There’s a road I walk on daily.  I like this road.  It’s in an unincorporated section of the county so there are lots of large lots with horses, cattle and even some chickens.  I can leave the ‘burbs and in a few short minutes, I feel like I’m out of the city.  It feels like it’s another world:  The world of cowboys roping cattle, wearing hats and boots with spurs.  I am a suburban girl, so this isn’t what I’m used to.  It feels open and free to me.

This road, though, is not always easy to walk on or drive on for that matter.  It’s never been a fully paved road.  Walking on it can be treacherous because it’s uneven and you have to watch out for the potholes.  It has been patched several times.  When it rains heavily, the water washes debris all over it.

The county hasn’t taken time to make it a “real road” – until now.

The work that is taking place now has been two years (or more) in the making.  I found out that the road was going to be paved a couple of years ago.  Last year, they sent a bunch of surveyors out; they made marks with spray paint and pounded in some stakes with flags attached.  Nothing changed for a long time until last month.

Over the last month, different crews have come out to put in new electricity poles and dig trenches to do some underground infrastructure work.

The street is messier than it ever was.  Lots of piles of dirt, traffic barricades, orange plastic fencing, steel plates, caution tape, digging machinery, etc.

Now that it’s gotten messier, it’s even harder to walk on the road, much less drive on it.  It’s so bad, that now I’m avoiding using it for my walks.

Messes from the Past

It struck me as I was reading about doing trauma work that this was a great metaphor for what it’s like for people who have experienced attachment and developmental trauma and we’re going to do work in therapy to “pave their roads”. 

Attachment trauma happens when a tiny baby does not attach to a caregiver.  This is not good for the baby as a small human needs a grown-up human to survive.  Without attachment, the baby has to figure out how to survive on its own – not an easy thing to do.  Lack of attachment is alarming to a baby – “I’m going to die”. 

Let’s suppose you are on an airplane that is about to crash.  There is nothing you can do to escape.  You’re thought is “I’m going to die.”  What do you do?  What are your choices?  What does your body naturally do when you are in danger?  Fight.  Flight.  Freeze.  Shut down.  Those are your choices.

This is what the baby does, too.  I will add that Fight and Flight both take a lot of energy.  Shut down is more common in babies because they really can’t fight or flight (yet).

This is called attachment TRAUMA because it is traumatic for a small human to be emotionally or physically left on its own.  The brain doesn’t know the difference between being left physically or emotionally.  It treats both the same – with alarm.

Examples of fallout from attachment trauma:

  • No sense of self
  • Unable to self-soothe
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Not feeling safe – ever
  • Not attaching or over-attaching to others
  • Lack of trust
  • Don’t know what it feels like to be loved

Developmental trauma occurs when something has happened to a growing human that has affected its development. 

Since we develop in stages, not all at once, when and how often the interrupting events occurred will determine what might be affected.  Here are examples of the fallout of developmental trauma: 

  • low self-esteem
  • lack of identity
  • feeling like you’re not good enough
  • feeling like you don’t matter

Now you might be asking yourself, was I traumatized as a child?  We do not exit childhood unscathed.  We have all been traumatized in some way.  Not all of us will have lasting effects from the traumas, though.  It matters how we and those around us reacted to the traumatic events.  It matters how often the events happened.  It matters when in our lives the events happened.  It matters who we had in our lives – were they safe and caring people?  Were we allowed to feel our feelings?  What were we able to understand at the time?  Many factors go into whether we have lasting effects or if we are able to process through what happened at the time.

How is Your Road?

OK, back to the road.  If you think of our development as a road that eventually will be nice and smooth and paved, we all start out as the dirt road.  We need a good foundation for our road (attachment). 

We need good infrastructure that will help with the strength of the road and anything that gets built along it.  If we cut corners on this part, it will affect the overall strength of the road and what gets built around it.

If roads didn’t get a nice, even, consistent, properly built foundation, then whatever is put over that poor foundation will crack and there will be potholes.  If we keep covering up the potholes and cracks, there will be more.  It will never end…

I think you see where I’m going with this metaphor.

What do you think may be the issue with your road?  Poor foundation?  Good foundation with some issues with infrastructure?  Where do we need to start?  Should we continue to patch up the potholes for temporary relief?  Or should we take the time to build a strong foundation first?

I see the work being done on my road.  I envision the nice, smooth paved road it will become.  I want it done sooner rather than later – I’d like that smooth road now, in fact!

Therapy to fix or create foundations and infrastructure is messy and can be long.  If you are anything like me, you’d like it done now and not have to go through all the mess.  But if we want a good, strong road that can support what is built around it, then taking the time and going through the messy part is necessary.

Perhaps when I see the road work being done, maybe I can look at it with an eye of curiosity instead of wanting it all to be done and gone because it’s getting in my way.  Maybe I can look at the changes that are happening and keep in mind that this is all in service of something better.

~ Sharon

If you feel like you want to rebuild your road, contact me and let’s talk!