11th February 2015 50 Shades of Attachment and Trauma by Ruth Adams

‘Is that book as good as ’50 Shades of Grey’?, shouted out one of the foster carers at a training day I was taking for a large group of foster carers and social workers (Nature, Nurture, Trauma). This event was looking at the issues of living and working with challenging children and young people and I’d held up a book which I’d found helpful, when I had this response.

Fortunately, I’d read the ’50 shades’ trilogy and so I was able to say that they were very different! Whilst the books I was recommending were generally very practical, as a work of fiction, ’50 shades’ was a good example of the story of an adult who’d experienced early trauma.

‘Thank you so much for saying that’, the experienced foster carer said; ‘my husband told me I was the only person in the country who would find attachment issues in ’50 shades’ and it’s great to know you think the same’. I do.

As the film is released this week and the hype we saw around the books when they were published, returns, yet again people will be so caught up in the erotic that the main themes of the trilogy are completely missed.

The books are described in different ways, most concentrating solely on the sensual, yet it’s the early traumatic life of Christian Grey, which is woven and unfolds through the three books that provides a real understanding of the effects of early traumatic experiences on a very young child. This gives a very different perspective on the story to the one we usually hear.

Along with all the graphic sex scenes there’s a moving story of an abused young boy whose mother was a drug addict and controlled by a pimp. He was abused by the pimp and left with his mother’s body when she died, starving and confused. He was later adopted by a caring, professional couple. With all we now know about trauma and brain development it’s hardly surprising that as a result of his early experiences, Christian grew up with ‘issues’.

Like many children and young people who’ve experienced early trauma he’s out of touch with his emotions and the need for control in every area of life is essential for his survival. He easily gets angry if things don’t go his way but as Bryan Post (www.postinstitute.com) says, ‘anger is a secondary emotion which comes from hurt or fear’. Christian’s control and anger masks his real fear of being left by Anastasia (as no doubt he felt abandoned by his mother when she died) and the deep hurt he carries around with him from his early experiences.

We know that Christian has been in therapy for a long time and is emotionally immature – something that will be familiar to those of us who are parents and professionals working with children and young people who had a difficult start in life.

Just as Christian is ‘labelled’, the same happens to many of our troubled children and young people and they’re described as a ‘problem’, ‘challenging’, ‘vulnerable’ or whatever. Could we instead, encourage people to ask, ‘why do they behave like this?’ It’s common knowledge that a child or young person’s behaviour is their language, when they don’t feel listened to or they don’t have the words to adequately express the pain, rejection, hurt and despair which they feel.

The father of Attachment theory, John Bowlby said, ‘Children are not slates from which the past can be rubbed by a duster or sponge, but humans profoundly affected by what has gone before’.

Christian Grey’s trauma showed itself as control and inappropriate sexual practices. For some of our children it’s self-harm, eating disorders, abuse of others and worse – the list is endless. But we can be sure that whatever the trauma, later behaviours will be linked to their early experiences.

It’s the reason Christian is the way he is and the underlying story is all about how the unconditional love and understanding of one person allowed him to face his demons and begin to find healing.

As Bruce Perry (www.childtrauma.org) says: ‘Ultimately, what determines how children survive trauma, physically, emotionally or psychologically is whether the people around them – particularly the adults they are able to trust and rely on – stand by them with love, support and encouragement.

Like Anastasia, let’s make sure we do this.

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