- Anxiety and/or fearfulness, and even panic, often surrounding illogical things - Social withdrawal, or alternatively aversion to being alone - Frequent, prolonged meltdowns - Aggressive or controlling behaviour - Hyperactivity, constant fidgeting, excessive energy - Distractibility, poor concentration and focus - Hypersensitive senses, often leading to a dislike of bright lights and loud noises, or trouble ignoring background noise - Frequently appearing to be "away with the fairies", or unreceptive - Fluctuating blood sugar levels: need to snack frequently - Eczema, hay fever, or food allergies - Stomach or digestive problems - Hates change, loves routine
What is the Moro reflex?
The Moro Reflex is a primitive fight-or-flight reflex found in very young babies. It is one of the earliest primitive reflexes to emerge in utero, and should be full strength at birth. It fulfils a vital role in survival over the first weeks of life; a tiny baby cannot assess danger for itself, and so if there is almost any disturbance, the Moro reflex will rouse the baby to cry loudly such that an adult arrives to assess the situation and provide care. Parents will be familiar with this response: the baby will go bright red and scream in an urgent way that is different from usual behaviour, as if the baby is experiencing panic. This is the Moro reflex.
This reflex is incredibly sensitive and can be triggered by a huge range of events: for example any sudden or loud sound; a sudden change in light levels or temperature; sudden movement or a sudden change in head position; rapid movement in the visual field; excessive heat or cold; pain. However, the Moro reflex does not have a "shut-down" mechanism if the baby decides it is not actually in danger: it doesn't need to have one, as the baby cannot yet make decisions for itself.
Having done its job and helped to keep the newborn safe, the Moro reflex should disappear (around the time the baby is around 4 months old). It is replaced by the adult Strauss Reflex, which also provides our "fight-or-flight" response: however, this does have a "shut-down"mechanism which prevents the body from going into full fight-or-flight if the individual decides that they are not actually in danger.
What happens if it is retained?
If the Moro reflex remains active, then the child is left with a highly sensitive reflex that launches the body into full fight-flight mode at inappropriate times and simply cannot be over-ridden if the child decides they are not in danger.
The Moro reflex involves a massive physical response, activating the sympathetic nervous system, which rapidly prepares us for action when we are under threat. To achieve this it triggers the release of many hormones, including adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. This has an immediate energising effect designed to increase strength and speed. Simultaneously, the blood sugar level is increased, the heart rate and respiratory action is accelerated, and blood flow is diverted to the skeletal muscles from systems which do not have a role in immediate survival. These three actions provide a burst of energy and oxygen to allow the strenuous activity required to either fight or run.
With no "shut-down mechanism", this becomes a beast of a reflex if it remains active into infancy. It will be triggered very easily through any sensory channel at inappropriate times. The child will therefore be caught in almost continuous “fight-flight” mode, constantly being flooded with stress hormones. The physical aspects of the Moro response are often followed by an emotional after-effect: having been overloaded with adrenaline and blood sugar, the child may experience fear, panic, anger, or excessive energy. The Moro child is therefore generally observed to fall into one of two categories: the “fight” child, who is hyperactive and explosive, or the “flight” child, who lives in permanent fear, and appears over-anxious and shy. The child may also present as a paradoxical combination of these traits.
A trip to the cinema, a fairground ride, or a children’s party may all be experienced as sensory overload and cause seemingly irrational panic or withdrawal in the Moro child. In this state, the child simply cannot receive any comforting words offered to them: they just can't help it.
How does the Moro reflex affect an adult?
Like children, adults with a retained Moro reflex may fall into the “fight” or “flight” categories, the extremes of which are the over-assertive, exercise addicted adrenaline junkie; or the over-anxious individual who avoids crowded, noisy places and too much stimulation. An adult who has lived with a Moro reflex all their lives is likely to have learnt to control some aspects of the Moro response: for instance the volatility of the Moro child may have been toned down to result in an adult prone to mood swings or emotional over-reaction. The Moro adult is also likely to have managed to calm
the fear that is familiar to the Moro child; however, they may well
suffer from free floating, irrational anxiety: the Moro adult often
experiences anxiety and surges of adrenaline when there is no obvious
cause for it. They may also have developed a controlling personality, as they subconsciously seek to calm their Moro reflex by manipulating situations to avoid unexpected events, change, or anything that puts them out of their comfort zone. A Moro adult may depend heavily on routine and insist on doing things “their way”.
With a Moro reflex raging throughout childhood it can be difficult for the psyche to mature alongside the physical self. A Moro adult may feel that they are still a child inside, who is “winging it” in an adult world. This adult may present a confident, capable personality on the outside, whereas internally they feel much more insecure and experience self-doubt. They may find criticism hard to deal with, be highly defensive, or they may have an irrational, child-like dislike of change. They may also have poor self awareness: they have an inaccurate perception of how others view them.
It should be noted that an adult with a Moro reflex may have been able to utilise the Moro response to their advantage in some situations. Being used to adrenaline, a Moro adult may cope with highly stressful situations very well. They may flourish in high pressure jobs, where they perform at their best under extreme stress. An adult who can usefully focus the energy and aggression that an active Moro reflex gives them may well achieve much; however, they may live in an adrenaline-driven state, find it hard to relax and “switch off”, and may suffer physical issues associated with adrenal fatigue.