Dear Fellow ESTD members,
I am writing this on another very cold day in February in Berlin – one of the coldest months I can remember. These long winter months with their chill and darkness, particularly for those of us in Northern Europe, rob us of energy and enthusiasm. But, as we all know, this too will pass, and soon we will be enjoying the warmer weather and lighter spirits. Perhaps, by the time you read this, we already are!
I’ve been working on some chapters for our book, the 2nd edition of Psychosis, Trauma and Dissociation, which will be published at the end of this year. One of these chapters required me to review research on very early childhood experiences – in the first year of life – and I had the great opportunity of working with an Italian infant memory researcher, Rosario Montirosso, who I met last year in Sardinia. I had been struggling with issues around infantile amnesia – the fact that most adults can remember nothing before the age of two or three – which is usually attributed to the late development of the hippocampus – a brain structure essential for autobiographical memory. Since almost all adults cannot remember what happened to them when they were very young, and because of the dynamics of attachment, many persons minimize the impact of very early experiences. And also because it is much easier to recognize and point to specific acts of violence from later childhood – particularly sexual and physical abuse – more chronic but subtler forms of trauma – emotional abuse and neglect, constant invalidation of thoughts and feelings – are often overlooked as factors relevant for later misery and mental disorders.
But there is now much evidence that infants can remember things, even though they can’t speak about them, particularly stressful, relationally-based experiences. Even four-month old infants show evidence of remembering an instance of the ‘still face’ experimental paradigm (a sudden ‘frozen’, emotionless expression on a parent’s face, lasting a minute or two) after 15 days, based on their physiological responses. And children of age 5-6 actually appear to be able to remember events from their first year of life, even though older children and adolescents cannot.
Since these early experiences, particularly those associated with disorganized attachment, may be highly confusing and emotional, and because they cannot be consciously recalled, any reexperiencing will not be recognized as a memory. So, situations that trigger these early experiences will generate powerful emotions and possibly body memories, that could be mistakenly associated with the present context. Some authors have argued that panic attacks might be related to such early experiences, and in my chapter with Montirosso, we wonder whether some delusions might have their genesis in such experiences. In general, we all have to come to terms with the possibility that our very early life experiences, which we cannot consciously recall, may nonetheless have a powerful impact on our lives, particularly in our Andrew Moskowitz ESTD President Dear fellow ESTD members, 3 ESTD Newsletter Volume 7 Number 1, March 2018 4 Dear fellow ESTD members, close relationships. We should be careful about assuming that later experiences (or genetics or biology, for that matter) are the sole explanations for people’s problems, when these very early experiences may be foundational. The problem, of course, is how can they be accessed and dealt with, if they cannot be remembered. The answer might be through body memories, but the danger here, of course, is confabulation – assuming that certain bodily sensations necessarily mean one has lived through certain adverse experiences. We all must be very careful about heading down that slippery slope. Nonetheless, any treatment advances that would involve accessing and dealing with very early life experiences would obviously be of great importance.
On the organizational front, ESTD and ISSTD continue to talk (I spoke with Martin Dorahy and Kevin Connors, the previous and current ISSTD chairs, in February), and are moving toward closer cooperation. Kevin and I will meet again when I attend the ISSTD conference in Chicago in late March. We have agreed in principle to offer discounts to each other’s members for our international conferences; these will fall midway between the ISSTD member and non-member rates. So, if you are planning to attend this year’s ISSTD conference in Chicago, or next year’s in New York, keep that in mind! We have also agreed to promote each other’s journals on our websites, and to consider the possibility of hosting some sort of joint ISSTD/ ESTD event in Europe in 2020 or 2021.
The year began with some glitches around membership renewals and the website, but they all should be fixed by now. And the next ESTD biennial conference has been set – it will be held in Rome from 24-26 October 2019. Hope to see all of you there!
From ESTD Newsletter Volume 7, Number 1, March 2018