Here’s a big thank you to Nicole Noonan for her great article,The Disorder That Affects Us All: What you need to know about developmental trauma disorder! Nicole, who works at the Institute for Attachment & Child Development, does a great job of describing critical elements of DTD. However, she missed what I think is the MOST important point: identifying the primary cause of Developmental Trauma: DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT.
“You can’t fix it unless you know how it got broken.”
This old saying is paramount for those like Nicole and many thousands of other caring professionals who recognize just how pervasive Developmental Trauma is in our American culture. So let’s take a deeper look at it.
What CAUSES Developmental Trauma?
My 30 years of researching, studying, writing, and healing developmental trauma, clearly says that it is caused by multiple experiences of relational trauma that involve child abuse and/or neglect from trusted adult caregivers who provide inconsistent, intermittent, and/or chaotic caregiving. This is root cause of Disorganized Attachment (DA).
Two stellar researchers have dug deeply into DA. The first is Mary Main, who first identified it as a form of insecure attachment. Main, a follower of John Bowlby’s attachment theory, says that DA is caused by inconsistent and/or abusive caregiving during the first year of life. Harvard psychologist Karlen Lyons-Ruth says that the Mother-Child Attachment System also functions as the immune system. When caregiving is inconsistent, and/or neglectful during during the first year of life, it impacts not only children’s developing brains and central nervous systems, but also their life development at a BEING level.
When I integrate the two conclusions of these two stellar researchers, I see very clearly why the ACES research showed such big correlations between early childhood trauma, and why van der Kolk describes it as “the single most important public health challenge in the United States.”
America as a Developmental Trauma Disorder-ed Culture
DTD is clearly the the root cause of virtually EVERY problem that we have as a society, including the massive opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, van der Kolk, Nicole Noonan, and most other American mental health professionals do not recognize it is rooted in RELATIONAL TRAUMA!
The problem, as I see it . . . is that our DT Disordered Culture looks “normal” to us. It is SO pervasive that it has literally become invisible! The presence of screaming kids and dissociated/distracted/disorganized parents in restaurants, stores, shopping malls, schools, and churches is now so accepted in our permissive and chaotic culture that no one even RECOGNIZES that there’s a problem — except older people like me who realize that something has changed. 20 or 30 years ago, children didn’t run wild or make repeated high-pitched screams in public. And most people don’t recognize this kind of chaotic behavior as children’s cry for help. SOMETHING IS WRONG IN OUR CULTURE!
WHY Healing DTD in America is Sooo Difficult!
- Shame. American is a narcissistic culture that wants to maintain both our inner perceptions and outer appearance of being “good/successful.” We want to project our “we’re #1” perfection to the world. This makes looking at anything that reveals our “less than perfect” image extremely difficult. When someone like Bessel van der Kolk comes along with a message that says “we’re not perfect,” we prefer killing the messenger.
- Skewed values. American values are both “mentalistic” and materialistic. We value things, status, and looking good more than we value people (particularly children), relationships, emotions, personal honesty, self-reflection and self-correction.
- Materialism. Our materialistic American lifestyle almost demands that both parents work during children’s critical first three years of development. This means that most infants and very small children are left in the care of a series of total strangers. This creates the perfect conditions for the disorganized caregiving that is the core cause of Disorganized Attachment and Developmental Trauma Disorder.
- Insensitivity. Americans over analyze and under feel. Our more masculine, analytical, critical, and judging culture discounts the importance of more feminine ways that honor nurturing, emotions, sensitivity, heartfulness, kindness, and acceptance. This encourages more distant, disconnected, and isolated forms of personal relationships.
- Isolation. American lifestyles are increasingly more transient, chaotic, and disconnected. Most people live away from their families-of-origin and lack the kind of extended family support that is essential for children to develop secure attachment.
- Traumatized parents. Many well-meaning parents want to provide optimal childhood experiences for their children. Unfortunately, most of them didn’t experience this themselves, so the idea is not only very abstract, it is extremely difficult for them to give something they didn’t experience themselves. And it’s really difficult to find a place in culture where parents can learn how to parent effectively, so most “do to their children what was done to them.”
Sooo, What’s the Answer?
Here are my recommendations, based on my experiences in working with wounded Americans:
- Recognize the power of trauma as a force in human development. The best place to begin is with reviewing the ACES research findings.
- Accept that our personal and cultural problems didn’t begin with you. Read Mark Wolynn’s book, It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We are and How to End the Cycle.
- Recognize the dysfunctional aspects of American culture and see them for what they are –broken, chaotic, and woefully inadequate for meeting basic human needs for safety, security, and social/emotional connection.
- Shift from blame and criticism to an attitude of curiosity, discovery, and learning. This begins with releasing the need to be or look perfect, which allows you to look at how you are being influenced by cultural beliefs and even “propaganda.”
- Reorder your value system. Stop following the crowd and being influenced by what other people think. Identify your own values and beliefs and then begin acting from them.
- Develop spiritual courage. You’ll need it when you begin to create a more authentic and stable lifestyle, and those closest to you question you for breaking away.
- Seek out more functional cultural practices and structures. Join with other individuals, couples, families, groups, and organizations that are seeking to live more authentic lives. Visit our weinholds.org website, which has a lot of resources for living more authentically.
- Trust that being more authentic will bring you deep personal rewards that you cannot envision when you shift your direction away from being a conformist to living from the inside out.