Category Archives: David’s Personal Experiences

‘Incest Panic’

In his immensely helpful book, ‘Healing Trauma’, Peter Levine, PhD., describes a phenomenon that he terms ‘incest panic’.

Levine proposes that it is not uncommon for parents to start to feel an awkward attraction towards their opposite gendered off-spring around about the time the child enters early adolescence (i.e. the father may develop an attraction towards the daughter or the mother may develop an attraction towards her son).

Whilst Levine does not broach the subject, it is also, of course, possible for the parent to develop an attraction towards his son and the mother towards her daughter.

I mention this because a highly qualified and respected therapist once told me (and he was far too responsible a professional to have said this lightly) that he thought it overwhelmingly probable that my father, during my childhood, had behaved inappropriately towards me but that I had repressed the memory of it.

At first I dismissed this out of hand, and he did not pursue it the matter (obviously he would have been aware of the danger of creating false memories through repeated suggestion which, I imagine, is why he let the subject rest).

However, what my therapist had said made me re-appraise certain interactions I had had with my father as a child.

First, when I was about four, I remember I had misbehaved in some way whilst standing with my father by a tall wooden back gate. In order to reprimand me, my father warned : ‘If you do that again I will take down your trousers and pants and lift you over the gate so the neighbours can see you!‘ Obviously, I’d always thought that was a bizarre way for a father to discipline his son, and obviously wrong. But, perhaps naively, I had never, up to that point, believed there may have been some sexual motivation at work. I’d assumed he ‘just’ wanted to deeply humiliate me. (Now I think about this more deeply, my possible ‘denial’ was perhaps related to the idea that, when young, we find it hard to face up to the fact our parents could actually want to hurt us (click here to read a related post about how children idealize their parents).

The second relevant memory is that when I was about nine or ten years old my older brother and I were staying at my father’s maisonette (my parents were divorced at this time and my brother and I stayed with my father every-other weekend). It was quite hot weather and, just before I went to bed, my father said to me, apropos nothing : ‘When it’s hot like this I sleep naked on top of my blankets with nothing covering me.’ At the time, I remember, this struck me as an odd remark (a non-sequitor, in fact, though I wouldn’t have known that phrase at the time, as you’ll no doubt understand). However, after my therapist’s comment, this memory, too, took on a rather more sinister complexion. Was my father encouraging me, in a devious manner, to copy his own liberated nocturnal behaviour for his own nefarious purposes? The simple answer is : ‘I don’t know’).

Thirdly, and this memory most compels me to believe my therapist was might have been right, one night (around the same time, so, again, I would have been nine or ten, I was lying on the top bunk (my brother sleeping on the lower bunk beneath) in the bedroom my father provided for us during our weekend stays with him. I did not have on a pajama top and my father came in  to ‘kiss me goodnight’ and then went on to lower my bed sheets to about the level of my navel and began to not just kiss, but slobber, over my chest and stomach. Again, I remember thinking this odd. However, I don’t remember anything else, including how the incident concluded. It is, I admit, quite possible nothing else happened. It is However, the evidence in support of my therapist’s opinion, when considered as a whole, cannot, I think, be lightly dismissed.

But back to Levine. I think the third memory I describe above at least suggests my father harbored incestuous feelings for me which, at best, he could only just control. Indeed, he may have suffered from the ‘incest panic’ that Levine describes. What further evidence do I have for this? Well, when I reached puberty, my father became extremely cold and distant towards me, as I have written about elsewhere. And, according to Levine, this kind of emotional withdrawal is typical of the parent who suffers from the aforementioned ‘incest panic’ ; feeling deeply uncomfortable with his/her feelings of sexual attraction towards his/her young adolescent offspring, the parent withdraws their affection from the child as a psychological defense mechanism – a kind of shame-based overcompensation.

Having said that, my father was, putting it mildly, not an emotionally demonstrative man in general, so I remain wholly unenlightened.

The book I refer to above is called ‘Healing Trauma‘ by Peter Levine PhD.

 

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

 

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Were You Prone To Outbursts Of Rage As Child?

In my youth, I was very prone to outbursts of rage. For instance, I once punched a hole in a wardrobe door. On another occasion, I threw a large and heavy paperweight through my bedroom window. And then there was the time I hacked several deep grooves into the back of a wooden kitchen chair with a 12-inch bread knife. I could go on, but you get the general picture?

So, the question is, what factors contribute to such outbursts of rage in children?

It is not unusual, of course, for children to lose their temper; however, the outbursts of rage displayed by a traumatized child tend to be of a different quality : more intense, more sudden and more out of control; animalistic, even.

One reason for this is that significant, prolonged trauma adversely affects the brain’s biology (in particular the way in which the brain produces the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol, is disrupted). This means that when the traumatized child senses threat or danger (either emotional or physical), the brain’s hardwired circuitry automatically stimulates the child into aggressive behaviour – as a defense mechanism.

It is important to reiterate that the child’s aggression in these circumstances is essentially and fundamentally DEFENSIVE and triggered (unconsciously) by FEAR . This fear may be of being physically harmed or emotionally harmed (eg rejected, abandoned, demeaned or shamed).

During his/her history of being abused, the child has learned how devastating these physical and/or emotional attacks can be and becomes desperate to defend him/herself from further harm – so much so that his/her aggressive behaviour is automatically and unconsciously triggered even when the trigger may seem objectively mild. This is because the child has become hypersensitive to threat so that, even when there is the smallest hint of it, s/he launches (on automatic pilot) a pre-emptive attack (to prevent the threat rapidly escalating – which past experience has shown the child it otherwise will)); the child, in these circumstances, has unconsciously learned that such behaviour has ‘survival value’ and that ‘attack is the best form of defense.’ (In different circumstances the child may learn that AVOIDANCE is the best defense and, therefore, automatically, emotionally ‘shut down’ when s/he senses danger).

It is also known that those who have suffered significant, chronic abuse can cause damage to the development of the brain region known as the amygdala which, in turn, can lead to severe problems controlling the emotions – this will, of course, exacerbate the problem.

 

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

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Effects Of Inconsistent And Unpredictable Parenting

Coming home each day from school as a child, I would never know what kind of mood my mother would be in; one day she might be deeply depressed, the next excitable (in this mood she would often sing, diva style, her favourite songs from the Mikado – ‘ the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la, have nothing to do with the case…’ I can’t remember how the song goes from there, but you get the general idea?). Or she might be seething with anger and full of intense loathing for me, conveying her feelings of deep disgust, evoked by my most unwelcome reappearance, by shrieking insults at me through the kitchen window before I’d even set foot inside the door. (I have written about this elsewhere.)

Whilst there has not been a great deal of research conducted upon the effects of unpredictable and inconsistent parenting on children, there exists evidence to suggest (eg. Luxton, 2007) that those who experience it are at increased risk of developing low self-esteem and depression as adults. (Also, it seems that consistent maternal care may be a particularly important factor in the generation of high self-esteem).

Consistent Parenting:

Healthy families are relatively stable and predictable and the child knows that the parents can be depended upon both physically and emotionally. For example, if a parent says s/he will pick the child up after school, the child can be confident s/he will do so; and if the child is distressed, s/he can depend upon the parent to sooth and comfort him/her; the child knows, too, that if the parent feels the need to discipline him/her, s/he will do so in a fair, reasonable and consistent manner.

Inconsistent Parenting :

In unhealthy families, however, parents may behave towards their children in inconsistent and unpredictable ways. The environment in which the child is compelled to live, therefore, tends to be unstable, chaotic and fraught with potential danger. Because of this, the child is likely to feel constantly anxious – walking on eggshells and fearing what the unpredictable parent may do next.

In such a household, the behaviour of the parent may fluctuate wildly and dramatically (this can be for clinical reasons such as alcoholism, drug addiction, cyclothemia or bipolar disorder). Inconsistency may occur in relation to both physical and emotional care. For example, a parent may leave a lone child at home, promising to be back by 6pm, yet not return until 3 in the morning. And the manner in which the parent uses discipline may be highly unpredictable. Or when the child is distressed, s/he may not be able to depend on the parent for psychological support.

Conclusion :

To reiterate, then, according to research, such inconsistent parenting is associated with those individuals who are on the receiving end of it being placed at higher risk of developing depression and having low self-esteem as adults.

However, to gain a fuller picture, more research needs to be conducted – it is known, for instance, that significant and protracted child abuse puts the abused individual at increased risk of developing a whole range of psychiatric conditions, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD), in adulthood; it therefore follows that when inconsistent parental behaviour crosses a certain threshold (i.e. when it amounts to chronic, significant abuse), the seriousness of the implications speak for themselves.

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

 

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Parental Antipathy Towards The Child And Psychological Abuse

The psychological researcher Moran, PhD, differentiates parental‘antipathy’ (towards the child) from ‘psychological abuse’, although there is clearly considerable overlap between the two.

Sadly, as a child, I had both inflicted upon me : direct, unmitigated psychological abuse came mainly from my mother, then, after she threw me out of her house when I was thirteen and I had to go and live with my father and stepmother, they subjected me to constant and unrelenting antipathy. I can only remember my father giving me one compliment in the years I lived with him and his second wife; from my stepmother, I recall none. My constant, overriding and abiding sense was that they both, frankly, disdained my very presence. In fact, I was essentially ignored unless they felt the need to criticize me, reprimand me, humiliate me or give me a (usually superfluous) instruction.

My mother’s last words, before I left her house, not addressed to me but to my father (who had come to pick me up in his car), regarding me, and in my presence, were : ‘Get this fucking little bastard out of my house and never bring it (she did not, apparently, deem it fit to dignify me with a personal pronoun) back’. And then, on the day I moved into my father’s house I was reminded by him that I was not wanted and was ‘being  done a great favour.’ I recall his precise words, in fact : ‘Remember! When Janet [my stepmother] married me, you weren’t part of the deal!’  You will agree, I think, that the implications of these words were fairly unambiguous?

My mothers’ (above) words were, fairly obviously, an example of psychological abuse, whilst my father’s words (above), equally obviously, were an example of antipathy. However, I have written about these incidents elsewhere, so will not elaborate further upon my personal experiences here; instead, I shall endeavour to define the terms ‘psychological abuse’ and ‘antipathy’ (as a form of emotional abuse) in more general terms:

According to Moran (see above), antipathy expressed towards the child by the parent involves the parent treating the child with constant  coldness and/or irritation, frequently intimating, or directly expressing, dislike/distaste and behaving towards the child in a generally rejecting manner.

Whereas, also according to Moran, psychological abuse can be split up into the following subcategories:

– terrorizing (such as playing on the child’s deepest fears)

– extreme rejection (such as driving a child to a distant location, making him/her get out of the car and leaving him/her there)

– humiliation

– cognitive disorientation (such as blatantly lying to the child in a way that causes mental confusion and/or undermines the child’s sense of reality; for example, verbally abusing the child and then denying it ever happened)

– deprivation of basic needs (eg sleep)

– deprivation of valued objects (eg a favourite soft toy the child relies on to feel less emotionally insecure)

– inflicting marked distress and discomfort

– corruption (eg encouraging the child to deal drugs)

[It is worth noting, too, that although Modern does not classify them as psychological abuse, he points out that role-reversal (whereby the parent turns the child into his/her carer) and making the child feel frequent shame (eg the parent may frequently get drunk and show up his/her child in front of his/her friends, or make the child wear filthy, shabby clothes to school)) can both inflict severe emotional harm upon the child].

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

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When Parents Threaten Their Child With Violence

I have written elsewhere about how my mother was prone to unpredictable, unprovoked outbursts of extreme hostility when I was very young but it is only now I feel I want to be a little more specific – something has prevented me from going into detail up until now, although that ‘something’ is very hard to define, despite the fact I have (I hope!) gained a fair amount of insight into my past and its effects upon me.

When she was angry my mother’s verbal rage knew no limits ; her frequently repeated threats or hurtful statements included :

  • ‘I feel evil towards you! Evil!’ (The second ‘evil’ delivered in a particularly melodramatic, emphatic and malevolent tone)
  • ‘I feel I could knife you!’
  • ‘I feel murderous towards you!’  (or, if I was ‘lucky’, she’d be slightly more restrained and scream at me the rather more banal phrase, ‘I wish to Christ I’d never bloody had you!’ (though delivered in a tone of devastating conviction and palpable authenticity; one could almost feel the hot waves of hatred emanating from her).

(There may well be still worse examples which I have either repressed or which occurred when I was too young for them to form long-term memories – I simply can’t know; but this, of course, is true of everyone).

At the time, being on the receiving end of these, how shall I put it, rather less than maternally loving statements, I think I felt very little; just numb, in fact, as if everything had gone hazy and foggy. It seems I must have mentally shut down as a form of self-preservation; this is a psychological defense mechanism I now know to be called ‘dissociation‘).

For years, even decades, I kept these memories at the very back of my mind, so to speak, but, of course, that will have only worsened their psychological effect.

It is only now, decades later (I was about twelve-years-old when my mother’s verbal aggression was at its most vehement, just as I was entering puberty) that I feel ready to attempt to mentally process such experiences. However, painful this may be, avoiding doing so is likely to be even more so.

Very few of the articles I publish on this site are so personal and I apologize for, once again, indulging myself. However, my next post will be more objective and its topic directly related this one : ‘The Effects Of Parental Threats Of Violence Upon The Child.’

 

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

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Effects Of Homophobia In Schools

homophobia in schools

When I was about fifteen, I drew a heart in a notebook I kept on my desk in my bedroom and, within the heart, wrote ‘ I love…’ followed by the name of a boy in my year at school (complete with drawing of arrow piercing the heart, and, for good measure, a few dollops of blood seeping from the wound – yes, I know!)

Of course, I always kept the notebook shut and in a drawer, to keep it safe from prying eyes (as I naively believed at the time), concealed by other books, innocuous books placed on top of it.

Some weeks later, I arrived home from school (still never having even spoken to the boy – I was mysteriously struck dumb whenever in his presence), and, as was my habit, beat a hasty retreat to the solitude of my bedroom (to avoid having to interact with my stepmother who despised me).

Imagine my horror when I saw on my bed the notebook which I always so carefully kept concealed! And worse, oh, so much worse, open at the ‘incriminating’ page.

This was, of course, my stepmother’s handiwork (nobody else had been in the house all day) calculated to cause me maximum shame, humiliation and embarrassment. Well, It worked (and then some).

To make the matter even more sinister and insidious, she never mentioned it – nor, of course, did I. (Preferring, instead, to skulk around the house looking sheepish).

Her communication of the hatred she felt for me, epitomized by this both shameful, and shaming, incident, continued in its usual vein – tacitly, implicitly and by insinuation – making it impossible for me, as a callow young teenager, directly to identify or effectively defend myself against.

Indeed, if I attempted to, I would be accused of paranoia (this is a well known psychological technique known as gaslighting which undermines the victim’s sense of reality and can, when chronically sustained, eventually induce psychosis).

As teenagers we long to be accepted as part of the group, and, whilst things are much better than they were three decades ago when I myself was a teenager, teenagers today still, sadly, experience homophobia.

Needless to say, this discrimination, leading to exclusion from the group, can be very traumatic, particularly as being singled out due to something as sensitive as one’s sexuality can be especially devastating (teenagers are, after all , at a stage in their lives when they are especially self-conscious and in need of acceptance).

Homophobia Leading To Mental Suffering :

A recent study carried out by Benigui found that young people who experience homophobia, including discrimination, prejudice, bullying and verbal attacks, have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol flowing in their blood streams and are at increased risk of suffering from anxiety and depression.

And, most concerningly, they are fourteen times more likely to commit suicide than the average person their age.

homophobia in schools

Internalization Of Anti-Gay Attitudes :

It is likely that one of the main reasons for these findings is the fact that these victimized young people internalize the negative views others express towards them. This can result in the young person becoming what is technically known as an ego-dystonic homosexual (i.e. his/her homosexuality causes him/her mental distress).

Resilience:

However, the study also found that the young person could develop resilience against the negative effects of homophobia if :

– s/he had good emotional support from friends

– good emotional support from family

Conclusion:

The main conclusion drawn from the study was that much work still needs to be done to increase acceptance of, and respect for, diversity in the home, at schools and in the community in general, notwithstanding the significant advances made over recent decades.

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

 

 

 

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Koro (Or The Incredible Shrinking Manhood).

It has taken me a very long time indeed to pluck up the courage to write this post, such was my embarrassment; you may understand why when you read what follows below.

Male readers will be familiar with the fact that when it is very cold, or when one is extremely anxious or fearful, the penis can partially retract.

Whilst I know this now, I didn’t know it when I was ten years old.

One day, whilst staying at my father’s home for the weekend (my parents were divorced) when I was around this age, I noticed, whilst in the bathroom, that my penis seemed smaller – whether due to the bathroom being cold, or high anxiety, I don’t recall.

Immediately, I went into a terrible panic which had the effect of causing my penis to retract further into my body, thus setting up a vicious cycle.

As some readers will be aware from other posts that I have published on this site, I had already developed clear psychological problems by this age and became hysterical with fear due to the ‘fact’, as I perceived it at the time, that my penis was about to permanently disappear.

Koro_fear of penis disappearing

Terror stricken, and crying uncontrollably, I begged my father to drive me to the doctor’s. At first he refused, but, when it became abundantly clear that my hysterical condition was intensifying rather than abating, he reluctantly relented.

During the ten minute drive there, I remember, sitting in the back seat, I kept the flies of my jeans open, allowing me monitor the situation, fully expecting my penis to disappear altogether; my older brother was in the front seat, mocking me and sneering at me, absolutely true to form.

When we finally arrived at the surgery, we found that it was closed.

At this point, my memory of the incident shuts down. However, I do know I never did get to see a doctor about the incident, nor did my father ever arrange counselling for me as a result (typically) perhaps due to the fact that this might have obliged him to admit to any such counsellor that he had left me living with a highly disturbed, unbalanced and psychologically abusive mother.

As an adult, I was surprised to learn that this fear of the penis disappearing is a recognised psychological condition (referred to as Koro) related to extreme anxiety, which, for those who are interested, can be read about by clicking here

 

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

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My Humiliating Psychosomatic Response To Childhood Trauma

childhood_trauma

I have thought about writing this article previously on many occasions but have been prevented by what I realize is an irrational sense of shame. This helps to illustrate, I think you will see, how pervasive and enduring the legacy of such irrational shame, stemming from a traumatic childhood and universally felt by those who experienced it, can be.

The story I am about to recount relates to the phenomenon of children experiencing psychosomatic symptoms (such as headaches and, in this particular case, stomach complaints) as a result of intense stress and anxiety.

I have mentioned before that when I was about ten years old (about two years after my parents’ divorce) my mother started a relationship with a schizophrenic who was frequently in and out of prison (for things like drink driving – whilst already banned from driving for the same offence – and car theft; he stole cars to visit his family in Scotland – a family we did not know existed at the time of the incident I am just about to relate.

When he came to live with us, he told us his name was Iain McDonald; after about a year, however, this was revealed to be an alias; his real name transpired to be John Lee.

One day (when I was still about ten years old), I was sitting in the back seat of our car with my mother driving and Iain McDonald (as he was at this time still styling himself) sitting in the front passenger seat.

My mother and ‘Iain’ were involved in one of their terrifying rows and, after a while, I started to feel sharp, excruciatingly painful stomach cramps.

Due to an very urgent need to use the bathroom, I pleaded with my mother to drive me home as quickly as possible, as you might well imagine.

However, ‘Iain’ insisted my mother first drivee him to a shop, involving a time consuming and, for me, agonizing detour, to buy cigarettes.

I protested, screaming my need to get back to our house and its urgently required bathroom post haste (although I did not use that particular expression at the time, of course).

To whom did my mother defer? You guessed it, her deranged, criminal, alcoholic live-in lover (if I may be permitted to employ an expression popular at the time).

The result? Predictable : let’s just say, euphemistically, that on the way to get the cigarettes I had a deeply humiliating ‘accident

Actually, having written this, I feel a strong sense of relief. A relief I was prevented from feeling at the time, sadly.

DH. 16.5.2016.

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