Module Three: Attachment and Trauma

OVC Essentials Fall 2021 Module Three: Attachment and Trauma

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    • #76544
      Leah St. Pierre
      CAFO Staff

      Please share and reflect on a few new key learnings/information from the content this week. Comment on how this new learning contributes hope, discouragement or a mixture of both as you wade into relationship and advocacy for OVC.

      For those of you in care-taking roles, how does greater understanding of how trauma impacts the brain impact how you view and interact with the children you work with? Comment on any actual shifts or changes you may consider making in the ways you interact, discipline, or lead these children based on this week’s content.

    • #76561
      Dorathy Lachman

      One thing that stood out to me is the response that Dr. Harris mentioned in her TED talk.  She mentioned that as a society we have not taken adverse childhood experiences seriously, even though it has been identified as the “single greatest public health threat facing our nation today.”  I think that it stood out to me because I wasn’t surprised by the response, and it was my lack of surprise that really gave me pause.

      The more I think about it, the more I lean to concluding that it takes humility and grace to sit in the space where trauma makes its impact.

      It takes humility because we have to be willing to acknowledge that there may not be answers to everything.  There are so many contradictions: between people doing bad things being people that God loves, between wanting to see healing and seeing victims suffer life-long consequences, between wanting a quick solution and realizing the depth of the nature of trauma.  It takes humility to hear things that challenge our world view.  It takes humility to listen when we don’t have answers.

      It takes grace to see that a positive outcome is possible.  It takes grace to approach all sides of the problem in a godly way.  It takes grace to believe that God can be good despite terrible circumstances and consequences.

      It’s next to impossible to fit trauma into 160 characters or less.  Trauma simply doesn’t fit into our world view as a society.

      I think Dr. Harris nailed it when she said that this had to be a movement.  It’s not until we can change the mentality about trauma that we will see systematic changes at a larger scale.  I can’t help but believe that the church should be at the forefront of such a movement.  After all, each of us have a story of the trauma sin had in our lives and we have the amazing testimony of God’s healing.

      If we of all people should be leading the movement, then I am left to chew on the question… What can I do?

      • #76636
        Christy Wiesner

        Dorothy, I appreciate your reflection on the TED talk. I was also not surprised by society’s response, or lack thereof, to adverse childhood experiences. Honesty and vulnerability are difficult concepts for our culture. People often live behind masks and false identities based on the things they have achieved or their talents. I agree that the church needs to be at the head of a new movement to face the problem of the impacts of childhood experiences. The reason that the church should be at the forefront is because God is a God who shines light in dark places, who scatters shadows before His grace and mercy. A movement in this area requires people who boldly speak about their pasts, walk through the painful emotions, rebuild healthy relationships, and then help others do the same. The leaders of this movement need to be humble, honest, vulnerable people who share the depth of their experiences rather than hiding them. This is the kind of humility and honesty Jesus lived and which His church should reflect.

      • #76637
        Meredith Smylie

        I appreciate your thoughtful reflections, Dorathy! And I agree that I was not shocked either by the responses or lacak thereof Dr. Harris mentioned in her TED talk. I read her book, The Deepest Well, last year and would definitely recommend it to anyone!

        I feel like this exact response of “what can we do” is ever on my mind as well!! I am hopeful that as research comes to understand at even a biological level, the imperatives of relationship and all that the Bible teaches us about them, that there will be a dramatic movement in the coming years!

      • #76640
        Sarah Alfieri

        Hey! Thank you so much for sharing this, I loved your takeaways from the TED talk this week. I really loved how you mentioned that the Church should be the frontline of this movement. The gospel calls us to love, fight for justice, and invest in children’s lives. What better and more holy place to that then with at-risk children. At the end of the day, we have all experienced adverse experiences (being separated from Jesus because of sin), and as Christians we have experienced what it means to be made whole and to be loved despite that. We are called to love children and others in that same way.

        The church needs to realize this call and start investing in children’s lives, instead of seeing them as “problems.” Thank you for sharing this, it really convicted me and is something that every Christian should evaluate in their own life as well!

    • #76596
      Tiffany Edison

      This is weird, I’ve tried posting twice and clicked “submit,”  but I’m not seeing my responses anywhere!  Ah well.  The basic gist of what I was saying in my other posts was that:

      1) I keep forgetting about the forum, so I’ll be better about that 🙂

      2) This was a fun week for me.  I find the brain fascinating.  A lot of this was also a refresher for me, because when we were going through our adoption process, we were able to attend Dr. Purvis’ “Empowered to Connect” conference in-person and listen to her speak over this any many topics!  I remember learning a great deal about the “upstairs brain vs. downstairs brain” and what it looks like to “flip the lid.”  What really stuck out to me this week was the concept of “Toxic Stress.”  This is something that I can see in real life playing out through my daughter.  It’s fascinating and heart breaking to me how much it can impact a person’s entire life, even if this toxic, traumatic stress occurs within the earliest years of life!  For my daughter, she had experienced a lot of this before the age of 2.  I can see the physiological changes in her when things doing go perfectly for her, and she basically begins to both shut down and over-react:  I see her eyes gloss over, the sweat beads form on her forehead and nose, and the waterfall tears in her eyes.  This has always been our struggle from the very beginning, and the triggers range vastly — but usually it’s all connected to when something doesn’t go quite right in her mind (they can even be the littlest of things, like the moment she barely struggles reading one word, among many other things).  All of this to say, this concept drives home to me, and I will begin diving into this one deeper as we go forward.

    • #76635
      Christy Wiesner

      This week reviewed a lot of material that I learned while I was getting a minor in psychology during college. However, I feel like relearning this material now gives me a very different context for understanding it. In the first video about attachment, it discussed how relationships are brain food and the way the brain is fed during the youngest stages of life impact trust and attachment the rest of the child’s life. I had never seen how vivid this impact could be until I moved to North Africa. Our students did not come from materially impoverished families, but they came from families that were often relationally impoverished. For many of them, their parents were either divorced or their dad worked in another country, only visiting a few times a year. The cultural parenting style was based on the local culture: almost completely shame based. Having a classroom full of these students at the beginning of a school year was always completely overwhelming. However, I want to point out the important message of what we have learned this week: there is hope! Though the world is broken and full of pain, by developing safe, trusting, healthy relationships with those willing to meet them in their trauma and needs, strong and healthy pathways in the brain can be developed. While there is this hope, we have to remember that it takes patience and that not every child will have a breakthrough during our time with them. Usually in my classroom, by about winter break, the students had made huge process in their behavior simply because of an environment of trust, consistency, love, encouragement, and positive modeled behavior. However, in each class there were always a few students who did not reach a breakthrough and their behavior would continue as it always had. In these situations, all I could do was continue to provide the stable environment and safe, loving relationships while they were in my classroom and pray that the next teacher would be able to do the same.

      • #76657
        Dorathy Lachman


        Your description of relationally impoverished families is so well said!  I think there is so much of that in our world today, and even more so in the past few years.

        Your story about the classroom reminds me of Paul’s words to the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:6) when he says he planted the seed, Apollos watered it and it was God that made it grow.  While he’s not talking about trauma, it’s still a great reminder to me to value the little contributions I can make that God can then use to work great things in the lives of others, even when I can’t tell the difference.

    • #76638
      Meredith Smylie

      This week was very interesting to me because of my science background! I really enjoyed learning more about attachment and its biological basis, and about brain development and neuroplasticity. My previous research was of a toxicological nature, so viewing “toxic stress” through the lens of toxicology is something I am very interested in. I am a huge fan of Nadine Burke Harris!

      Per your question, Leah, with regards to how this impacts me in my current role, the organization I work for embraces Dr. Karyn Purvis’ work, TBRI, wholeheartedly! These concepts are already quite embedded in how we train staff to engage with the children, and I have seen time and again how effective it is! I did find the visuals of the upstairs brain vs. downstairs brain very useful though. I have heard these terms but seeing it drawn out as if it were a house was really useful for helping me understand the lack of development in the upstairs brain. This is helpful for me to exercise more compassion as the children may be working through a difficult situation, even if it looks like just a meltdown during snacktime to me 😉

      I am looking forward to continuing in this subject next week!

    • #76639
      Sarah Alfieri

      This weeks lesson really hit home for me, as my last job was at a Children’s Advocacy Center where I was the legal witness on forensic interviews. I am actually training in ACEs, so this week’s content was a good refresher for me! What really stood out to me this week was how overwhelming and dire of an issue ACEs are, but how little they are talked about in society. Often, ACEs are just thrown to the side as “problem” children, or kids who made bad choices… and that is not the case. I think that many people, including Christians, choose to ignore and push aside at-risk children and those who have high ACE scores because they aren’t willing to get uncomfortable, to learn, to change, and to realize that life isn’t as “perfect” as they might perceive it to be. Someone else mentioned this, but it takes so much humility, grace, love, and patience to be able to sit in the space of trauma. But as we saw in the content this week, it is SO worth it when we do! Of course trauma and pain will be uncomfortable, but we have the ability to invest in a child’s life and change it for the better- despite how many ACEs they have experienced already.

      I am really excited about next week’s topic of resilience, as many of those practices we taught to the children and families we saw at my previous job!

      • #76692
        Riley Habegger


        I agree with you completely relating to how attachment is a bigger issue than we let on in society. The situations can have a profound impact on a child all the way through their adulthood and we often don’t acknowledge this. It is so important to get uncomfortable and expand your knowledge on subjects as you mentioned.

    • #76691
      Riley Habegger

      Something that stood out to me this week was when Dr. Harris went over the different types of attachment as included below:

      1. Secure attachment: they could trust their caregiver to meet their needs, share delight, help them, assured their parent would always be coming back for them

      2. Ambivalent attachment: the child is highly anxious and the parent a child haven’t been able to create a soothing rhythm with one another; desperately angry with the parent just as much as they desperate want the parent

      3. Avoidant attachment: parent and child are not a connected diad

      4. Disorganized attachment: the parent’s behavior is very inconsistent, so the child can’t figure out a strategy of how to stay connected to the parent; parent is the source of the fear, but the child wants the parent; the child cannot figure out a strategy

      These different types of attachment stood out to me primarily because of the domino effect it had on a child’s relationship response into adulthood. The type of attachment developed by a child is influenced by so many different factors that are out of their control. The experiences a child has in developing relationships as an infant can impact their development of relationships as an adolescent and an adult. Dr. Harris made me realize how important it is to understand attachment relating to relationships because it can help you understand what a child might need because of their past experiences.

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