Jun 26 2008

Protest, Despair, and Defense: What’s this got to do with your life?

Sorry. I know there are a lot of you out there who believe that your infant and early childhood years should not be that significant. “That was then and now is now!” right?

Well, for all you disbelievers, read on…

Research on attachment leads us to an indisuputable truth…history does matter in our lives.

For those of you who are married, you may remember seeing these stages in your spouse:

  • protest (hey, what the xxxx is going on !!)
  • despair (oh, I feel so sad and sorry for myself !! 🙁
  • defense (well, it was pretty awful then, but I really don’t care anymore…you’re unhappy, tough, it’s your problem, not mine…get over it !!)

If you listen closely next time during a fight, you will hear these stages, unless you are already in the defense stage.

Couples in the defense stage often need professional help to end the cycle of ignoring, minimizing or denying intense feelings and where they may originate.

I remember in my early family therapy training being taught models of therapy which encouraged us to ignore or bypass potentially important historical information.

The idea that there was something very important in the therapist-client relationship was also minimized. Concepts like transference (client feelings stirred up for therapist) and counter-transference (therapist feelings stirred up for client) were minimized or even discounted.

I suppose the teachers and thinkers were folks who may have been trying to avoid trauma issues from their own past or maybe they had “actively forgotten” trauma experiences and didn’t realize the significance of their theoretical formulations.

The science of this is very clear. We know that difficulty in relationships, trouble regulating and managing feelings, especially anger and fear are all possible outcomes from early childhood attachment problems.

Look at the research about the long-term impact of postpartum depression on the infant.

In her 2003 article for Pediatrics in Review, “Postpartum depression: what pediatricians need to know“, Linda Chauldron, MD, MS wrote:

“Postpartum depression (PPD) is a significant public health problem, each year affecting 10% to 20% of new mothers. Many of these women and their children experience short- and long-term adverse consequences. Despite an increasing awareness of the effects of maternal depression on children’s health and welfare, it remains unrecognized and poorly understood by women and clinicians alike. Because pediatricians encounter mothers repeatedly during the postpartum year, it is important that they recognize PPD and appropriately educate and refer mothers for evaluation and treatment.”

Some of the long term effects of postpartum depression on infants are understandable. Their mothers were severely depressed during the first months of their lives which significantly impaired the infant-mother attachment.

Due to the postpartum depression, the mother may have not been able to respond sensitively and lovingly to the needs of the infant.

Some of the long-term effects demonstrated in the research include difficulty forming emotional attachments, irritability, difficulty soothing themselves and managing emotions, and learning problems.

So, do you have an anger management problem? Maybe your mother experienced postpartum depression when you were born.

Whatever our beliefs, however, it is clear that healthy attachment between mother/father/primary caretaker and children during infancy and early childhood will give the child a big head start in life.

For all you who think that early infant and childhood issues are not important, I suggest you think again.

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