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The Magic of Compassion: Acknowledging the Pain of Preverbal Trauma

Why is it important that we realize whether a preverbal trauma is still affecting us? Hasn’t it resolved by the time we are adults? Hasn’t it been entirely forgotten? Why drag the old into the present? Why contaminate the now with the was?

If only life were that simple. The truth is, much of the time, trauma that we experienced before we could talk is not resolved; it still haunts us. We don’t remember that early pain explicitly, but implicitly. Unknowingly our present is contaminated by the past and has been for many years, even decades.

In my case, I had healed completely from the condition that warranted stomach surgery at one-month-old—a blockage preventing the passage of food. I began to successfully digest food and gain weight and have never had any stomach problems since. Unfortunately though, the surgery negatively impacted me psychologically; I had no idea why my life was so laden with problems, including depression, panic attacks, and acts of self-harm. It has taken many years to understand.

Consequently, I am charged with writing about this issue; I want people to become aware that an early trauma could still be hurting their lives and that the acknowledgment of this, in itself, is a huge step in healing. I was reminded of this truth recently, reading the psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach’s words in her book Radical Acceptance: “As the trance of unworthiness becomes conscious, it begins to lose its power over our lives” (23). Similarly, as we accept the agony we suffered from an early assault, we gain sympathy for ourselves. Simply allowing ourselves to be open to the severity of the impact of the wounding begins the healing process.

We have been taught that we couldn’t possibly remember what happened to us so early on. But our bodies remembered—our breath, our skin, emotions, nervous systems, and so we suffered. Our bodies “kept the score,” as renowned trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk puts it. But with our new understanding, compassion can do its magic.

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.… Continue Reading

Why Should We Care about Preverbal Infant Trauma?

This is the title of the speech that I gave at my Toastmasters Club last week.  To satisfy the guidelines of the Toastmasters assignment, my talk could only take five to seven minutes. Here it is in a longer form. I hope to convince you that we as a society should care about preverbal infant… Continue Reading

Thank You, Dr. Louis Tinnin–Pioneer in Treating Infant Trauma

Dr. Louis Watson Tinnin, a man who has been a friend to all those who suffer trauma, especially preverbal infant trauma, died back in February, 2014. I was shocked that I hadn’t heard about his passing until last week and recently had wondered why I hadn’t received posts from his blog for quite some… Continue Reading