Any discussion of the developmental needs and processes of the infant brain and mind will come to a point, or intersect, at the age where an infant has developed enough to begin to acquire language. By the age of two, or into a baby’s second year, it will most often begin to exercise its internal focus and forces to begin to display its inner world in interaction with its outer world through the use of words that it has “learned.”
Yet by this age, if there has been severe infant abuse, and the infant has been born and raised to this age in an environment of peritrauma, the brain-mind-self of the infant, now grown through its baby stages, its toddler stages, into the stage of young childhood – has already been grossly affected and damaged by the abuse it has endured.
Words are a form of power. Words distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Words BELONG to people. They represent our inner realities. By the time a word is spoken, or used in thought, it has already existed for a very long time and has an evolutionary history of its own. The words themselves are far older than we are. They have a history of use and of endurance. It is as if they exist in the future as well as in the past, and at some point we “run into them” in our own life, learn what they mean, and then we take our turn in accepting them into our own thoughts so that we can use them to talk about our lives and about our selves.
By the time I was five years old, and suffered through the “Bubble Gum Incident,” I was already so damaged by my mother’s mental disorders that I lacked even the ability to question her motives toward me, or her actions toward me as being anything outside the realm of ordinary experience. I could not and did not recognize the trauma of the experience because peritrauma was the reality of my life.
What we don’t have words for, we cannot think about. By the age of five I did not have words for my feelings. I did not have words to even think about what had happened and what continued to happen to me. I was my mother’s victim from my birth.
[L victima; perhaps akin to OHG wih holy]
1: a living being sacrificed to a deity or in the performance of a religious rite
2: one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent: as a (1): one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions (2): one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment
1: the study of the ways in which the behavior of crime victims may have led to or contributed to their victimization
2: the claim that the problems of a person or group are the result of victimization
[ME, fr. AF, fr. L crimen accusation, reproach, crime; probably akin to L cernere to sift, determine]
1: an act or the commission of an act that is forbidden or the omission of a duty that is commanded by a public law and that makes the offender liable to punishment by that law; especially: a gross violation of law
2: a grave offense especially against morality
3: criminal activity
4: something reprehensible, foolish, or disgraceful
syn see OFFENSE
Damage to an infant’s developing brain caused by the peritrauma of chronic infant abuse affects the development of their mind and of their self. It changes how they interact with the world and how they think. It changes their emerging awareness and the nature of their consciousness. It changes their evolving perception of time and space.
When, as in my mother’s case, the ability does not exist to process infantile and childhood trauma into any organized, orderly fashion so that the trauma continues to exist as memories that are real in the present rather than in the past. My mother’s trauma was in her “remembered present” in regard to me, not in her past. Her traumatized “remembered present” traumatized me. Because she acted out her traumatized past in the present with me, I was entwined into her mental processes in the same state of peritrauma that I have no doubt she was raised in also. Any external factors that were present surrounding the both of us could not and did not impact us in any normal fashion. We were both caught in a “timeless place” where memory does not serve the function it is meant to do. When a traumatized and traumatizing past is kept alive in a traumatizing present, there is no time or space for any other reality to take shape or to fashion itself around or with the next generation. The only hope would be intervention from the “real world,” and that did not happen for either my mother or for me.
And what is most damaging is that such a mother as mine was not able to REMEMBER the present which happened to include a separate entity, a newborn infant, that was in the real present, not in her “remembered present that was her traumatized past.” When an infant cannot be remembered, when a parent does not have time-separation abilities and FORGETS the infant, neither the mother nor the infant will be “attached” in the present, either. If a mother’s brain formed in an environment of peritrauma, which by nature includes “an altered sense of time,” then that peritraumatic state will risk being passed on directly to which ever offspring is the target of the memory distortions. In my family, probably because and only because I was the first born daughter, I was the targeted and designated VICTIM.
In my mother’s case, she could not “remember” that I had been born from the first breath that I took. She could not “remember” that I was separate from her because she could not “remember” that she was a self separate from her trauma, either. Peritrauma from severe abuse to infants is BUILT RIGHT INTO THEIR BRAINS. It is a part of the brain of the individual who has been so affected from their birth. It results in chaos being formed into chaos, and nothing like a normal brain-mind-self can come out of such a mess.
It is from not being remembered in the present that the greatest damage to an infant occurs. When parents care for their infants properly, it is because they are able to related to the infant in the present. That is the proper order of things that allows an infant’s needs to be met. If the brain-mind-self of the caregiver is distorted by a severe history of trauma – with complications – then the needs of the infant will be ignored. The infant will be neglected and abused. And the cycle moves on down the generations.
Infant abuse, then, most likely occurs through a distortion in a caregiver’s sense of time and of their alterations in memory processes. Proper and natural infant care is recorded in human DNA, programmed biologically into us as a species, or humans would never have survived long enough to evolve and exist in the first place. The DRIVE TO ATTACH is meant to fulfill the human NEED TO BELONG. It is supposed to be like a complicated dance that none of us have to think about. We have not even had, as lay people, the knowledge or the vocabulary to exactly describe what it is we know how to do to make sure our infants are cared for adequately. We have just carried out the directives built into our bodies and into our brains through an evolutionary process that has uniquely provided for us the tools to take care of our own so that the next generation would be able to follow us.
But there are severe alterations. And in today’s changing world, the effects of these alterations are going to plague us in the future even more than they do in our present. Any conceptualization of the past, or the present, that does not include some intonations for the future is a flawed one. Such was my mother’s. And such it is for anyone who has suffered the ravages of infant abuse in their own lives. Just as these people do not have the ability to narrate their own past cohesively, they also do not have the ability to perceive the future coherently, either. The patterns of their own lives will demonstrate this flaw.
And if these damaged infants do manage to form an “earned attachment” with their offspring, the effects will still manifest themselves in these parents, most probably when the parenting stage changes into a different one once the children leave home. ALL the feelings are still there. Somewhere. They can seem buried, but they do not magically just “go away.”
We are not, as individual’s, often able to invent words that will find their way into everyday common language. Words exist as manifestations of the human mind and psyche, in whatever language they are to be found. And just as we do not invent words, we do not invent the human condition. We experience it the same way we use words that have evolved to describe the aspects of the human experience.
If what I suspect my mother was doing in relation to me is correct, then she was trying as desperately as a human being is capable of – of trying to heal herself. Misguided, we can say. Yes. But within the distorted brain-mind-self that she possessed – the same one that had been created for her (and in interaction with her genetic disposition), it was the only avenue she knew to pursue. We can look from the outside and say that it made no sense. But from the inside of my mother it evidently did. She did not know that she was fighting poison with poison. Her brain-mind-self had been created in poison, and it was the only one she had. Was she binging on violence toward me to purge herself, to save herself? She did not live in a “remembered present” that any of us would recognize, so how do we know?
If we remember that the very word “sense” is connected not only to the meanings we make from our interaction with experience, but is also the word that describes the physical abilities we use to take in the very information that we have about ourselves in the world – and remember that the roots of the word “sense” go back to “journey,” then we can look at my mother’s treatment of me as a journey that made sense to her. I was “just” her victim. Her pawn. Her pharmacos. Her scapegoat.
And it is the journey I am taking to make sense out of my own life, and out of infant abuse peritrauma, that has led me to the work of writing this book. I am looking for the words that form the underpinnings of understanding the horror of it all. There have been too many wrong turns in my life for me not to look for the right ones.
[scape; intended as translation of Heb ‘azazel (probably name of a demon), used if ‘ez ‘ozel goat that departs – Lev 16:8 (AV)]
1: a goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur
2 a: one that bears the blame for others b: one that is the object of irrational hostility
: to make a scapegoat of
What my dictionary doesn’t tell me is something that I learned at a symposium on the war on drugs that I attended in Albuquerque, NM in 1989: That the word “pharmakos” meant the same thing as “scapegoat.” (I did a typo on that last word, and it read “scaregoat!”) We must look at the roots of “pharmacology” to see this kind of connection.
PHARMACOLOGY (ca. 1721)
1: the science of drugs including their origin, composition, pharmacokinetics, therapeutic use, and toxicology
2: the properties and reactions of drugs especially with relation to their therapeutic value
[NL, fr. LGk pharmakopoiia preparation of drugs, fr. Gk pharmako– + poiein to make – more at POET]
1: a book describing drugs, chemicals, and medicinal preparations; especially: one issued b an officially recognized authority and serving as a standard
2: a collection or stock of drugs
[LL pharmacia administration of drugs, fr. Gk pharmakeia, fr. pharmakeuein to administer drugs, fr. pharmakon magic charm, poison, drug]
1: the art, practice, or profession of preparing, preserving, compounding, and dispensing medical drugs
2 a: a place where medicines are compounded or dispensed b: DRUGSTORE
[ME, fr. AF, fr. L medicina, fr. feminine of medicinus of a physician, fr. medicus]
1 a: a substance or preparation used in treating disease b: something that affects well-being
2 a: the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease b: the branch of medicine concerned with the nonsurgical treatment of disease
3: a substance (as a drug or potion) used to treat something other than disease
4: an object held in traditional American Indian belief to give control over natural or magical forces; also: magical power or a magical rite
The experience of trauma is a chemical experience. The body releases powerful substances during a traumatic event. Chronic peritrauma wrecks all kinds of havoc on an infant’s growing and developing body and brain. (More later…)
Two years of torture and abuse starting at 10 years old at the hands of a stepmother was enough to cause a person like Rhodes to devote an entire lifetime to the study of violence. A childhood spent in the presence of violence was enough to make Athens also devote his lifetime to the study of criminology. David Pelzner, writing in his first book, “A Child Called It,” describes his anger and rage at being abused from the age of five. Yet I myself, certainly at the age of five when the bubble gum incident occurred, lacked any capacity to react “appropriately” to the violence and abuse being enacted by my mother against me. Not only did I lack the physical power to “stage a personal revolt” or fight back against her, I could not even do it with thought or within my mind.
Being raised in a state of chronic peritrauma from the time of my birth had engrained her abuse and violence toward me into the circuitry and pathways of my brain, and thus into my mind. This was different that “brain washing” or “mind control” as we normally consider it. Her actions toward me did not cause any kind of overlay, effectively “taking over” any sense of self or thoughts of my own that I possessed prior to the time the abuse occurred. When an infant is abused from birth the abuse BECOMES the brain-mind-self of the person being so affected. This is a crucial point leading to some important questions.
Is a person whose human rights have been violated from birth able to suffer more or less than someone would who has previously enjoyed the experience of having human rights in the first place? Any kind of abuse, and most certainly abuse to an infant is a violation of human rights. When a person has never enjoyed freedom do they miss it more or less than someone who knows freedom from their experience and has had it taken away. Isn’t that a basic premise of our penal system in the first place?
What about someone who has suffered chronic terror and pain from birth? Do they have the same experience of those feelings and of the experience as someone does who has remained terror and pain free and then at some later point, even as Rhodes did, experiences the same kind of pain at a much later age? Is there a difference between being a prisoner of war as an infant and child and being one as an adult?
I believe there is a difference. When an infant is raised in a chronically abusive environment it is a factual state that in order for an adult to commit such atrocities against an infant their brain and mind are essentially in a state of war. They are internally at war, and they create that state of inner battle within the external environment surrounding them. If their internal states of pain and terror and rage are not mitigated, they pass these states directly down to their offspring.
The fact that I parented my own offspring differently than my mother parented me simply indicates that someone or something mitigated my suffering in such a way that I was able to alter my own fate and that of my children. That my mother could and did not alter hers simply attests to the fact that no one and nothing either helped or saved her. She was born into an environment where she was forced to fight for her life – just as I was. But she lacked the resources and the allies that I had in my childhood. What these intervening resources were, for me, might seem insignificant and ineffectual in my fight to survive. But obviously they were at least adequate to allow me to circumvent the tragedy of enforcing my own extreme suffering upon my children.
What has led me to the writing of this book at the age of 55 is that I also know that my extreme suffering created a condition of mind that I still suffer from. My mother’s abuse of me altered the development of my brain, my mind, and myself. I am not “normal” or “ordinary” from the inside out.
It is the exact nature of these changes that I am SEEKING to discover, define, and describe – both for and to myself, and for and to you, the reader. As an infant, as a child, and even as an adult, I have not had the words and therefore not the thoughts to communicate the nature of my experience either to myself or to others.
It is this hallmark of a faulty “attachment” history that creates an incoherent self-narrative, which is in its self a symptom of attachment failure in childhood. When the essential, basic human biological drive to attach is thwarted, the essential and basic human NEED TO BELONG has not been met. It is this lack of belongingness that creates and sustains the environment of battle and war for the following generation. It is the fulfillment of the need to belong, from birth that is meant to be the filter of development for the human brain, mind and self. Without belonging, everything built into the brain is altered and something else will appear “at the end of the story.” And I guarantee it will not be a well-ordered and well-organized mind that will result in well-being, peace, or harmony.
As we begin to see what IS there for these people rather than what IS NOT there for them and in their lives we will begin to see the bigger picture. We will begin to see how the ramifications of infant abuse result in conditions that are detrimental to all concerned. Lack of adequate attachment from infancy does not simply create “unattached” individuals. It creates individuals who do not have the ability or capacity to attach. They do not BELONG – and believe me, when that happens, all hell can break lose and usually does.
That a description of my life story, my autobiographical narrative, may appear to be disorganized simply reflects the fact that my experiences from the time of my birth lie outside the “realm of ordinary experience” and patterned themselves within my brain and within my mind in a parallel fashion – this is what trauma does to a person. When chronic, it changes brains, minds, and selves. We will not, therefore, see from the outside what we recognize as “normal or ordinary.” Trauma is NOT normal or ordinary. We have to realize and accept that chronic infant states of peritrauma create in adults certain characteristic patterns of thoughts and behaviors that are not – given the nature of their cause and creation – simply abnormal. They are unusual. They contain a rhythm, synchronicity, pattern and poetry all their own. They tell a story of the “worst that can happen.” They tell a story of an absolute state of war and state of hell.