Healing developmental trauma is possible, we know this from helping each other heal it and also from our work with clients. Developmental trauma is an “encompassing term” that describes a spectrum of parent-child experiences involving abandonment, neglect and abuse during the first three years of life. It draws from both the fields of developmental psychology and traumatology.
Our definition of developmental trauma specifically recognizes the chronic effects of subtle emotional disconnects between children and their caregivers. These disconnects often draw no attention from adult caregivers, even though they can be extremely traumatic to children.
Healing Developmental Trauma in Children
What infants and very small children need to heal developmental trauma requires caring adults who can emotional synchronize with them through brain-to-brain attunement, skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact, and hearing kind and comforting words. They also need to experience protection and safety from their mother during gestation, birth and the first years of life. Unfortunately, most parents have not been educated about children’s social and emotional needs and lack skills for supporting their child emotionally when they become upset.
It is rare for parents to have fully experienced emotional attunement with their own parents when they were children. This makes it difficult for them to respond to their needs for nurturing, protection, safety and guidance in timely and appropriate ways. They also do not correlate their deficiencies in their own parenting experiences with their own day-to-day struggles to effectively parent their own children.
Healing Developmental Trauma in Adults
What adults need to heal developmental trauma are experiences of being loved and “felt.” This process is both an internal experience of mindful self-loving and an external experience of attunement and emotional synchronization that involves another person. This “other” can be a close friend or family member, a therapist, a group or a romantic partner. The most important part of healing developmental trauma in adulthood is an awareness of what is missing that needs healing, and of what is happening during the healing process.
For this reason, we highly recommend that adults learn to make sense of their own childhood experiences, to understand both what they needed in the first year of life, and how not getting it has affected their lives and their relationships. This “making sense” process helps to organize not only the parts of a person’s brain, but to connect the dots between early childhood experiences and present-time relational, life and health issues.
The core of healing developmental trauma in both children and adults is using presence, attunement and resonance to create the essential condition of trust. As people feel this healing love without fear, as they come to their internal experiences of safety, trust helps them to reorganize their beliefs and their behavior.