I was fumbling for words the other day to explain to a parent why a child who is adopted right at birth can still have attachment challenges. The words “cell deep” kept coming into my explanation. Memory is cell deep. Birth children whose mothers had extreme ambivalence during pregnancy or some other condition that caused them to be emotionally unavailable for some of the nine months can end up with attachment challenges later in life. This is because, even in utero, there is cell deep memory.
Okay, there are two types of memory: explicit and implicit.
Explicit memory is what we are usually thinking of when we think of memory. I remember my trip to Brazil.That is in my conscious memory. (Lying, I have never been to Brazil, but…YOU know…I am entertaining YOU.)
Implicit memory is stored outside our conscious awareness. While it constantly influences our daily function, we do not recognize it as a memory. I experience this kind of memory more like “who I am.” Implicit memory holds things like recognition of shapes and forms; bodily memory of movement, habits, routines; emotional and relational connections.
Attachment challenges are rooted in the failure of the original infant/caregiver attachment attunement experience which gets stored in implicit memory, outside awareness, but profoundly influencing daily life. Our kids are driven by various ghosts of a mis-attuned, maltreating, abusing, or absent original parent or multiple care-givers.
One of the fundamental reasons “talk therapies” are not helpful for healing attachment trauma is the simple fact that implicit memory is unconscious and nonverbal. Therapies that help a child/adult find their “felt sense” of fear and safety are more helpful in bringing the unconscious material into the present so it can be understood, soothed, and integrated.
Alrighty then, I’m headed back to my Brazilian vacation memory–completely made up, but richly embedded in my imagination.
Ce Eshelman, LMFT
- Next Trust-based Parenting Course is scheduled for July 19th and 26th. Sign up here.
- The Attach Place is embarking on our second round of scholarships for families with adopted children who need services but have no funding to get them. We used up the last of our scholarship money last summer and are ready to start fundraising again. This time we have a pie-in-the-sky, big, hairy, audacious goal of $25,000. If you have a dollar you can afford to contribute, that is how we will pave the way–one dollar at a time. Go to: Love Matters Scholarship Fund. We are working on non-profit status, so these donations can be tax deductible. Yay!