Prominent writers like Shore, Vander Kolk, Vander Hart and Ducey tell us that all of our experiences from the very beginning effect the way we behave in later life. Memories of our early life experiences get stored in the developing memory system in our brain and control what we do later in life.
Shore says, “the right brain needs a secure, positive, supportive environment to develop and prevent mental health issues in adulthood. (p24). Vander Kolk and Vander Hart say any form of emotional trauma, either deficits or actual traumatic interactions “stop the chronological clock and fixes the moment permanently in memory…the traumatized, fixated, inflexible part of the personality has stopped developing”. (p.176-7) and Vander Kolk and Ducey follow on by saying “these unconscious traumatic memories come to control behaviour and …the trauma is relived repeatedly…(259-274)” This is what we call pre-verbal trauma, things that happened to us before we could speak. These memories are stored in our unconscious and out of our awareness yet are triggered by interactions in the present. .
How does this trauma present in my life as an adult?
The consequences of early relational trauma, (an inability of the parent to help the child regulate) are that the child grows up with a lack of capacity for emotional self regulation. People in this space can’t regulate the intensity and duration of their emotions. They have increased sensitivity to stress and find it difficult to develop a strategy for coping with stress. Severe dysregulation is the basis for a lot of psychological distress.
In addition to dysregulation, Shore say children unconsciously choose two different response patterns to trauma:Hyperarousal and/or dissociation. (p.15) . When the trauma is intense, and exhausts the infants coping mechanisms, they either move into hypoarousal (dissociation) or defend against the trauma by staying on `red alert`. Either way they are maladaptive patterns of responding to the world which ultimately damage someone’s capacity for genuine intimacy.
Shore says that even though an adult can exhibit infantile response they have a mature brain that is capable of exhibiting adult responses. However there is evidence that the adult brain when confronted with severe stress may regress to an infantile state. (p.21 paraphrased)
This simply means that until we have processed our unconscious memories they will control how we behave in the present. Which is why taking the time to work through our traumatic history is important if we are to experience emotional freedom and more mature connections in our lives.
Prepared by Lyn Abery July 2018
The Intrusive Past: Van der Kolk and Van der Hart. Unpublished paper
Dysregulation of the right brain: a fundamental mechanism of traumatic attachment and the psychopathogenesis of post traumatic stress disorder: Allan N. Schore. Unpublished paper.
The Psychological Processing of Traumatic Experience: van der Kolk B, Ducey CR, Traumatic Stress 1989; 2:259-274