Making Sense of Preverbal Trauma

I love Dr. Perry. He is a researcher in children’s mental health and in the field of neuroscience. He’s a super advocate for abused, neglected, and traumatized kids and an educator extraordinaire. His book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us about Loss, Love and Healing, in which he shares stories about children who were traumatized in very different ways early in life, was riveting.

Recently I read his article “How we remember,” which I loved. After I read it, I kept it on my desk for weeks just because I felt supported by his words–as though he were advocating for me in particular. The article pertains to childhood sexual abuse, which I did not experience, but he shares some really good information about preverbal trauma that I found helpful and relevant. Here are some quotes to get you interested in clicking on the link above in order to read his essay from CYC-Online, a publication of The International Child and Youth Care Network.

“It is a common misperception that very young children are ‘so resilient’ and often ‘unaware’ of the nature of the traumatic experiences that they [are] more capable of coping with trauma than adults. This is just not so” (1).

“At about [age three], it is normal for the brain to essentially reorganize cognitive and memory functions such that narrative memory for events prior to age three or four are difficult to access later in life. These two points have led to the pervasive, inaccurate and destructive view that infants do not recall traumatic experience . . . Nothing could be further from the truth” (1-2).

“The brain is designed to store and recall experience in a number of ways; we have motor, vestibular [body cavity], emotional, social and cognitive memories. . . . the majority of these stored memory templates are based upon experiences that took place in early childhood. And the majority of our ‘memories’ are non-cognitive and preverbal” (2).

“. . . there is no doubt that the major neurophysiological networks and neuroendocrine systems in the brain and the rest of the body are altered by developmental trauma” (3).

If your trauma was preverbal and, of course, you don’t ‘remember,’ your body and your emotions do. You are not crazy. You simply might be acting out or be extremely frightened because of an early experience that is not stored in the logical, narrative memory. While for some, this news may be disturbing; however, I find it relieving because then the behaviors and attitudes that confused me begin to make sense. In other words, I make sense.


0 Responses to Making Sense of Preverbal Trauma

  1. Wow Wendy, this is powerful stuff!
    More and more of the medical profession are coming out to affirm and advocate for the reality of somatic- or body-memory. Thank you for the key quotations and the link to Dr Perry’s full article.
    I hope that many who are afflicted by mysterious and troubling inner-life problems will see this material and be set on the way to understanding and much relief, inner healing and greater freedom, and (as you say) enabled to make more sense to themselves.

    • Thank you, Fred. That’s sure my hope and one of the raison d’etres for the Restory Your Life site and blog. I love how you put it: “afflicted by mysterious and troubling inner-life problems.” You nailed it. I hope the article gives some relief as it did for me.

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