Shocked babyInfants often experience developmental shock during the bonding stage. When they experience abandonment, abuse or neglect during the bonding stage fall directly into shock states.

Their Mindbodies are so energetically attuned with their caregivers that they are truly devastated when they experience a break in their bonding. They are acutely aware of nonverbal communication with the caregivers–eye contact, their facial expressions, their body language, their voice tone; and the quantity and quality of touch.

Through these nonverbal and sensory exchanges, infants brains and nervous systems become deeply imprinted with specific cues and subtle signals that monitor the strength of the energetic attunement with their mothers. Because infants have no defenses to protect themselves against the loss of maternal attunement, these subtle relational cues and signals gradually become highly sensitized triggers.

Developmental Shock and the Adrenal Stress Response

These emotionally-anchored triggers activate infants’ Adrenal Stress Response, and flight/fight/freeze behaviors. Early trauma also create foundational relational patterns that are slowly hardwired into infants brains, bodies, and character and create a template for all their subsequent intimate relationships.

Breaking Free of The Co-dependency TrapIn our book, Breaking Free of the Co-dependency Trap, we discuss extensively the traumatic impact of maternal-child misattunement during the co-dependent stage of development. Here are some of the most common adult behaviors that indicate bonding shock & trauma:

  • being addicted to people
  • feeling trapped in abusive, controlling relationships
  • having low self-esteem
  • needing constant approval and support from others in order to feel good about yourself
  • feeling powerless to change destructive relationships
  • needing alcohol, food or other oral addictions to help you swallow your feelings
  • having undefined psychological boundaries
  • feeling like a martyr
  • being a people-pleaser
  • being unable to experience true intimacy and love

Adult Symptoms of Developmental Shock During the Bonding Stage of Development

Here is another list of very common behaviors that children display after exposure to early experiences of developmental shock (Cook, Blaustein, Spinazzola and van der Kolk (2003). Some of these same traits also apply to adults.

  • Attachment problems
  • Uncertainty about the reliability and predictability of the world, distrust and suspiciousness, social isolation, interpersonal difficulties, difficulty attuning to other people’s emotional states and points of view.
  • Biochemical hypersensitivity to physical contact, analgesia, somatizing the trauma in the physical body, increased health and medical problems.
  • Affect or emotional dysregulation – easily-aroused high-intensity emotions, difficulty deescalating, difficulty describing feelings and internal experience, chronic and pervasive depressed mood or sense of emptiness or deadness, chronic suicidal preoccupation, over-inhibition or excessive expression of anger.
  • Dissociation – distinct alterations in states of consciousness, amnesia, depersonalization and de-realization.
  • Impulse control – poor modulation of impulses, self-destructive behavior, aggressive behavior, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, substance abuse, oppositional behavior, excessive compliance.
  • Cognitive disturbances – difficulties in regulating attention, problems managing life situations, problems focusing on and completing tasks, difficulty planning and anticipating, learning difficulties, problems with language development.
  • Poor self-concept – a lack of a continuous and predictable sense of self, low self-esteem, feelings of shame and guilt, generalized sense of being ineffective in dealing with one’s environment, belief in being permanently damaged by early shock experiences.

Again, these problems fall along a continuum from mild to severe. The critical point in this discussion is that ‘subtle and ordinary relational experiences creates some of the same symptoms and problems as trauma that is extreme and dramatic and that all serve as the foundational experiences in determining a person’s ability to form and sustain healthy relationships, to succeed in the world and to experience positive mental health.


Weinhold, B.& Weinhold, J. (2008). Breaking free of the co-dependency trap. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Cook, A., Blaustein, M., Spinazzola, J., and van der Kolk, B., (2003). Complex trauma in children and adolescents. White paper from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Complex Trauma Task Force.

Further Reading:

Learn more about developmental shock!

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