Book Review in Progress: Healing Developmental Trauma
Hey everybody. This is a pretty cerebral post (which ironically is a confirmation of my survival style, if you keep reading…haha), so I think we’re safe as far as TW’s go…
So I started reading a new book last week called Healing Developmental Trauma, by Laurence Heller. I’m only about halfway through it (or less), so I can’t give an official book review yet, but it’s knocking my socks off.
The premise of Healing Developmental Trauma is the use of a specific technique called the NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) to help facilitate healing for those who have experienced interruption in one or more of their early natural growth and developmental phases. The interruption could be due to neglect, abuse, trauma, or insensitive parenting, but it all involves – you guessed it – attachment with the caregivers (or lack thereof). What I liked about this book from the very beginning is that it ties together the emotional wounds with the resulting pathologies in the body, and addresses both, but does not specifically emphasize one over the other. They see the two things as they really are – which is, in reality, profoundly connected – and their approach works to synchronize the two. (The Life Model Works approach does this too, but maybe because I haven’t attended any of their in-depth training, I’m not privy to the specifics.)
Anyway, according to Heller, depending on which developmental phase was interrupted, a person typically adapts a specific survival style as a baby and/or child, and as we have already discussed with trauma, what is adaptive in the beginning ends up becoming maladaptive later on in the person’s life. The five biologically-based core needs that the book addresses, and from which spring the survival styles are: the need for connection, attunement, trust, autonomy, and love-sexuality. The five survival styles are named after those needs. If your development was interrupted at the connection level, you probably developed what the author calls a connection survival style related to that level of need that wasn’t fulfilled. If your development was interrupted at the attunement phase, you developed an attunement survival style. And so on.
People, I have some degree of distortion in all of these. Maybe just because I’m a multiple, or maybe just because I’m suspicious of all information presented in a linear fashion, I already had that question before I started: Can a person only be one of these survival styles? The book hasn’t said that (yet), and I don’t know if it will, but welcome to multiplicity: the game where everything is made up and the facts don’t matter. (That was a joke…don’t take it the wrong way, plz.) 😉
Even though I – and my insiders – have distortions in all of these areas, I personally have the mostdisruption in the core need of connection. I started off highlighting some things in the connection chapter, but eventually had so much highlighted that I practically highlighted the entire chapter! So I’d like to quote some of it here. Before that specific survival style, though, here is a set-up paragraph of how the survival styles originate:
The Need-Satisfaction Style
"A primary need emerges and is satisfied. It recedes into the background and another need emerges; and so the cycle continues. When, for a child, this need-satisfaction cycle is significantly interrupted, healthy development is disturbed, and the environmental failure triggers both tension and bracing in the musculature and activation and imbalances in the nervous system and biochemistry – all of which sets the stage for symptoms and disease. When basic needs are not met and the protest to get those needs met is unsuccessful, children come to feel that something is wrong with their needs; they cannot know that it is their environment that is not responding adequately. Therefore, they internalize caregiver failures, experiencing them as their own personal failures. Reacting to their caregivers’ failure to meet their needs, children come to feel various degrees of anger, shame, guilt, and physiological collapse. Tragically, to the degree that there is chronic lack of attunement to their core needs, children do not learn to attune to the needs within themselves. When basic needs are consistently left unsatisfied, the need-satisfaction cycle is interrupted, and nervous system dysregulation and identity distortions are set in motion that often have a lifelong negative impact." –Laurence Heller, Healing Developmental Trauma
This book does a phenomenal job of describing how children are designed to adapt to whatever their environment offers them, and how we are hard-wired to protect our attachment relationship(s) at all costs.
The First Organizing Principle
As a result of the earliest trauma, individuals with the Connection Survival Style have disconnected from their bodies, from themselves, and from relationship. Connection types have two seemingly different coping styles or subtypes: the thinking and the spiritualizing subtypes. To manage the pain of early trauma, some individuals disconnect from their bodies and live in their minds. They value thinking and logic over feelings and emotions. Other individuals, having never embodied, manage their disconnection by spiritualizing their experience. These individuals tend to live in the energetic field, in more ethereal realms. Individuals of both subtypes are disconnected from their bodies and when asked what they are feeling in their body, find the question challenging, anxiety producing, and often impossible to answer.
Development of the Connection Survival Style
The Connection Survival Style is developmentally the first of the five adaptive survival styles. This style develops as a result of early shock and attachment trauma. When early life experience has been traumatic the trauma lives on in the form of ongoing systemic high-arousal states. Unresolved high arousal becomes the source of a relentless, nameless dread, a continuous sense of impending doom that never resolves. Adults who develop the Connection Survival Style experience the lifelong difficulty of managing the physiological dysregulation of these high levels of arousal as well as the resulting psychological distortions of identity. They function by using dissociation to disconnect from the distress in their body. As a result, the child and later the adult are left with systemic dysregulation and a narrowed range of resiliency that leaves them vulnerable to later traumas.
The Connection Survival Style in the Adult
The identity and physiology of adults with early trauma are impacted by the distress and dysregulation they experienced in early life. Early shock and attachment trauma create a distorted template for lifelong psychological, physiological, and relational functioning. Because of their early trauma, both the thinking and the spiritualizing subtypes disconnect from bodily experience and personal relationships. Although initially protective, sustained disconnection from the body and other people creates increasing dysregulation that leads to psychological and physiological symptoms.
The Thinking Subtype
As a result of early trauma thinking subtypes have retreated to the life of the mind and choose theoretical and technical professions that do not require significant human interaction. These individuals tend to be more comfortable behind a computer, in their laboratory, or in their garage workshops where they can putter undisturbed. They can be brilliant thinkers but tend to use their intelligence to maintain significant emotional distance.
The Spiritualizing Subtype
These subtypes are prone to spiritualizing their experience. As a result of either early shock or relational trauma, they did not feel welcomed into the world and grew up believing that the world is a cold, loveless place. Because other humans are often experienced as threats, individuals with this subtype search for spiritual connection, are more comfortable in nature and with animals, and feel more connected to God than to other human beings. To make sense of the pain of their lives, they often become spiritual seekers trying to convince themselves that someone loves them; if people do not, then God must.
These individuals are often extremely sensitive in both positive and negative ways. Having never embodied, they have access to energetic levels of information to which less traumatized people are not as sensitive; they can be quite psychic and energetically attuned to people, animals, and the environment and can feel confluent and invaded by other people’s emotions. They are also unable to filter environmental stimuli – they are sensitive to light, sound, pollution, electromagnetic waves, touch, etc; therefore they often struggle with environmental sensitivities. –Laurence Heller, Healing Developmental Trauma
I could keep going on and on, but these things are some of the most fundamental keys to my existence, individually and collectively. I am more of the “thinking” type, and I know for a fact Tasha is the “spiritualizing” type to a T. This survival style profoundly affects all of my system to some degree or another, with a smattering of the other survival styles mixed in at every level.
God help us.
Everything relates back to attachment. Everything.
This book goes on to describe the struggles of the Connection Survival Style (and the others) even down to their energy level, breathing pattern, and disease tendencies. They hit the nail on the head in every. Single. Way. This is amazing, and frightening. I don’t say these things to alarm anyone, because the truly miraculous thing about it for me is, I am healing. Even without this information so clearly spelled out in front of me, I have been – and am – healing. But this book is just one of those books that takes my (already shallow…hahaha) breath away with its accuracy. I encourage you to read it if you feel it might be helpful or relevant to you. I’ll probably be writing and posting more about it as I continue to read and absorb. I hope some of this info has been helpful in some way. I probably won’t go into great depth on the other survival styles since, although they are relevant in certain ways, they are not the primary connection point for my system. Feel free to check out the book, though, for more information. I don’t get any kind of compensation for recommending it; it has simply been super helpful to me in this moment so I am passing it on to you for a resource. Cheers! ~J8