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Can Babies Remember Trauma? Symbolic Forms of Representation in Traumatized Infants

Three important areas of current inquiry concerning early trauma—the respective roles of reality and fantasy, age-related capacity for the symbolic representation of trauma, and attachment status—are approached through clinical case reports of three children seen initially at very early ages. The findings are relevant to the issue of whether preverbal infants can experience traumatic events that later are available to interpretation. The focus is for the most part on event traumas—single harrowing, life-threatening experiences—occurring at quite early ages. Three main points are emphasized. First, toddlers and infants (including neonates) can experience intense pain and show symptoms of traumatization. They are capable of experiencing an event as harrowing and life-threatening. Second, these events are capable of being memorialized or symbolically represented, that is, stored in memory in a way that can affect later behavior and learning. Third, how that traumatization resolves itself, or fails to, can be decisively affected by the functioning of the attachment system.

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Dr. Radut