Category Archives: Neuroplasticity Articles

Seven Key Elements That Aid Brain Repair

We have seen from several other articles that I have published on this site how significant childhood trauma can adversely affect the physical development of the brain which, in turn, can result in various cognitive, emotional and behavioural problems in adulthood.

However, we have also seen, thanks to a quality in the brain known as neuroplasticity, that it is now known that, under certain conditions, the brain has the potential to recover from the damage it incurred during early life. For example, if our brain was affected in such a way when we were young that, as adults, we are extremely anxious and hypersensitive to stress, mindfulness meditation has been shown by much research to have the potential to greatly alleviate this problem.

 

In order for positive changes to take place in the brain that are long-lasting, it is necessary to alter the structure of the brain on a neuronal level; seven major elements that are of great importance to achieving this are as follows :

THE SEVEN KEY ELEMENTS :

  1. NOVELTY – the brain must receive new information and stimuli in order to change itself
  2. REPETITION – the brain must be repeatedly exposed to this new information to enable it to start making, strengthening and consolidating new neural connections.
  3. ATTENTION – it is necessary to pay good attention to the new information/stimuli for the new, beneficial neural connections to occur (paying attention stimulates the production of acetylcholine in the brain which aids the development of these new neural connections)
  4. DIET – in particular, Omega 3 helps the development of new neural connections (Omega 3 can be bought as a supplement).
  5. AEROBIC EXERCISE – research suggests that this form of exercise helps the brain to positively regenerate itself
  6. RELATIONSHIPS – forming close bonds with others (and, importantly, relating well to ourselves) has also been shown to lead to beneficial brain development
  7. SLEEP – it is important to get sufficient sleep (research suggests that the brain most actively ‘repairs’ itself during sleep).

RESOURCES:

Self-hypnosis MP3 downloads :

Repeated self-hypnosis can also be used to positively alter the brain – visit hypnosisdownloads,com

 

eBook :

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Early Trauma Can ‘Shut Down’ Prefrontal Cortex

prefrontal cortex

First, I will describe the main functions of the brain’s prefrontal cortex ; they are as follows :

  • modulates feelings of fear associated with threat (eg calms us down if a raised alarm turns out to be a false alarm)
  • controls the intensity of our emotions (so we are neither inappropriately under-emotionally aroused nor inappropriately over-emotionally aroused)
  • helps us to plan and control impulsive, ‘knee-jerk’ reactions
  • helps us to become mentally attuned to others and to empathize with them
  • provides us with a moral awareness and ethical framework
  • provides us with insight into the workings of our own minds
  • helps us behave rationally
  • helps us to think logically
  • helps us maintain a healthy balance between hyperarousal (too much arousal) and hypoarousal (too little arousal).

 

Above : The position in the brain of the prefrontal cortex.

 

How Early Trauma Adversely Affects The Development Of The Prefrontal Cortex :

Even in emotionally and mentally ‘healthy’ individuals, the prefrontal cortex does not become fully developed until the age of about 25 years; this is a major reason why the behaviour of someone aged, say, eighteen, is often more erratic and ill-considered than that of a person aged, for example, twenty six years. (It follows from this that a strong argument can be put forward that courts of law should take into account the underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex in younger adults when considering sentences for this age group.)

Also, crucially, the development of the prefrontal cortex is particularly sensitive to the emotional and psychological environment in which we grow up.

Indeed, if one has suffered severe trauma when growing up, the prefrontal cortex (specifically, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex)  may not physically develop to its usual size  and, therefore, in adulthood, be of a smaller volume than average. This can inhibit the functions listed above to varying degrees (depending upon the degree to which the development of the brain region has been damaged). In particular, the individual affected in this way may develop hypersensitivity to stressful stimuli, an inability to calm him/herself down when experiencing stress (sometimes described by psychologists as an inability to self-regulate emotions) and abnormally high levels of fear and anxiety.

Extreme fear responses and high levels of anxiety are particularly likely to occur when an individual who has incurred damage to the prefrontal cortex due to childhood trauma experiences a stressful event or situation which triggers memories (on either a conscious or unconscious level) of the childhood trauma.

HOPE OFFERED BY NEUROPLASTICITY :

However, there is hope for people who have been affected in this way due to a quality of the brain known as ‘neuroplasticity which allows the brain to repair itself. You can read about this in my article  Mending The Mind With Self-Directed Neuroplasticity.

 

RESOURCES:

improve impulse controlIMPROVE IMPULSE CONTROL. Click here for further details.

eBook :

 

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

 

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Have You ‘Blanked Out’ Painful Parts Of Your Childhood?

blanked out childhood

In this article I want to focus on two different types of memory; these are :

  1. EPISODIC MEMORY
  2. PROCEDURAL MEMORY

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

  1. EPISODIC MEMORY :

This part of our memory deals with happenings and events. For example, our memory of our first day at school (if we have one – I don’t, as it happens) is an EPISODIC MEMORY, as is our memory (again, if we have one – again, I don’t) of our seventh birthday.

Most people do not have any EPISODIC MEMORIES that predate their third birthday and many others do not have any EPISODIC MEMORIES which predate their fifth birthday. (I have virtually no memory of anything before I was about eight years old, which is unusual).

Freud called these deficiencies in early episodic memories infantile amnesia and that the cause of this memory loss was repression. However, modern neuroscience suggests that Freud was mistaken and that the real reason that early episodic memories fail to form is due to the fact that the brain has not developed sufficiently to create and store such memories (in technical terms, insufficient MYELINATION has occurred in the brain for episodic memory to function adequately).

However, if we can’t remember significant chunks of our childhoods that occurred AFTER ABOUT THE AGE OF FIVE YEARS, modern psychodynamic theory assumes that THIS failure of episodic memory IS due to repression. In other words, the theory suggests we have unconsciously ‘buried’ (i.e. repressed) these memories as they are too painful, distressing and traumatizing to hold in (or, indeed, be permitted direct access to) conscious memory.

 

 

        2) PROCEDURAL MEMORY :

Procedural memory works on an unconscious level and starts to function, unlike episodic memory (see above), as soon as we are born. It stores memories of how to perform tasks (during the period we learn how to perform these tasks) and stores this knowledge in long-term memory so that when we try to perform the task again we know how to do so without consciously thinking about it and without being able, again on a conscious level, to remember precisely how we learned to do it in the first place. This sounds a little complicated so here’s a (hopefully elucidating) example :

We know how to walk even though we do it without thinking about it (i.e. on ‘autopilot’) and without being able to remember learning to do it. Therefore, knowing how to walk relies on procedural memory.

This type of memory is also sometimes referred to as IMPLICIT MEMORY and, as well as things like learning to crawl, walk and talk, implicit memory also stores information about how we interacted with, and related to, our primary care-givers in our earliest years; and, again, this memory is stored unconsciously.

However, even though this information about how we related in very early life to our primary care-givers does not have access to conscious recall, it still, according to modern psychodynamic theory, powerfully affects how we relate to others in adult life. Indeed, if, for example, our primary care-giver in early life was frequently aggressive towards us then this information is stored in implicit memory and puts us at high risk of being highly susceptible to the effects of stress in later life.

And this theory is reinforced by neuroscientific experiments which have found that if we are subjected to significant stress in early life this actually adversely affects the brain’s physical development, and, in particular, the development of a brain region called the amygdala which plays a central role in the brain’s reaction to external stressors.

CONCLUSION :

We can conclude that, according to modern psychodynamic theory, if large chunks of our childhood (after the age of about five years) are ‘missing’ from our memory, it is quite possible we have repressed the memory of these parts of our lives as they were too disturbing and traumatizing to be ‘permitted’ direct access to conscious memory.

Also, if our very early relationships (before our episodic memory started to function effectively) with our primary care-givers were highly stressful, this may have adversely affected our brain’s physical development (leading to adult difficulties dealing with stress, amongst other problems) even though we cannot remember this very early part of our lives.

Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. Click here.

 

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

 

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Physical Differences In Narcissists’ Brains

brain differences in narcissists

I have written elsewhere on this site articles about how being brought up by a narcissistic parent can be extremely traumatic for a child and can have life-long adverse effects on his/her emotional and behavioural functioning in the absence of effective therapeutic intervention.

I will quickly recap the list of the main symptoms of the disorder below :

 THE SYMPTOMS OF NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER :

– expect to be recognized as superior (even without any achievements to warrant this)

– exaggerated sense of own importance

– a tendency to exaggerate their achievements and talents

– belief of only being able to be understood by equally special people

– obsessed by fantasies of power/success/brilliance

– strong need to be constantly admired by others

– constant sense of entitlement

– expectation to be granted special favors

– expectations to always have wishes complied with by others

– exploitation of others for own ends

– unable or unwilling to acknowledge the needs of others / the feelings of others (lack of empathy)

– frequent envy of others

– frequent beliefs of being envied by others

– behaving in a high-handed, superior, arrogant and haughty manner

(Above list of symptoms adapted from the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, otherwise known as DSM -V).

 

WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL BRAIN DIFFERENCES IN THOSE SUFFERING FROM NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER?

 

A study conducted by Ropke et al examined 34 individuals, 17 of whom had an official diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder; these 17 individuals had also, through testing, been found to be deficient in feelings of empathy (a main symptom of narcissistic personality disorder – see list of symptoms above).

Using a brain scanning technique known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) it was found that the 17 individuals who had been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder had differences in the structure of a region of the brain called the cerebral cortex compared to the individuals in the control group (i.e. the individuals in the study who had NOT been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder).

The Cerebral Cortex :

 

WHAT WERE THE SPECIFIC BRAIN DIFFERENCES FOUND BY THE STUDY?

Specifically, the MRI scan revealed that those who had been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder had cerebral cortices (plural of cortex) that were thinner in the region responsible for producing feelings of compassion for others (known as the insular region) than the cerebral cortices of those in the control group.

This finding emphasizes the fact that those with narcissistic personality disorder require treatment rather than moral judgment.

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

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

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

So-Called ‘Low – Level’ Childhood Trauma Can Damage Brain Development

brain damage

Research conducted at the University Of Cambridge, UK, in 2014 has shown that trauma that some may regard as ‘low-level’ can adversely affect the developing brain leading to adult psychological problems (such as severe depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder), behavioral problems (such as aggression and violence) and physical problems (such as increased risk of heart attack and stroke).

The study looked at how traumatic experiences that a group of children had suffered from between the ages of nought and eleven years had impacted on their brain development.

Information about the children’s exposure to traumatic experiences was gathered by interviewing their parents (although it is acknowledged that it is possible some parents’ reports may not have been perfectly accurate).

The effects of these traumatic experiences on the children’s brain development was measured through the use of brain imaging techniques.

The experiment found that relatively common and relatively ‘low level’ trauma can adversely affect physical brain development and disrupt the brain’s biochemical balance. These adverse effects can then make the individual’s adult life extremely difficult and problematic in ways that I have already alluded to in the first paragraph.

Examples Of Relatively Common And Relatively ‘Low – Level Traumatic Experiences’ That Can Damage The Developing Brain:

(N.B.  I place the phrase ‘low – level traumatic experiences’ in inverted commas as many would not consider them such, particularly those on the receiving end).

– recurring teasing

– recurring humiliation

– recurring shaming

– recurring blaming

– lack of affection from parents

– constant criticism (especially when never or rarely ‘counterbalanced’ with praise)

– ongoing parental discord/arguments/conflict

– parental abandonment (e.g. due to divorce or separation)

– inconsistent parenting

– growing up with a depressed parent

(the above list is not exhaustive, of course).

 

To read more about how childhood trauma can harm the brain click here.

To read how the damaged brain can repair itself click here.

 

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

 

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Effect Of Childhood Trauma On The Limbic System

Limbic system

If we have suffered severe and chronic childhood trauma, there is a risk that an area of our brain called the limbic system may have incurred developmental damage which severely affects how we feel and behave as adults.

What Is The Limbic System’s Normal Function?

The limbic system is a region of our brain that experiences emotional reactions to information relayed by our five senses : taste, touch, vision, smell and hearing. These emotional reactions are strongly shaped by the memories stored in the limbic system connected to past experiences associated with these senses.

To provide a simple example : if our ancestors heard the roar of a lion behind them, because this sound is associated (from past experience) in the limbic system with danger, they would react with fear and run away. This function of the limbic system clearly has survival value, which is why modern day humans have inherited it.

Components Of The Limbic System:

The limbic system comprises :

– the amygdala

– the hippocampus

– mammillary body

– hypothalamus

– olfactory cortex

– thalamus

– cingulate gyrus

– fornix

The positioning in the brain of the above regions is shown in the diagram below:

 

How Can The Experience Of Childhood Trauma Cause The Limbic System To Become Dysfunctional?

If as children, our limbic system was repeatedly activated by threatening and frightening experiences then its development may have been disrupted. This may mean that it becomes HYPERSENSITIVE to perceived threat AND OVER- REACTIVE to perceived threat.

Importantly, the limbic system may cause us to OVER-REACT TO PERCEIVED THREATS THAT WE ONLY PERCEIVE ON AN UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL. For example, if someone in authority speaks to us in a manner that, on an unconscious level, reminds us of how an abusive parent used to speak to us, we might become extremely anxious, frightened or aggressive (aggression here would represent an unconscious drive to defend ourselves).

Theoretical Reversibility:

However, because of a quality of the brain known as neuroplasticity, this disrupted part of the brain can begin to heal itself through factors including the avoidance of excessive stress, strong and reliable emotional support, self-compassion, a safe and stable environment, and, research has shown, the practice of mindfulness meditation.

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

 

 

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How Hypnosis Changes The Brain

childhood_trauma_hypnosis

We have seen from many of the articles that I have previously published on this site that significant childhood trauma can actually physically damage the developing human brain; in particular, it can adversely affect the development of a brain area called the amygdala, which is involved in emotional processing.

However, we have also seen that, because it is now known the brain can change itself in positive ways when we are adults (due to a property of the brain known as neuroplasticity), this damage can be reversed.

The use of mindfulness meditation has been shown in research to help the brain recovery from the physical damage done to it in childhood, and, now, recent research has shown hypnosis, too, can change the way in which the brain works and in a manner that can be detected through the use of brain scans / brain imaging.

 

HOW HYPNOSIS CHANGES THE BRAIN:

Kosslyn, a researcher from Harvard University, USA, carried out an experiment on colour perception which involved eight participants.

Each participant was shown brightly coloured rectangles and, under hypnosis, instructed to imagine the colour ‘draining’ from them. This resulted in brain activity that caused them to pereive the brightly coloured blocks as gray.

Color changes hypnosis

The reverse was also true; when instructed, under hypnosis, to ‘see’ gray blocks as brightly colored, they did indeed, due to the change in brain activity caused by hypnosis, perceive the (in reality, gray) blocks as colored.

(For those who are interested, the brain activity of the participants was measured by employing the use of PET [positron emission tomography] scans.

It is also highly important to note that when the participants were asked to perceive these color changes taking place but were NOT under hypnosis, the same changes in brain activity and color perception did NOT occur: this demonstrates that hypnosis used in the experiment was having a very real, measurable and observable (via brain scanning) effect.

This effect is thought to work, Kosslyn explains, because under hypnosis the brain’s right hemisphere, which deals with, amongst other imagination and expectations, is ACTIVATED (whereas the left hemisphere of the brain, dominant when the individual is not under hypnosis, operates more according to logic).

Kosslyn suggests that it might very well be the ability of hypnosis to activate the right hemisphere of the brain that also lies behind the success that hypnotherapy can have when it is used to treat problems such as insomnia, anxiety, pain management and other difficulties in which a person’s psychology plays a pivotal role.

 

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

 

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

Three critical brain regions that may be adversely affected by significant and chronic childhood trauma are :

1) The thalamus

2) The amygdala

3) The hippocampus

Below, I will briefly describe the main functions of each of these three crucial regions of the brain, together with providing a summary of the damage they may sustain to their development due early adverse experiences.

1) Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Thalamus :

The thalamus is the part of the brain that assesses all incoming sensory data (ie. information from sound, vision, touch,  smell and taste) and then sends this information on to the appropriate, higher region of the brain for further analysis.

If a child constantly experiences trauma (for example, by frequently witnessing domestic violence perpetrated by a drunken father) the child’s thalamus can become so overwhelmed by the intensity and quantity of sense data it needs to process that it is no longer able to process it properly.

This can lead to the child’s memories of trauma becoming very fragmented.

Another effect of the thalamus being overloaded with traumatic sensory data is to shut down the cortex, resulting in impairment of rational thinking processes. Also, due to the shutting down of the cortex, many of the traumatic experiences are stored without awareness (so that they become unconscious memories).

 

Above : diagram showing the position of the thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus (together with other brain regions).

 

2) Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Amygdala :

The amygdala is the brain region that responds to fear, threat and danger.

If a child experiences frequent fear due to childhood abuse the amygdala becomes overwhelmed by the need to process too much information. This can damage it in two main ways :

a) the amygdala becomes overactive and remains constantly ‘stuck on red alert’, leading the individual feeling constantly anxious and fearful, even at times when there is no need to feel this way, objectively speaking. An oversensitive amygdala is also thought to be a major feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious psychiatric condition.

b) the amygdala shuts down as a way of protecting the individual from intolerable feelings of being in danger, which can have the effect of leaving the him/her feeling numb, empty, emotionally dead and dissociated.

3)  Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Hippocampus:

The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for long-term storage of memories. If trauma is severe, the consequential production by the body of stress hormones can have a toxic effect upon this brain area, reducing its capacity by as much as 25℅.

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

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

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery