Trauma in the cradle (or womb)?


The EMDR early trauma protocol recognizes that the foundations for emotional dysregulation and other symptoms of traumatic experience are laid in very early childhood, ages 1-3. Even, perhaps, in the womb--new research from Italy proves that in the second trimester or pregnancy, the fetus can differentiate between the language of the mother and foreign languages. In any case, it is clear from the following client example how trauma begins with the dissociation of "dangerous" emotions when caregivers are cruel or inconsistent.

A young boy being treated at my practice for her own traumatic experience related how his sister, a young mother who lives at home, "always expects him to babysit," and that he "wonders why she even had a child," as when the 12 month old cries in the night, the mother comes in and shouts at the baby until there is silence.

What is that little boy learning? Perhaps that he doesn't deserve to be loved because he is shameful, perhaps that anger is an appropriate stress response, perhaps simply confusion. But if this pattern is regular, he certainly will have great difficulty regulating his emotions as he grows older. He will be easily traumatized, as he has already learned to dissociate negative emotions as a survival mechanism. And do you think the shouting and shaming will simply stop once he turns two? Or three?

The EMDR early trauma protocol addresses the foundations of trauma when those foundations are laid "before there are words," which is to say, before the client has explicit memories of trauma. Trauma before age three is usually stored as the "felt sense" of a developmental need that has not been met. The early trauma protocol addresses that directly, and has been demonstrated to have excellent results. Treating the foundations of trauma makes healing later childhood trauma (and adult trauma) much easier, and can heal dissociative disorders in a more natural manner, by healing their origins in early life.

I have been trained in this procedure, and love using it. Clients have found it to be largely a positive, enriching experience, a wash of positivity and resolution rather than an experience of developmental trauma. Once again, all EMDR, including the early trauma protocol, is based on altering stuck beliefs that hold symptoms in place, not by re-living the memory and re-experiencing symptoms.