Janae B. Weinhold
Trauma is defined as an overwhelming psychological experience that causes changes in the biological stress response. When children’s psychological and emotional needs are either not met in an appropriate and/or timely manner, these experiences are traumatic. They become hard-wired into the child’s brain and leave biological and physical symptoms of trauma.These earliest symptoms, which are very subtle and often invisible to the untrained eye, involve avoidant and anxious/ambivalent behaviors typical of insecurely bonded children. Both varieties of behavior symptoms also include typical physical markers of trauma such as fight/flight/freeze responses, rapid heartbeat, hypervigilance, hyperactivity and increased cortisol levels in the blood.
The correlation between bonding breaks and trauma is very new. Some of the groundbreaking research in this area has been done by Sheila Wang in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. Ms. Wang, a researcher in the field of post-traumatic stress, found parallels between the cortisol levels in the bloodstream of children who experience chronic separation from their mothers and adults who experience chronic stress from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and human-made disasters such as wars, murders and bombings. This biologically based data provides the critical tie linking trauma and bonding breaks, a phenomenon that I call Developmental Trauma.