This particularly influences us during infancy, childhood and adolescence. These early experiences can be activated if they have led to the development of unhelpful defenses. The lack of attunement in parental relationships can result in an infant developing an unhealthy attachment style, divorced from reality in the form of fantasy or withdrawal and detachment. This initially protects the infant from the pain, emotion and feelings. Later due to the blocking of the ability to connect emotionally the protector becomes the persecutor.
A chaotic attachment experience can impact on vital neurological developmental pathways leading to permanent damage to later functional performance. Hence the recent research on childhood services from pregnancy to five years of age.
If a “good enough” environment is NOT available for one reason or another during a person’s childhood there will be aspects of this early experience that appear to act at an unconscious level, a shadow of the early object relationship. This can be brought into consciousness and worked with in the therapeutic process. Forming a trusting relationship with a therapist or a stable relationship within a group to hold and contain feelings and emotions to be internalized, made sense of in order to be restored. However, we must not conflate this process by apportioning blame on the parent but as a means of unfolding the neurological pathways that block the capacity for integration. This is re-experienced in the therapeutic alliance as an imago of the infant / child with an immature mind as the “unthought known”
Our brain and therefore our mind can remain adaptable throughout our lives and given the right support can make a conscious decision with a mature mind not that of the infant /child. A similar process occurs in trauma. It can respond making the shifts necessary to live a valued and happy life.
Dorothea Beech is a Group Analyst with many years experience working in the UK and overseas. She worked as A Group Analyst in South Africa as a Lecturer at Cape Town UCT and at Kwa Zulu Natal University in Durban, lecturing on a Masters Program in Group Work. Her MA in Applied research was on Eating disorders. Her interests are in cultural diversity and trans-generational influences on the individual. Thea is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Thea Beech