necessary and required for continuation of our life.

When we grow up and find ourselves living in a far more benevolent world than the one was that we formed in, we simply (!!) do not have a body-brain-mind-self that is prepared to access and use resources in the same way that an ‘ordinary’ non-traumatized (in early childhood) person can.  Something about our infinity sign has been changed.  Something about how we detect, access and use resources changed as a result of growing a body-brain in an early environment filled not with safety and security but rather with a lack of safety and security = trauma.

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When I think about this sideways “8” sign as it passes resources back and forth between the world outside of the body and the world inside a person, I have to think about boundaries.  Where do I stop and where does the outside world begin?

As I continue to explore the existing information about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I will have to consider one of the fundamental and primary concerns that this diagnostic category of ‘mental illness’ is attempting to address – how we detect, access and use the resource of information from our environment.  This information comes to us in the form of stimuli – both from within our own body and from the world outside of us.  Severe early trauma has changed us in ways that make our stimuli information resource systems work differently from ‘ordinary’.

If there is some degree of lack of well-being exiting within either a fertilized egg or in its mother, the step of attaching safely and securely to the uterine wall is interfered with, the infinity sign of resource transactions required for continued life ceases, and that is the end of life for the new little person.  This kind of risk continues for us every step of our life.  Given enough trauma and given enough inability to overcome the trauma, life stops.

The resource transaction process continues because information passes freely between the world and a life form.  We might think of air and water and food and heat ranges as resources, but do we think of their presence, availability and quality as providing basic information about the condition of the world we live in?  Do we think of early caregiver interactions with offspring as directly providing information (a vital resource about vital resources) concerning the quality of the environment the little one is growing up in – and for?

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If a person was built from conception in a safe and secure world, they will have a resource management system designed in, by and for a benevolent world.  If that person later experiences severe trauma, they will process it according to the resource management system they received very early in their lives – because that system has built itself into their body.  This ‘ordinary’ person will still have to access and use plenty of resources to overcome the experience of later traumas – but they will do so differently than someone will who has resource management systems (i.e. body-brain) designed in, by and for a malevolent, traumatic world.

Most plainly put, the following stems from my on-paper doodling as it relates to this critical topic or resource management and the changes our developing body-brain had to make in an unsafe, insecure and traumatic early environment:

S surviving

T – trauma

O – orients

P – personality

The

S – surviving

T – trauma

O – orients

R – resource

M – management

If a newborn finds itself in a malevolent environment all its ongoing experiences will send it signals about the trauma-filled world it lives in so that it can alter its ongoing resource management systems as they develop to maximize its ability to survive in this malevolent world.

If a newborn finds itself in a benevolent environment all its ongoing experiences will send it signals about a safe and secure world so that it can continue our species’ best-case development pathway using information it has received about adequate resources in the world.

Our particular personality is one of our primary resource management assets – but its development is influenced by the information an infant-child receives from its environment.  (More on this later regarding how early trauma creates ‘personality disorder’ developmental conditions.)

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Information communicated through the ability to send and receive signals on the molecular level continues throughout our entire life span.  Not only is the information itself a vital resource, but so also is the ability to send and receive these signals.  Beginning from conception information is transmitted between the environment and the organism living in the environment.

As a result of the information we receive and through our potential to adjust to the world we live in, we end up with an orientation either to a safe and secure or a trauma filled world.  Child abuse during critical developmental stages communicates on the molecular level what the conditions of our early world are like.  Our body has the miraculous ability to receive these signals of information and to adjust our development accordingly.

On the most basic level, when we are considering the effects that severe and early trauma has on a developing infant-child, this is what we are talking about – orientation in the world that determines how our resource management systems develop and operate to maximize our chances of survival.

Those of us who had to develop in a malevolent world have a body that is designed through flexible adaptive abilities during early development to be oriented to survival in a malevolent world.  Everything our body-brain knows about being in the world was set by this initial orientation-in-the-world process.

Current clinical thinking about trauma uses a model that looks like this:

Pre-trauma > trauma > post-trauma

That model DOES NOT apply to me.

Because I was born into a world filled with trauma, and because my tiny body-brain had to adapt its development in response to surviving that trauma, trauma built itself into me.  My most fundamental physiological orientation is based on surviving trauma.  I never had a ‘pre-trauma’ state.  Without having one, I cannot have a ‘post-trauma’ state, either.

So what might a severe infant-child abuse survivor’s trauma model look like?

Trauma < > trauma < > trauma

This model represents to me the development of a body-brain on all levels that has trauma at its origins because trauma was present at ground zero when development occurred.  (I am saying ground zero, but in my case that point happened at the moment I was born.  Variations of trauma can exist in utero.  In my case it did not.)

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What do we do with such a infant-child abuse trauma model?  My suggestion:  Go back to the drawing board.  The existing model about trauma and PTSD simply do not make sense as it is currently being used to describe what happened to and continues to happen for early severe infant-child abuse survivors.

The operation of our infinity sign resource management system simply developed differently from ‘ordinary’.  We are optimally designed to survive in a malevolent world.  No amount of magical, wishful childhood thinking (termed denial) is going to make us into ‘ordinary’ people.  We were not built in an ordinary world nor designed for living in a benevolent one.

By rethinking what is known about the affects of severe early abuse during infant-child development I have no doubt that we can and will become clear about what our changed body-brain resource management systems are designed to do for us and how they operate.  Once we have this information, we can THEN realistically and most effectively begin to find ways to alter our present experience of being alive in a more benevolent world while having to do so in/with a body physiologically designed in, by and for a malevolent world.

To continue to ignore and deny that we do not fit existing clinical models of ‘mental health’ and that we need to come up with new and appropriate ones, means that the storm of trauma that created us differently in the first place has no real possibility of ending.  The consequences to all of us for not being willing to consider the truth about how a trauma-changed body affects our ability to live well in a more benevolent world means that the wake trauma creates in our beginnings will follow us on through the rest of our lives.

We can do better than this!

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4 thoughts on “+RETHINKING THE CONSEQUENCES OF EARLY (DEVELOPMENTAL) TRAUMA

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve been reflecting on this image in relation to my ‘two cogs’ image, and it’s sparked a lot of insights for me – and in a mode of thought (imagistic) that is powerful for me.

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