Category Archives: Depression And Anxiety Articles

Effects Of Parental Divorce Before Child Is Five-Years-Old

effects of divorce on children

 

I have already written more generally about the effect of divorce on children elsewhere on this site (click here to read one of my related articles). However, this article considers the effect on children who are particularly young (under the age of five years) with specific reference on how it affects the security of their relationships with their parents once they themselves become adults.

A study conducted by Fraley and Heffernan (2013) examined the injurious psychological and emotional effects of parental divorce on very young children in comparison with those sustained by children who were older when their parents divorced.

In essence, it was found that if parents divorce when the child was very young (defined as being 0 to 3-5 years of age) then, once the child becomes an adult, s/he is likely to have a more difficult (specifically, more insecure and less trusting) with his/her parents than those adult individuals whose parents divorced when they were older.
Adverse Effect On Relationship With Father Compared To Adverse Effect On Relationship With Father :
The study also found that parental divorce tends to effect the individual’s relationship with his/her father more negatively than his/her relationship with his/her mother (again, in terms of feelings of trust and security).
It was hypothesized that this finding may be accounted for by the fact that the mother, in most cases, retains custody of the child which tends to mean that there is less damage done to the level of security a child feels with his/her mother compared to that which s/he feels with his/her mother.
Indeed, a further study by the same pair of researchers seemed to bear this hypothesis out as it was found that :
  • if the mother was awarded custody of the child, the child was more likely to have a damaged relationship (in terms of feelings of security) with his/her father
  • however, if the father was awarded custody, the child’s relationship with the father (in terms of security) was relatively less damaged.

Effect On Adult, Romantic Relationships :

The study also found (though the evidence here was rather more tenuous in statistical terms) that those individuals whose parents divorced during his/her childhood were at more likely (though certainly not guaranteed) to be adversely affected by anxiety in connection with adult, romantic relationships in later life.

Resource :

 

eBook :
depression and anxiety

Childhood Trauma And Its Link To Depression And Anxiety, by David Hosier MSc.

Click on image above for further details.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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).

 

Fear Of Success Stemming From Having Envious Parents

fear of success

 

 

When I was sixteen and received my O-level (the formal exams most school children took at this age in the UK in the 1980s) results (which were good though by no means outstanding) I remember informing my mother of my these results, possibly with some trepidatious excitement and an uncertain, tentative sense of pride, only to meet with a stony-faced, tight-lipped response and the single, indifferent, bored, monosyllabic utterance : ‘Oh?’

There was no ‘congratulations’ card. No suggestion of celebrating with a meal. A small spongecake, perhaps? Out of the question. Perhaps partially as a result of this and not altogether dissimilar experiences, when I gained my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I attended neither graduation ceremony. But why do I suggest the two things may be linked?

THE POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF THE ENVIOUS PARENT – FEAR OF SUCCESS :

An envious parent resents his/her child’s successes, achievements and accomplishments and may even feel disdain for this child’s expressions of pride; this envy may be unconscious and the parent may rationalize it by telling him/herself that s/he does not encourage the child’s feelings of mastery in order to prevent him/her from becoming arrogant or conceited. S/he may express this envy through overt and withering comments such as : ‘Oh, you think you’re such a big shot!’, or in more subtle ways such as making a point of not sharing in the child’s joy when s/he is successful.

The underlying cause of such envy is usually the parent’s own sense of inadequacy and failure together with a narcissistic resentment of having the limelight shifted away from him/her in favour of the child.

Also, if the parent is possessive, s/he may view the child’s successes as steps towards independence and and freedom from dependency which instils in the parent feelings of anxiety in relation to being no longer needed and, potentially, abandoned.

Indeed, the relationship between parent and child may be enmeshed whereby the parent is unable to distinguish the child’s individual and separate needs from his/her (the parent’s) own and therefore feels bitter about the child having successes of which s/he (the parent) has been deprived.

Such negative reactions by the parent in response to the child’s successes can have an insidious and cumulative effect culminating in the child coming to fear success. Similarly, the child may come to feel embarrassed by even small successes and desperately try to play them down (not to be confused with false modesty which is something different, of course) or, when s/he achieves success, feel strongly that s/he does not deserve it or that absolutely anyone could easily have accomplished the same.

In the individual’s mind, success has become strongly associated with rejection and, thus, must be avoided at all costs, lest it lead to shame and confusion.

fear of success

COGNITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH FEAR OF SUCCESS :

We may rationalize our deep-rooted fear of success in various ways. A study conducted by Deeter-Schmelz and Ramsey (2001) found that those who feared success tended to have thoughts such as :

  • once at the top there follows a desperate struggle to maintain your position
  • others see successful people as aloof and arrogant
  • people who become successful change for the worse
  • the cost of success outweighs its rewards

Whereas those NOT afraid of success tend to have thoughts such as :

  • others look up to you when you’re at the top
  • achievement commands respect
  • success opens up many new doors

IMPOSTOR SYNDROME :

Linked to fear of successes, there is also a phenomenon known as IMPOSTOR SYNDROME, first described by Clance and Imes (1978) .  This occurs when we achieve some success but feel we don’t deserve it; therefore, we feel like a fraud or impostor – as if we shouldn’t inhabit the position we do.

Those who experience impostor syndrome tend to have thoughts such as:

  • my success is mainly due to luck
  • talking about my success makes me feel silly and embarrasses me
  • when I compare myself to others with similar achievements, I feel they deserve theirs but I don’t
  • I worry people will soon see through me and I’ll be exposed as the idiot I truly am
  • when people praise me, I feel like I’m being given something I have not earned and it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable
  • in the scheme of things, my so-called achievements mean nothing
  • my success will come to an abrupt end anytime now

When the fear of success reaches phobic proportions, positive visualization exercises, hypnotherapy, or a combination of the two can prove effective.

Resources :

Self-hypnosis MP3/CD : Overcome Fear Of Success – click here for details.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Childhood Trauma, Obsessions, Compulsions And Rituals

childhood trauma and obsessive compulsive disorder

 

 

Research conducted by Mathews, Kaur and Stein at the University of California examined the association between childhood trauma and the development of symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms.

It was found that those individuals who had experienced emotional abuse or physical abuse in childhood were significantly more likely than those who had not to suffer from symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In this article, I will briefly describe the most common obsessions / compulsions / rituals from which individuals with OCD or OCD-like symptoms suffer.

Most Common Obsessions / Compulsions / Rituals :

These are as follows :

Let’s briefly look at each of these in turn :

1) FEAR OF ‘CONTAMINATION’ –  the individual who suffers from this is excessively concerned about germs, bacteria and anything that might harbour these such as other people, door handles, household surfaces, bathrooms, light switches etc.

For example, someone who is severely affected may feel compelled to wash their hands dozens, or even hundreds, of times a day to (very temporarily) ease their anxiety, or only use a door handle if their hand is protected by a glove / handkerchief / tissue etc.

2) EXCESSIVE CHECKING – a person who suffers from this feels driven to excessively check such things as that the door has been locked, the gas cooker has been switched off, the windows have been shut and locked etc.

For example, someone suffering from this type of OCD may check s/he has locked the front door behind him/her, get into his/her car and start to drive to work only to become anxious s/he didn’t ‘properly’  check the door was locked to the extent that after five minutes of driving s/he turns the car around and goes home to recheck that the door actually is locked. Having done this, s/he may restart the drive only to turn the car around again after a few minutes to make absolutely sure the front door is locked. S/he may repeat this scenario numerous times before s/he has reduced his/her anxiety enough to finally make it into work.

3) INTRUSIVE, DISTURBING, UNCONTROLLABLE THOUGHTS  – someone who suffers from this finds s/he is ‘mentally bombarded’ by unwanted, distressing, disturbing and upsetting thoughts that s/he feels s/he cannot control.

For example, s/he may fear s/he will seriously hurt someone, even his/her own children, commit some unspeakable crime, or act on inappropriate sexual impulses (even though s/he has never acted on such thoughts and abhors any prospect of doing so).

Indeed, there was a famous example of a man who chained himself to the bed every night as he feared that, otherwise, he might rise in his sleep ( this is sometimes referred to as somnambulism), commit some appalling crime in his unconscious state and, as a consequence, spend the rest of his life in jail.

4) EXCESSIVE HOARDING – an individual with this disorder can’t bring him/herself to throw away / obsessively collects useless or broken material and objects often to the point that his/her living environment becomes cluttered to a degree that is both unsafe and unhygienic (see image below).

childhood trauma, obsessions, compulsions, rituals

Above : an example of the results of obsessive hoarding.

5) EXCESSIVE CONCERN WITH ‘ORDERING’ AND SYMMETRY – someone suffering this disorder feels strongly compelled to arrange things (such as household objects and contents of fridges/cupboards) with painstaking, meticulous, absolute precision.

Another well known way in which this disorder manifests itself is aa a compulsion to precisely line up items (such as knives, plates, bowls and forks etc) at one’s table in restaurants ; Oscar Wilde developed this compulsion in Paris following his release from Reading Gaol and subsequent flight from England (see photo and caption below).

childhood trauma, obsessions, compulsions and rituals

Above : Oscar Wilde (left) and Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas. At the time this picture was taken Wilde suffered a compulsion to ‘precisely order’ the items on his table following his harrowing two years in Reading Gaol and being forced there to set his table for meals with ‘military’ precision. Circa 1899.

 

To read my article entitled :Childhood Trauma, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder And Treatment’ click here.

 

Or to read my article providing more information about childhood trauma and its link to obsessive compulsive disorder in general click here.

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

 

 

 

Does Trying To Relax Paradoxically Increase Your Anxiety?

Paradoxically, trying to relax can actually make some people feel more anxious and stressed, not less.

Indeed, when I was extremely ill and in hospital (I was hospitalized on several occasions due to the seriousness of my condition), I was encouraged to attend certain therapeutic classes (which, because I was almost catatonic with severe clinical depression and anxiety, I most resolutely did not want to do –  amongst other myriad other symptoms, I had no motivation whatsoever, together with an unshakable belief that there was no possibility at all of me getting even very slightly better (such thinking is almost universal amongst the seriously, clinically depressed).

However, I eventually agreed to attend a class in which the therapist tried to guide me (and the other patients who had attended) through a relaxation exercise. Just a minute or so into the exercises, I felt so overwhelmed by anxiety that I had to excuse myself and leave the room, seeking, instead, refuge in the smoking room where I chain-smoked innumerable cigarettes.

In fact, this such a paradoxical reaction to an attempt to relax is not especially rare – a small percentage of those with anxiety will react in a similar manner.

So, what is the cause of this paradoxical response? Several ideas have been proposed, and I briefly look at some of these below:

POSSIBLE CAUSES OF A PARADOXICAL RESPONSE TO ATTEMPTS TO RELAX :

  • Trying to relax and ‘let go’ of stressful mental activity can induce in some individuals a feeling of loss of control. Related to this is the phenomenon whereby some people feel that, if they stop worrying about things, something terrible will happen and that their constant worrying is therefore somehow ‘protective’. Psychologists sometimes refer to such mistaken belief systems ‘magical thinking’.
  • Fear of loss of identity – for some, being stressed (eg always busy, ‘driven’, ”keyed-up’ etc) forms part of their identity and they feel uncomfortable relinquishing this identity, fearing that if they do so others may see them as complacent, indolent etc rather than as the ‘dynamic’ individual they hope others perceive.
  • Brain wave activity – becoming relaxed correlates with a shift in brainwave activity from beta-waves to alpha-waves which may cause thinking to become cloudy, hazy and foggy; some individuals find this disconcerting.
  • Frustration – if we try to relax, and find we cannot immediately do so. this can lead to frustration which makes relaxation even more difficult; this can quickly develop into a vicious circle.
  • Fear – similarly to the above, we may fear we will not be able to relax (by thinking things like : ‘If I don’t relax soon, I’ll go completely and irreversibly insane’ – which was the kind of thing I used to think) thus putting too much pressure on ourselves. In this way, the fear that we will not be able to relax can rapidly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Depersonalization – relaxation techniques can lead to feelings of ‘depersonalization’ in some people. Depersonalization can manifest itself as feeling of being ‘detached from one’s body‘ or as being an ‘observer of oneself.’ Many find such a sensation unpleasant.
  • Derealization –derealization’ can manifest itself as a feeling that ‘the world is not real’ and more like a nebulous, hazy, dreamworld. Again, many find this unpleasant. (‘Dearealiztion’ is a type of ‘dissociation.‘)
  • Distraction – for some individuals, certain types of stress (such as always ‘keeping busy’) can operate as a distraction from problems and worries the person finds hard to face (in extreme cases, this may result in workaholism‘). In this way, the stress/’keeping busy’ works as a psychological defense mechanism – the sudden dropping of this defense may lead to the person becoming vulnerable to being overwhelmed by floods of previously suppressed anxiety.

In response to the problem of the possible paradoxical effect a small minority of individuals may suffer as a result of trying to relax, some hypnotherapists have been trained in technique of inducing what is referred to as an ALERT TRANCE which some may find to be helpful.

RESOURCES :

Related Post :

Fighting Anxiety Can Worsen It’. Why Acceptance Works Better.’

Click here to read.

eBook :

depression and anxiety

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here.

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

How To Calm Ourselves At A Sensory, Motor And Cognitive Level

If we have suffered significant childhood trauma, it is extremely common to find that, as adults, we can become emotionally upset as a result of (seemingly) small provocations, we experience particularly intense emotions when we are upset, and we have great difficulty calming ourselves down (‘calming ourselves down’ is often called ‘self-regulating’ by psychologists) once we are upset. This will be particularly true if, in connection with our traumatic early lives, we have gone on to develop, as adults, borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD).

This tendency to feel intense emotions when upset, together with the inability to self-regulate such emotions effectively, stems from a traumatic childhood that deprived us of developing the normal ‘self-soothing skills’ that those who experienced relatively stable upbringings are usually able to develop (as I have discussed at length elsewhere on this site – e.g. in my article entitled The Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Limbic System).

THE THREE COMPONENTS OF EMOTIONS :

Our emotions are made up of three components :

  1. THE SENSORY COMPONENT
  2. THE MOTOR COMPONENT
  3. THE COGNITIVE COMPONENT

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

1. SENSORY EXPERIENCING :

When we feel an emotion, one component of it involves biological / physiological alterations within the body, such as breathing (when we are anxious it tends to be fast and shallow and we may hyperventilate (to read my article on the bi-directional relationship between anxiety and hyperventilation click here).

Other sensory aspects of the experiencing of emotions include heart-rate, blood pressure and digestion (IBS and stress are often related).

Being aware of such biological / physiological sensations within our body is technically referred to as : interoception.

2. MOTOR ACTIVITY :

At the motor level, emotions such as anxiety may manifest as physical tension of various muscle groups such as the muscles of the face and shoulders.

3. COGNITIVE COMPONENT :

Emotions also interact with our cognitions (i.e. thought processes). A simple example is that constantly thinking the worst will happen is likely to make us feel constantly anxious and fearful.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THERAPY :

It logically follows, therefore, that in accordance with the three components of emotions described above, we may intervene therapeutically in an attempt to ameliorate unpleasant emotions such as anxiety at the three corresponding levels : the sensory level, the motor level and the cognitive level.

Treating our anxiety at all three levels can, therefore, be viewed as a kind of triple-pronged attack.

Examples Of Therapies Specifically Targeting Each Of The Three Levels :

At the sensory level, examples of therapies include breathing exercises, relaxation exercises and visualization/hypnosis

At the motor level, examples of therapies include massage, progressive muscle relaxation and physical exercise

At the cognitive level, examples of therapies include cognitive therapy and  cognitive hypnosis

 

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

 

 

Crying Helps Re-Engagement With Authentic Feelings

As a child, even well into my teens, I cried extremely frequently. Usually this was alone at home, but, on occasion, at my prep school (which I attended until I was eleven) I was removed from the class for crying (there was little compassion on offer from the teachers) when I was particularly upset about what was going on at home.

Once, even, to my acute embarrassment and shame (at the time), I started to cry (or quietly whimper) in a second year (now it would be called Year Eight)  English class at my secondary school when I was about thirteen, desperately trying to conceal this inconvenient outburst of emotion from both my teacher and classmates.

Also, at about fifteen years of age, I once even rushed upstairs at home after one of my frequent arguments with my family and shut myself in my bedroom wardrobe where I stubbornly and emphatically insisted upon remaining (not that anyone encouraged me to come out), sobbing copiously, for a not inconsiderable period of time. It is quite clear to me, and, presumably, will be to the reader, too, that my emotional development had been arrested at a much younger age.

William Wordsworth, in his poem ‘Ode : Intimations Of Immortality From Reflections On Early Childhood‘, refers to ‘thoughts  that  often lie too deep for tears‘ and, when one is especially afflicted by profound depression and/or traumatized, this line of poetry is often most apposite  – one simply becomes numbed and internally deadened by the sheer intensity of one’s chronic and unrelenting mental suffering. In such a condition, as a psychological defense, all feelings and emotions shut down ; however desperately one wants to cry, one is unable to do so.

Something deep in our soul is blocked or frozen.

Being Finally Able To Cry Can Be A Breakthrough Moment In The Process Of Recovery :

The psychotherapist, Pete Walker, in his excellent book entitled : Complex Trauma – From Surviving To Thriving, explains how finally being able to cry after a long period of emotional numbness (emotional numbness is a key feature of complex post traumatic stress disorder) can signify a major turning point in the recovery process, marking our re-engagement with our long suppressed feelings.

Relevant Research :

There also exists a body of research supporting the idea that crying is beneficial. For example, the biochemist, W. Frey, reports that crying helps to rid the body of chemicals that are produced by stress and, therefore, when we cry, by lowering the concentration of these chemicals within our biological system, we reduce our stress levels ; this not only makes us feel better mentally but also has physical benefits (for example, by lowering our blood pressure).

Also, research carried out by Gracanin et al at the University of  Tilburg in the Netherlands supports the idea that crying can improve mood.

Conclusion :

Unfortunately, males in our society are often discouraged from crying on the erroneous grounds that it is ‘weak’ or ‘unmanly’. In fact, though, crying can be of immense therapeutic value, particularly when one has been feeling emotionally ‘dead inside’ for a long period of time due to having experienced severe trauma.

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

 

 

Reducing Amygdala-Based And Cortex-Based Anxiety

If we suffered significant childhood trauma in our youth, we are at increased risk, as adults, of suffering from anxiety – this increased risk can be due to damage the development of our brains incurred as a result of our traumatic childhood experiences.

Two regions of the brain, the development of which can be adversely affected in this way, are :

1) The cortex

2) The amygdala

Both of these brain regions play a central role in generating feelings of anxiety, but they generate this anxiety in different ways which I briefly describe below:

1) Cortex generated feelings of anxiety: feelings of anxiety that ORIGINATE in the cortex are usually due to maladaptive thought processes or distressing images; these include :

  • excessively negative thinking
  • excessive rumination/worry
  • obsessive thinking
  • perfectionist-type thinking
  • excessive self-criticism
  • catastrophization
  • thoughts leading to feelings of excessive shame and guilt
  • jumping to negative conclusions
  • erroneously interpreting neutral situations as negative situations
  • always imagining (sometimes in the form of distressing mental images)/expecting the worst possible outcome (this is sometimes referred to as anticipatory anxiety)

2) Amygdala generated feelings of anxiety : feelings of anxiety yhat ORIGINATE in the amygdala often involve :

  • sudden, unexpected feelings of aggression
  • sudden, unexpected aggressive acts (e.g. hitting someone ‘before you realize what you’ve done‘)
  • clouded/foggy thinking
  • rapid onset of physiological symptoms (sweating, racing heart-beat etc)

Different Types Of Anxiety Respond To Different Interventions

It is very useful to know whether the anxiety one experiences originates in the cortex or amygdala as some interventions are best for dealing with cortex-based anxiety whilst others are best for dealing with amygdala-based anxiety. I list these different interventions below :

Ways Of Dealing With Cortex-Based Anxiety :

  • distraction (any activity that distracts you from distressing thoughts/images)
  • try not to be concerned about what others think (if you experience anxiety in company you are likely to believe your symptoms are far more apparent to others than, in reality, they are)
  • try not to constantly worry about panic attacks (easier said then done for many, but constantly anticipating one is going to have a panic attack can increase the likelihood of such an occurrence)
  • remind yourself that the bodily sensations of anxiety cannot harm you (some people, whilst experiencing extreme anxiety, feel they are going insane or are going to die – remind yourself that feelings of anxiety can’t harm you in this way)
  • cognitive-behavioural therapy (a therapy that helps correct faulty and maladaptive ways of thinking)

Ways Of Dealing With Amygdala-Based Anxiety :

  • deep breathing exercises
  • physical exercise
  • systematic muscle relaxation exercises
  • mindfulness
  • self-hypnosis

eBooks :

     depression and anxiety

 

Above eBooks now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here.

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