“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” Carl Jung
Shortly after we were married 34 years ago, we began our search for a model that would help us and others map the journey towards a more authentic life. In addition to searching the literature for clues, we decided to make our relationship into what we affectionately call our “LOVE-atory.” We believe that we must be able to resolve the conflicts and unhealed childhood traumas that we each brought to our relationship if we were to effectively help others do this.
This task was sometimes bumpy and often fraught with stress. We often felt alone in our LOVE-atory, as researchers and pioneers often are. As we created developmental processes that worked helped us heal, we tested them with our clients. Those that proved to be effective in our clinical, we taught to our counselor-trainees and encouraged them to use on themselves and their clients. This circle of research and experimentation expanded our LOVE-atory into increasingly larger systems: individuals, couples, family, organizations, and the community. Finally, we shared what we learned by publishing our books both nationally and internationally.
We used our developmental approach to create an evolutionary model that would help us to map human development through six levels of human systems. journey. Developmental Systems Theory postulates that all humans–micro and macro–evolve through four stages of development: codependent, counter-dependent, independent and interdependent stages. We saw that people were able to complete the “essential developmental processes” of each stage were able to live a more authentic life–a process that we call LOVEvolution. We recognized the mythic nature of this process–that completing developmental tasks of these four stages were really a “journey” leading to a more authentic life.
We also were able to identify what could happen in each stage that could hinder or even stall evolution. Our work with clients helped us with this piece of our research. Some who had no history of childhood abuse, still had post-traumatic symptoms, which puzzled us. We finally concluded that these symptoms were coming from both early neglect and abuse. We finally created the term ‘developmental trauma” to identify this set of behaviors and relational issues. In 1989, we published our first book, Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap, where we shared our research and clinical work. It was the first book of its kind to identify codependency not as a disease, but as the result of unhealed childhood traumas. In a field crowded with other books about codependency, this book stood out and became a best-seller in the self-help movement.
Our own healing work (both individual and couple) and our clinical work with clients in our LOVE-atory helped us create Hearth Field Therapy (HFT), our clinical approach for healing developmental trauma. HFT is based on the scientific principle of resonance. The experience of HFT is that deep healing happens when two or more people’s hearts synchronize and come into what is known as “coherence.” We learned that this very invisible experience was profoundly healing in our therapy sessions, both for us as practitioners and our clients and the training groups that we worked with.
The Breakthrough: Mainstream Science Validates Our Clinical Findings
What happened next is that we found out that mainstream science had actually validated our clinical findings. We both remember our reaction to hearing microbiologist Dr. Bruce Lipton give the keynote address at the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Health (APPPAH) conference in San Francisco in 1995. Lipton laid out the findings of his research that showed how the single cell reacts to its environment. Lipton said that if the cell perceives danger in its environment it will automatically shut down the receptors on its outer membrane and go into a protective mode. He also said that when the cell perceives its environment as “safe” and supportive, it opens its outer membranes to receive the nutrients in its environment and grows.
Then Lipton added that he saw this same process of protection or growth taking place in the evolution of all living organisms, including humans. In this same talk in 1995, Lipton cited his research on “fractals” to validate his findings. A fractal is a never-ending pattern of human evolution. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across all different human systems. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over inside of an ongoing feedback loop in as human system. According to Lipton, this is a definition of how evolution occurs. This process occurs everywhere in all living organisms. We believe that one day, Lipton’s theory of evolution will replace Darwin’s theory. Lipton’s theory already has much more research evidence to support it than Darwin ever had.
Lipton received a standing ovation from conference participants because they, like us, saw how his researched connected the dots between human development and children’s family environment. It validated what we all had learned from our work with mothers and infants, and in our case, adults. We saw that when infants perceive their environment as hostile or unsupportive, they will not thrive. Without proper, consistent, care–particularly unconditional love–infants will fail to thrive and even die. This helped us identify “attachment trauma” and “separation trauma” and their long-term effects as the two categories of Developmental Trauma. We concluded that unconditional love is the energy of evolution. The degree to which people are able to give and receive unconditional love determines how much they can evolve.
Lipton’s research, plus the concept of fractals, explained how patterns of behavior in an individual emerge in couple relationships, families, community organizations, cultures, nation-states and ultimately, the whole human race. We came to understand how all couple relationships followed a similar pattern of development through the same four stages that occurs in individuals. Then we recognized the same fractal behavior patterns emerge in the families we worked with in our clinical practice. This formed the basis for the application of our Developmental Systems Theory model showing that human development contains fractal patterns that carry from individual development into all larger systems, including the evolution of the human species. We also identified the fractal patterns of trauma that permeate each system and block its evolution.
A Second Breakthrough: The ACE Research Studies Validate Our Findings
The ACE studies, begun in 1995, are the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted in the U. S. The co-investigators were Dr. Vincent Feletti, a physician who directed a clinic in San Diego connected with Kaiser Permanente and Dr. Robert Anda, an epidemiologist at the Centers For Disease Control in Atlanta. They gave a 10-Question survey to over 17,000 adult patients with average age in the 50’s. These were patients at Dr. Feletti’s San Diego Clinic. The main objective of the study was to determine the long-term effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on physical and mental health. They asked if these patients had any abuse or neglect or poor family dynamics (alcoholism, divorce, parent in prison, etc.). They found that over 2/3 of this sample reported at least one ACE.
They then looked correlations with patients’ health conditions. What they found stunned the co-investigators. When compared with patients that reported no ACEs, people with four or more ACEs had greater risks of getting chronic and degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and auto-immune diseases such as Lupus, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Those with an alcoholic caregiver in their family had a 550 percent greater chance of becoming an alcoholic as an adult. They also found similar correlations with various mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. This original study has been replicated over 80 times since 1995 with the same results. The Developmental Trauma that we had discovered clinically back in the early 1980s had been confirmed through this large scale patient research.
This left no doubt in our minds about the long-term effects of developmental traumas (or ACEs) on adult physical and mental health. Recently, Oprah Winfrey did a special on CBS where she talked openly about her own childhood traumas. She said, “Unless you fix the trauma, you’re working on the wrong thing .… If you don’t fix the hole in the soul… where the wounds started, you’re working at the wrong thing…. It’s not an excuse. It’s an explanation…. It’s HUGE…. And it’s a game changer.”
Since identifying Developmental Trauma in our clinical work, we have written over 20 books for professionals and the general public on this topic, including our books for professionals titled, Developmental Trauma: The Game Changer in the Mental Health Profession and LOVEvolution: A Heart-Centered Approach for Healing Developmental Trauma. We have comparable books written for non-professionals as well. These books all have come out of what we learned in our relationship loveatory, in field-testing the most successful tools with our graduate students and finally being able to use these tools successfully with our clients.