VIDEO: Dr. Peter Levine on the Impact of Infant Attachment on Society

Watch an excerpt from PsychAlive’s exclusive interview with Dr. Peter Levine.

Dr. Peter Levine underscores the impact of infant attachment on our society, including the increase in childhood bullying, suicide and homicide.

Dr. Peter A. Levine: Actually, my co-author for both Trauma-Proofing your Kids and Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes, Maggie Klein, set up a program in the Austin school system. It’s called Trauma-Proofing your Schools. And they’re really working on this. Bullying is a really complex thing, but very little attention is paid often to what it is about the kids that make them so susceptible, that they are sort of like a target for bullies. And to help those children develop more of a self-capacity, a self-efficacy through bodily experience so they’re able to, not necessarily fight back physically, but know what to do, notice their boundaries, to say  “Look, it’s not OK. If you’re going to do this, I’m going to tell somebody.”

And again, this idea of working with the bullies when that’s possible, because the bullies, I mean, you know, obviously, they have their problems, of course. But a lot of times, the kids who are bullied are the ones that have had the most problematic childhoods. But both are true. There’s no general rule. I mean, obviously, these kids that have done these horrible, horrible things, you know that their histories are going to be bad, you know that their home life has been horrendous, even if the neighbors say, “Oh, yes, they were wonderful children, very normal family,” and so forth and so on, you just know that there’s no way that that’s true.

And another thing, they talk a lot about …you know, that the kids who are suicidal, or potentially homicidal, that they have these brain abnormalities, quote, that there’s not a good connection between their frontal brain and the limbic brain and so forth and so on.  But nothing was mentioned of how these circuits develop in the first place. And the way they develop is from our earliest attachments, from the relationship we have with our parents, that we are born to participate in each other’s nervous systems, to learn to regulate each other, to learn to share joy and playfulness with each other.  And when that happens, these circuits are strong.

It’s not that these people have some genetic abnormality.  There may be some predisposing things, I won’t deny that, but I think we way overdo the genetics thing and a lot of the research is showing that even the genetic thing has more to do with which genes are expressed, and that has to do with environment.

So anyhow, we get what we sow.  We really need to have this understanding that something’s dreadfully wrong with so many children.  And it’s starting at the earliest interventions, earliest interventions, I mean, in infancy.  And we could prevent, I would say, many, many –probably the majority of these — eventually, the majority of these kind of horrific things. I mean a child that’s attached to a parent in a good way, they won’t be doing things like this. It just won’t happen.

So again, really focusing on the societal importance of early attachment and of, again, helping kids to not be traumatized.  And when you help a young child rebound from the aftermath of an event like this, what happens, wonderfully, is they keep this capacity and they bring it forward in their lives

So this is so important. This conference tomorrow, somebody just told me that there were a thousand, they expected a thousand people.  Well, that’s really something. It’s really showing how people are starting, really recognizing, in mental health and in the general public, how important these early years are, how important that attachment, that bonding process is, and discovering ways to maximize it, so that we have children who care for others, who have empathy, who care for the earth, who see their earth as their home, also their mother. So as a society, we have a ways to go, but it’s really positive to see these kinds of things taking traction.

About the Author

Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. is the developer of Somatic Experiencing®, a body-awareness approach to healing trauma, and the Director of The Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute. Dr. Levine holds doctorate degrees in both Medical Biophysics and in Psychology. He spent 35 years studying stress and trauma and has contributed to numerous scientific and popular publications. Dr. Levine was a stress consultant for NASA on the development of the space shuttle project, as well as a member of the Institute of World Affairs Task Force of Psychologists for Social Responsibility in developing responses to large-scale disasters and ethno-political warfare. He has authored several books, including international best seller, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma and his most recent book, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. In 2010, Dr. Levine received the Life Time Achievement award from the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP).

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