Adults with special needs have a longer childhood

Parent-child bond: childhood determines life

THEMES OF THE TIME

Wettig, Jürgen

Many mental illnesses have their origins in childhood. Above all, negative attachment experiences leave a "stress scar" in the adult brain.

The well-known psychologist Paul Watzlawick once said: “You can't be too careful when choosing your parents.” This sentence describes the enormous, formative responsibility of the closest caregivers in early childhood. Even the moment of fertilization is subject to very different conditions. Is it a dream child, a "coincidence" or even the result of sexual violence? On the other hand, pregnancy is used as a last resort to save fragile relationships. In this way, “children of the meaning of life, children of marriage or women who define the role of women” fulfill the function of a branded product, in the production of which nothing is left to chance.
The demographic emergency makes children appear as human resources and performers of the social systems. In contrast, newborns in dumpsters, the installation of infant hatches in charities, or traces of physical abuse are all evidence of childhood disasters that take place before childhood has even begun.
Especially in the first five years of life, the child is completely at the mercy of his closest caregivers, especially the mother. Proximity and distance, parenting style and role model function set elementary milestones for later life. Is the father strict and pedantic, physically ill, addicted to alcohol or violent? Is the mother depressed, religious, ambitious or chronically overwhelmed? Does the divorce of the parents mark a sharp turning point in the conflict-ridden family environment and demands unreasonable partiality from the child? Is the rivalry among siblings frivolously fueled by unequal attention to devastating hatred? Does the family talk, eat, argue, play and laugh together or, apart from any spontaneity, is there a spirit of strict rituals, cool distance and aseptic cleanliness?
Nest warmth or cold stress
The unequal and random rules of the game of childhood could be continued indefinitely. Today children are confronted with construction and road traffic in many places. Playrooms and open spaces are available less and less. This results in a retreat into interiors and media worlds. Retarded motor skills and obesity are to be complained about.
From birth, humans have a biological need for attachment. Bonding means a long-lasting emotional bond with very specific people who are not interchangeable at will. Your closeness and support is always sought when, for example, fear, grief or illness is experienced to an extent that can no longer be regulated independently. If the primary caregiver, traditionally the mother, deals sensitively and reliably with the wishes of the child, it will develop basic trust. The first 18 months decide whether the child will develop the ability to relate later in life and whether it can regulate its affects appropriately.
The preference for the mother's face, the answer smile in the third month and the strangeness in the eighth month are important indications that the ability to differentiate is already well developed and the image of the mother has been internalized. The exploration, i.e. the exploratory behavior of the toddler, only takes place in the presence of the known reference person who serves as a safe contact point. The undisturbed development of the child in the first years of life is based on a fine perception of children's needs, intuitive parental empathy and affect resonance. Between 1945 and 1960, John Bowlby and René Spitz systematically examined orphanage children who showed developmental defects due to separation from their mother. However, these were not only a consequence of the loss per se, but to a large extent dependent on the quality of the substitute environment, which was extremely unfavorable in the home. Children of depressed mothers have similar developmental deficits as home children, because these mothers do not respond emotionally to the child's signals, show rigid facial expressions or do not stimulate the baby sufficiently.
Persistent relationship trauma can result from emotional neglect in the case of rejection by the child or the infliction of violence by the caregiver. Singular traumatic experiences are probably better compensated for than disorder patterns that result from experiences repeated on a daily basis. Safe child risk factors today are: low social status of the parent family, chronic disharmony of the parents, reduced availability of attachment figures and violence. A mentally healthy mother, a good substitute environment after the loss of a mother, social contacts, at least average intelligence and an active temperament of the child have a protective effect.
Animal experiments have shown that postnatal separation experiences lead to increased secretion of CRH, ACTH and cortisol. This measurable correlate for stress is also observed in depressed patients. The endorphin release of the brain, stimulated by body contact, is interrupted by separation from the mother. Persistent early childhood stress leads in the immature brain to a permanently increased sensitivity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal cortex axis as well as to a reduction in volume of the hippocampus due to increased glucocorticoid levels. Early childhood trauma or stress cause dysfunctions in the formation of synapses, disturbances in the migration of developing nerve cells or faulty differentiation of functional neural networks (amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate gyrus, prefrontal cortex). One suspects a specific vulnerability in the area of ​​the limbic system and the brain stem of the right hemisphere, since functions such as attachment and relationship behavior, affect regulation and stress modulation are primarily controlled in the right hemisphere. Accordingly, secure attachment experiences are a prerequisite for the balance of the stress axis in the child's brain and efficient neural networking. Persistent attachment deficits are the basis for psychopathology in adults.
Today children are confronted with construction and road traffic in many places. Playrooms and green spaces are available less and less. Photo: dpa
The unconscious never forgets
A reproducible memory of experiences is not possible before the age of three because the hippocampus is not yet fully developed. The hippocampus is an important group of cells in the brain that is responsible for storing conscious long-term memories (explicit memory). This autobiographical storage works particularly well when strong emotions are associated with a particular experience, i.e. something new or significant happens.
Early childhood experiences, on the other hand, before the age of three, are stored by implicit (unconscious) memory. Freud coined the term "infantile amnesia" for this. From a neuroscientific perspective, there is no doubt that early childhood experiences play a key role in the construction of the neuronal network in the brain and thus shape the future personality. If, for example, a two-year-old child is often yelled down by his caregiver, it processes this stimulus directly in the cerebral cortex. The unconscious perception of the loud rejection is indelibly inscribed in the implicit memory (priming, “scar”) and possibly causes an anxiety disorder or insecure social competence in adulthood, without the person concerned being aware of the actual cause.
The works of Sigmund Freud around 100 years ago testify to the formative importance of unconscious, early childhood conflicts for adjustment disorders in adults. His psychoanalysis was an attempt to uncover this connection and thus to reduce the suffering of his patients. Just like previous and persistent aversive stress states, automated movement sequences such as climbing stairs or unconscious perceptions such as “ice is cold, water is wet” are stored in implicit memory for life. This then gives rise to stable, unconscious expectations of the environment. If the one-year-old child has close physical contact with his mother, who is constantly empathetic towards him, relationship expectations develop that are internalized by the child. These inner representations (memory contents), controlled by early relationship experiences, are so strong that the child has enough self-confidence even when the mother is absent to be able to patiently wait for their return.
The unconscious thus decides on the level of well-being in toddlers, but also in adults, through the lifelong retention of early memory contents in the cerebral cortex.
About 90 percent of the processes in the brain take place unconsciously. For example, if a three-year-old child survived an apartment fire, as an adult they may find an open fire unbearable. This person would release massive stress hormones in candlelight. The target of these stress hormones are receptors in the amygdala and in the hippocampus, i.e. those regions that are responsible for memory and the coupling of emotion and cognition. Even minor stressful situations can reactivate the trauma and lead to a split between emotion and cognition (dissociation). Dissociation is a protective mechanism that suppresses threatening affects and memories caused by traumatic experience, but on the other hand produces a whole spectrum of psychopathology. In any case, this includes the memory block.
The ideal of the mature personality
Personality is the result of innate temperament and acquired character. The character comprises the personal attitudes, goals and values ​​that one has acquired in the course of his development. Personality describes the individual nature of a person, which distinguishes him in a wide variety of situations and makes him predictable, which shows a constancy in all changes in life.
A child's personality can develop optimally when natural disposition and environmental factors are harmoniously coordinated. This is achieved through the flexibility and sensitivity of the caregiver, who adapts their behavior to the various developmental steps of the child. Each step on the way to a mature personality affects the next. The years of childhood influence the youth, these in turn influence the adult, and their experiences continue in the wisdom of old age. Erich Fromm gave a very good answer to the question of how to become a mature personality in his “Basic Positions of Psychoanalysis (1966)”: “When I speak of the full-born, then I am speaking of the human being in Goethe's sense, of that person People who have broken away from their mother, from their father, from the flock - from that person who has become, as it were, their own mother, their own father and their own law. "
However, it is a long way to get there, as the human brain needs more time to mature than any other kind. The limbic system, responsible for emotional processing and evaluation, does not reach its final networking with the other brain regions until puberty. This explains the confusion of affects, the search for meaning and the irrational behavior of many young people, who find it difficult to control their impulses due to a lack of brain maturation. Although the final brain volume is already reached at the age of 15, a stable adult brain can only be spoken of as a stable adult brain from the age of 21 in women and from the age of 23 in men. Then the frontal lobe in particular, which is responsible for movement, language, action planning, problem solving and other things, has reached its full maturity.
Resilience is the psychological resistance that enables people, despite a stressful childhood, to overcome frustrations without developing symptoms of illness. "Life is not about having good cards, but about making a good game with a bad hand" (Robert Louis Stevenson). These "survivors" are optimistic about life, feel healthy and vital, live in stable partnerships and have reliable friends. They either cope with severe defeats and crises on their own or are able to seek help from others.
However, many people find life difficult. They withdraw when conflicts arise, are dissatisfied in relationships, and experience themselves rather as giving rather than as receiving. They long for closeness, but when it arises, they often cannot bear it. Your problem is feeling like you've missed out or failed. Your self-perceived tragedy is the "unlived life". This dysphoric mood is called neuroticism or emotional instability in psychopathology.
Final consideration
For many adults, childhood is the time when you can play, try out aimlessly and constantly experience new things. To others, childhood appears to be an extraordinarily dangerous time in which they were helpless and dependent, could be hurt and abused, demoralized and bent. Your own childhood naturally has an impact on being a parent. Today it is known that the neural circuitry in the brain is directly related to the socialization experienced in the first three years of life. This structuring of the brain later decisively determines how relationships are sought and shaped. Early childhood stress, which is caused by negative attachment experiences, permanently activates similar circuits in the brain such as panic states and physical pain. The child becomes a strong personality when his caregivers continuously convey: You are not alone and lost. You are valuable and important. You can do something. If the physical birth of a person takes hours, the psychological birth takes decades.


How this article is cited:
Dtsch Arztebl 2006; 103 (36): A 2298-2301

The bibliography is available from the author or on the Internet at www.aerzteblatt.de/lit3606.

Author's address:
Dr. Jürgen Wettig
Head of Department ZSP Rheinblick
Doctor for neurology, psychiatry and psychotherapy
Kloster-Eberbach-Strasse 4, 65346 Eltville am Rhein
Email: [email protected]
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1. Braus DF: Insight into the brain. Stuttgart: Thieme 2004.
2. Broda M et. al (Ed.): Childhood; Psychotherapy in dialogue. Thieme; No. 1, March 2006, 7th year.
3. Bühring P: Childhood has consequences. Dtsch Ärztebl 2003; 100, 1109-10 [Booklet 20].
4. Eirund W, Weise B: Children in the inpatient therapy of their drug-dependent parents. Hessisches Ärzteblatt, Volume 67, April 2006: 238–44.
5. Neumaier J: Is “the unconscious” sitting in the front right? Info Neurology and Psychiatry 2006; Urban and Vogel: Vol. 8, No. 3: 66–7.
6. Pedrosa GF, Rupprecht R: News on attachment theory and developmental psychology as well as neurobiological aspects in psychiatric and psychosomatic diseases. The Neurologist 2003; Volume 74, Issue 11: 965-71.
7. Revenstorf D: The four quadrants of knowledge; The neurologist and psychiatrist. Urban and Vogel; April 2006: 54-7.
8. Schiepek G, forehead A: The brain - dynamic and self-organizing. The neurologist and psychiatrist. Urban and Vogel; June 2006: 49-52.
9. Wettig, Jürgen: Once on the couch and back; Verlag Wissenschaft und Praxis 2005; Star Rock.
Parent-child bond: childhood determines life

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