There are, essentially, 2 types of memory; Explicit Memory & Implicit Memory.

Explicit Memory is handled by an area of the brain called the Hippocampus; these are the memories that we can recall in images, sounds, smells, etc. Generally, the Hippocampus does not start full operation until we are around 3 to 4 years old. For this reason, our first recallable memories usually begin at this stage.

Implicit Memory is handled by an area of the brain called the Amygdala; these memories are our emotional learning responses to environment and experiences. They are part of the first learning processes and how an infant becomes accustomed to its environment. The Amygdala is already in full operation even before birth so the baby is learning about and adapting to its environment while it is still in the womb. After 9 months learning about its environment, feeling safe and secure in the womb, it is pushed out in to a bright and complex new world. One where it has to learn all over again to feel safe and secure in.

In order to feel safe and secure in this new world, the helpless and defenceless infant needs to form an emotional attachment. This first attachment to the primary caregiver is an essential process in development. It is an essential  pre-programmed survival tactic for the infant. While in modern communities we can see that this isn’t essential for infant survival, in our not too distant past, this first emotional attachment was essential for survival. Much of our brain wiring is still attached to our past, so any disruption in that first emotional attachment is experienced by the infant as a serious threat to survival. The infant experiences it as the threat of death and goes in to survival shut down. Certain developmental processes are shut down, until such time as the infant, once again begins to feel safe and can restart the development processes.

It is during the first 3 to 4 years of life that the brain is most active in developing its neural connections, so any distressing events during this stage of development have a huge impact on how these pathways grow. Traumatic events in the first stages of life really throw a spanner in to the developing brain.

It is widely understood that our pre-programming to seek out that first attachment is also what drives us to seek attachments later in life. But what happens in the brain when that first attachment brought about a threat to survival response? While as stated above, we are pre-programmed to seek out and form attachments for our survival, our implicit memory also holds the memory of experiencing a threat to survival from that first attachment. So while we are all born needing to attach, our brain might also learn that attachment = threat to survival.

One might say that one part of our brain seeks out an emotional attachment, but that another part of our brain learned that emotional attachment = a threat to survival so responds to attachment as if it was a threat.

An infant that experienced disruption in their first emotional relationship, therefore may go on to develop in to an adult that appears unconsciously driven to disrupt any further attempts at making an emotional connection to someone because unconscious processes in the brain remember that emotional connections = threat to survival.

The internal conflict set up by these opposing survival mechanisms, inevitably manifest themselves as conflicts in subsequent relationships, as one part of the brain experiences and reacts to that emotional relationship as if it poses a threat to survival.

On the one hand, you may seek out someone to love, but on the other hand, you are unconsciously programmed to see this person as a threat and likely to react by attacking or running away from this person as soon as any true emotional attachment begins to develop.

Ultimately the goal of the unconscious part of the brain that perceives emotional attachment as a threat to survival is to convince the rest of the brain to agree to and act upon this perception. In this sense it becomes an evidence gatherer (Hyperarousal leads to hypersensitivity and hypervigilance), with each bit of new evidence helping to strengthen its position. In this way more or less the whole brain may then eventually perceive the threat and respond to the other as “the enemy”.