We have been conducting personal research on DST in what we came to call our laboratory since we were married in 1984. When we got married we had no idea that we would be researching a new theory. As things happened to us, we asked questions such as What caused us to react the way we did in that incident Or What can we do to prevent that kind of reaction from happening again We had no idea that patterns of unrecognized and unhealed developmental shock, trauma, and stress transmitted to us from our family of origin systems would impact our efforts to experience intimacy. When they appeared, we looked for ways to identify the barriers to intimacy and then create tools for healing them. We closed the exits that we had used to avoid looking at ourselves in our previous relationshipsaddictions, distractions, defenses, excusesand began working in earnest.
The fact that we were both mental health practitioners also gave us extra motivation to work on our relationship and ourselves. We also realized that doing this work was equally essential for creating healthy and ethical relationships with our clients. So we had deep personal and professional reasons for charting our particular course. First, we learned to recognize that the overreactions we had during our conflicts were being triggered by unrecognized and unhealed shock, trauma, and stress from the past. We began to recognize that our intergenerational patterns of unhealed shock, trauma, and stress were anchored in our early childhood development. We gradually saw how our patterns were complementary and that this was one of the reasons we were attracted to each other. Eventually we understood that a central purpose of our relationship was to help each other heal the lingering effects of our early experiences of shock, trauma, and stress and to change our perceptions of them. We both had been in therapy prior to our relationship and were under the illusion that we had already healed the effects of our early shock, trauma, and stress. We soon realized, however, that the depth of intimacy we were experiencing in our relationship was triggering older and deeper levels of unhealed early developmental shock, trauma, and stress and causing increasingly more frequent periods of disharmony and feelings of emotional separation. We noticed during conflicts that our exaggerated emotional reactions were much greater than the situation called for. Emotional escalation was the first signal that we were being triggered by unrecognized and unhealed shock, trauma, and stress and that we were dissociating or regressing. We had worked in therapy on our more obvious experiences of shock, trauma, and stress, such as Janae’s abandonment by her mother at 13 years when her mother committed suicide. Barry had done extensive reparenting therapy to help him heal the effects of early bonding breaks with his mother. We finally recognized that the closeness and intimacy of our relationship, greater than we ever had in previous relationships, was making it safe enough for deeper levels of previously unrecognized and unhealed shock, trauma, and stress to surface. We then began experimenting with ways to help each other heal the lingering effects of these experiences. It soon became clear to us that this was a challenging process and that some of the ways we were using to heal these wounds were not very effective. What made it seem even more difficult was that our intergenerational patterns of our shock, trauma, and stress seemed to mesh perfectly. When Barry did something that reminded Janae of her mother’s abandonment, she would feel deep feelings of fear and sadness from her abandonment trauma. This would cause her to project her mother’s face on Barry, lash out at him, and push him away like she did her mother. This would trigger Barry’s memories of being verbally attacked by his mother and his feelings of abandonment after her attacks. So we were often two scared, angry, and regressed little children attempting to resolve a current conflict that was anchored in our past experiences involving the unhealed effects of shock, trauma, and stress. When we got triggered during a relationship conflict, we quickly found ourselves feeling emotionally mis-attuned and disconnected from each other. The trigger cues and signals often gave us clues that helped us identify the developmental sources of our conflict. From this we surmised that we must have had numerous bonding breaks with our mothers during our early infancy. We also recognized that when we were regressed or dissociated, we had intense emotions that made it very difficult for us to function as adults. In these situations we sometimes resorted to using old defenses such as blaming each other, fleeing physically or emotionally, or even just freezing and not knowing what to say or do, to keep us from regressing or dissociating. Recognizing these time-distorting experiences slowly helped us connect present-time conflicts with unhealed developmental shocks, traumas, and stresses that we experienced as infants. We realized that we both had mothers who were unable to consistently attune with us emotionally. As we understood more about our mothers childhood histories, we recognized that they were struggling with their own unrecognized and unhealed developmental shock, trauma, and stress, which made it difficult for them to be present with us. As we looked at our mothers and their own motherchild experiences, we understood in a very personal way how these subtle patterns of developmental shock, trauma, and stress are transmitted intergenerationally. As we created tools that helped us re-regulate our feelings during our periodic traumatic reenactments, we began to use them with clients who had similar issues in their relationships. We found that our clients were also benefiting from what we had learned in our relationship. In our clinical work we began to focus more intensely on helping individuals recognize their first signs of post-traumatic stress. We help them to connect the dots between problems they were having in their current life situations with experiences involving shock, trauma, and stress during their first 3 years of life. Then we used our tools to help them complete these developmental processes in present time and to help heal the lingering effects of shock, trauma, and stress from their relationships, bodies, and nervous systems. Finally, we served as comforting figures that were able to empathize with them and witness their emotional struggles. We discovered that people in the helping professions, therapists, social workers, and teachers, were most effective when they shared about their own process of becoming whole and individuated persons at appropriate times in their work with others. We also worked with many couples that came to us in the midst of breakdown and we were able to teach them what we had learned to heal their developmental shock, trauma, and stress. We discovered that our systems framework could help them quickly identify their core couple issues. We also taught them how to work cooperatively to help each other heal the developmental shock, trauma, and stress that they had brought into their relationship. Then we began to see the same symptoms of early shock, trauma, and stress in our clinical work with families. We worked with intact families, blended families, and single-parent families who were all facing serious problems. In each case, the family system was threatened by the lack of sustained emotional resonance and inability of members to regulate their emotions. Many had serious conflicts involving children who needed more emotional support from the parents in order to complete the essential developmental processes of both their codependent and counterdependent stages. We saw how difficult it was for parents to support their children when they were not securely bonded with each other and their children. Here it was clear how the parents unhealed developmental shock, trauma, and stress were impacting both the couple structure and the whole family system. It was also here that we learned how to work systemically to heal developmental shock, trauma, and stress. Our first focus was on helping individuals learn how to regulate themselves during escalated emotional states, then teaching couples how to help each other do this, and finally working with the whole family to teach them these skills. The ripple effect of change we saw moving among these three systems always amazed us, particularly how quickly the children adapted once the adults became more whole and functional. One of our most effective intervention strategies involved the use of home visits in which we helped couples integrate their work into their families. This particular practice gave us a lot of experience in honing the DST microsystem component strategies and skills. It also triggered deeper family of origin issues for us to address in our own relationship. The feedback from our clients and the countertransference issues they generated for us to work on helped us refine our tools, which we then tested in our own relationship. Once we refined them and researched them more thoroughly, we began teaching these tools to counselors-in-training through our graduate classes at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. They gave us feedback on their effectiveness in their therapy work with themselves and with their clients. Finally, we began writing books to share our philosophy and approach more widely. We can say that we are still in the midst of a living laboratory and drawing on all our life experiences as resources for learning and evolving. Our websites contain our writings about the latest learning and evolving we have done since our book on Healing Developmental Trauma was published. You will find more about how to recognize and heal developmental shock, trauma or stress on our flagship website at www.weinholds.org and the other ten in the list on the right hand navigation column.