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2. What is this ambient fear?

Updated: Jan 24

(Part 2 of Trauma '24 & more series)

It may feel as if fear is dispersed from some inaccessible place, into your entire reality. If you turn inward, it is there. When you are called upon to attend a professional or social event, it is there waiting- or does it live inside you, in your central nervous system?

One of the signatures of Developmental Trauma or Complex Post Traumatic Disorder, is that. It is fear that runs like a river through the entire landscape of your life. It is not your past. It is not the bad things that happened to you in the past. It is what you are living now – it is your felt sense of you or the absence of a sense of self and your reactions or over-reactions to seemingly normal events. The river of fear erupts in rapids and wild waves and sometimes it is quieter. The fear manifests in many different emotions and reactions. You very seldom, if ever, experience the total calm of a peaceful lake.

Most with histories of neglect, abandonment and abuse have been diagnosed with one or many disorders like borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and more, before adulthood. The DSM-5 symptoms defining your diagnosis may be spot-on, like for instance the constant sense of dread and anxiety associated with GAD or the persistent low mood, hopelessness and helplessness associated with MDD. A very popular diagnosis for those who suffer these histories of the lack of unconditional love, the absence of attuned parenting, emotional and /or physical neglect and abuse in one of its myriads of masks, is BPD. This diagnosis is associated with dysregulated emotions, extreme fear of abandonment and a general sense of desperation and many other debilitating symptoms that show up as soon as circumstances are not optimal. The triggering into these dysregulated states happens constantly, because life seldom presents itself as a calm lake with perfect conditions. Many therapists feel overwhelmed when approached by those who present themselves with a BPD label. This fictional disorder is so notoriously treatment resistant. It cannot be treated because it does not exist although the symptoms specified in the DSM-5, do. Sebern Fisher teaches that “the brain does not parcel out its problems in 250 DSM diagnoses”. It is all about dysregulated brains and about fear that manifests differently in different individuals.

 The above diagnoses are useless. They speak neither to origin nor to treatment. History and treatment matter. The developing brain is impacted profoundly when the mother is sought and not found. The neglected child as well as the adult with this history, is left with a deep-seated sense of the absence of the mother that can remain for the rest of the person’s life and manifests in different behaviours in different individuals. A core consequence of neglect or abandonment which leaves the child with a sense of aloneness and absence of the mother, is fear. “The circuitry of fear casts a wide net, but quieting the amygdala is essential when addressing fear” (Fisher, 2014). We have since learnt that there are even deeper structures in the brain that are involved that need to be accessed and calmed when the brain has been influenced by developmental trauma – and then symptoms begin to dissipate.

The two techniques accessible to trauma therapists that are most likely to access the origin of the ensuing horrors are Neurofeedback and Deep Brain Reorienting. These are brain- based therapies. The author of DBR, Dr Frank Corrigan, an icon of Neurofeedback- Sebern Fisher- and the world’s leading trauma fMRI researcher, Prof. Ruth Lanius, will be in the same conversation about these brain-based therapies at the Trauma’24 Conference in South Africa on 4 and 5 October 2024.


In the next blog we will be taking a deeper look at how neglect, abandonment and abuse in childhood give rise to the core emotions of shame, anger, and rage in adulthood. We may then, or possibly after, begin to discuss the impact of developmental trauma on relationships.

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