Up Close With Dr. E

Anna’s eyes

How early life trauma shatters capacity to form relationships



“On Sept. 13, 1765, people in fields near Luce, France, saw a stone mass drop from the sky after a violent thunderclap. The great physicist, Lavoisier, who knew better than any peasant that this was impossible, reported to the Academy of Science that the witnesses were mistaken or lying.

The Academy would not accept the reality of meteorites until 1803.

Today’s article is about a common psychiatric disorder which shares the same fate as a meteor in 1765: its’ existence has been denied. For that reason, its name, Developmental Trauma Disorder, can’t be found in standard medical textbooks. But if you listen to those who suffer from DTD’s, you will hear the truth:

Early Life Trauma’s -— loss of a parent, exposure to violence, parental substance abuse, chronic family dysfunction, child abuse/neglect, parental psychiatric illness — destroys the child’s capacity to form relationships. What kinds of relationships? All kinds: Lover to lover, brother to brother, parent to child, friend to friend, as well as that most private relationship, self to self.

Before you meet the heroine of today’s story, here are core concepts about DTD’s.

1. Childhood traumas and adult traumas are not the same. Because children are developing organisms, the blunt force of trauma strikes emerging skills and capacities. Traumas are to a developing child what missing or deflective parts are to an automobile being built on an assembly line. When the car leaves the factory, it’s just a matter of time before it has a breakdown.

2. How a child explains why a bad thing happened to them is determined by their age. Here is how children under age ten explain trauma: “It’s my fault, I’m bad (it’s personal), I’m all bad (it’s pervasive), “I’m bad forever” (it’s permanent).

3. Traumas can strike from outside or inside a family. The latter type, such as child abuse, packs a double blow: one from the abuse itself, the second from the child’s realization that “no one protected me.” This trust-shattering betrayal hurls the child into the black night of aloneness.

The Story:

My name is Anna Sexton, and here’s my story. What? Why am I the heroine? That’s easy. It’s to show you that a genius who invents the world’s first Bionic Eyes (I marketed them as “Anna’s Eyes”) can be totally inept, or unable to form intimate relationships. Also, I’ve organized my story around paragraphs, each beginning with my body weight, followed by my age. Why body weight? Because my story has a lesson — My body absorbed the shock of what happened to me and then, it became my protector — you’ll figure it out.

Nine pounds, birthday:

I was born in Boston. My mother taught languages at Harvard, Dad taught engineering at MIT.

51 pounds, age four:

Disaster struck: My new sister, Chloe, died after 10 months of struggles in the hospital. Mom and Dad will not survive this loss. Their marriage broke, mom moved us to Chicago and we lived with her sister, Jenny.

71 pounds, age nine:

Mom married Steve, a union carpenter, who built us a beautiful new home in the suburbs. On weekends, he gets drunk and it’s scary. He does bad things to me — I tell no one. This marriage breaks, we return to live with Aunt Jenny.

120 pounds, age 31:

Say hello to Dr. Sexton, director of her own company, “Anna’s Eyes.” My first invention, “Sparkle Eyes,” earned me enough money to fund my second invention, “Night Hawk,” which flooded me with the cash to go after my big prize: Bionic Eyes.

Sparkle Eyes was a modification of the glass eye. Night Hawk was my first military contract, where I solved two problems with standard night vision goggles. I created a contact lens sized apparatus which automatically dampened ambient light. $500 million start up and here I come to build “Anna’s Eyes.”

160 pounds, age 34:

I married and divorced my first husband, David. Lasted 16 months. My weight is atrocious. I can’t do relationships.

201 pounds, age 36:

Second marriage, guess what? I never saw the spots on this leopard. He was tall, handsome, charismatic, that is, until the marriage day. After that it was, “Look at your fat body, Anna, you need to diet and exercise.” I gained and gained weight, until he left.

180 pounds, age 40:

My Bionic Eyes had been successful on animals. So, I applied to the FDA for approval of human trials. Here is what their letter said, “Due to your lack of data for long term side effects, human trials are too risky — submit data on animal trials for three more years.

150 pounds, age 41:

“With the help of my research team, I’ve become the world’s first Bionic Eyed woman. The risk was worth it, I learned how to bypass the FDA.”

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon: “Ladies and Gentleman, turn off all cell phones, as I plunge the studio into darkness. Here she is, Dr. Sexton, with the world’s first bionic eyes.”

Soft, blue light reflected from the stage as Anna showed off her bionic eyes — The crowd roared, and Anna’s Eyes would give the gift of sight to millions of adults.

110 pounds, age 51:

I received trauma treatment for the sexual abuse I experienced from age 9 to 11. I fell in love with Stan.

110 pounds, age 61:

Stockholm, Sweden, the Nobel Prize Award ceremony. “Thank you for this award — after restoring sight to millions of adults, I invented a pediatric version, and tested it on 500 children, who were born blind. All underwent Bionic Eye Replacement. All had 100% sight replacement. However, six months later, all 500 children began to suffer from severe trauma and massive anxiety, so the device was turned off. What went wrong? It was found that each child suffered from the trauma of things they witnessed, first-hand, or, by the media. The sights they saw, the sounds of violence, guns or other horrific acts, overwhelmed their minds.”

My research conclusion: Until we remove the violence — at home, school, neighborhoods, or cities — restoration of sight to blind children is too dangerous.

Conclusion:  DTD will be found in future textbooks. After all, Cicero (Roman orator and statesman) told us so: “A mental stain can neither be blotted out by the passage of time, nor washed away by any waters.” (106 BC-43 BC).

The content of this article is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional. The characters in this story are not real. Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.


The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations, Chartwell Books, 2000 (Cicero, page 461; Meteor, page 501).

“The Body Keeps the Score,” Van Der Kolk, MD, Penguin, 2015.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his weekly column to the Journal Review.


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