by: Kathleen Benckendorf
ATN is delighted to welcome Kathleen Benckendorf as a guest voice on Touching Trauma at its Heart. Kathleen, a parent and a former member of ATN’s Board of Directors, is a relentless researcher and seeker of answers. An engineer by education and experience, Kathleen has also trained as a bodyworker and in as many other therapeutic approaches and interventions as she has been able to convince the providers to let her attend. Her website,www.attachmentandintegrationmethods.com , describes these approaches and others.
The attachment world talks about a “secure base,” meaning a safe place to go in times of need. Many who have experienced early trauma lack that secure base, and that lack affects them throughout their lives. It’s hard to build when it doesn’t blossom out of natural interactions at the proper developmental stage.
I witnessed a toddler and his secure base on New Year’s Day and the experience was so enlightening that I wanted to share it.
We had friends over, several couples and a few of their teenage and adult children.None with significant trauma histories or attachment challenges. One couple arrived with their 16month old grandson. He was asleep in the car when they arrived, and like most sleepy toddlers was not too crazy about being awakened and introduced to strangers in a strange place. However, as long as Grandma or Grandpa was holding him, he was fine. No crying, no carrying on – but no interest in exploring – and no interest in making up to the rest of us, all strangers to him. He had a drink and a little snack, and continued to hang out with Grandma and Grandpa, obviously comfortable with them and attached to them, for about forty-five minutes to an hour until his parents arrived and joined the small party.
Of course, when they arrived, he went straight to them. What happened next, however, surprised me. His greeting time with them probably lasted less than two minutes; then he was off and exploring our house on his own feet – mostly at a run. His secure base was within reach and he was free and safe to explore.I’ve long understood the concept of a secure base, but this was like someone flipped a switch for this child. Although he obviously HAD a secure base, it was not yet internalized at 16 months, and he needed that secure base to be physically within reach for him to feel safe enough to explore.
Kids with early trauma may not get to establish that secure base, much less internalize it.