Kevin A. Johnson
Adler Graduate School
I was first introduced to ACE study while I was working on my undergraduate degree in psychology. I was working as an intern at an outpatient, gender-responsive, trauma-informed MICD facility. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn the nuances of providing a special level of care to a very resilient population. The curriculum that was being used was written by Dr. Stephanie Covington and Richard Dauer. During my time at this site, I had the privileged of being able to work with each of these amazing individuals who have devoted much of their lives to helping others while gaining valuable understanding to how adverse childhood affect contributes to our emotional development well into adulthood.
I am now closing in on the end of my journey earning my masters in Adlerian Psychology with an emphasis on Marriage and Family Therapy. I will be graduating in December 2019. For my final class, each of us students were given the assignment of contributing to the ACEs Connection via a blog post. This is my post:
Childhood experiences are crucial to our emotional development. Our parents, who are our primary attachment figures, play an important role in how we experience the world because they lay the foundation of what the world is going to look like for us. Is it a safe place to explore and take emotional risks? Are all people out to hurt us and therefore untrustworthy? Can we lean on important people in our lives to support us in times of emotional need?
Complex trauma refers to prolonged exposure to a stressful event. This would include children who have grown up in physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abusive households. Without the safety net of a secure attachment relationship, children grow up to become adults who struggle with feelings of low self-worth and challenges with emotional regulation. They also have an increased risk of developing depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
Childhood experiences lay the groundwork for what will be our general attachment style throughout our lives, how we bond with another person, as well as how we respond emotionally when that person is separated from us. The Canadian author Ryan North once said “our brains are wired for connection, but trauma rewires them for protection. That is why healthy relationships are difficult for wounded people.” We see this come to light with individuals who not only struggle with relationships, but with issues of substance use/abuse.
These individuals usually grew up in a supportive environment where parents were consistently responsive to their needs. People who are securely attached are generally comfortable with being open about themselves, asking for help, and allowing others to lean on them at an emotional level. They have a positive outlook on life, are comfortable with closeness, and seek physical and/or emotional intimacy with minimal fear of being rejected or overwhelmed.
Characteristics of secure attachment: Positive view of self, positive view of others, interdependent, has comfort with emotional intimacy, comfortable with closeness, secure and trusting.
Examples of inner dialogue: “He is there for me when I need him.” “She always calms me.” “I can get through this.”
Children usually develop this attachment style when their primary caregivers are not responsive to or are even rejecting of their needs. Children learn to pull away emotionally as a way to avoid feelings of rejection. As adults, they become uncomfortable with emotional openness and may even deny to themselves their need for intimate relationships.
Characteristics of avoidant attachment: Positive view of self, negative view of others, independent and self-reliant, difficulty with closeness to others, puts up walls, leaves or will avoid conflict.
Examples of inner dialogue: “I don’t need her.” “I can’t take care of myself.” “I love you! Get away from me!”
Children who have developed this style may have been exposed to prolonged abuse and/or neglect. Primary caregivers are the people children often turn to as a source of comfort and support. In a situation involving abuse, these primary caregivers are also a source of hurt. The very same person that may have taught them how to ride a bicycle, were also their perpetrator. These children grow up to become adults who fear intimacy within their relationships but also fear not having close relationships in their lives. They recognize the value of relationships and have a strong desire for them, but often have a difficult time trusting other. As a result, they avoid being emotionally open with others for fear of being hurt and rejected.
Characteristics of fearful attachment: Negative view of self, negative view of others, seeks closeness and avoids closeness, disorganized, fearful of making connections, could be self-harming or abusive.
Examples of inner dialogue: “There is something wrong with me.” “No one can love.”
Children develop this form of attachment usually when their parents have been inconsistent with their responses to them. At times, these parents exhibit nurturing, caring, and attentive behaviors. Other times they can be cold, rejecting, or emotionally detached or neglectful. As a result, the children don’t know what to expect. They become adults who desire a lot of connection within their relationships, sometimes to the point of being “clingy.” They are highly aware of any slight changes in the relationship. These changes, however minute, can significantly increase this individual’s anxiety. As a result, he or she will focus energy on increasing connection with that partner. Individuals who have this attachment style needs more validation and approval than the other attachment styles.
Characteristics of fearful attachment: Negative view of self, positive view of others, dependent, fear of losing relationship, emotional highs and lows, can be aggressive, “clingy” on separation.
Examples of inner dialogue: “She’ll let me down.” “He is going to leave me.”
McLeod, S. (2008). Mary Ainsworth. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/mary
Ogden, P., & Fisher, J. (2015). Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment.
New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Van Der Kolk, B.A. (1989). The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma: Re-Enactment,
Revictimization, and Masochism. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 389-411.