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BIRTH TRAUMA How Do We Re-enact the Effects of Early Trauma in Our Lives?

Updated: Jan 15

One of the most confusing, and generally least understood effects of experiencing emotional shock and/or traumatisation is the way in which our body and our psyche become conditioned. This conditioning causes us to unconsciously re-enact the specific dynamics of the trauma in our everyday lives.

The earlier the trauma, the more significant the impact it has upon us.

This process, known as traumatic re-enactment, or recapitulation is the focus of this article.

Whenever we have an intense experience, synaptic connections are made at an alarming rate. These connections form neural superhighways that become reinforced by the high level of stress hormones and neuropeptides circulating in the bloodstream.

These connections do not just encode our physiological state at the time but also encompass our psychological and emotional state, as well as any particular survival strategies that were used.

These neural superhighways become activated when we find ourselves in a situation that is similar in some way to the original event.

For example,

if as a result of experiencing intense pressure during birth, a baby gets stuck, baby may start to feel a high level of frustration and anxiety.

As a result of this experience, their developing brain will wire the whole of this situation into a neural superhighway.

This wiring will include the posture of the baby at the time, the feelings of intense pressure, the sense of being stuck, the anxiety and frustration together with the attempt to fight against it.

This is why, in somatic therapy, we take on a posture and exaggerate that posture, to give space for the body and soul to consciously re member the charge that is being held in the implicit (pre-verbal) body memory.

The body's intelligence brings us into these postures organically in psychedelic spaces and during breathwork experiences as well with the innate impulse for whatever energetic charge and emotion and belief associated with it to be made conscious and reclaimed in a good way.

If in later life, this person finds him/her self re-experiencing any flavour of these conditions, the neural superhighway formed at the time will start to be activated and they may become flooded with sensations and emotions that seem completely out of proportion and irrelevant to their current situation.

This way of being will become identified with and they may just resign themself to the fact that he/she is the “type of person that doesn’t handle pressure well and finds that he/she gets really frustrated and anxious whenever they are in a pressured situation.”

However, this is not true. These ways of being are often related to how we have learnt to be rather than who we truly are.

Our true nature has had to adapt and project in order to contain the effects of the traumatic experience. These effects of these experiences influence every aspect of who way are, including our physical health, emotional state, thoughts, beliefs, behaviour and speech.

The effects of early traumatic experience go even further as we will unconsciously recreate these dynamics in our lives in some way.

(More details on this below)

There are several ways in which this occurs. We may attract specific people/situations to us as if we were some sort of magnet for them.

Conversely, we may also find ourselves attracted to these same people/situations.

Another way in which we can recreate these effects is to behave in specific unconscious ways that then causes others to act out the dynamic of the original trauma upon us.

For example, if we have experienced rejection early in life, we may act in such a way that tries to stop people from rejecting us, such as with clingy, needy or controlling behaviour.

However, in doing this, we find that people become tired and frustrated with us and are actually more likely to reject us as a result, creating the very situation that we were trying to avoid in the first place.

All of this is an additional lens to learn about ourselves through. We can also connect some of these survival strategies with the 5 Personality Patterns as well.

Direct recapitulation

In direct recapitulation, we unconsciously attract, or are attracted to, specific situations and/or people who recreate the exact dynamic of the original trauma towards us. For example, if we experienced intense pressure during birth that was overwhelming, we may directly recapitulate this by constantly putting ourselves in relationships and work environments where we feel consistently pressurised and overwhelmed.

Avoidant recapitulation

Avoidant recapitulation is where we unconsciously avoid the specific dynamics of the original trauma.

For example, if we experienced some form of early chemical toxicity e.g. maternal smoking, drinking and/or drug use during pregnancy, use of pain-relief medication during birth, we may avoidantly recapitulate this by leading a “clean” lifestyle by not drinking, smoking or doing drugs and making sure that all food and drink is clean, pure and organic. We may even be reluctant to take prescription medication, preferring more natural remedies.

Perpetrator Identified Recapitulation

This form of recapitulation occurs when we identify with the specific forces of the trauma and project it onto others. This person recapitulates their trauma by becoming an aggressor.

An example of this type of recapitulation can be seen in the person who experienced their boundaries being invaded during birth as a result of intense contractions and/or interventions.

They may then recapitulate this by being incredibly invasive or aggressive towards those people around them.

Victim Identified Recapitulation

Victim identified recapitulation is the exact opposite of perpetrator identified in that we take the dynamics of what has happened to us and put it onto ourselves in such a way that we feel like victims of life. For example, as a result of being pulled out by forceps, an adult may later recapitulate this by feeling completely powerless to prevent others from manipulating, overpowering and controlling them (all feelings that individuals have attributed to a forceps birth), and will in all likelihood attract/be attracted to people who will treat him in this way..

Retroflective Identification

In this situation, we take the specific belief that the trauma imprinted and we identify into it. For example, as a result of experiencing abandonment either in utero or during the birth process, (separated from mom, incubation, treated aggressively or unconsciously) we have deep feelings of distrust toward the world and people. As a consequence of this, there may be a belief that "I must have done something wrong." or "it's because of me" This belief is the one that was then identified with as a baby. We are totally merged with our environment at this stage.. We are not separate. So baby then forms a belief that get lodged in the body as shock/terror, anger, despair, loss...and can manifest in different sequences of expression. Basically baby believes, If this is the world, and this is how I'm treated, then i'm that...then there is be something inherently wrong with me.

Compensatory Retroflection

This form of recapitulation is the opposite of retroflective identification. In this situation, we identify with a belief, but we compensate for it by acting out its opposite. For example, if as a result of early experience we felt that we were a failure, we may compensate for this feeling by needing to be successful. This unconscious drive to be successful will continue unabated unless the underlying feelings of failure, and its causation are addressed. or an adaptive strategy that goes something like... "You have it, I need it, Ill do it FOR you to meet my own need" because there is shame about having needs, and those needs might get you rejected..

Victim Advocate Recapitulation

this strategy involves an unconscious projection of the trauma dynamics into the social sphere in order to help and support others. This is most often done by working with others to help them overcome the same dynamics that we experienced. For example, as a result of being disempowered, controlled and manipulated by forceps/ventouse during birth, the victim advocate might become involved in teaching such principles as assertiveness, self-development and empowerment.

Confrontational Recapitulation

This strategy requires that people actively seek out and challenge any circumstances, issues and/or social policies that remind them of their original trauma.

For example, confrontational recapitulation of early rejection might mean that you feel compelled to work to try to influence social policy with regard to others who are rejected e.g. adoption policy.

It is my experience that if we can start to become more conscious of how we organise ourselves around our early experiences, then we can bring more clarity and understanding to our work. When we are able to meet others with a greater degree of accuracy with regard to their personal process, this allows for a much deeper acknowledgement of the experience within their psyche.

Stage One

Stage one begins with the onset of labour and explores the ways in which the baby relates to the intensity and pressure of contractions whilst being prevented from moving forward due to an undilated cervix. We will also explore some of the more important cranial and somatic tissue patterns that get imprinted at this time, and we will look at how these early relationships have impacted us.

Common psychological themes associated with this time include:

  • The lie side. The lie-side is the one which must bear the most and the strongest pressure in this transit phase.

  • how we relate to stress and pressure with no way out.

  • initiating projects

  • and how we handle transitions

Stage one ends with the dilation of the cervix and the initial descent of the baby.

Stage Two

Stage two explores the four main rotation styles that baby’s use in transitioning from having their heads in a more transverse position at the pelvic inlet to an anterior-posterior position at the pelvic outlet. Using experiential processes, we will then explore our own rotation dynamics and see how these have impacted both the tissues of our body and our psyche.

Rotation styles are dependent upon the size and shape of our mother’s pelvis, the use of any obstetrical interventions (especially pain-relief medication) as well as any unresolved prenatal issues, specifically those related to transition.

Major psychological themes associated with stage two include:

  • decision-making,

  • orientation and balance,

  • sense of direction

  • and our relationship to our intuition

In Stage Three

the baby has to negotiate its way through the pelvic outlet. At this stage, the face is pressed against the sacrum, the occiput directly against the pubic bone and the sternum against the lumbo-sacral promontory. Each of these areas can be adversely affected at this stage.

As this stage is towards the end of birth, both mother and baby are often exhausted. Other issues that can arise here are related to the umbilical cord. At this stage, the cord is often being compressed between the baby’s body and the mother’s pelvic bones. This can lead to feelings of suffocation and depletion of resources. These issues can be compounded if the cord is around the baby’s neck.

Major psychological themes associated with this stage include

  • how we handle fatigue and exhaustion while under pressure, how we complete projects,

  • how we move forwards in life

  • and how we present ourselves to the world

Stage Four

Stage four involves the head, shoulder and body birth of the baby along with the effects of post-natal interventions and treatments. These include early cutting of the cord, separation from mother for cleaning, weighing and possible resuscitation.

This is also the time during which mother and baby should ideally be left to bond with each other. Major psychological themes of this stage involve

  • our relationship to touch,

  • bonding, separation and intimacy

  • how we are met in the world

in regressions with adults it is often impressive and, at the same time, harrowing how powerfully anaesthetics can affect the baby under the birth.

Just as the baby is in the most strenuous, stress-intensive and psychologically formative situation of its entire life, the support of the maternal labour pains is missing, unexpectedly and, for the child, for no apparent reason.