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Health Anxiety : Its Link To Childhood Trauma

health anxiety

We have already seen that, all else being equal, an individual who suffers significant childhood trauma is at greater risk than average of developing an anxiety disorder in adulthood. In this article, I will look specifically at health anxiety and what types of childhood experiences may put individuals at increased likelihood of developing it. With regard to this, the first question to answer, of course, is :

What Is Health Anxiety?

Health anxiety used to be referred to as hypochondria; however, this term is becoming increasingly obsolete due to its somewhat pejorative connotations. For a person to be diagnosed with health anxiety (and such a diagnosis, of course, can only be carried out by an appropriately qualified professional) s/he generally has to be preoccupied with thoughts centering around illness (i.e. a belief s/he is ill or an overwhelming conviction that s/he will imminently become ill) despite reliable, medical reassurances that this is not the case.

Furthermore, this preoccupation causes the individual significant distress and impairs normal, day-to-day functioning.

What Childhood Experiences Make It More Likely That An Individual Will Develop Health Anxiety?

First, individuals who suffered a serious illness as a child and were traumatized by the experience are at increased risk of developing health anxiety in adulthood.

Second, those who, in childhood, had a primary-carer who was excessively anxious about their health, or more generally overprotective, are at increased risk of developing health anxiety in adulthood.

Third, those who, in childhood, experienced a close family member (such as sibling, mother or father) being seriously ill are at increased risk of going on to develop health anxiety.

Fourth, people who, as children, had parents who excessively shielded them from the reality of health problems (e.g. parents who never talked about their own illnesses or the illnesses / deaths of other family members, including never allowing the child to attend funerals) are more likely to go on to develop health anxiety

Finally, growing up with parents who, to an excessive degree, feel the need to continually (and with excessive frequency) emphasize the vital and crucial importance in life of having one’s health.

Other Factors That Can Contribute To The Development Of Health Anxiety:

Childhood experience is not the only factor connected to the development of health anxiety in later life ; other factors that may contribute or be involved include :

1) Personality traits (characteristics) : e.g. a proneness to worry or intolerance of uncertainty

2) Chemicals in the brain (especially low serotonin activity)

3) Abnormal brain processes associated with low serotonin activity leading to excessive rumination (over-thinking)

health anxiety

 

Above : examples of the excessive ruminations that a person with health anxiety may have.

4) Genetic predisposition : it is possible some people may genetically inherit a tendency towards obsessive-like thinking.

Therapies :

Therapies available for the treatment of health anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused therapy (CFT). However, sometimes (depending upon the individual’s particular constellation of psychological problems) other forms of psychotherapy may be more appropriate.

Also, because it is thought that serotonin-level abnormalities may sometimes be involved with health anxiety, antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for its treatment (under the guidance, of course, of an appropriately qualified professional).

RESOURCE :

Overcome Fear Of Illness (downloadable self-hypnosis MP3 or CD).

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

 

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Somatic Experiencing Therapy : Healing The Dysfunctional Nervous System

somatic experiencing

Dr Peter Levine’s somatic experiencing therapy is predicated upon idea that the disturbing symptoms of PTSD are substantially caused by the adverse effect our traumatic experiences have had on the way our body and nervous system works.

In essence, Levine contends that if we are suffering from PTSD it means we have become stuck’ in the fight/flight/freeze response.

In order to understand this, consider how wild animals respond to danger; let’s use the example of a zebra :

If a zebra is stalked by a tiger, it will enter the flight/fight state and run away. Whilst running away, it is in the fight/flight state, meaning that it will be highly physiologically aroused (e.g. fast heart rate) in order to provide it with the energy to (hopefully) escape.

If it is lucky enough to escape to safety, the zebra’s level of physiological arousal will quickly return to normal because the immediate danger has passed.

In other words, the zebra only remains in fight/flight mode for a short period of time to deal with immediate danger.

Below – The Physiological Effects Of Being In Fight/Flight Mode :

somatic experiencing

Getting ‘Stuck’ In Fight/Flight/Freeze Mode :

However, in sharp contrast, individuals suffering from PTSD have, like the zebra had their fight/flight response triggered by their traumatic experience but, unlike the zebra, remain stuck in this state of heightened physiological arousal even though the danger has passed; it is this, according to Levine, that causes the distressing symptoms of PTSD.

The Root Cause Of The Symptoms Of Trauma : Trapped ‘Survival Energy’ :

Levine states that, in those suffering from PTSD, the initial great stress caused by our traumatic experience, whatever this may have been (including the complex, cumulative effects of childhood trauma such as emotional abuse) leads to the production of ‘survival energy’ which is not discharged once the traumatic experience is over but remains bound up and trapped in the body.

It is this trapped survival energy that, according to Levine, is at the root of the debilitating symptoms of traumas

The Need To Discharge The Trapped ‘Survival Energy.’

Levine suggests that discharging the trapped survival energy held in our bodies will allow our heightened physiological state and the operation of our nervous systems to return to normal and thus alleviate our symptoms of trauma.

Levine’s somatic experiencing therapy is designed to help us achieve this therapeutic discharge of survival energy.

In order to find out more about somatic experiencing therapy you may find the link provided here useful.

Resource :

   Complete Stress Management Pack. Click here for further information.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

 

 

 

 

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Childhood Trauma and PTSD – Facts and Fiction

 

childhood trauma and ptsd

I have written extensively elsewhere on this site about how severe childhood trauma can lead to, amongst many other psychological conditions, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). For example, click here to read one of my articles on the topic.

Table of signs and symptoms of PTSD :

images38F93A5G

However, amongst the general public, certain myths have developed in connection with what PTSD is, how the condition manifests itself and who it affects.

It is these I want to look at in this article :

PTSD – FACTS AND FICTION :

MYTH 1 – PTSD can only be caused by traumatic war experiences.

In fact, nearly three quarters of people in USA will experience a severe trauma at some point in their lives. Of these, about one fifth will go on to develop symptoms which are severe enough and long-lasting enough to be clinically classified as PTSD.

Taking the two above statistics above, it clearly follows that about 15% of people in the USA will suffer from PTSD at some point during their lives.

Whilst traumatic war experiences are indeed one cause of PTSD (what used to be called ‘shell shock’) many other life experiences also lead to the condition; these include natural disasters, being the victim of a serious physical attack and SEVERE CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.

Statistics also show that women are about twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as men are at any given time (this is thought to be connected to the fact that women are more likely to suffer from sexual abuse).

A further breakdown of statistics is shown on the table below:

images

MYTH 2 – Those who develop a psychological condition after a trauma are weak – they should be able to move on with their lives and put it behind them.

Developing PTSD has nothing to do with weakness. Everybody is potentially at risk of developing PTSD given particular experiences, it is just that different experiences affect people in different ways.

Indeed, research now shows that severe and prolonged trauma, particularly in CHILDHOOD, can adversely affect the physical development of the brain (click here to read my article on this) which can in turn make the individual vulnerable to developing not only PTSD but, also BPD (borderline personality disorder), severe anxiety and depression. THIS CAN IN NO WAY BE CONSTRUED AS THE INDIVIDUAL’S FAULT.

In such a situation, however, intensive therapy can help to reverse any harm that was done to the developing brain due to a brain quality known as neuroplasticity (click here to read one of my articles on this).

MYTH 3 – People develop PTSD immediately after the traumatic event that triggered it.

This is not always the case. It is true that if the severely traumatic experience is a one-off event, such as being violently mugged, symptoms of PTSD do tend to occur soon afterwards.

However, in the case of childhood abuse, which may have extended over a period of years, full blown PTSD may not develop for many years after the abuse has ended (click here to read my article explaining why this is).

It is for this reason that, in many cases, people do not realize that they have PTSD and therefore erroneously blame themselves for how they feel and behave (eg they may be prone to outbursts of extreme anger and rage).

And even if they realize they seem to have a condition similar to PTSD, they do not link it to their traumatic childhood experiences.

Unfortunately, this means many PTSD sufferers who could benefit from therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) are not getting the help which could, potentially, dramatically improve their lives.

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

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The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Alcoholism – Infographic

child trauma and alcoholism

childhood trauma and risk of alcoholism

This graph clearly shows that as the number of ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACEs) increases, so too does the probability that the person who has been affected will go on to develop alcoholism.

CLICK HERE for hypnotherapy download to alleviate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

If you would like to read my article about how childhood trauma and future alcoholism are linked, please click here.

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Only Attracted To Those Who Won’t Reciprocate Your Feelings?

reasons for unreciprocated love

If, as children, we grew up with parents who we perceived as not reciprocating our love we may, as adults, come to equate love with the feeling of a desperate longing for what we believe we ‘know’ (at least on an unconscious level) we will never receive (i.e. unconditional love for who we fundamentally are).

In this situation, the opposite also often holds true : we are not interested in a relationship with someone who will love, want and need us – we may even feel repelled by such an individual. Woody Allen summed up this attitude when he said, in terms of his perspective on relationships, ‘I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member’.

unrequited love

To us, a simple relationship in which we are loved back lacks colour and drama; it seems dull and devoid of any real passion, even. Such a relationship singularly fails to recreate the intense inner pain and drama generated by our childhood relationships with our rejecting parents and therefore also fails to fulfill a deep-seated need to play out, and attempt to repair (on a symbolic level) our dysfunctional early life relationships.

When, as children, we are rejected, neglected and abused we create an erroneous, yet psychologically sustaining, hope that our relationship with our parents is within our power to rectify; we achieve this by misattributing the source of the relationship’s dysfunction to ourselves ; and, by so doing, we can falsely convince ourselves that our parents will love us if only we were a ‘better’ person in some (stubbornly elusive) way. The alternative – i.e. accepting the reality that our parents can’t love us due to their own deficits – is a ‘truth too far’ that we simply cannot permit to permeate our conscious awareness.

Attraction To Those Who Will Inevitably Reject Us And The Repetition Compulsion :

As adults, in the unconscious drive to repeat and repair our painful childhood relationship with our parents that I referred to above (what Freud called the repetition compulsion), we find ourselves perpetually, inexplicably and futilely drawn to attempting to form relationships with unsuitable, inappropriate, emotionally unavailable partners who tend to match our own level of arrested/stunted emotional development and carry their own deep, psychological wounds.

Our desperation, perhaps leading to frantic, and, even, hysterical attempts to avoid rejection from such unsuitable individuals, of course, only serves, paradoxically, to ensure the inevitability of the very rejection we fear (as, in fact, our unconscious mind demands) and, in so doing, satisfies our unconscious need to reexperience our early life feelings of desolation, despair and abandonment. If we repeat this process enough times, our unconscious mind reasons, we will eventually master it and finally free ourselves from our emotional pain.

Insight into the historic causes of our repetition compulsion must form the primary foundation of our recovery.

Resources:

Overcome Fear Of Abandonment. Click here for more information.

Move On From Unrequited Love.

 

eBook :

borderline personality disorder ebook

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here for more information.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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So-Called ‘Psychopathic Traits’ In Adolescents Often Symptoms Of Intense Emotional Distress

All Articles | Page 2
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnessedition 5 (DSMV), psychopathy is listed under antisocial personality disorders and it is currently hypothesized that the disorder is rooted significantly in genetic determinants and involves chemical abnormalities in the brain. In other words, the condition is thought to be substantially determined by biological factors.
 What Is A Psychopath?
Typically, a psychopath
ignores the rights of others
highly egoistical / narcissistic
bold
disinhibited / impulsive / problems delaying gratification
 
– lacks empathy
 
– is callous, cold and unfeeling
 
– disregards the law (although many psychopaths never break the law)
 
– is prone to violence (though, again, many psychopaths are not)
 
– have little or no conscience / do not feel remorse or guilt
 
– do not fear punishment
 
The Study :
 
The study referred to in the first paragraph involved 150 participants (both male and female) residing in juvenile detention centers.
All of the participants were aged from 11-years-old to 17-years-old.
All the participants had been classified as :
callous
– unemotional
– extremely, behaviourally antisocial
– incipiently psychopathic
 adolescent psychopaths
What Did The Study Find?
Using more sensitive and sophisticated means of testing (especially with regard to examining personality traits) than is usually used to investigate psychopathy and psychopathic characteristics it was found that although, superficially, the young people appeared callous, unemotional and pre-psychopathic their actual diagnosis (according to the more accurate and appropriare tests used), in the main, was that they were :

severely depressed

– severely anxious

– in a state of high emotionality

(In other words, they were not psychopathic but suffering from intense emotional distress).

 

Implications Of Study :

Due to these findings, the researchers pointed out that young people displaying behavioural problems such as those in this study should not be unthinkingly labelled as incipient psychopaths, punished and stigmatized but, instead, be given appropriate support and treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and help controlling their intense and volatile emotions.

 

eBook :

childhood trauma control anger

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here for further information.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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The Emotional Regulation System And Its Three Subsystems

emotional regulation system

Our emotional regulation system determines how well we are able to control our emotions and neuroscientific studies strongly suggest that there are three subsystems in the brain that comprise this system ; these three systems are as follows :

The Three Subsystems That Make Up The Brain’s Emotional Regulation System :

  • THE THREAT SYSTEM
  • THE DRIVE SYSTEM
  • THE SOOTHING SYSTEM

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1. THE THREAT SYSTEM :

Our threat system has evolved because it is crucial to our survival. When it is activated, we may respond in one of four ways : fight/flight/fear/fawn. It initially evolved to protect us from predators/attackers (wild animals or competing members of our own species).

Of the three subsystems, it is our ‘default setting.’ If we experienced a significant amount of fear and anxiety as children, or had a dysfunctional with our primary carer, particularly in our very early years, it can become hypersensitive (especially in relation to perceived – i.e. real or imagined – social ‘threats’, such as rejection) and cause us a high degree of unnecessary distress in the form of images, cognitions (thoughts), physical reactions (such as rapid, shallow breathing/hyperventilation) and emotions (most commonly anxiety, anger and disgust).

The threat system works according to the maxim that it is ‘better to be safe than sorry’ which inevitably means that much of what we perceive as threatening or dangerous actually isn’t – the principle of ‘better safe than sorry’ that the system acts on partly explains why, as a species, we are prone to :

– overestimating threat

– dwelling on things we believe may harm us

– allow our fears and concerns to take precedence in our minds over positive thoughts

(Remember, our genes ‘program’ us for survival ; they are indifferent to the painful feelings we may experience if such feelings help to ensure this survival.)

emotional regulation

2. THE DRIVE SYSTEM :

In order to help ensure our survival we also have strong motivations or drives – three fundamentally drives are to attain :

– food

– shelter / safety

– sexual partners

The drive system ‘rewards’ us when we achieve goals by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain – this acts to reinforce our desire to keep achieving our goals. The hit/buzz/high we obtain from achieving goals is ephemeral and transient so, like a drug addict, we have a constant need to achieve more goals (by ‘goal’ I mean anything that increases dopamine availability in the brain and thus makes us feel good, be it eating ice-cream, getting a work promotion or buying a big house). The continual (and, some might argue, ultimately futile) formation and temporary fulfilment of needs goes on and on, endlessly.

Examples Of Problems People May Develop In Connection With Their ‘Drive System :

One problem relating to the drive system is that some individuals experience drives so intensely that they develop impulse control disorders (the inability to prevent oneself behaving in such a way that harm is caused to oneself or others, e.g. gambling).

Another problem is that we can become very frustrated and distressed if we :

– unable to achieve our goals

– we set ourselves goals that are unrealistic

– become so preoccupied and obsessed by the perceived allure of achieving our goals that it spoils our quality of life (often an intense need for high achievement is a symptom of inner feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability).

3. THE SOOTHING SYSTEM :

When this system becomes activated the threat and drive systems become deactivated. In terms of neurobiology, chemicals called endorphins are produced in the brain when the soothing system is operational – these chemicals produce a sense of calm, safety, peacefulness and contentment (self-hypnosis can be used to switch this system on).

As infants, a strong and dependable relationship/bond/attachment with our mother/primary carer is crucial to the healthy development of the soothing system. Indeed, if this early relationship is in some way significantly dysfunctional we are very likely to develop into individuals who find it extremely difficult to calm / self-regulate negative emotions like anxiety anger.

Having good, warm, dependable and supportive relationships with others continues to be very important throughout life if our soothing system is to operate effectively.

Therapies :

Therapies that can help us regulate our emotions in a healthy and appropriate way include :

dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)

selfhypnosis

compassion focused therapy (CFT)

 

RESOURCES :

feel safe hypnosisSTOP FEELING THREATENED AND FEEL SAFE NOW : SELF-HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADABLE MP3/CD – click here for further information.

– Article on Compassion Focused Therapy – click here

– Article on Self-Soothing – click here

emotional regulationCONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS : SELF-HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADABLE MP3/CD – click here for further information.

 

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

 

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Childhood Trauma : The Manipulative Parent

 

the manipulative parent

There are many ways in which the parent may manipulate their offspring, including: 

– emotional blackmail

– threats (explicit or implicit)

– deceit

– control through money/material goods

– positive reinforcement of a behaviour which is damaging to the child

– coercion

Because parental manipulation can take on very subtle guises, when we were young we may not have been aware that we were being manipulated; we may only come to realize it, in retrospect, with the extra knowledge we have gained as adults.

POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF PARENTAL MANIPULATION :

If we have been significantly manipulated, it can give rise to various negative feelings such as :

– self-doubt

– resentment/anger

– shame/guilt

– a deep and painful sense of having been betrayed

EXAMPLES OF PARENTAL MANIPULATION :

– causing the child to believe that s/he will only be loved by complying with the parent’s wishes at all times; in other words, there is an ABSENCE of unconditional love.

– causing the child to feel excessive guilt for failing to live up to the parent’s expectations/demands

– with-holding love as a form of punishment to cause emotional distress

– direct or implied threats of physical punishment

– physical punishment

– making the child feel s/he is ‘intrinsically bad’ for not always bending to the parent’s will

– spoiling the child and then accusing him/her of ingratitude

– making the child believe s/he is ‘uncaring’ for not fully meeting the parent’s needs

manipulative parents

 

WHY DO SOME PARENTS BEHAVE MANIPULATIVELY?

The reasons a parent manipulates his/her offspring are often subtle and complex. However, explanations may include

– the parent is narcissistic (click here to read my article on this)

– the parent has a grandiose self-view (often linked to above)

– the parent has low self-esteem/feelings of inadequacy and so abuses the power they do have as a form of overcompensation for own shortcomings

– failure of the parent to view the child as a separate, distinct and unique individual, but, rather, to view him/her as an ‘extension of themselves’ so that the child feels responsible for the parent and becomes ‘enmeshed’ in the relationship (this is also linked to the narcissistic personality – click here to view my article entitled :’HOW NARCISSISTIC PARENTS MAY ‘PARENTIFY’ THEIR CHILD’)

SOLUTIONS :

The effects of having been significantly manipulated by a parent in early life can have serious negative consequences in terms of our emotional development ; these consequences may be very long -lasting.

As adults, if we are still in contact with the parent, it is likely that the relationship remains problematic. We may have pointed out their propensity to manipulate, but to no avail – indeed, perhaps only making things worse.

So, what is the best way to cope with the manipulative relationship?

Essentially, we are less likely to be manipulated if we :

– develop good self-esteem (click here)

– develop a strong self-concept/sense of identity (click here)

– developing strong assertiveness skills (click here)

– being confident enough to refuse to do what we don’t want to do

– being confident enough to ask for what we do want

– have the confidence to act according to our own values and convictions

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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