Trauma Myths and Trauma realities
Trauma is the wound caused when we are overwhelmed with terror and helplessness in a life threatening situation.
As adults we think of traumas as natural disasters or dramatic atrocities that leave us gasping. But trauma is a different story for infants and young children. They are vulnerable to another kind of trauma because they can’t survive on their own..
Helpless Human babies are vulnerable to subtle Chronic Covert Attachment Trauma
Because infants die unless someone takes care of them, they are hardwired for bonding to their mothers or to other primary caregivers, as you can see in this video of the “Still Face Experiment.”
Threats to these relationships register on infants’ bodies, minds, and spirits as threats to life itself. And so a jarring or missing connection between a baby and mother, like any life-threatening experience, can have a traumatic impact on a helpless baby.
Children’s primary relationships can be traumatized even when caregivers are well-intentioned and have love in their hearts. Sickness, economic hardship, social upheaval, spiritual poverty, government policy–any number of factors beyond a loving parent’s control can lead to traumatic ruptures or unattunements in a tiny child’s lifeline relationship.
Older children are also vulnerable to the cumulative effect of CCT
How our bonding and attachment develops and operates creates a relationship base for our later development. With a strong, secure base, we can take later challenges in stride…
If unhealed infant attachment traumas have weakened our relationship base, we have deep insecurity and fewer resources as we grow up.
If we are insecure and have fewer resources, we are more like to be traumatically overwhelmed by challenges that might strengthen other, more securely attached children.
Just as “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” the traumatized get more traumatized.
Common ordinary developmental challenges and relationship stresses can lead to Chronic Covert Trauma (CCT) in later childhood and adolescence
These later challenges include:
- An unattuned or invalidating family environment
- Shaming, dismissive responses to a child’s distress emotions, or no response at all
- Rigidly perfectionistic, “over-civilized,” relentlessly cheerful families
- Overly close, unwholesome parent-child bonds, such as “Daddy’s Girl”, “Mamma’s Boy,” or either parent’s “Best Buddy”
- Unidentified (covert) learning disabilities, sensory processing disorders, vision or hearing problems
- “Hand-Me-Down” traumas absorbed by a child’s mirror neurons from parents’ unhealed traumas
Chronic Covert Trauma: at last there’s a name for the trauma that had no name
We need to talk about this, but it’s hard to talk about something that has no name. So I coined the term Chronic Covert Trauma (CCT) to help us talk about a kind of trauma that is:
- Chronic, because it is ongoing, repetitive, and cumulative rather than a single event or set of events,
- Covert, because it is so difficult to identify, and
- Trauma, because
- it overwhelms the victim’s mental, physical and emotional resources at the time it occurs and
- it results in characteristic physical, mental, social and spiritual wounds that continue to cause pain and disability long afterwards.
Invalidation of the trauma is the final debilitating wound, the last link in the traumatic chain.
Not all trauma leads to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sometimes the trauma is acknowledged and repaired and no PTSD occurs.
But covert trauma often remains hidden and unacknowledged. The wounds then are not healed and the relationship rupture is not repaired.
Often, even when covertly traumatized people notice the complications from the wound and tell someone about it, the person they tell invalidates them. This invalidation can be done by
- minimizing and trivializing: “You aren’t going to let a little thing like that upset you, are you?”
- contemptuous dismissal: “only a baby gets upset by that.” “you are just a crybaby.”
- direct prohibition: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
- distracting and “jollying”: “think of something nice”, “let’s see the corners of your mouth turn up,”
- or even by denial: “Your aunt would never say a thing like that; you are a bad girl to make up lies”
Finally, self-invalidation blocks all hope of healing
When we take in other people’s invalidating responses and make them our own, through what psychologists call introjection, or the Stockholm syndrome, or “identification with the aggressor,” or some other means, we start to invalidate ourselves.
Self-invalidation, the most pernicious form of invalidation, buries the wounds of Chronic Covert Trauma so deep that no one even knows they are there.
Invalidating ourselves blocks the entire healing process. Self-invalidation prevents us from even acknowledging that there is a wound that needs to be addressed.
There is hope for survivors of Chronic Covert Trauma
When we acknowledge the reality of Chronic Covert Trauma, we dignify the struggles of Chronic Covert Trauma survivors.
When we validate the real wounds of Chronic Covert Trauma as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, we can use the healing tools and techniques that have been developed and used to heal overt blatant traumas.
And then the healing of Chronic Covert Trauma can begin.