Neurobiology and Attachment

Topics: Attachment theory, Attachment in adults, Psychological trauma Pages: 8 (1892 words) Published: February 16, 2015


Bones Broken Become Stronger
Johannes Kieding
Simmons School of Social Work

In order to develop into fully functioning adults, children need to pass through a series of developmental stages and milestones. An optimal developmental trajectory results in an organism capable of great complexity – of the ability to satisfactorily manage internal and external demands, contribute to the world, while also leaving room for play, creativity, and enjoyment. In a perfect word the organism experiences just the right amount of stress and frustration to prepare the system to handle the hardships and disappointments of living, while allowing the developing person to take in, assimilate, and integrate information in an ever unfolding march towards complexity. The world is not perfect and overwhelmingly stressful events create trauma-reactions, and these events and the trauma that results “throws a wrench in the wheel” of normal development. Linda O’Neill, et. al. in ‘Am I safe here and do you like me?’ Understanding complex trauma and attachment disruption in the classroom (2010), write that it is interpersonal attachments that both spur and make healthy development possible, and the authors cite assertions that the heart of attachment relationships is to provide the function of self-regulation -- the ability to manage, organize, and sooth internal experience (O’Neill, Guenette, & Kitchenham, 2010, p. 192). Further cementing the idea of the supreme importance of a secure attachment and outlining what contributes to this attachment, Hillary Mayers, in Treatment of a traumatized adolescent mother and her two-year-old son (2005), writes, “The critical element in secure attachment is a responsive caregiver whose availability is consistent and predictable” (Mayers, 2005, p. 420, citing Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980). In this paper I will touch on the lives of Rachel (age 11) and Amanda (age 4) – two girls that suffered trauma – and comment on how their attachment relationships were impacted by their respective traumas. I will also take a closer look at the neurobiology of trauma in order to shed light on the inner workings of the human brain in relation to human development and maturation, with a special focus on attachment and trauma. What is the nature of Amanda’s and Rachel’s attachment relationship to the caretaking figures in their lives, and how were these attachment relationships impacted by trauma? Rachel’s original traumatic experience occurred when she was 19 months old, and was encoded in her right-brain implicit memory, pre-verbally (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2010, p. 5). The traumatic encoding lay dormant, affecting her mental state minimally through precipitants like fireworks and the color red, but otherwise her relationship to her grandmother (her primary caretaker) or her functioning overall appeared fairly intact. This changed when Rachel was 11-years-old; a rock was thrown through her bedroom window, causing the dormant, out of awareness implicit memory that previously only tossed to-and-fro in relatively minor symptoms, to be jogged out of its latent state, much like a cold sore flares up, and she began to experience severe symptoms consistent with a trauma-reaction. Rachel was unable to sleep alone, had severe trembling during sleep and wakes up screaming for grandmother even though grandmother sleeps right next to her, loss of appetite, inability to be alone, “scary pictures in her head” (flashbacks), and difficulties with memory. Judith and Allan Schore, in Modern attachment theory: The central role of affect regulation in development and treatment (2008), state that, much like O’Neill, et al., (2010) the function of the attachment relationship is not only to create a foundation of basic safety and security, but that the attachment relationship also serves the important function of self-regulation (Schore & Schore, 2008). Trauma disrupts attachment, much like a virus insidiously disrupts...

References: Bloom, S. L., & Farragher, B. (2013). Restoring sanctuary: A new operating system for trauma informed systems of care. New York: Oxford University Press.
Child Welfare Information Gateway (2010). Understanding the effects of maltreatment on brain development. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services., 1-17. Retrieved from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue-briefs/brain-development/?hasBeenRedirected=1
Cole, S. F., Greenwald, J., Gadd, G., Ristuccia, J., Wallace, L., & Gregory, M. (2005). Helping traumatized children learn (Massachusetts Advocates for Children Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative). Retrieved from :
Mayers, H. A. (2005). TREATMENT OF A TRAUMATIZED ADOLESCENT MOTHER AND HER TWO-YEAR OLD SON. Clinical Social Work Journal, 33, 419-431. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10615-005-7035-x
O’Neill, L., Guenette, F., & Kitchenham, A. (2010). ‘Am I safe here and do you like me?’ Understanding complex trauma and attachment disruption in the classroom. British Journal of Special Education, 190-197. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8578.2010.00477.x
Pietromonaco, P. R., & Barrett, L. F. (2000). The Internal Working Models Concept: What Do We Really Know About the Self in Relation to Others? Review of General Psychology , 4, 155-175. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037111089-2680.4.2.155
Schore, J. R., & Schore, A. N. (2008). Modern attachment theory: The role of affect regulation in development and treatment . Clinical Social Work Journal , 36, 9-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10615-007-0111-7
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