Early life experiences and interpersonal relationships

Even though there may be genetic and inherited variations in strategies for what to do if cut off from care, or if one is a winner or loser, many strategies are open to modification through learning and social contexts (Schore, 1994; Suomi, 1997). As noted above, there is increasing evidence that early life may sensitise stress, mood, and social behavioural systems. Humans have evolved into a highly socially intelligent species, with competencies for self-conscious emotions and self-schema, but one that requires a long and important period of parental dependency to develop. This dependency turns out to be a two-edged sword that carries great potential benefits but also potentially high costs (Gilbert & Miles, 2000). This is because early relationships play a powerful role in the maturation of the stress system and the cortical areas that modulate limbic-emotion systems (Hofer, 1994; Meaney et al., 1996; Schore, 1994, 2001). For example, physical affection, in the form of touch, holding, and cuddling, reduces HPA activity to stress (Field, 1998). Positive social experiences link positive affect with close relationships (Schore, 1994). Negative experiences (such as parental unresponsiveness, coldness, and abuse) activate defensive systems and are associated with various stress responses (Perry et al., 1995). People abused as children exhibit increased HPA activation and poorer recovery from stress than non-abused people (Heim et al., 2000), a fact which has been related to depression vulnerability

(Hart et al., 1996). Abusive experiences affect the maturation of the frontal orbital cortex, which is an important brain area for the regulation of affect (Davidson, 2000; Schore, 2001).

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