When Logan came out in 2017, there was a increased fascination with his daughter, Laura. Or X23.
Laura debuted in 2003 in X-Men: Evolution, and then later in print in NYX in 2004.
To best understand her complex history, here is a video on her comic book origins:
Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Psychological abuse by parents/caregivers; e.g. verbal abuse, excessive punishment
- YES – the sole purpose behind her creation was to recreate a killing machine.
- Physical abuse
- YES – she underwent surgery without any anesthetic as a type of revenge by the director of the procedure. Subjected to radiation to trigger her mutant gene
- Sexual abuse
- YES – She was exposed to teenage prostitution and intentionally inflicted physical pain to her clients.
- Emotional neglect
- YES – Laura was interacted with minimally in her early years.
- Physical neglect or malnourishment
- YES – Limited interactions, locked away in a cell.
- Domestic violence
- YES – Her surrogate mother, and the creator of the program, Rice; were in constant dispute about how treat Laura – as an trained assassin or a child.
- Parental alcoholism or drug use in home
- NO – Not disclosed
- Loss of biological parent before age 18 (Death or absence)
- YES – Laura killed her own mother when exposed to the trigger sense. The same happened with her sensai. She also killed Rice, prior to Sarah, her mom’s death. And later killed her own uncle while saving her aunt and cousin. Laura also did not know her biological father until a later time.
- Parental mental illness or depression
- YES – Consider the environment for a moment, which Rice is in control of. Rice forced Kinney to carry Laura. Rice then, for his own satisfaction, performed an operation that brought Laura a lot of pain. Then used Laura to kill her sensai, hired her out to perform assassinations. And then tried to have her killed on a suicide mission.
- Household member imprisoned
- YES – She was. She lived in a cell. And by extension her mother was imprisoned by the program. Not to mention, her biological father, even though not exposed to as a teenager, had run-ins with the law.
- Multiple changes in placement or primary caregiver
- YES – By the time she was eight, she had no primary caregiver. She found belonging amongst her aunt and then a group of homeless mutant teenagers.
- Serious medical issue involving hospitalization?
- YES – Her whole early years was spent in an institution.
Discussion about ACE’s
First, I want to start with positives. Laura’s sensai and surrogate mother would sneak in positive interactions. These were able to provide a buffer to, an albeit, troubled childhood. As Laura did struggle with killing a child, this provided Sarah with hope. (Even though Laura did not learn her own name, and that Sarah was her mother until the point that Sarah died.)
When considering the ACES score, Laura is a 9/10. Her childhood and teen years did not set her up for a successful adult life.
She also struggled with connection, as she had limited contact with primary caregiver (Sarah). She spent a large amount of her early years in seclusion and isolation.
In these type of situations, the brain becomes super good at survival. The logical and rationale (frontal cortex) part of the brain, and even the hippocampus in limbic system (relational and emotional brain) is poorly developed. What’s left is the amygdala, which is scanning for danger. In this case, may be overdeveloped.
The image below may help explain. The left is a healthy, or typical brain development. The right is a brain that has experienced developmental trauma.
That being said, if the amygdala can he soothed, by a nurturing caregiver (which later happens when she meets up with Wolverine and the X-men), the brain can be healed.
Positive Psychology (PERMA)
- Positive Emotions: It’s really hard to say that an individual who has experienced life in survival has had a chance to experience any positive emotions. If she took the positivity ratio self test, it will probably end up being more negative, or even, in this case, numb.
- Engagement: Laura was never really given the chance to engage in an activity of her choice. It’s fair to say that her skillset often met, or exceeded, the challenges she faced. As for the state of flow, obviously she was in intense states of flow while completing missions, but again, not by choice. As she aged and became a teenager, she “choose” activities that she excelled in. A beneficial intervention may be identifying Laura’s strengths and finding activities she can do that she can then find a state of flow in.
- Positive Relationships: In Laura’s formative years, she had limited contact with positive relationships. When she finally escaped, she found solace in relationships with peers – something that she chose.
- Meaning: As a child, her meaning was written for her. As an adult, and after careful training, she took on the role of Wolverine.
- Achievement: This is a difficult one, because on one hand Laura was successful in her missions; but then on the other, she wasn’t really able to regulate herself and determine her own goals and destiny as a child.
Post Traumatic Growth vs Post Traumatic Stress
Looking at Laura as an adult, she shows more signs of experience post traumatic growth. She has formed and built new relationships. She has found new possibilities and strength in taking on the mantel of Wolverine. For me, the moment where she experienced the greatest change, and then had a new found appreciation for life was when she tracked down her father (yes to kill him), and Logan said to her “if you want to kill me, fine, but I won’t let you kill yourself.” From this point on, while stress symptoms may have presented, she found herself on the growth track.
Soothe the amygdala. Her amygdala has most likely been over developed. There are many different approaches that can be taken to soothe the amygdala. It is important to understand Laura’s emotional age and do creative interventions appropriate for that developmental stage. For example, if her identified age is say 5, an intervention to soothe is reading a bedtime story. This all helps lower the baseline of stress, which again soothes the amygdala.
Retrain the brain. It’s important to remember that every positive interaction helps rewire the brain – one small positive interaction at a time. Intentionally choosing new neural pathways to replace the old, and eventually the old will be pruned.
Consider this example of the backwards bike:
Care-team. Interventions for Laura, especially in her younger years, would need to be by her care-team, a group of caring adults. The experience that Laura had even by the age of eight cannot be undone by individual therapy alone. She needs to learn to trust adults.
Her care-team also needs to realize that when she is triggered, it’s not because Laura hates them, it’s that her brain has been trained and prepped to respond with anger to keep herself safe.
PACE – Her care-team should consider creating a PACE-ful. Incorporating ways to be playful, accepting, curios and empathic towards Laura.
Anger – This is a difficult one, Laura is a trained killing machine, and has been programmed to react. When she hunter down her father, he defended himself, but he also accepted her in her anger. She wasn’t someone to be afraid of. Laura has been trained that she is someone to be feared, and she may even fear herself. She needs to be accepted, and that she is human, and is experiencing the emotion of anger; she is not a monster.
Identity Development – Understandably, given her early history, Laura has struggled to form an identity. She could do such exercises as: What’s in a Name, and Character Strengths.
- What’s in Name: the goal here is to help someone understand their name. Explore the names history, family application, famous individuals with the same name, and any kind of significance. Then concluding with making an acronym such as Love, Accepting, Unique, Real, Awesome.
- Character Strengths: this exercise helps an individual learn what their signature strengths are. Then interventions can be built around what an individual is already awesome at.
I once had an early years co-worker tell me that parents, and caregivers, need to remember that they are growing children. That line gives thought to the careful amount of nurturing over time that is required to shift a fully independent human infant to a functional adult that can experience a healthy range of emotions and have healthy and positive relationships. In between, of course, there are a lot of steps.
When considering X23, for me, it emphasizes how infants, and children, become products of their environment. Sometimes the habits we instill are intentional as parents, other times they may be accidental or survival based.
Laura learned from a young age that she couldn’t trust adults, and she needed to spend considerable amount of time with were dad in her adult years to regain that trust and re-wire her brain.
So even if our lives are difficult, healing can ALWAYS happen, it just requires some re-wiring.