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10 Things to Remember about Preverbal Infant Trauma

Preverbal infant trauma is trauma that occurs before a baby knows language and uses words to communicate. In America before 1987, surgery and invasive medical procedures on infants were often done without anesthesia. Sexual assault and complications at birth are two other examples of infant trauma. There are many others, for example, abandonment and starvation.  As a survivor of stomach surgery in 1952 at 26 days old, I have learned much about preverbal trauma and would like to share some key points about what I’ve come to know with those of you who may be struggling to understand your early trauma or that of a friend or family member.

  • It’s not your fault that you don’t remember–you didn’t have words!
  • Through observing your experience of breath, you can come to understand the trauma, for you tried to stop the pain by controlling your breath.
  • Bodies remember preverbal trauma; just ask the places on your body where anxiety or numbness resides.
  • Emotions remember; during trauma, the part of your brain that processes emotion is on high alert, recording everything!
  • Sensations remember trauma and are key to remembering it: smells, sounds, sights, tastes, and touch, both the touch you received and the touch you initiated.
  • Validating our preverbal trauma can be elusive since we associate memory with words.
  • As adults, we’re used to denying or repressing information that could help us understand ourselves as survivors of infant trauma.
  • Infants are sentient beings who feel pain physical and emotional pain.
  • “. . . The baby brain is abuzz with activity, capable of learning astonishing amounts of information in a relatively short time. Unlike the adult mind, . . . babies . . . are, in an important sense, more aware of the world than we are” (Lehrer, Jonah; “Inside the Baby Mind” 1). Infants register what happens to them big time.
  • Healing from infant trauma is possible, which is what my blog is all about!