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Childhood Trauma Linked To Psychologically Damaging Time Perspective

childhood trauma and temporal theory

Based upon Zimbardo’s and Boyd’s (2008) Time Perspective Theory, a therapeutic technique known as Time Perspective Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword and Sword) was developed.

Time Perspective Therapy is predicated upon Zimbardo’s idea that the way in which we view and relate to the past, the present and the future strongly influences how we think, feel, behave and perceive events that are going on around us.  According to this theory, each individual may be represented, to a greater or lesser degree) by any of the following types.


time perspective therapy

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

  1. THE ‘PAST-NEGATIVE’ TYPE : this type of individual is preoccupied by the negative aspects of his/her personal past experiences
  2. THE ‘PAST-POSITIVE’ TYPE : this type of individual feels nostalgic about the past and might describe it with phrases like ‘the good old days
  3. THE ‘PRESENT-HEDONISTIC’ TYPE : this type of individual seeks immediate pleasure and has an impaired ability to delay gratification
  4. THE ‘PRESENT-FATALISTIC’ TYPE : this type of individual has a tendency to feel that making plans and decisions ‘now’ (i.e. in the present) is futile as the future is predetermined and beyond their control – in this way they may develop a kind of ‘whatever will be will be…‘ attitude.
  5. THE ‘FUTURE-ORIENTED’ TYPE : this type of person adopts an optimistic view of the future, is able to delay gratification for the sake of the longer-term good, makes confident plans for it, is ambitious and sets him/herself challenging goals.
  6. THE ‘FUTURE-TRANSCENDENT’ TYPE : this type of individual focuses on his/her belief that an ‘after-life’ exists.

The degree to which individuals can be represented by the above types can be measured by the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI).

Childhood Trauma And Time Perspective Type :

Individuals who have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma and who have, perhaps, as a result, go on to develop conditions such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex-PTSD) are prone to :

In terms of Zimbardo’s time perspective theory, therefore, such individuals tend to score highly on the following scales :

  • PAST NEGATIVE TYPE (e.g. obsessively dwelling on one’s past mistakes)
  • PRESENT HEDONISTIC TYPE  (e.g. frequent heavy drinking to ameliorate, in the short-term, mental pain)
  • PRESENT FATALISTIC  TYPE (e.g. feeling powerless to affect future)

It can be seen, then, that scoring highly on the three scales representing the above three types can suggest a poor state of psychological health.

Instead, it is more conducive to good mental health to :

  • make positive use of the past (e.g. remembering good things, learning from past mistakes etc)
  • learn to live more in the present but not in such a hedonistic way that it jeopardizes the future
  • learn to take a more optimistic view of the future and to plan for the future.

Time Perspective Therapy :

TIME PERSPECTIVE THERAPY (developed by Zimbardo, Sword and Sword), based upon cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT),  can help us develop healthier / more balanced time perspectives and this, in turn, can improve many areas of our lives including our relationships, our social lives and our careers

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).






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