Beyond Fight, Flight or Freeze: Threat of Abandonment and Its Developmental Consequences: A 30-Year Longitudinal Perspective
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Karlen Lyons-Ruth, PhD
1 Hour 39 Minutes
Audio and Video
May 28, 2021
Our nervous system has an organized stress response system with different developmentally sensitive periods – the fear of abandonment and the fear of attack. Our 30-year longitudinal study has revealed the impacts of caregiver withdrawing behaviors on the development of the human nervous system and the long-term impacts that early disrupted attachment has on adulthood.
- Two differently organized stress response systems, with different developmental sensitive periods, are likely to be active in human development: Fear of Abandonment and Fear of Attack.
- These systems motivate different but contradictory adaptive responses: fight, flight or freeze versus call and contact-seek.
- Withdrawing behaviors by the caregiver are associated with activation of fear of abandonment and subsequent role confusion in relation to the caregiver.
- Attachment disturbances, and caregiver withdrawal in particular, are associated with long-term deviations in amygdala and hippocampal development.
- Contributions of both early attachment disturbance and later childhood abuse need to be separately conceptualized in treatment approaches to complex trauma.
Karlen Lyons-Ruth, PhD is a professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, a clinical supervisor for the Cambridge Health Alliance Psychology and Psychiatry training programs and a core faculty member for the first-year Child Psychiatry Seminar for MGH/McLean, Children’s Hospital, and Cambridge Health Alliance fellows. She was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Duke University and received her PhD in Developmental Psychology from Harvard University. Before coming to Harvard Medical School, she completed a clinical internship at McLean Hospital and served as a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Child Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine
Financial: Karlen Lyons-Ruth is a professor at Harvard Medical School. She is a staff psychologist and supervising psychologist at Cambridge Health Alliance. She has no relevant financial relationships with ineligible organizations.
Non-financial: Karlen Lyons-Ruth is a fellow of the American Psychological Association. She is a member of the Society for Research in Child Development; the Massachusetts Psychological Association; International Society for Infant Studies; and the Association for Psychological Science. Dr. Lyons-Ruth is an advisory board member at Infant-Parent Training Institute.
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