A trauma bond is the type of emotional attachment that forms between abusers and victims, such as narcissistic parents and children.
Trauma bonds are forged over time as a narcissistic parent trains a child to respond in particular ways to feed their ego and narcissistic needs.
Untangling oneself from a trauma bond with a narcissist can be difficult, so it is essential to engage in self-healing during the process.
Unfortunately, many true narcissists do not have the self-awareness necessary to recognize that their behavior doesn’t fit with normal expectations regarding behavior exhibited by fully functioning adults. They have developed the traits associated with narcissism over many years and when others in their orbit didn’t play by the narcissist’s rules, they replaced them with someone who would be a better sidekick. Thus, their behaviors have been reinforced through their relationships rather than extinguished.
Neuroplasticity is most active in childhood as a part of normal human development, and can also be seen as an especially important mechanism for children in terms of risk and resiliency. Trauma is considered a great risk as it negatively affects many areas of the brain and puts a strain on the sympathetic nervous system from constant activation. Trauma thus alters the brain’s connections such that children who have experienced trauma may be hyper vigilant or overly aroused. However a child’s brain can cope with these adverse effects through the actions of neuroplasticity.
There are many examples of neuroplasticity in human development. In an article written by Justine Ker and Stephen Nelson, the effects of musical training on neuroplasticity is looked at. Musical training is a form of experience dependent plasticity. This is when changes in the brain occur based on experiences that are unique to an individual. Examples of this are learning multiple languages, playing a sport, doing theatre, etc. A study done by Hyde in 2009, showed that changes in the brain of children could be seen in as little as 15 months of musical training. Ker and Nelson suggest this degree of plasticity in the brain’s of children can “help provide a form of intervention for children… with developmental disorders and neurological diseases.”
How to Conduct a Comprehensive Assessment of Complex Trauma
The assessment of complex trauma is by definition “complex” as it involves both assessing children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events, as well as the wide-ranging and severe impact of this trauma exposure across domains of development. It is important that mental health providers, family members, and other caregivers become aware of specific questions to ask when seeking the most effective services for these children.
The following are some key steps for conducting a comprehensive assessment of complex trauma:
Assess for a wide range of traumatic events. Determine when they occurred so that they can be linked to developmental stages.
Assess for a wide range of symptoms (beyond PTSD), risk behaviors, functional impairments, and developmental derailments.
Gather information using a variety of techniques (clinical interviews, standardized measures, and behavioral observations.
Gather information from a variety of perspectives (child, caregivers, teachers, other providers, etc).
Try to make sense of how each traumatic event might have impacted developmental tasks and derailed future development. Note: this may be challenging given the number of pervasive and chronic traumatic events a child may have experienced throughout his or her young life.
Try to link traumatic events to trauma reminders that may trigger symptoms or avoidant behavior. Remember that trauma reminders can be remembered both in explicit memory and out of awareness in the child’s body and emotions.
The assessment should be conducted by a clinically trained provider who understands child development and complex trauma. Ideally, the assessment should involve a multi-disciplinary team. An ideal team would include a pediatrician, mental health professional, educational specialist, and, where appropriate, an occupational therapist. In residential, day treatment, and juvenile justice settings, a multi-disciplinary team might also include direct care staff familiar with the child.
After conducting an assessment, it may be difficult to determine if the child’s various symptoms are related to outcomes of trauma or if they also reflect other diagnoses such as ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, or bipolar disorder. However, when using a complex trauma framework, it may be more meaningful to suspend judgment and labeling at first. Engage instead in an open, flexible, and ongoing process that addresses the traumatic stress reactions initially and over the course of a child’s treatment. It is crucial to monitor how symptoms and behaviors change over the course of time and in response to trauma-focused treatment. Make sure to engage the child, family, and all providers in a continuing dialogue about what makes sense, what is working, and the most useful next steps for intervention.
Characteristics of children’s memory for a trauma and for a positive event were compared and relationships of memory characteristics to trauma symptoms examined in 30 children who experienced a traumatic event. Results revealed that memories for trauma tended to have less sensory detail and coherence, yet have more meaning and impact than did memories for positive experiences. Sexual traumas, offender relationship, and perceived life threat were associated with memory characteristics. Few relationships between memory characteristics and trauma symptoms were found. Therapist ratings of child memory characteristics were correlated with some child trauma memory characteristic reports. These results are consistent with other studies. Possible explanations include divided attention during the traumatic event and cognitive avoidance occurring after the event.
Bremner, J. D., Krystal, J. H., Charney, D. S., & Southwick, S. M. (1996). Neural mechanisms in dissociative amnesia for childhood abuse: Relevance to the current controversy surrounding the “false memory syndrome.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 71-82. (Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.)
Linking childhood trauma to long-term health and social consequences.
What is The ACE Study?
The ACE Study is ongoing collaborative research between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA, and Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, CA.
The Co-principal Investigators of The Study are Robert F. Anda, MD, MS, with the CDC; and Vincent J. Felitti, MD, with Kaiser Permanente.
Over 17,000 Kaiser patients participating in routine health screening volunteered to participate in The Study. Data resulting from their participation continues to be analyzed; it reveals staggering proof of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.