After the series on the core needs, I had a friend reach out with a couple of questions, and I thought it might be useful for you to hear the answers too. I discuss how attachment theory (the core needs), the nervous system and trauma are all related.
Let’s talk about what it takes to truly heal and find lasting. So after publishing the last five episodes where I went through the core needs one at a time, I had a coach friend reach out to me, and she had listened to at least the episode on attunement and she was asking me some questions and I thought, wow, these are some really good questions. I think I’m going to do another follow up episode about these questions. So the first thing I want to say is that I don’t think I explicitly said in these episodes about the five core needs are that these core needs are the bedrock, the foundation to attachment theory.
Attachment Theory and Core Needs
So if you’ve heard of attachment theory, oftentimes we think of it in terms of, do you have an in anxious attachment? Do you have a disorganized attachment? Do you have a secure attachment? Do you have an avoidant attachment? You might have heard of those terms, and those attachment styles come from how our caregivers met with these five core needs. And, and probably more than just the five core needs, but essentially how our original caregivers were in relationship with us, taught us how to be in relationship with other people and you know, so therefore, that’s like the basis of attachment. I kind of think of attachment theory of how we learn to be in relationship with each other, based on how our original caregivers met or didn’t meet our needs.
So one of the questions that my friend asked me was, how does this relate to trauma? I just thought this was such a brilliant question. Very simple question. Some of the most brilliant questions are very simple, and what I want to make very clear in this episode is that trauma is anything internally that feels overwhelming.
Anything that we don’t have enough support or resources to handle on our own, and so we get overwhelmed and we shut down. And developmental trauma. A particular flavor of trauma is when we get overwhelmed by life or relationships. Because of this we’ve learned to create patterns within ourselves and in our relationships based off of how our original caregivers met or, or didn’t meet our needs.
These core needs, whether we were attuned to or we weren’t, or it was inconsistent, if our core needs were not met, then our nervous system will develop in a way that our nervous system will literally be primed and groomed toward either thinking that the world is in general a safe place, or that the world is in general not a safe place. Because our core needs are tied to us from the time we were in utero, or at least from birth.
And I would say very broadly speaking, that if your original caregiver couldn’t meet your needs in a way that your body and mind wanted them to be met, then you will develop your nervous system in a way that you view the world in general as a not safe place, as a place where we have to be on guard and we have to watch out and that kind of thing.
Right now, there are so many factors to this. It’s not just our original caregivers, but in general, our attachment style determines a lot of how our nervous system determines how likely we are to endure trauma, and how sensitive we are to the world, and whether or not things will be perceived as threats.
Phases of Trauma Response
So if you go back to episode 108 where I discussed the phases of trauma response, the very first phase is the startle response. Now, we all need to be startled at times, and if we aren’t startled when we should be startled, that’s a problem just as much as if when we are startled, when we shouldn’t be startled.
So when I talk about phases of trauma response, you can draw conclusions from how our nervous system is developing, how our attachment is developing, and how likely we are to get overwhelmed. And if trauma is anything that overwhelms your system, then you can see how these core needs being met or not met are attachment styles.
Essentially, our development really informs how we relate to the world and whether or not we are going to go into those trauma response phases, whether or not we’re gonna be startled, whether or not we’re going to want to run away or fight, or whether or not we’ll be overwhelmed and then shut down and go into the freeze response, right?
So they’re all related and they all kind of grow on each other. And also just remember that trauma, the word trauma, the original Greek for this word is wound. So anytime we have any kind of wound, an attachment wound, an emotional wound, a psychological wound, a mental wound, that could be considered a trauma.
Now sometimes we have wounds and then we have resources or people there to help us kind of process through those wounds. Then it doesn’t become a trauma because a trauma is something, it’s too little for too long or it’s too much, too fast, and it’s when we don’t have the resources or support to get through a scary or overwhelming situation.
So you might think like my friend did that she didn’t really have trauma, and that trauma is a buzzword, which I totally agree that it’s a buzzword. And I also think that there’s a reason why it’s a buzzword, but you might not think that you really have trauma. And I would just say that probably everyone has some amount of trauma.
My friend and I were talking back and forth and she said, “Well, you know, I was a really anxious kid. So when you talked about this part about how our nervous system develops toward believing that the world is generally a safe place or generally not a safe place, I was a really anxious kid and I was pretty much scared of everything.”
I was that way too myself, and if you’re like that, if as a kid you are like kind of viewing the world as a not safe place, then chances are you probably have endured some developmental trauma. Was it intentional? Probably not. Can you get over it? Absolutely. That’s why I do this podcast, because I believe that there is hope for all of us and that the wounds that we carry with us can be healed if we know how to meet.
I also just wanted to mention in this episode that I feel like the world is becoming a place where pretty much everyone has some kind of trauma, even pretty intense stuff. And it makes sense when we think about it in terms of anything that overwhelms our system. And if it comes from these partially, at least from these five core needs not being met, which can go into developmental trauma.
We basically have a world of people who weren’t met in their needs, trying to raise people and not being able to meet our little people’s needs, right? So it makes sense that the world would be becoming more and more traumatized, so to speak, right? If, if you’ve ever had that question, like it seems like everyone has trauma.
Now, the other thing I wanna say is if you have “trauma”, it might not be actually useful to talk about it that way, to say my trauma, or I have trauma. It might be more useful to say like, the things I endured that wounded me in this way. Right? It’s so a little clunky, a little longer, but we don’t wanna identify with our trauma. It’s also not necessarily the fault of our caregivers. Right. I have mentioned this before on the podcast, the fact that we needed something. and our caregivers couldn’t meet us in those needs fully. Doesn’t mean that it’s our caregiver’s fault. So I just like to be careful with that because it’s so easy to slip into the mindset of “oh, well, I was an anxious kid, so my parents did something wrong.”
No, maybe not. Maybe you just born into the world with a little bit more sensitivity, a little more needs, and your parents didn’t know how or couldn’t meet you in those needs. I tend to like to think about nature. If a tree has a branch that comes off in a snowstorm, it’s not like the snow storm’s fault, it’s just nature. It’s just how things are. So I feel like that’s a really useful and compassionate view, a way to view all of this.
I hope that answers some questions about how attachment and the nervous system and trauma are all related. And I will just say that when I was renaming this podcast and going in the direction of trauma, I thought, gosh, do I wanna use the word trauma? Because it is a buzzword. And like I said, I do think it’s a buzzword for a reason that we need to be more educated about trauma. But really oftentimes when we say trauma, what we mean is nervous system regulation or nervous system awareness. Just like how our nervous systems function optimally and not optimally. And when we’re not functioning optimally in our nervous system, that could be thought of as not necessarily a huge deal, but sometimes you know over and over again if our nervous systems are functioning sub-optimally. That can cause some problems, right? And so you might want to tell yourself, you know what? I wanna learn how to regulate my nervous system. I wanna learn how to be more aware. I want to learn how to connect with myself so that I can connect with others, right? So we can kind of overcome some of these attachment wounds.
That is exactly what I do in my group coaching program Presence. We learn how to be more present with our internal and external environments so that we can become more regulated. And stay more in this window of our nervous system, this window of tolerance where we’re not extremely agitated or anxious and we’re not extremely shut down. We are creative and connected and calm and you know, able to withstand the stressors of life, right? That’s where we want to live most of our lives.
I hope this episode helps you understand some of that context. It’s not always shock trauma. It’s not like, oh, I was in a car accident and now I just can’t drive a car anymore. Some of these developmental trauma pieces that many, many, many of us did not understand or recognize as traumas, again, doesn’t mean there’s anything majorly wrong or there’s anybody to blame, but it is something to think about.