Sunday, January 27, 2013

Adult and Child information processing

On my facebook there has been a discussion about trauma. I wrote the following:

“In recent months I have been working with a US marine who served in Iraq. He says that whenever he hears fireworks going off he has an instant strong anxiety reaction. Apparently the sounds are similar to explosions one hears in war. He also says that if he sits and watches a fireworks show he has no anxiety reaction at all. It’s curious how the Child ego state works sometimes.” (end quote)

Dena commented about the different neurological processing that would go on in the different circumstances which was interesting. In addition to this there would also be alternate psychological processing going on. It is a good illustration how the different ego states function differently especially in how they process information in order to come to conclusions about the world.

Ski race

The US marine presented two different situations he found himself in:

1. When hearing fireworks he only has audio information - anxiety experienced.
2. When watching fireworks he has audio and video information - no anxiety.

This demonstrates how the Adult and Child ego states process information differently. This is explained further in the following three diagrams.

A thinks, C blieves

Adult & Child functions

Ego state processing Jpeg

When he can only hear the fireworks (and not see them) he knows in his Adult they are only fireworks and not real bombs. However his Child ego state he is not 100% convinced they are not bombs. This is a type of magical thinking. His Child believes that some how by magic they may be real.

To the person who has not been traumatized in a war zone it is not important for the Child to be fully convinced. To the marine who has been in situations where he could have been killed by the bombing it becomes very important and hence he experiences high anxiety in reaction to those sounds.

When he can watch the fireworks directly, see what is going on and see the bangs being connected to the fireworks exploding he has no anxiety. This shows how important video is to Child ego state information processing. With such visual confirmation his Child is 100% convinced they are not real bombs and he experiences no anxiety.

Magical thinking

Anyone who has studied child psychology knows the importance a young child puts on what they see rather than on words they are told. Children quickly learn that a parent’s actions are far more important than what a parent says. Indeed when it is preverbal it only has visual (& kinesthetic) information available to it.

The US marine reminds us that we never loose the Child ego state part of us even when we are a mature adult. We continue to process information in an illogical way with magical thinking no matter how old we are.


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