Up to fifty percent of adults who suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) report having experienced significant trauma during their childhoods. Indeed, the researchers Saito-Loftus theorizes that the experience of trauma may affect the brain and the stomach in an adverse way that makes future susceptibility to IBS more likely.
We have seen in previous articles posted on this site that those who experience significant childhood trauma are more likely than those who have not to go on to experience higher than average trauma (eg severe relationship problems, dysfunctional behaviours leading to crisis etc) and levels of stress and anxiety in their adult lives.
This is highly relevant as stress and anxiety are known to exacerbate symptoms of IBS. Furthermore, a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic found that trauma suffered in adulthood also increases the likelihood of the development of IBS or the worsening of existing symptoms.
Above: This diagram shows how stress can affect the body, including the development of IBS.
Implications for treatment:
It follows from this that therapy to help IBS sufferers to resolve issues relating to any traumas they may have experienced may, in many cases, be of benefit.
The role of hypnotherapy:
Clinical studies have demonstrated that hypnotherapy can be an effective treatment for IBS. Usually, it involves the use of progressive relaxation techniques, imagery and visualisation. Such uses of hypnotherapy have been shown to help alleviate symptoms of IBS, including stomach pain, diarrhoea, bloating and constipation, as well as the fatigue which is often associated with IBS. Additionally, hypnotherapy can help to treat anxiety and stress.
Help With IBS Symptoms(instantly downloadable hypnosis audio):Click here.
Have you ever experienced intense, almost unbearable, emotional pain and mental anguish as a result of a rejection?
I remember, on occasions in the past, trying to explain to my psychiatrist how the turmoil in my mind resembled an excruciating, almost physical, pain.
Such pain, of course, is likely to be particularly acute and devastating if that rejection comes from a parent, or, indeed, from both parents.
As I have stated in other posts on this site, I have the dubious distinction of having been rejected by both my parents on separate occasions – by my mother when I was thirteen years old and then, some years later, by my father and step-mother, making me homeless and, therefore, humiliatingly necessitating me to be taken in to the home of a friend’s parents, to whom I remain grateful (incidentally, my step-mother was deeply religious and founded a charity for the homeless – Watford New Hope Trust – a cruel irony that was far from lost on me, let me assure you).
Recent studies have shown that the emotional pain of rejection activates the same area of the brain that physical does; the brain area involved is known as: the ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX.
Further evidence that the way we experience emotional pain is similar to how we experience physical pain comes from the finding that the medication Tylenol, which is taken to reduce feelings of physical pain, also ameliorates sensations of emotional pain.
Also, a study connected to Purdue University, Australia, compared two groups of individuals:
GROUP 1 : were asked to recall a physically painful event that had taken place in the previous 5 years.
GROUP 2 : were asked to recall an emotionally painful event which had taken place in the last 5 years.
RESULTS : Those in GROUP 2 (who relived the adverse emotional event) reported experiencing higher levels of pain induced by this replaying in their minds of this unhappy event than those in GROUP 1 experienced as a result of recalling their physically painful event.
One reason for the level of pain we may feel as a result of rejection is that we have a marked tendency to blame ourselves for the rejection (we may infer we must be in some way lacking) even though such self-blame is very often objectively unwarranted.
Also, emotional pain caused by a rejection can keep coming back to haunt us, again and again and again…we may even obsessively think about our rejection and the person who rejected us. When it comes to physical pain, however, once it is over the memory of it does not result in us re-experiencing it.
Evolutionary Explanation Of Why Rejection Can Be So Painful:
We have evolved to find rejection painful as our distant ancestors lived in groups which increased their likelihood of survival. Rejection by the group would have endangered their survival so they evolved to find social rejection painful as it discouraged them from behaving in ways that could result in such rejection (just as, for example, we have evolved to find coming into direct contact with fire painful to help to prevent burning and damaging our skin).
And rejection by parents, for our ancestors, could easily prove fatal.
Dealing With Rejection (downloadable hypnosis MP3). Click here.
We know that those who suffer significant childhood trauma are more likely to suffer from emotional dysregulation (ie problems controlling their eemotions) in adulthood compared to those who had a relatively stable upbringing. This is especially true, of course, if they develop Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as a result of their childhood experiences (BPD is strongly associated with childhood trauma and one of its main symptoms is emotional dysregulation.
It is theorized (and there is much evidence building up which supports the theory) that one main reason childhood trauma causes the person who suffered it to develop problems controlling his/her emotions in later life is that the experience of significant childhood trauma can lead to damage of the brain structure called the amygdala which is responsible for our emotional reactions to events. (It is also thought that the experience of childhood trauma can also damage other areas of the brain that affect our emotional responses, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex). Click here to read my article on this.
The three types of emotional control difficulties that an individual who has suffered significant childhood trauma may develop are:
1) Severe emotional over-reactions.
2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state (also known as emotional lability).
3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels.
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
1) Severe emotional over- reactions:
We may react emotionally disproportionately to the things that happen to us. For example, disproportionately angry as a result of what would objectively appear to be very minor provocation, disproportionately anxious in response to a very minor threat or even suicidal behaviour/self-harming behaviour in response to events that the ‘average’ person could take in their stride with little difficulty.
To take a personal example : when I was a teenager I had a minor argument with a friend. As a result, he demanded that I leave his house. Before I knew it, I had punched him. It was only years later (because I’m stupid) that it occurred that I’d reacted as I did because the incident reminded me, on an unconscious level, of my mother throwing me out of the house some years earlier (when I was thirteen years old); in so doing, it had triggered intensely painful feelings associated with the memory of this ultimate rejection.
2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state:
For example, one minute the individual may be withdrawn, depressed and reticent but then suddenly swing, with little or no provocation, into a highly agitated, angry and voluble state.
3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels:
It thought that this is due to problems of communication between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala (in healthy individuals the prefrontal cortex acts efficiently to send messages to the amygdala to reduce its activity once the cause of the emotions is over – the amygdala being a part of the brain which gives rise to emotional responses).
Indeed, it is thought all three of the above problems occur due to brain dysfunction caused, at least in part, by early life trauma.
Above ebook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here.
Control Your Emotions (hypnosis MP3 download). Click here for details.
I have written in other posts about how, when I was around eight years old and at prep school, teachers would call my name in class and I would not respond at all. After this had continued for a long time it was assumed by the school that I had hearing problems and so was taken to have my ears tested.
It transpired that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my ears. Instead, the problem was psychological : I was constantly dissociating in the classroom.
Sadly, my parents’ response was to do absolutely nothing. Had they taken action and got me counselling, both they and I might have been saved a lot of trouble (and this is an extreme understatement) later on in life.
However, this would have involved the truth coming out about my homelife – something they spent a lifetime obfuscating.
I was very interested, therefore, to have this article emailed to me with the suggestion I incorporate it on this site. It is quite long, but very much worth reading:
Jose was one of the calmest, quietest, most peaceful boys in the classroom. The kind of boy everybody loves.
Jose had thick, coal-black hair and matching black-marble eyes. He was always in an immaculate, crisp school uniform, often with a warm sweater around his sturdy frame. Jose’s family never adjusted to the cool northeastern temperatures in winter. They were from a small town in Panama, emigrated here shortly before Jose’s birth and now live in a quiet, clean, working class neighborhood
Jose lived with two cousins, an uncle, an aunt, Mom, baby brother and sometimes Dad. He had been an only child until October of second grade, when his brother was born.
Jose is very proud of “his country”, Panama. His passion is soccer. He loved everything about soccer. If there was a televised soccer game involving Panama, Jose knew all about it.
Jose’s strong academic performance had begun in first grade. His reading level in September, at the start of second grade, was about half-year ahead, in the top 10% of the class and his math results were in the top quarter of the class.
Looks great so far, right ?
WHEN YOU LOOK INSIDE A CLASSROOM THERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU CAN NOT SEE
A few weeks into the new school year Jose’s reserved social traits began to intensify. He was always polite and respectful, but at that point he became unusually silent, a moody silent: frowning. He began ‘forgetting’ his glasses about half the time. He stopped participating in class. When called on to answer a question, Jose often hadn’t heard the question. Inattentive and forgetful, he sometimes completely checked-out with his head in his arms, down on the desk. He was unresponsive and avoidant with classmates. At first, I thought sleep-deprived, which usually resolves itself after adjusting to new school year routines. Now that the calendar reached into October I began to suspect something more.
As the year continued on into late October/November, Jose’s academic pattern emerged to be wildly inconsistent. A student’s literacy results are usually in a narrow range. There aren’t usually wild swings between ‘A/B’ and ‘D/F’, week by week, which was Jose’s pattern.
Jose’s behaviors were more than ‘daydreaming’: he was detached, forgetful, ‘stunned’ even, with muted responses, low energy, easily fatigued and more – all in context of fluctuating academics.
Public Health Data
Childhood trauma is the response of overwhelming or helpless fear, or terror. Specifically, it is a response to abuse, neglect, to a missing parent, or a household which includes violence, mental illness, or substance abuse. Other childhood traumas can include experiences with community violence, or ethnic oppression, and more.
See more detail at “Common Sense” on varying rates of trauma (3+ “Adverse Childhood Experience” or ACEs) from 22% to 45+% of all children. From idyllic middle class suburbs, to rough urban settings. Childhood trauma is no respecter of demographics.
The child who is hyper-aroused, hypervigilant, aggressive and disruptive is the ‘Poster Child’ for abused or neglected experience. They get the attention in a classroom setting where learning for 30 students is the goal. See “Jasmine” at “Peek Inside a Classroom“.
Students like Jose can be overwhelmed by the same life-altering fears as “Jasmine” and yet, may react with totally opposite behaviors: compliant, but “disconnected”, “in a fog”.
Dissociating students are much more likely to be unsupported, or even completely unnoticed. Even when teachers (I have been guilty too) are trained and are able to notice “Jose”, it can be tempting to ignore him, and take advantage of the calm classroom to teach the other 30 children. Simultaneously, it’s very frustrating, because Jose gets absolutely no learning. “Roberto”was another student in dissociation, while “Danny” exhibited behaviors of both hyperarousal and dissociation.
I had suspicions about deeper, life issues for Jose, but my goal was to hear directly from Jose. I started by sharing that I was surprised at his score on the latest reading test, because I knew from his other tests that he was able to do the work. In an empty classroom, in private I reassured him that he was not in trouble (the location and the message and tone were all part of establishing “safety”). I mused that sometimes when things change at school, that’s because they had changed at home first. I wondered out loud if everything was okay?. . .
Jose hesitated, but eventually shared that he “missed dad”. “He doesn’t come home any more”. Instead dad goes to Jose’s aunt’s (dad’s sister’s) house in the evenings “because dad says ‘it’s more fun there. He thinks it’s boring at home’”. Jose believed final divorce was near.
Jose, head hung low and he broke into tears at this point. At first he was turned away and “hidden”. A confused, powerless, embarrassed posture. I hugged him lightly and said ‘it must be hard’. He nodded and went silent. I decided to wait to talk with Mom till we could talk in person. I knew that children’s versions of their parent’s lives can be hazy and incomplete
DISSOCIATION: One more thing you can not see when you look in a classroom.
Two days later, on a gray rainy day, Mom came to school to pick up Jose. When I shared what Jose had said to me, she had the same response as Jose: very soft and fragile emotionally, with quivering lip and almost immediate tears. It was clear that they were both suffering deeply from the broken marriage. I suggested that it might help Jose to have someone to talk to outside of school. She took Jose home, promising she would find someone.
Relation-based, on-going, or “Complex”, trauma is the most heinous type of trauma (versus ‘environmental-based trauma, and one-time events). Complex trauma occurs during childhood, within the family system. The trauma originates from caregivers who are accountable for protection and love. Instead, chronic, overwhelming fear and pain, and no escape: incest, physical abuse, witness to intimate partner violence, are examples. As another example, Divorce, no matter how “friendly”, rocks the child’s world. It is a terrifying loss of security and love to young children. Results of Complex Trauma impair least seven domains, as detailed at Cook, et al,(2005).
Back to Jose: his mom returned the following week and abruptly announced that “all that stuff we talked about” last week was “fine” now: the father was not an issue. Jose was “incorrect” according to her. She was curt, did not want a discussion, turned and left quickly. It happens too often. Guards are down, things are shared, but then later denied.
I planned to be exceedingly clear at upcoming Report Card conferences about what I was still seeing at school, in spite of Mom’s denial. I had every intention of being brief and crisp (and probably too cold). I was frustrated about lack of attention to Jose, and his pain and the secondary status of his learning, after all, I was his teacher, and (I felt), his advocate.
Some adults dismiss the impact of adverse events (ACEs) on children, thinking “they’re too young to understand anyway, or “they’re young, they’ll get over it”.
Actually, this common adult perspective is exactly wrong. It is precisely BECAUSE the child is “too young” that their ability to defend against intense stress and trauma is far weaker and the results are far worse than an adult exposed to the same event.
Children’s brains are still developing: 1) Their brains are not fully ‘wired’. The immature brain is “use-dependent”, meaning it develops in areas that are used, and therefore more vulnerable to mis-wiring from chronic defensive usage. See …early brain development p.3-6, 2) The chronic, powerful chemical baths of cortisol and adrenaline during “fight or flight” cause direct damage to still-developing brain cells, and 3) children’s frontal cortices are not yet experienced in processing and logically understanding the source of fear. Their immature coping mechanisms are easily undermined and their sense of helplessness or powerlessness is relatively greater than an adult. So, over time, unaddressed trauma causes changes the physical structure and functioning of children’s brains and will lower the quality of their lives and likely result in early death. Levine and Kline p.4, Perry p.245, and theCDC Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) research.
Mom arrived for our conference cuddling a new infant, Jose’s 5 month old brother. I shared preemptively, and somewhat formally, that Jose’s academic performance was now distinctly below average.
I had struggled to give him “C”s. I also shared that Jose’s performance continued to be wildly erratic. I described the swings as clear evidence that he still has very high ability. Students don’t just have ability ‘on occasion’.
Erratic academics often mean there is “something ‘inside him’ troubling the student”. I wondered aloud if there was anything she could think of?
I stopped. The room was silent.
A dependent, child can not be known in a vacuum. The child is an integral, dependent member of a family system. See summary of M. Bowen (in Louis Cozolino; Chapter 3). When one person in the system is impacted by trauma, all others are impacted in relation to that member. Jose (and mother) were impacted by a variety of insecurity and abandonment issues, related to his father. The divorce was a pending fracture to their system, and even more in Jose’s eyes, a pending earthsplitting re-definition of his entire world.
Warning: It suddenly became overpoweringly emotional. An intense, flooding release. Mom struggled to share through heaving sobs. Her wounds were obviously still open and tender. First she shared that, yes, there was something bothering Jose “inside”. The phrase ‘inside of him’ had seemed to translate powerfully. Suddenly, Mom blurted “Yes, ‘inside’ Jose is still dealing with the death of his aunt, Maria, his Dad’s sister”. Maria had died about only 8 or 9 months ago, in the summer right before school. She had been Jose’s favorite aunt. Apparently their love and affection were mutual.
DISSOCIATION: One more thing you can not see when you peek in a classroom.
It got more intense. Mom continued: Maria suffered painfully and ultimately died from burns covering 100% of her body. . . the result of a gas leak, explosion, and fire. Maria’s brother, Jose’s dad, was working on the same street, heard the explosion which caused the fire, heard his sister’s screams and was completely powerless to help.
Mom shared that Dad then went “deep inside himself”, completely shutting out the entire family. Mom described dad as ‘totally unavailable’ for two to three months – increasing insecurity and abandonment fears for the rest of the family.
Yet, to this day, Jose has never made mention of Maria or her death to me.
Mom herself was close to Maria. Grieving and preoccupied, she tried to disconnect by wrapping herself in preparations for her baby-to-come. The baby came in October, a brand new “attraction” in the family. Mom acknowledged that she also dramatically cut time and communication with Jose. Her words, translated; “ignored”, “forgot”.
Even so Jose never mentioned his little brother to me. He seems to have no affect for him. If Jose refers to him at all, it is only by his ‘position’, “my baby brother”. He doesn’t speak his name.
At this point in the report card conference (yes it was still the same conference). We were all weeping.
I asked Mom if she would be willing to see the School Counselor (yes, there is one at our school) with Jose. Mom agreed, at the time. . .
Successful education is centered on Jose — not on Jose’s test scores.
Trauma Informed Education
Jose must be understood holistically and helped personally.
Jose, defending himself “invisibly”, in dissociation, needs every bit as much support as Jasmine, on the “front page”, in hyperarousal. They simply defend themselves differently in “fight, or flight”.
Neither defense allows trauma-impacted children to access their education.
Conversely, a trauma-informed education paradigm requires: a) explicit acknowledgement of childhood trauma, b) screening students, c) training teachers and staff, and d) creating “safety” across the learning environment.
Crucial investments towards safety include appropriate class-sizes, with limits on trauma-impacted children per classroom. Additionally, dedicated appropriate space for children to de-escalate is needed, as well as on-site nurses and counselors; counselors, who build safe, trusting relationships with the children and families. (See “Common Sense” and here and here and here for more detail on some “beginnings”).
Presently, the education “reform” environment has resulted in the opposite — disinvestment — in Public Education. In our own city the total local/state/federal funding is described as an “Empty Shell” Budget. How long will we keep trying to do what can’t be done? The emperor has no clothes. The children have a right to more than ’empty shells’.
Further, reformers’ paradigm which focusses on education as a single ‘silo’ of only one (testing) dimension, blocks our view of the whole child. See “Failing Schools or Failing Paradigm?” Their system generates wrong decisions, life-changing decisions, based on uninformed, misleading (test) data — it’s not ACE-adjusted data – it’s without any perspective on wide differences in trauma rates.
I have written, elsewhere on this site, how, at its worst, my insomnia was causing me to wake up extremely frequently at night and how I had great difficulty getting to sleep. Also, however, the small snatches of sleep I did manage to get during the night seemed always to consist of intensely vivid, and usually terrifying, dreams. I did not seem to be getting any ‘deep/non-dream’ sleep and consequently would feel no less exhausted in the morning than I’d been when I went to bed. Even maximum doses of sleeping tablets such as Temazepam had little, if any, impact, despite the fact that I was already taking major tranquillisers.
It is well known that disrupted sleep is one of the main symptoms of depression, especially when the individual suffers from early morning waking and is unable to get back to sleep. However, recent research also suggests that those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma are also liable to spend more time dreaming when we are asleep compared to those fortunate enough to have experienced a less stressful upbringing.
A Canadian study has found that those who are suffering from the condition known as Borderline PersonalityDisorder, or BPD (which is strongly associated with the experience of significant childhood trauma) have different brain wave patterns when asleep compared to those individuals free from mental illness.
Specifically, the REM sleep (REM sleep is ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ sleep and is the stage in the sleep cycle when people dream) is affected : their first stage of REM sleep, at the beginning of the sleep cycle, is entered more quickly, lasts longer and is more concentrated than that of non – mentally ill individuals. This was deduced from brain wave measures taken of those who were part of the study in sleep laboratories as they slept.
From this the Canadian scientists inferred that those with BPD have brains which are functionally different compared to non-mentally people. This may be due to structural differences in their brains (ie the architecture, or physical structure, of their brains is abnormal) or brain chemistry abnormalities. Or both.
This supports the prevalent and increasingly incontrovertible theory that the severe childhood trauma many BPD sufferers have experienced has resulted in physical damage to the brain.
To read more about this, read my article on how childhood trauma affects the brain by clicking here.
Above ebook now available on Amazon for immediate download. For further details, click here.
We have been programmed by evolution to have physical responses to perceived dangers and threats. These evolved to prepare our ancestors for ‘fight or flight’, when, for example, they were being stalked by a predator. The bodily responses we experience when we feel endangered and threatened include:
– an increased heart rate
– an increase in blood pressure
– an increase in the amount of stress hormones (such as cortisol) in our blood stream.
If a child experiences severe and chronic (ie. long-lasting) stress and has no emotional support (or poor and inadequate emotional support) to help him/her to cope with the stress and to buffer its effects then it can result in the actual architecture of the brain being damaged (the young brain is particularly sensitive and susceptible to the adverse effects of stress – psychologists call this sensitivity and susceptibility to architectural/physical change as the result of experience plasticity).
For example, a child may be emotionally abused by the mother over a num aber of years with no adequate support from the father (perhaps due to divorce from the mother, which was my own situation), older siblings (indeed, they may even join in the abuse), school, wider family or wider society.
The Three Types Of StressResponse:
1) Positive stress response:
This is a functional, normal, non-damaging type of stress, causing an only mild physiological response. An example might be a child’s first day at school. It is actually helpful to the child to experience such mild forms of stress and learn that s/he can cope with it as it helps to prepare him/her for adult life.
2) Tolerable stress response :
Here the stress experienced is more severe and/or long-lasting. The corresponding physiological response is therefore greater but still do no long-term damage as long as the child receives sufficient emotional support.
3) Toxic stress response:
Here the stress experienced is severe, long-lasting and frequent. Examples include:
– physical/emotional abuse
– maternal depression
– lack of adequate stimulation due to poverty
– living in a household where there is domestic violence
– living in a household where there is alcoholism/drug abuse
– parental mental illness
The effects of toxic stress on the young mind can be life-long. Physical effects on the brain may include:
– disruption of brain circuitry
– anatomical changes
– physiological dysregulation
– damage to the brain structure called the amygdala
– damage to the brain structure called the hippocampus
– damage to the brain structure called the prefrontalcortex
Above: Wecan see here how severe neglect has physically affected the brain.
Adverse effects resulting from the above may include:
– poor mood control
– high, chronic anxiety
– severely reduced capability to cope with stress
– severe reduction in socio-emotional skills
– excessive drinking in an attempt to reduce anxiety
– excessive smoking in an attempt to reduce anxiety
– poor academic achievement
– gang membership
– highly unstable and volatile interpersonal relationships
– unhealthy lifestyle leading to physical illnesses
– greater proneness to some medical conditions even in the absence of an unhealthy lifestyle
Toxic stress is a prevalent and very serious threat to young people’s welfare. Its adverse effects can be devastating, and, without appropriate therapy, last a lifetime.
It is therefore vital to identify individuals at risk as early as possible and to develop more effective therapeutic interventions. The earlier effective intervention occurs, the less likely the damage done to the young person will be irrevocable.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
Above ebook now available on Amazon for immediate download. Click here for further details.
CompleteStress Management Pack (downloadable MP3). Click here for details.
The infant’s/child’s need for his/her mother’s dependable and unconditional love is an absolutely fundamental one.
The child that receives it grows up with the core belief that s/he is loveable. However, the child who does not receive it is at high risk of growing up with the core belief that s/he is intrinsically unloveable.
These core beliefs become very deeply rooted, and, if one has become an adult who believes s/he is unloveable because of his/her dysfunctional relationship with his/her mother, this belief is very hard to change and, without effective therapy, tends to remain stable over time. This is because, when the one person, who is most expected to love one unconditionally, does not, the effect upon one’s psychological make-up is profound.
The effects on our adult personality of not having been raised by a dependably loving mother:
1) Hypersensitivity to criticism – this is due to the fact that (usually on an unconscious level) criticisms of us trigger the pain we felt due to our mother’s negative and critical view of us when we were young and extremely vulnerable.
2) A view of ourselves as fundamentally inferior to others and unworthy of love – this is due to having internalised (ie come to believe on a very deep level) our mother’s negative feelings about us when we were growing up
3) Lack of confidence – being unloved by one’s mother can lead one feeling deeply inadequate and unworthy. For example, if we achieve success we are likely to feel undeserving of it or that the success was so easy to achieve anyone could have done it. If anyone admires us for our success, it is likely to make us feel uncomfortable and to believe that those admiring us will very soon realize that we do not deserve their admiration after all.
4) We may become ‘clingy’ and dependent – this is caused by believing (usually on an unconscious level) that we must desperately ‘cling’ to our relationships or we will be rejected like we were rejected by our mother. Unfortunately, this very ‘clinginess’ is counter-productive and increases, rather than decreases, the likelihood that we actually will be rejected.
5) Excessive desire to please others – this can result from only ever receiving conditional love from our mother
6) Distorted view of self – due to internalisation of our mother’s negative view of us (see above) we are likely to come to the false belief that we are profoundly and irrevocably flawed as human beings
7) ‘Repetition Compulsion’ – Sigmund Freud, for example, observed that, often, individuals who have had dysfunctional relationships with their mothers as children are, as adults, unconsciously compelled to form relationships with others which mirror this original dysfunctional one.
8) Problems with trust in relationships – if the mother’s love was inconsistent and unreliable the infant develops what is known as an ambivalent attachment to the mother; this carries over to the adult child’s way of relating to others, causing him/her to desperately want intimacy with others but to also be fearful of it (as it makes him/her vulnerable to the rejection s/he experienced from his/her mother).
And if the mother was consistently unloving, critical and rejecting the infant will develop what is known as an avoidant style of interacting with his/her mother; this, too, is likely to carry over to the adult child’s way of relating to others (ie. consistently avoiding intimacy).
Unloved As A Child? Downloadable hypnosis audio. Click here.
When I told my mother and older brother (on separate occasions, and over the telephone) that my medical team (which included a consultant psychiatrist and the lead mental health social worker for my area) thought, on top of everything else, I had Asperger’s syndrome (though I’ve never been formally tested for it) they both said literally nothing apart from ‘Oh’ and ‘Mmmm’ – they essentially stonewalled me. I do not think I am being unduly paranoid to infer from this that their unspoken message to me was something along the lines of : ‘we’re not interested – stop making excuses for your personal deficits’.
Similarly, during ten years of excruciatingly painful mental illness, including a suicide attempt that left me in a coma for five days, periods of dissociation, self-harm, excessive drinking (at one stage a bottle of whisky a day), paranoia, electroconvulsive shock therapy, hospitalisations and the maximum dose of an anti-psychotic medication (Seroquel, 800 mg per day), I was treated in a very different way than, say, someone with a serious physical illness might expect to be treated – neither my brother nor mother ever sent me a single get well card, I received next to no visits (indeed, my mother did not even visit me when I was in a coma, with only a fifty per cent chance of survival), never had a comforting hand placed on my shoulder, and never had the seriousness of my condition acknowledged, less still any invitation to discuss what may have caused it (quite the opposite, in fact: this topic was invariably assiduously avoided).
Indeed, the last time I spoke to my mother she told me to ‘just get over [myself]’, despite the fact I had become her primary emotional carer soon after my parents divorced – well before I was a teenager.
In relation to all this, in this article I want to examine the main reasons that parents may have for denying their child’s mental illness, or for denying its severity:
1) Admitting the child/adult child has a serious mental illness might encourage other people (and they themselves) to think their parenting skills leave something to be desired
2) The child/adult child should take full responsibility for their behaviour – blaming it on mental illness is an evasion of responsibility for their own actions (sadly, this attitude prevails despite the fact that mental illness involves chemical imbalances in the brain, and sometimes structural abnormalities as well). The adoption of such an attitude serves to add feelings of intense guilt to the victim’s already intoletable emotional experience, aggravating, sometimes very seriously indeed, his/her already acute psychological suffering.
3) Parents may feel that if a child/adult child is formally diagnosed with a serious mental illness (such as Borderline Personality Disorder or schizophrenia) it could ruin his /her life, perhaps preventing him/her from securing appropriate employment, being ostracised by friends and stigmitized by society.
4) Admitting the child/adult child is seriously ill puts moral pressure on the parents to invest a lot of time in helping and supporting him/her.
Sadly, denying, minimizing or invalidating a family member’s entirely genuine claim to be ill will almost invariably make the illness worse, which is surely in no-one’s interest.
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