Developmental Community Part I: Good’s Scotoma

Oddly enough, one way of looking at the developmental cycle of the human is to see birth and early growth as a slow, steady separation journey of creation from the origin’s pure, sacred inarticulate unity of infancy while maintaining over the course of time a body memory of your infancy’s original state of undivided wholeness. Remembering the original state becomes evermore difficult as the life cycle tops the bell curve of separation and complexity with the individuals expression of vocation, only to see complexity recede again into the enforced simplicity of the elder state. Life, as they say, is a journey. The journey can be a good one if the potential good in your life isn’t eclipsed by a scotoma throwing shade on the original memory of trusted bond.

The term scotoma refers to a blind spot. We all share at least one common blind sport where our retinal ganglion cell axons exit the retina. Our brains helpfully fill in the scotoma effect with a constructed continuous image so we aren’t bothered with the actual gap in our visual field . This little physiological fiction accommodating the visual scotoma is just one of millions of services provided us by our 24-7 non-conscious process. Unfortunately not all scotomas can be filled in in real time. I will address here a particular example I encountered in my work and personal life. I am referring to persons, often very young, who are attachment disordered. Due to circumstance, illness and or trauma in early years, the capacity for the person to trust both other people or their personal sphere was severely impaired or actually severed in more severe cases. Developmentally they do not know or only have the faintest sense of being able to trust that other people may be good enough to care about and for them. Sadly there is no non-conscious compensating process like that of the human body’s optic nerve scotoma to allow a human child and adult to bridge to the original sense of trust. Without assistance it becomes necessary for these children and adults whose trust sense is injured by trauma to build their own unique accommodations and often the accommodation is obsessive strategy objectifying human relationship in order to control their world. This felt sense of ‘necessary objectification’ of relationship’ can be devastating. Absent of trust, true safety feels out of reach, and this form of defensive relating also prevents people from engaging in the kinds of trust relationships, mentoring and otherwise, that help an individual fill out and mature the Sense of Good.

In the first years of my career I worked along side the pioneers and professionals who assisted people who were raised in institutional care go through the difficult and frequently painful process of deinstitutionalization to reenter the mainstream of life. I begin by saying many of the people who worked as staff in the early institutions were very dedicated in their care and concern for the people with disabilities, but the concept of raising children and housing adults in the big institutions was tragically flawed. In the last half of the 20th century the term developmental disability found popular usage, and in my later career I became very much involved in public policy, funding and the administration of community re-entry services and programs. I recalled my experience in the early years in the large institutions how people with disabilities formed on their own certain kinds of relationships among themselves that took on a discernible pattern. When we emptied those institutions I wondered if we professionals had not fully understood the ad hoc community structures that the people with disabilities had formed to make life in the large institution bearable if not on occasion enjoyable. The transition to mainstream life seemed to be pitted with the pain of developmental scotomas that were beyond the comprehension of the served and the servers. Motivated by what I learned working with forms of attachment disorder, my observations in the large institutions, and finally my years in administration and leadership I developed (both for my own sake and in response to a grant request) a model I came to call Developmental Community. Over the next three posts I am going to summarize three forms of development relationship: 1) Nurturance Relationship, 2) Vocational Relationship and finally 3) Mentoring Relationship. It is my experience that these three forms of essential relationship if in proper balance can help prevent Scotomas from blinding people to what is good and healthy in life. In the next few days I will summarize and post the first of these; the all critical Nurturance Relationship. Stay tuned.

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