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"Separation/Abandonment/Isolation Trauma:" An Application of Psychoanalytic Developmental Theory to Understanding its Impact on Both Chimpanzee and Human Children
Linda A. Chernus

ABSTRACT. The first of a 2-part series, I utilize my experience working in a sanctuary for abused chimpanzees as a microcosm for examining the specific and unique impact of maternal loss and social isolation during childhood. After reviewing the extant psychoanalytic literature, I discuss the nature of the damage to the developing structure of the child's self

Linda A. Chernus, MSW, LISW, BCD, is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has published extensively in the areas of self psychology, the interface between psychoanalysis and clinical social work, the integration of neurobiology with psychoanalytic developmental theory, and alcoholism treatment. Submitted for publication 8/14/2007; revised 3/6/2008 and 5/30/2008; accepted 9/11/2008. Address correspondence to: Linda A. Chernus, 4201 Victory Parkway #915, Cincinnati, OH 45229. (E-mail: Journal of Emotional Abuse, Vol. 8(4) 2008 2008 by The Haworth Press. All rights reserved. doi:10.1080/10926790802480356



JOURNAL OE EMOTIONAL ABUSE caused by such emotional abuse, which manifests itself in both specific behavioral symptoms and chronic difficulties with affect regulation and interpersonal relationships. I then describe my work with abused chimpanzees, explore how their early childhood experiences of separation from mother and social isolation affected their development, and discuss the relevance of these findings to emotionally abused and neglected children. KEYWORDS. Self psychology, maternal loss, child neglect, recovery

In July 2005,1 worked for 4 days at MONA, a sanctuary for abandoned and abused chimpanzees located in northem Spain. The 11 chimpanzees living in this naturalistic, yet protected environment were all of the genus and species Pan troglodytes, which shares between 98.6% and 99.4% of its genes with Homo sapiens. This is not surprising, given that we diverged from chimpanzees only a mere 4 to 6 million years ago, whereas, for example, apes and monkeys diverged from one another approximately 25 million years ago (Caccone & Powell, 1989). We now know that all of the great apes demonstrate a capacity for rational thinking and learning, which was previously believed to be unique to human beings; that they are all extremely social; and that they exhibit many parallels with human beings in both normal and pathological psychosocial development. However, this is most true of the species P. troglodytes, given its highly evolved culture and its genetic endowment, both of which are so similar to our own. Because this was so powerfully confirmed by the my own experiences, it is appropriate to consider the applicability of contemporary psychoanalytic

This study would not have been possible without the MONA staffs dedication to both rescuing and rehabilitating abused chimpanzees and disseminating knowledge about them to the general public. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with them. I would also like to dedicate this article to Pancho, who was shot and killed by the Catalan police on October 20, 2007. According to Valsera, many witnesses testified that Pancho was calm and displayed no aggression after he and two other males escaped from MONA. However, despite pleas from two MONA volunteers and others in the area, the police chose to shoot him (C. Valsera, personal communication, January 2008). Valsera says "We are also sickened by the Spanish media who have reported that Pancho exhibited aggressive behavior, which is completely erroneous. We will miss our friend and are shocked and disappointed that his life was taken so prematurely and unnecessarily" {Primates, November 2007).

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theory regarding the developmental impact of childhood separation, abandonment, and isolation to this group of traumatized chimpanzees. I also discuss the recovery process from my vantage point as a self psychologist, emphasizing factors that facilitate or impede it and the range of individual differences in styles and subsequent capacities for recovery. Exploration of trauma and recovery in chimpanzees may also provide us with a deeper understanding of how human psychological development is affected by premature maternal loss and isolation during early childhood. Although some observations had been made prior to the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, the naturalistic research conducted by Goodall and her collaborators has conclusively demonstrated that chimpanzees develop very strong mother-child bonds, which in their natural habitat generally persist throughout life (Goodall, 1988). Given that chimpanzee mothers in the wild usually reproduce only once every 5 or 6 years, the "infant" remains in almost continual one-on-one, intimate physical and emotional contact with the nursing mother for about 5 years. Because of this lengthy period of dependency on mother, as well as their extremely social and emotional nature, it is not surprising that chimpanzees would exhibit behaviors in response to maternal abandonment, emotional abuse, and isolation, which are similar to those that we find among emotionally abused human children. Furthermore, Goodall has concluded from her observations that the quality of parenting is the primary factor in the emotional development of the chimpanzee infant and that it is highly correlated with the quality of parenting that the female child will later give to her own children. This is more fully explored in the second article in this series, in which the literature corroborating what has been termed the "intergenerational transmission of abuse and neglect" is reviewed (see Chernus, 2008).


Because the term trauma is so widely used, it is important that we have some sort of working definition. I propose that trauma be considered most broadly as an assault on the self. An event is said to be "traumatic," or more precisely "traumatogenic," when it is such that almost everyone will be somehow psychologically affected by it, although in a diversity of ways and with a wide range of recovery outcomes. Some individuals will become permanently disabled, whereas others may fully recover their preexisting equilibrium or even achieve an enhanced, more adaptive level



of functioning as a result of the working through of their traumatic experiences. Trauma refers not to an external event itself, but rather to its internal and subjective meaning to the individual, one that in some way is so difficult to integrate that it induces a fragmentation in the structure of the self (Chemus, 2005). The healthier the self, whether from good endowment, excellent parenting, or both, the less easily traumatized a person will be and the more likely he or she will be to successfully recover from traumatic experiences. However, a traumatogenic event, by definition, is such that we would anticipate that everyone would react to it with some sort of internal disorganization. How we deal with such an event depends on its current meaning to us, as well as on how well we have previously dealt with similar traumatic experiences. The degree of internal disruption is related both to the magnitude and general meaning of the event (from personal and idiosyncratic, to catastrophic, to global) and to what the individual brings to it in terms of his or her developmental phase, history of earlier trauma and recovery, and preexisting personality structure. Often, however, a current traumatic experience reactivates the meanings of eariier traumas and thereby stimulates painful and disturbing memories, so that affects from past traumas may come to be reexperienced in the present. In a sense, then, we can say that responses to trauma fall along a continuum from one extreme, in which traumatized individuals exhibit Stereotypie behavioral symptoms and/or long-term problems with both relationships and affect regulation, to the other extreme, in which the degree of internal disruption is minimal and the person heals through normal daily activities, which include empathie interpersonal interactions. The lesser and less global the external trigger(s), the more significant will be the contribution of the individual's past history and premorbid personality in determining his or her responses to the current traumatogenic event. When adults are traumatized, not only do their characterological defenses fail to maintain an inner state of psychological integration but they also experience changes on a neurological level concomitant with the psychophysiological symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially with regard to the typical pattern of coexisting and/or alternating intrusive thoughts and psychic numbing. Although these desperate defensive measures are intended to protect the fragile self from the full impact of the meaning of the trauma, their global and highly charged nature secondarily causes normal affects to lose their functions as signals, so that only the extremes of the spectrum, psychic numbing or overwhelmingly intense affect, are experienced (van der Kolk, 1993). Furthermore, given

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the vast array of potential physiological and psychological responses to acute trauma, it is not surprising that there are so many different clinical presentations among traumatized individuals, as well as such a diversity of means through which they heal from what may externally look like the same traumatogenic event (see Chemus, 2005). When we explore the variable of preexisting functioning, it appears that individuals with a strong sense of self, who are not especially fragmentation prone, will also be likely to have a relatively good capacity to use a variety of selfobjects, including people and experiences, to heal from the impact of traumatic experiences. As Omstein (2003) has underscored, recovery from trauma necessitates that we move beyond feelings of numbness, so that we can gradually be more capable of tolerating our psychological pain without becoming overwhelmed and thereby further traumatized by it. This requires some prior degree of self-cohesion, which results indirectly from our past histories of successfully utilizing available, empathically responsive selfobjects. Ironically, then, those of us who are most powerfully affected by traumatizing experiences often have the least capacity to utilize available selfobjects to aid in our recovery. Recovery from trauma thus appears to be predicated on our capacity to utilize selfobjects for healing, as well as on the availability of needed selfobject functions, both in the form of empathically responsive people and personally meaningful life experiences.


It is important to recognize that traumatic experiences affect children differently than adults, tn contrast to psychologically healthy adults, where the permanent underlying structure of the self is not generally affected by the meaning of the trauma, children may be particularly vulnerable to fragmentation of the self, depending on their developmental phase and the degree to which the self has become consolidated. Furthermore, we now know that vulnerable stages in the child's psychosocial development are grounded in specific biological processes that occur during the maturation of the central nervous system (van der Kolk, 1987). As a result of this neuropsychological vulnerability, dissociative and other severe symptoms are often used as emergency measures in response to acute trauma, thus further disrupting normal brain and nervous system development. They may then become components in the structuralization



of the traumatized self, leaving the child permanently more prone to fragmentation and/or regression. In light of the powerful, long-term impact of trauma on the development of the fabric of the child's physiologically and psychologically more vulnerable self, we cannot fully understand recovery from trauma in adults without also understanding its childhood antecedents. Much can be learned from observing the responses of nonhuman primates, both those at sanctuaries such as MONA and those studied in the primate literature, which are comprehensively reviewed in a subsequent article (Chernus, 2008). Furthermore, several psychoanalytic theorists have increasingly emphasized how emotional abuse in children can produce lifelong difficulties with affect regulation, rendering the individual more vulnerable than many other adults to fragmentation and other painful responses to traumatogenic events (Dick, 2004; G. Dick, personal communication, February 2006; van der Kolk, 1993). We are increasingly recognizing that emotional abuse during childhood specifically affects the developing self of the child, often resulting in dissociative and/or psychotic-like symptomatology and an inability to form emotionally intimate, mutually growth-promoting relationships. Perhaps it would be helpful to conceptualize the impact of emotional abuse on the child as creating a pervasive form of "chronic developmental trauma," one in which the child has to go to extraordinary lengths in order to maintain a needed idealization of his or her parents. This is sometimes manifested in symptoms that may appear psychotic, in light of the "stretch" required in order to idealize severely disturbed and/or abusive caretakers. Furthermore, because traumatic experiences affect both the psychological structure of the child's developing personality and the physiological structuralization of the entire nervous system, emotional child abuse can also produce chronic developmental delays and/or distortions. In my clinical experience, childhood emotional abuse can also lead to ongoing dissociative symptoms, which may subsequently interfere with the development of an integrated and cohesive sense of self by adolescence. The child lacks the internal structures with which to integrate traumatic affects and experiences and to successfully repel future assaults on the self. In a sense, the child can be said to be experiencing traumatization of the structure of the developing (and therefore especially vulnerable) self, manifested by a propensity toward psychic fiooding and/or dissociative symptoms, which in tum further interfere with the development of an integrated, cohesive sense of self. As a result, such individuals become adults exhibiting residual symptoms of childhood traumatization, including

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dissociation, an inner sense of deadness, nightmares, self-injurious behaviors, and an elevated incidence of substance abuse (Chernus, 2003). As we shall see, similar behaviors were displayed by the chimpanzees I observed, who had also experienced maternal loss, social isolation, and other forms of emotional and physical abuse. It is now generally accepted in the literature that children are traumatized more readily, although differently, than adults. The Chowchilla studies demonstrated that, 4 years after their traumatic bus incident, all of the children still had some symptoms of PTSD, even though this particular traumatic experience did not involve betrayal by their caretakers (Terr, 1983). When caretakers are the perpetrators, however, the meaning of the trauma is even more frightening and insidious, because the child's primary source of safety has itself become dangerous, generating a feeling of massive betrayal and subsequent isolation in coping with the experience, let alone recovering from its traumatic impact. In examining another factor contributing to the uniqueness of childhood trauma, we find that traumatogenic experiences affect the child's brain differently than the adult's (see Pynoos, Steinberg, & Goenjian, 1996). Traumatic experiences impair the brain's capacity to create an integrated whole, just as they interfere with the psychological integration of the self (van der Kolk, 1987). Thus, recent neurobiological findings increasingly converge with the findings of psychoanalytic attachment theorists about the importance of early relationships in the development of a healthy and integrated self, one that can cope adequately with life's vicissitudes. I agree with van der Kolk in his differentiation between (a) chronic childhood experiences of poor affect attunement, which lead to disorganized or disoriented attachment patterns and impaired capacity for affect modulation in the child, and (b) experiences of distinct, isolated traumatization, which tend to produce reactions to reminders of the trauma, without necessarily deeply affecting the developing structure of the child's self (van der Kolk, 1994). However, chronic abuse and neglect, especially emotional abuse, are more common than isolated traumatic experiences and can deeply affect ongoing psychological development even if the child does not manifest obvious behavioral symptoms indicative of traumatization, such as rocking, self-mutilation, and other Stereotypie behaviors. This was noted in my observations at MONA, where all of the formerly abused chimpanzees had initially displayed interpersonal problems, although not all of them had exhibited specific Stereotypie behavioral symptoms of traumatization upon their arrival at the recovery center (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005).



In reviewing the psychoanalytic literature on child abuse and neglect, we find some studies specifically addressing the impact of failure of attachment, traumatic separation, and abandonment on the developing psyche of the child. Abandonment can be conceptualized as a unique, highly specific subtype of childhood emotional abuse, which powerfully affects the structure of the child's self precisely because its development requires a consistent and ongoing connection with a caregiver (van der Kolk, 1987). Loss of contact, even more so than abuse by a parent who is overly, albeit pathologically, involved with the child, deprives the child of those mirroring and idealizing functions that are crucial to his or her feeling safe and valued. This constitutes what I have called the "separation/ abandonment/isolation" syndrome. Premature mother-child separation may also strongly affect the mother, especially if she herself was similarly traumatized as a child. A high percentage of mothers who commit filicide, that is, the murder of their children, are either acutely psychotic at the time of the act or suffering from the long-term characterologic effects of their own emotionally nonresponsive, abusive, and/or abandoning parents (Chemus, 1996). As a result, they cannot tolerate their child's emotional pain, which threatens their by now structuralized defenses against reexperiencing their own painful childhood states. In many such instances, the murder of the child represents an effort by the previously abused mother to squelch those feelings in the child that resonate with her own intolerable affects. On a conscious level, this is manifested by her frequently stated desire to spare the child the pain she herself has experienced in her own life (Chemus, 1996). van der Kolk (1993) has suggested that the biopsychosocial impact of such developmental trauma during childhood can perhaps best be studied in nonhuman primates, especially in regard to how it affects the adult's capacity to cope with traumatic events and the quality of his or her longterm relationships, van der Kolk has reviewed and summarized research conducted with rhesus monkeys who had exhibited symptoms of traumatization following separation from their mothers. They became more aggressive and were subsequently much more likely to be abusive with their own infants. Another study discussed by van der Kolk (1993) suggested that infant macaques experienced stages of response to separations from mother similar to those which have been conceptualized in Bowlby's classic works on early childhood separation (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1977). They displayed a period of agitation and protest, followed by a stage of withdrawal and despair, and eventually leading to a chronic

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state of total detachment. This literature is fully reviewed in a second article (see Chemus, 2008); however, it is clear that psychoanalytic theorists are beginning to recognize both the value and the validity of studying nonhuman primates in order to more fully understand our own psychological development.


Although several dozen sanctuaries for abused and neglected primates exist throughout the worid, I was initially impressed with MONA because of its philosophy of creating as natural an environment as possible, rather than one in which the chimps would be encouraged to remain dependent on human contact for their physical and emotional care. Furthermore, the "architects" of MONA seem to have had a sophisticated and profound understanding of the need for what I have called a "selfobject milieu," in which the chimps could utilize the psychological strength and empathy of one another to heal from their traumatic abuse. Although the MONA foundation was established in the year 2000, its origins go back to 1984, when a British couple, Simon and Peggy Templer, created a small sanctuary in Catalonia, a province in northern Spain, in order to "re-home" chimpanzees who had been stolen and used illegally by beach photographers for the tourist trade (O. Feliu, personal communication, July 2005). Although this project ended in 1996, Dr. Olga Feliu, a veterinarian who had worked with the Templers, established a permanent sanctuary with the aims of ending the exploitation of primates held in captivity, educating the general public about primates, and conducting research on the impact of their emotional abuse and process of recovery. This was urgently needed because of the growing illegal chimpanzee trade between West Africa and Spain during the 1970s and 1980s (O. Feliu, personal communication, July 2005). By 2001, the sanctuary had been officially approved by Spanish customs officials as a national center for the rescue and rehabilitation of illegally held primates, and the first group, consisting of six chimpanzees who had been housed together in the filthy truck bed of a former circus owner, arrived at MONA. Within the sanctuary, the chimpanzees were initially housed together, but were soon physically separated into two units, one resembling a



family group and the other an all-male, "bachelor" group. In addition to their inside living quarters, since 2004 the two groups have shared a 5,600 square meter outdoor area, divided in half by a wire fence, which is designed to recreate as fully as possible their natural grassland habitat. Although humans who are knowledgeable about chimpanzees control the environment (e.g., by obtaining, preparing, and offering them carefully balanced nutrition), the food is dispersed throughout their habitat so that they must forage for it rather than be directly dependent on humans for obtaining it. The staff at MONA has also learned how to group the animals so as to promote healing. The family group functions much like an ideal human family, with the youngsters receiving enriched nurturance because of the positive emotional involvement of two adults, something nonexistent in the wild, where fathers play no role in childcare and parents do not maintain long-term relationships. Although a modification of their natural lifestyles, the staff felt that its therapeutic benefit outweighed any negative considerations (O. Feliu, personal communication, July 2005). The adult male group functions somewhat like a college fraternity or bachelor pad, with members generally supporting one another, yet at times engaging in power struggles. Its structure provides a balance between ongoing competition for alpha male status and the security of knowing that your "brothers" will protect you from external danger.


In light of the previously mentioned information, I was delighted to have an opportunity to work as a MONA volunteer during a period of 4 days. I hoped to observe the impact of premature separation from their mothers and from their natural biopsychosocial environments, which was probably further intensified by their subsequent prolonged social isolation and physical confinement in small cages. My duties during those 4 days were primarily to assist in food preparation, repair and maintenance of their outdoor environment, and the cleaning of their cages. However, I also had an opportunity to leam the basics of field research by carefully observing the chimpanzees and recording my observations of their behaviors, especially their social interactions. I was then able to discuss my observations with Dr. Feliu and other staff members, both formally and over lengthy Spanish lunches, during which they would also reminisce with one another about their experiences with the new arrivals and how they adjusted to MONA.

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Although my observations appeared consistent with our psychoanalytic understanding of the impact of early childhood emotional abuse and maternal loss in children, my findings are clearly on a small-scale, exploratory level and cannot be generalized to all chimpanzees in rescue sanctuaries, let alone to chimpanzees in the wild who have lost their mothers. In addition, the relatively brief duration of my visit did not provide an opportunity for some of the chimps to overcome their initial fearfulness in response to a stranger, thus possibly affecting the behaviors I observed when we were in close proximity. Furthermore, although gathering field data is a rather straightforward, common sense process, given that I was a novice and that so much was unfolding simultaneously in this large field, my observations were clearly selective and necessarily subjective.


Although all of these chimpanzees had been separated from their mothers early in life, emotionally abused, kept in isolation, and subject to a variety of other so-called humanizing experiences, my observations confirmed both the parallels between the responses of humans and chimps to early childhood abusive experiences and the similarities between them in their capacity to utilize an empathically responsive peer environment for recovery. The most commonly observed symptoms were rocking; self-injurious behaviors, including hair-pulling, biting, and head-banging; inappropriate and/or uncontrolled affect; and poor social skills. In addition, many exhibited extreme fearfulness and/or hyperaggressiveness, behaviors also typical of chronically deprived and emotionally abused children. Although the recovery process had fostered the development of improved social skills in several of the chimpanzees by the time of my visit, the information provided by the staff, both verbally (O. Feliu, personal communication, July 2005; C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005) and through their newsletters (Primates, 2002-2008), indicated that all of them had exhibited at least some impairment in their ability to initiate and sustain social interactions when they first arrived at the sanctuary. Many of the 11 chimpanzees had also displayed reduced levels of play and grooming, as compared to nonabused chimpanzees, abnormal or absent sexual behavior, and an excessive dependence upon humans (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). My impression was that their deprivation of maternal care had resulted in behaviors that appear remarkably similar to those described in the self psychology



literature in infants and young children who did not receive adequate maternal care, including preoccupation with the body and body products, as well as Stereotypie behaviors providing needed self-stimulation and/or self-soothing (e.g., see Beebe, Khoblauch, Rustin, & Sorter, 2005; Beebe & Lachmann, 2002; Fraiberg, 1980). In observing the individual chimpanzees, I considered several variables accounting for their differences in both initial symptomatology and capacity to utilize their selfobject milieu for recovery. These include innate personality differences; the age of the chimpanzee when separated from mother; the duration, nature, and severity of abuse and neglect; and the sensitivity of caretakers in introducing them gradually to their "conspecifics" and their new physical environment. I describe the histories and discuss the behaviors of several of the chimpanzees, in order to illustrate the range of both symptomatology and recovery exhibited by the entire cohort. Unless otherwise noted, information about their backgrounds has been obtained from Primates, the newsletter of the MONA Foundation (2002-2008).

Romie, the only adult female at MONA, arrived with the initial group of chimpanzees in February 2001. Bom in an African jungle, she was separated from her mother as an infant, but was reportedly 28 years of age when she was captured by a photographer from the Canary Islands. He later sold her to a former circus owner in Valencia, Spain, who kept her and eight other chimpanzees in his truck bed. Her life experience was uniquely traumatic because, in addition to being separated from her mother and isolated in a small cage, Romie had been used for many years as a baby machine, producing many infants who were taken from her shortly after birth to be sold and trained for the entertainment industry (L. Docherty, personal communication, March 2(X)6). One would imagine that these traumatic losses would have reactivated her own abandonment affects from childhood and thus might interfere with her capacity to become a mother to them. Yet her early introduction to her "adoptive" children at MONA and her eventual reunion with own biological children enabled her to very quickly "remember" mothering and overcome her traumatization. She was thus able to bond deeply with them. In exploring this more closely, however, 1 learned that when Romie first arrived, she was very inactive, severely depressed, and fearful of humans (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2(X)5). Valsera described how Romie became

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much more physically active a few months after the arrival of the first young chimps, whom she gradually adopted. She initially did not know how to relate to them but was observed to learn very rapidly (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). Following cataract surgery in 2003, Romie's relationships with her male "co-parent" and her four children further improved. A few weeks later, Juanito, age one, arrived at MONA, and Romie bonded with him immediately. A few months later, Romie was reunited with two of her biological children, Sara, age six, and Nico, age four, who arrived at MONA in early 2004. She also bonded readily with them, but, perhaps because of traumatic memory traces of having lost them, does not appear to have recognized them as her own biological children (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). Romie has also been able to establish an ongoing, mutually nurturing relationship with an adult male chimpanzee, Toto. Although pair bonding does not occur among chimpanzees in the wild, Romie's capacity to engage in a long-term relationship with Toto has been extremely therapeutic for both, as well as generally enriching the therapeutic value of the social environment for the five youngsters, who greatly enjoy playing with Toto, as well as the extra attention they receive from two devoted parents. Another indication of Romie's traumatization was her reluctance to explore the new, large outdoor area, which was constructed so that the chimpanzees could enjoy a natural grassland habitat (O. Feliu, personal communication, July 2(M)5). Romie was the last chimpanzee in the family group to venture out, after standing for 4 months at the door leading to the outdoor area. Once she did so, however, Feliu witnessed how Romie seemed to enjoy it greatly and delight in the increased freedom of movement it provided for her and her children (O. Feliu, personal communication, July 2005). In observing Romie, I noted that she is extremely affectionate, constantly giving hugs and kisses to both her children and to Toto. She does not relate much to humans, is very independent, and is keenly interested in everything happening in her chimpanzee environment. I also noticed how closely she watched while two of the youngsters used sticks to retrieve termites, and how she later intervened in a conflict between her children. She has apparently been able to recover almost completely from the many ways in which she has been traumatized, so that she derives emotional comfort, strength, and satisfaction primarily from her mothering relationships and her relationship with Toto, rather than from her human caregivers.



One of the youngest chimps adopted by Romie, Waty was bom in 1996, confiscated from a traveling circus by the Spanish authorities, and kept illegally in an extremely small and dark cage, so small that she was unable to stand up in it. Upon arrival at MONA, she was reportedly very nervous and completely unable to interact with Romie and her new brother. Bongo (O. Feliu, personal communication, July 2005). Dr. Feliu also described her as having been very boisterous and restless, but noted that she has become more relaxed since the arrival of the younger chimps. During my visit, all of the workers at MONA referred to her as either a "prima donna" or a "top model," because of her long, lean appearance, her quick, agile behavior, and her provocative and exhibitionistic behavior toward visitors. I also noted Waty's preferential treatment of males over females, which had a distinctly flirtatious quality. Despite Waty's somewhat hyperactive behavior, indicative of her prior traumatization, it appears that the sensitivity of the MONA staff to Waty's initially severe anxiety has been very helpful in her long-term social adjustment. The staff decided to introduce her last to the other chimps, providing her with an extended period of one-on-one contact with her human caretakers, which served as a gradual transition to her being able to relate to the other chimpanzees in the family group (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). As a result, despite her initial difficulty interacting with any chimpanzees, Waty has actually developed a close friendship with her sister, Sara, who is 1 year younger, and has also gradually learned to identify with and emulate Romie, her adopted mother (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). She has increasingly been able to make use of her relationships with the other chimps to serve functions that have stabilized her fragmented self and helped to reduced her anxiety. Over the past several years, however, Waty's caretakers have recognized that she becomes initially anxious and subsequently aggressive toward new members of the group if they are introduced to her individually, as is customarily done (C. Valsera, personal communication, January 2008). Although individual introductions have generally been helpful to the other chimps, the staff observed that Waty was only able to accept a new group member if the new chimpanzee had first become integrated with the other chimpanzees in the group (C. Valsera, personal communication, January 2008). This suggests that the social symptoms of her previous traumatization continue, to some extent, so that a one-on-one

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introduction to a new chimpanzee provokes extreme anxiety and fear, to

which she responds aggressively. Perhaps it is precisely because Waty has bonded so well with the family group as a whole that the new chimpanzee is not a "stranger" if he or she has already become a part of the group. This is a beautiful example of how the group can serve selfobject functions for the traumatized individual as a source of twinship, strength, and mirroring. During my observations of Waty, it was difficult to follow her continual rapid movements. She outwardly appeared to be very self-confident in relating to her peers, although somewhat aggressive in her behavior toward humans. She would at times spit if we got too close to the fence, an act that seemed to be both a means of creating distance between herself and her caregivers and an expression of her playfulness, which she has been increasingly displaying in numerous ways with her chimpanzee family members (C. Valsera, personal communication, January 2008). Although Waty appears to have made an adequate social adjustment, she is clearly somewhat hyperactive and displays symptoms of anxiety that are probably remnants of her prior traumatization. It is difficult to differentiate this from what may indeed be in part her own individual temperament, yet I sense that she has probably reached a plateau in her recovery between my visit in 2005 and my more recent contacts with MONA (C. Valsera, personal communication, January 2008).

In early 2004, 3 months after infant Juanito joined the family group, Sara, age six, and her brother Nico, age four, arrived at MONA. Both were found locked in a cramped, dirty cage in the home of the same former circus owner who kept Romie and several of the other chimps in an old truck. Romie's biological children, they had been separated from her soon after birth to be "humanized," so that they could be more easily trained for use in television commercials. When their situation became known to Spanish authorities, a 3-year battle ensued, involving many foster home placements, until they eventually arrived at MONA. Valsera (personal communication, July 2005) recalled that Sara had three broken ribs and was in "very bad shape physically." She was also psychologically traumatized from having been repeatedly dressed in diapers to play the role of a baby in "The Martian Chronicles" (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). Despite being biological siblings with close genetic ties as well as victims of the same traumatic early life experiences, it is important to note



both how differently Sara and Nico were affected by their traumatic experiences and how differently they have subsequently been able to utilize the therapeutic environment at MONA. Sara, more than any of the other chimps at MONA, has continued to exhibit many of the classic symptoms we find in children who have been abandoned, isolated, and emotionally abused. Since her arrival at MONA, she has been observed to rock almost constantly and to engage in a variety of other Stereotypie behaviors, including repetitive head and arm movements (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). Furthermore, Dr. Feliu (personal communication, July 2005) believes that Sara has never recognized Romie as her biological mother. Despite the severity of these symptoms, however, Sara reportedly adjusted quickly to the family group and has developed and maintained stable relationships within it (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). She has also responded more positively than her brother Nico to the therapeutic environment in the important process of being able to gradually shift her allegiance from people to her fellow chimpanzees (L. Docherty, personal communication, March 2006). It appears that Sara has made excellent use of the selfobject components in her therapeutic environment to recover from the social symptoms of her prior traumatization, yet she still continues to rock and display other Stereotypie behaviors. This suggests that chimpanzees may respond differentially to the therapeutic environment in different areas of their symptomatology, which in part may be based on their preexisting functioning and innate endowment. It is also possible that the behavioral symptoms of Sara's traumatization may have become so internalized that they continue despite the tremendous improvement in her social skills and, more specifically, her capacity to utilize chimpanzees, rather than humans to serve needed selfobject functions. This is consistent with some of the laboratory research studies, which have found that perseverative and Stereotypie behaviors may continue long after the cessation of the abuse, despite reportedly significant improvement in social functioning (see Novak & Sackett, 2006; Pazol & Bloomsmith, 1993; Spijkerman, Dienske, van Hooff, & Jens, 1994).

Nico has had much more difficulty than Sara adjusting to his new chimpanzee family and has continued to remain much more dependent than Sara on human contact for meeting his emotional and social needs.

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Eight months after his arrival at MONA, Nico was still responded to aggressively by Waty and Toto, and was not fully accepted into the group (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). By the time of my visit in 2005, however, Nico appeared to be integrated into the family group and was treated well by his peers and his adoptive "father." In addition to Nico's initially poor social adjustment, he began biting his left hand a few days after he arrived at MONA. This behavior was interpreted by staff as a form of both self- soothing and self-mutilation. They also regarded this dangerous behavior as a means of attracting their attention, so the decision was made to set up a 24-hour human watch to try to intercept it, as well as to provide the needed emotional responsiveness underlying this symptom. However, not only did this decision reinforce Nico's tendency to rely on humans rather than his fellow chimpanzees, but it apparently was not fully successful in preventing Nico from further harming himself. He began biting the little finger on his left hand so severely that the joints became damaged and the finger was eventually amputated. Nico's self-mutilatory behaviors also exacerbated the social difficulties he initially experienced during the process of introduction into the family group (L. Docherty, personal communication, March 2006). He had been kept isolated for many months in order for his wounds to heal, and only thereafter was he introduced to his new family. Nevertheless, despite careful planning, Nico became so agitated during this process that he required sedation with Haldol and Mellaril. This had been completely discontinued by the time of my visit, however. During my observations of Nico, I noted that although he isolated himself from his family members far more than Sara, they nevertheless seemed to like him and attempt to include him in their group activities. Their behavior also suggested to me that they intuitively and empathically sensed Nico's physical and emotional vulnerability and thus felt protective of him. The responses of his family members to his return from a visit to the veterinarian were touchingly poignant. They were both overjoyed and protective of Nico, jumping up and down, patting and grooming him, and giving him hugs and kisses. The many contrasts between Nico's and Sara's adjustment suggest to us the role of individual differences in how chimpanzees respond to early childhood emotional trauma and isolation. Although Sara, more than any of the other chimps I observed, displays severe and apparently ongoing rocking behaviors indicative of severe traumatization, she has nevertheless been able to transfer her allegiance from humans to her chimpanzee



family and has surprised the staff with how well she has been able to adjust socially. The other chimpanzees appear to accept her, despite her rocking and other Stereotypie behaviors. Nico, too, has displayed classic symptoms of having been traumatized, especially in the form of selfmutilation; however, his social adjustment has been more marginal that Sara's and he has not been as successful as she in transferring his source of selfobject need-meeting from humans to his fellow chimpanzees. Although we cannot fully assess the many factors contributing to the differences in their relative adjustments, this suggests that individual, idiosyncratic factors play a significant role in how traumatization is internally experienced, the symptoms generated by it, and the process of recovery from it.

Pancho, a large male residing in the all-male group, was 12 years of age when he arrived at MONA in March 2001 (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). He had been a television star when very young and was one of the chimpanzees living in the truck bed in Valencia, Spain. When he arrived at MONA, Pancho was in very poor health, as described by staff (O. Feliu, personal communication, July 2005; C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005) and as seen in his photographs. Because of malnutrition, he had very little hair on his body. He also engaged in pulling out what little bit of hair remained on his head. Furthermore, Pancho was noted to initially behave in an extremely compliant, obsequious manner toward his human caretakers, as if he were extremely fearful of punishment (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). As he became more comfortable with his human and chimpanzee environment, however, Pancho gradually developed into a very likable and caring chimpanzee who was noted to be protective and empathie toward his peers (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005). Yet he remained very interested in both his human caretakers and visitors, enjoyed talking and communicating with them, and generally received positive responses from them. Valsera and the other staff noted how Pancho said hello and goodbye to his caretakers every day and how skillful he was in communicating his feelings and needs to them. He was also very sensitive to how staff members felt about him, crying with joy on one occasion when they prepared a special treat for him (C. Valsera, personal communication, July 2005).

Linda A. Chernus


Despite these many positive personality traits, Pancho nevertheless had remained very fearful, even after 4 years at MONA. I noted that he would run away at the sight of a tiny snail on the ground and that his timidity predisposed him to be scapegoated by the other males. It was also clear that Pancho was obsessed with food, probably related to his having been rewarded and punished by his previous caretakers through the giving and withholding of food. It is also possible that his relatively lengthy period of abuse, in comparison with most of the other chimps at MONA, may have contributed to the fairly strong persistence of these trauma-related symptoms in Pancho. This may also be a factor in his relative failure to shift his primary attachment from humans to his fellow chimpanzees, despite his seemingly well-developed capacity for empathy towards his fellow chimpanzees. I was impressed with Pancho's problem-solving abilities. For example, when we gave the chimps a frozen "dessert" we had prepared, containing pieces of fruit within a large block of ice, Pancho was impatient to get to the fruit. His solution was to take running water, which was available to the chimps in the outdoor area, pour it over the ice, and thereby accelerate the melting process.

The chimps who were affected by separation/abandonment/isolation trauma utilized a variety of what self psychologists refer to as selfobjects in order to recover from the long-term consequences of their prior abuse. They displayed a range of symptoms and atypical behaviors, which appeared to be related to several different factors, including innate endowment, the nature and extent of the abuse, and the degree to which they had contact with peers and mother surrogates during the period of their abuse. Furthermore, parallel to this range of symptoms, they displayed a range of styles of recovery. Given the complexity of chimpanzee behavior and their capacity for empathy, it should come as no surprise that my observations of the chimpanzees at MONA are so congruent with the human literature on the impact of maternal loss and isolation on young children. In addition, however, as reviewed in a second article, these observations also fit with the growing body of research regarding the impact of abandonment, separation, and isolation in chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates raised in laboratory settings, as well as several naturalistic studies of



chimpanzee behavior (see Coe, 1990; Goodall, 1986,1988; Nishida et al., 2003). Although their symptoms are similar to those displayed by the chimps at MONA, the consensus of the literature about laboratory-raised chimps is that they also do not respond with a single, predictable pattern of abnormal behavior to deprivation of matemal care and restrictive rearing. Although rocking and self-clasping are the most commonly observed stereotypes among restrictively reared chimpanzees, each individual appears to develop his or her own idiosyncratic expression of psychological disturbance (Davenport & Rogers, 1970; Walsh, Bramblett, & Alford, 1982). My observations of the chimpanzees at MONA are also congruent with a growing theme in both the human trauma and the nonhuman primate literature, namely the importance of the factor of social isolation following premature loss of mothering. It appears that isolation following maternal loss may indeed be the single most pathogenic factor leading to Stereotypie behavioral symptoms and social maladjustment, a factor that was prominent in the histories of all of the MONA chimpanzees. This lends even further credence to the importance of the selfobject environment for recovery from such abuse, because it appears to be primarily through the gradual intemalization of peer-based selfobject functioning that both humans and chimpanzees can gradually recover from the damage to the structure of the developing self caused by matemal abandonment, early childhood emotional abuse, and isolation. Through the development of healthy peer interactions in as natural a setting as possible, the chimpanzees at MONA have been able to improve in both their Stereotypie behavioral symptoms of traumatization and their capacity for gratifying peer interactions. They are confirming what van der Kolk (1993, 1994) has said about human children by demonstrating that the pathogenic effects of matemal loss and isolation can gradually be at least partially reversed, if they are integrated into a social structure where they can receive nurturance, sharing with peers, and learning from older generations. In conclusion, my work with the chimpanzees at MONA, victims of separation/abandonment/isolation trauma, has convinced me that they experience the same traumatic responses as have been described first by Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1977) and subsequently by van der Kolk (1987, 1993, 1994) and others. The syndrome of separation/abandonment/ isolation trauma constitutes a unique and specific form of severe traumatic stress, which is traumatic by definition because both the nonhuman primate and the human infant need the caretaker and others for not only

Linda A. Chernus


their physical survival but also and especially their biopsychosocial development and maturation (see van der Kolk & Fisher, 1994). The implications of these findings for our work with abandoned and/or otherwise emotionally abused children are enormous. We must be cognizant of the broad range of symptomatology that may be displayed as a result of such traumatic life experiences, as well as understanding the specific meaning of symptomatic behaviors for each individual child. In addition to individualizing our work with them, however, treatment programs should also provide a social structure within which the emotionally traumatized child can obtain needed selfobject functions from both peers and caretaking figures. In this way, internalization of these functions can gradually lead to some amelioration of symptoms indicative of prior traumatization. The goal of such an enriched environment would be to facilitate the resumption of the growth and development of the child's self. Ideally, this will gradually lead to the development of enhanced selfcohesion. It is hoped that a natural process of growth can be resumed in such a setting, one that can to a greater or lesser extent repair the damage to the structure of the child's self.

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