Attachment Trauma, Developmental Trauma, and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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In the world of trauma treatment, we say that “trauma is an experience, not an event.” All of us are aware of shock-trauma events like accidents, assaults, and natural disasters. But we’re not always aware of chronically occurring trauma. Early Childhood Attachment Trauma is defined as traumatic stress that occurs in the child-parent dynamic and is a specific form of interpersonal trauma. It includes caregiver misattunement, neglect, abuse, coercive control, a felt sense of abandonment (through death, adoption, physical or emotional absenteeism), forced roles on a child by a caregiver, and witnessing violence. When a caregiver is symptomatic of unhealed trauma and parents through this lens, it exponentially increases the risk for attachment trauma in their children as the parent has limited emotional resources to offer an infant or child.

Attachment trauma impacts neurological, biological, emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and physical human development. It alters the way a person perceives themselves, relates to themselves, relates to others, soothes themselves (or doesn’t), and processes information.

Like any early modeling, it becomes the standard by which a person measures their self-worth and other relationships.

People who have suffered attachment trauma experience higher rates of feeling alienated from themselves and face more adversity in adulthood.

They are more likely to:

  • Be diagnosed by Western practitioners with ADHD, PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, Personality Disorder, Eating Disorder, Bipolar I or II, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, or Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorder. (Although it is important to recognize that not everyone who lives through trauma will develop these symptoms and not everyone who experiences these symptoms has lived through trauma.)

  • Be diagnosed by Western practitioners with chronic pain disorder, chronic illness, or autoimmune disorder.

  • Grapple with addiction.

  • Experience impaired emotional intimacy in their relationships due to decreased ability to trust.

  • Respond defensively, especially when they perceive rejection, hurt, and disapproval.

  • Have difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries or identifying and respecting others’ boundaries.

  • Have difficulty asking for and receiving help.

  • Experience symptoms like codependency, avoidance, and procrastination.

  • Have difficulty accurately identifying their emotions and recognizing others’ emotions.

  • Struggle to regulate their emotions.

  • Experience profound internalized (or externalized) helplessness, shame, and self-blame.

  • Struggle to describe (and often understand) their internal experience.

I provide my clients with a safe, non-judgmental space to explore their experiences and help them find skillful and healthy ways to heal from the effects of trauma and abuse.

A life of purpose and joy with meaningful and intimate connections is possible.

I am a licensed mental health professional located at 870 Market St., Ste. 1055 San Francisco, CA 94102, and virtually in Portland, OR. Email: