Adoption Can’t Give This

Dr Nelson, in his book – Healing the Split, suggests the ideal gestation, birth and infancy circumstances for healthy development in a child. This goes beyond the obvious and unavoidable trauma of separating an infant from their natural mother or any emotional distress that mother feels while pregnant and planning to surrender her baby to adoption.

Here is what he suggests – some of the best pregnancy, birth and infant care advice I have already encountered during my own last two pregnancies and baby care days, beginning in the early 2000s.

In pregnancy, this mother might be treated as special by her own loving selfobjects, so that she finds it easy to maintain a placid inner state. Her pregnancy would allow her extra time to meditate regularly and through this practice she establishes an unspoken communion with her unborn fetus with the subconscious residues of her own early life experiences resolved.

As the time of her child’s birth nears, the mother rehearses breathing and pelvic exercise to facilitate her natural delivery. As the child enters the world, he is welcomed into a softly lit room, the predominant feature of which is his mother’s warm skin and breast as she gently bathes and massages him.

The synapses that are rapidly proliferating within his still unfinished brain form a physical supporting grid for a psychic self that is primed to accept soothing, is ready to trust and can intuit a sense of belongingness.

As the newborn’s psyche begins to construct holographic patterns of the consensual world, his empathic parents instinctively anticipate his needs, neither overstimulating him nor leaving him wanting. Wordless harmonies resonate between him and his caretakers and condition his own fundamental vibrational patterns. These harmonies are periodically broken by inevitable frustrations and deprivations but timely reunions with empathic parents quickly restore synchronous patterns within his psychic field.

As the child grows into a toddler, empathic mirroring enlivens his tentative explorations of a world apart from mother, followed by just a little extra soothing that directs his psychic energies along navigable neural pathways. This compensates for his inborn exaggerated stress reaction and enables him to incorporate his mother’s self within his own without fear of engulfment. His self-secure mother joyfully encourages his wary independence and offers a fresh measure of support during what is a particularly lengthy rapprochement period. This insures that his slowly forming self-boundaries can withstand the social challenges that this unusual child will later endure.

As the child learns to communicate, his parents take pains to be consistent in their rewards and punishments. When he is excited and hyperaroused, they set firm limits on his behavior and they teach him to cope with this and similar altered states of consciousness by monitoring his breathing and concentrating on his inner awareness, especially his feelings. They teach him to ask for a massage and also to give one back. Both calm a turbulent arousal. Kindly, they teach him to laugh at them, and at himself.

Dr Nelson believes that as many as half of all permanently disabling psychotic altered states of consciousness could be prevented or diverted into a favorable life pathway if given the right start in life.

Healing Trauma

I’ve only just learned about this book and have not read it but didn’t want to wait for whenever, if ever, that might happen to pass it on to readers here.

Many adoptees and foster children have some degree of trauma. It is said that this is one of the best-known books about trauma, and in particular early life trauma (which especially applies to the topics I cover in this blog). 

It is not light weight reading, has almost 500 pages that includes a significant reference section. Someone who did read this (link at bottom of this essay) says – “It’s very in-depth, giving plenty of detail, but it’s not unnecessarily complicated. There’s some technical terminology used, particularly with respect to the functioning of the brain, but I thought this was explained well.”

Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist who initially began working with trauma while treating war veterans. There was a lot that wasn’t known about trauma then. He’s been an active researcher throughout his career and often considered at the forefront of new trauma-related knowledge.

In this book, he repeatedly stresses the importance of recognizing the changes that occur in the brains and nervous systems of people who’ve been through trauma, and targeting treatment accordingly with the goal of getting back the functioning they have lost. He is quoted as saying, “Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

Imaging studies have produced some new understandings about flashbacks. There’s activation of the right brain along with a drop in activity in the brain structure called the thalamus, which prevents the events from being remembered as a coherent narrative, as would be the case with other kinds of memories.

Brain scans have also shown an impaired self-awareness. Van der Kolk explains that this is why it’s important to work on breathing, mindfulness, and recognizing the link between physical sensations and emotions. He writes further: “The body keeps the score: If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/muscular problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communication is the royal road to emotion regulation, this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions.”

The book pays a lot of attention to early life trauma, including issues like attachment and attunement. The author explains that trauma increases the need for attachment, even when the only attachment figure available to the child is the abuser.

Van der Kolk championed adding complex PTSD as a separate diagnosis from PTSD. He was part of the working group that proposed C-PTSD for inclusion in the DSM-IV, and the group that proposed developmental trauma disorder for inclusion in the DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association did not approve any of these suggestions as new diagnoses.

I am indebted to Ashley of The Mental Health @ Home blog for her review which is the basis of my own blog today. You can read more about this book in her article.