Category Archives: Neuroplasticity Articles

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

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).

 

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

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℅.

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

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

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

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

We have already seen in other posts that I have published on this site that, if we have been unfortunate enough to have been subjected to severe and chronic childhood trauma, it is possible that this adversely affected how our brain physically developed during our early life.

And, if we have been particularly unlucky, this disrupted brain development could have made us highly susceptible to developing borderline personality disorder (BPD) in our adult lives.

 

Indeed, research involving brain scans suggest that sufferers of BPD can have abnormalities in the following brain areas :

– prefrontal cortex

– anterior cingulate

– medial frontal cortex

– subgenual cingulate

– ventral striatum

– ventromedial prefrontal cortex

– amygdala

 

Below : Brain Areas Which May Have Had Their Physical Development Adversely Affected By Our Traumatic Childhood Experiences, Particularly If We Have Developed Borderline Personality Disorder ( BPD) :

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

 

What Are These Brain Areas Associated With?

The function of these brain areas are described below:

PREFRONTAL CORTEX:

– decision making

– conscious control of social behaviour

– speech / writing

– logic

– purposeful (as opposed to instinctual) behaviour

– planning for the future

– expression of the personality

ANTERIOR CINGULATE :

– decision making

– heart rate

– blood pressure

– impulse control

– emotions

MEDIAL PREFRONTAL CORTEX:

– decision making

– memory

SUBGENUAL CINGULATE :

– sleep

– appetite

– anxiety

– mood

– memory

– self esteem

– transporting serotonin

– our experience of depression

VENTRAL STRIATUM :

– decision making

– emotional regulation (the control of emotios)

– the extinction of conditioned responses

AMYGDALA :

– appetite

– emotion

– emotional content of memories

– fear

The Effects Of Disruption Of The Above Brain Areas :

Poor decision making ; poor control of social behaviour ; impaired ability to think rationally ; poor planning for the future ; dysfunctional personality ; increased physiological response to stress ; poor impulse control ; poor emotional control ; insomnia ; changes in appetite ; severe anxiety ; mood instability ; low self-esteem ; impairment of the brain’s ablity to make effective use of serotonin leading to clinical depression ; changes in appetite ; emotionally charged memories leading to flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks ; feelings of being under constant threat, fear, terror and extreme vulnerability.

Two types of therapy that may be useful are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT).

Resources :

General Information :

NHS information about borderline personality disorder (BPD). Click here.

EBook :

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

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

Self-help :

For immediate help with many of above problems click here.

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

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

BPD And The Triune (3 Part) Brain

BPD And The Triune (3 Part) Brain

Our brains can be divided into three parts, as follows:

1) Reptilian Brain (also called the brain stem):

This part of our brain is the oldest in evolutionary terms, and, therefore, the most primitive. It reacts to events instinctively without conscious deliberation ; in particular, it gives rise to :

– our fight / flight / freeze / fawn responses

– our immediate biological sexual responses

Essentially, then, this part of our brain is responsible for our survival. If we feel seriously threatened, it over-rides the two other parts of our brain (see below).

Also, if we drink too much, the influence of the reptilian brain becomes more dominant, as alcohol can significantly reduce the activity of the two (mammalian and neomamallian) higher parts of the brain; when drunk, therefore, we are more likely to get into fights or indulge in promiscuous and/or unsafe sex.

2) The Mammalian Brain (also called the limbic system or midbrain)

This was the second part of our brain to evolve. It is involved in :

– the generation and experience of our emotions

– memory and other aspects of learning

3) The Neomammaliam Brain (also called the neocortex) :

This is the most recently evolved part of our brain and is involved with :

– decision making

– conscious control of social behaviour

– speech / writing

– logic

– purposeful (as opposed to instinctual) behaviour

– planning for the future

– expression of the personality

BPD And The Triune (3 Part) Brain

Which Animals Do We Share These Three Parts Of Our Brain With?

1) Reptilian Brain :

BPD And The Triune (3 Part) Brain

We have this part of our brain in common with crocodiles and snakes

2) Mammalian Brain :

BPD And The Triune (3 Part) Brain

We have this part of our brain in common with cats and dogs

3) Neomammalian Brain :

BPD And The Triune (3 Part) Brain

We have this part of our brain in common with chimpanzees and gorrilas.

What Has All This Got To Do With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

If we have suffered significant childhood trauma, it is possible that the physical / biological development of our brains has been adversely affected. And, if we are unlucky, and, especially, if we have a genetic susceptibility, we may, as a result, go on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) as adults.

Indeed, a leading theory relating to BPD, is that the brain has developed in an atypical and detrimental manner in connection with our ability to regulate our emotions and control our behaviour.

As such, the neomammalian part of the brain (responsible for conscious control of behaviour, decision -making, planning and logic) may be underactive.

AND :

The more primitive parts of the brain (the reptilian brain and the mammalian brain) may be overactive and too easily to being triggered (e.g. even a very small threat may trigger great activity in the reptilian part of the brain which is responsible for the fight or flight response.

This combination of faulty brain areas can mean that individuals with BPD experience emotions, such as anger and fear, far more frequently, and far more intensely, than the average person; and, also, have a significantly impaired ability to exercise control of their behaviour, make sensible decisions, plan for the future and think rationally.

How Can BPD Sufferers Gain More Control Over Their Feelings And Behaviour?

In order to gain greater control of their lives, it follows from the above theory that it is necessary for BPD sufferers to make the neomammalian part of the brain more dominant and to quieten the more primitive brain areas.

Research shows that an effective way to do this is to practice mindfulness meditation – if possible, on a daily basis.

Resources:

BPD And The Triune (3 Part) Brain.

Above ebook now available for instant download on Amazon. Click here for further details.

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

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Empathetic Stress And Its Effects On Babies’ Psychological Development.

Empathetic Stress And Its Effects On Babies' Psychological Development.

When I was about twelve, after my parents had been divorced for about four years, my mother took it upon herself, apropos nothing in particular, matter-of-factly and with a (retrospectively) disturbing lack of shame, to furnish me with the knowledge that I was only conceived because her psychiatrist suggested to her that having another baby (ie. me) might save her intensely acrimonious and rapidly deteriorating marriage to my father.

Leaving aside the psychiatrist’s dubious grasp of professional ethics (or, indeed, any other type of ethics that I’m aware of), suffice to say it did not work. In fact, as the young are inclined to put it, it was an epic failure.

My mother’s explanation for this failure was that she, in fact, had wanted a girl.  Therefore, it seems my prenatally planned mission to save my parents’ marriage was doomed to failure from the start, due to my obstinate and self-centred insistence as a foetus/embryo to develop into a male of the human species, no doubt.

Apparently, my father once informed me, very soon after my birth, my mother’s mental health, already worryingly precarious, went further downhill, and at an alarming rate.

I now understand that, because of this, my first few months of existence may have been extremely damaging to my emotional and psychological development due to a phenomenon known to psychologists as empathetic stress which I elaborate on below:

Empathetic Stress:

When we observe the stress of others, cells in the brain known as mirror neurons are activated; as their name implies, these specialized neurons cause our emotional state to ‘mirror’, or replicate, an approximation of the emotional state of the distressed person we are observing. This gives rise to the psychological state that we refer to as empathy.

Empathetic Stress And Its Effects On Babies' Psychological Development.

Indeed, the effect of these mirror neurons is so powerful that we don’t just experience the other person’s distress on an emotional level, but, also, on a biological level : the stress hormone in our body known as cortisol increases, for example.

Study Of Empathetic Stress In Babies:

The psychologists Waters et al made a study of 69 mothers and their 12 to 14 month old babies.

It was found that when the mothers’ stress levels became elevated and, in this stressed state, they picked up and held their babies, the babies’ stress levels became similarly elevated (for example, the babies’ heart rates increased significantly).

It is thought that the babies were able to sense their mothers’ increased stress levels through various means including the mothers’ tone of voice, breathing rhythm, muscle tension, heart-rate, facial expressions and other subtle indicators. Sometimes psychologists refer to this harmful process as emotional contagion.

This finding is very important as we have seen in other posts that I have published on this site that if we experience significant stress in our early lives the physical development of our brains may be adversely affected.

Sadly, highly sensitive and empathetic young  individuals are likely to be at particular risk of being harmed in this manner.

Resources:

eBook:

Empathetic Stress And Its Effects On Babies' Psychological Development.

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

 

MP3 Audio:

Empathetic Stress And Its Effects On Babies' Psychological Development.. Control Empathy. Click here.

 

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

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Nine Key Recovery Targets For BPD Sufferers

Nine Key Recovery Targets For BPD Sufferers

We have already seen from other articles published on this site that those of us who suffered severe childhood trauma are at much increased risk of developing borderline personality disorder (BPD) as adults than average.

We have also examined the symptoms of BPD in other posts so there is no need to repeat that here.

Instead, in this post, I will look at nine important goals that BPD sufferers may need to aim for on their road to recovery (different individuals with BPD have different sets of symptoms, so not all BPD sufferers will need to address every goal and different individual BPD sufferers will need to address their own particular combination of treatment aims accordingly).

 

1) Learn to deal with feelings of intense anger.

Many sufferers of BPD experience outbursts of severe rage which may, in part, be linked to damage done to the development of the amygdala (a brain region involved in the processing of emotions) during childhood ( caused by growing up in a chronically stressful environment).

The BPD sufferers is particularly likely to experience intense anger when events occur that remind him/her of his/her childhood trauma, such as being rejected or abandoned.

2) Eliminate self-destructive and impulsive behaviours.

These may include self-harm (eg. cutting), binge eating, excessive use of drugs/alcohol, unsafe sex, reckless driving etc.

The BPD sufferers, consciously or unconsciously, may be carrying out such activities in a desperate attempt to numb psychological pain. Psychologists refer to this short-term (and ultimately damaging) coping mechanism as dissociation.

3) Overcome intense fear of rejection and abandonment.

Many BPD sufferers intensely fear rejection/abandonment and may make desperate attempts to avoid it, including threatening/attempting suicide. This is connected to the fact that many BPD sufferers experienced deeply insecure childhoods, and being rejected as adults can trigger memories, and the corresponding emotions, of having been rejected/abandoned as children.

4) Stabilize interpersonal relationships.

Often, BPD sufferers fluctuate between idealizing and demonizing those they are emotionally intimate with, seeing them as ‘all good’ one minute and ‘all bad’ the next. Indeed, many BPD sufferers think in terms of ‘black and white’ in general, ignoring the shades of grey in-between. Such thinking is unhelpful and over – simplistic. Life is much more complex than that.

5) Improve self image.

Many BPD sufferers were excessively criticized and made to feel unlovable as children. They are then likely to have internalized these negative messages and, consequently, to have grown up to believe, erroneously, that they are ‘intrinsically a bad and unworthy person’.

6) Learn to cope with stress more effectively.

We have seen in other posts that a very stressful childhood can physically damage the brain’s development (eg. by damaging an area of the brain known as the amygdala) which can lead to severe over reactivity to stress as an adult (psychologists refer to this as emotional dysregulation or emotional lability.

7) Stop self-harming behaviour.

BPD sufferers often self-harm as a way of coping with mental anguish and distress; this is a form of dissociation. They may, too, threaten or attempt suicide in response to real or imagined rejection.

8) Find meaning in life.

Often, BPD sufferers experience life is being empty, meaningless, pointless, futile and absurd.

9) Eliminate paranoia.

Because many BPD sufferers felt constantly in danger and under threat during their childhoods, this was fertile ground in which to develop paranoid thinking which may worsen and become pathological in adulthood.

 

More Advice On BPD : Click here for very informative and helpful link.

 

eBook:

Nine Key Recovery Targets For BPD Sufferers

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

 

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

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Adverse Effects Of Trauma On Memory

Adverse Effects Of Trauma On Memory

New memories are stored in the region of the brain known as the hippocampus. However, not all memories that enter the hippocampus are stored by the brain permanently.

Only some are transferred to the cerebral cortex for long-term storage; the rest fade away. The more important the memory, and, in particular, the more intense the emotions connected to the memory are, the more likely it is to be permanently stored. This process in called memory consolidation.

When an event occurs that is very threatening or damaging to us, the stress of this causes stress hormones ADRENALIN and CORTISOL to be released into the brain.

The effect of these stress hormones is to strengthen the memory of this threatening or damaging event.

The stress hormones released into the brain (in particular, the amygdala) also ensure the memory of the negative event becomes strongly associated with the emotions (such as fear and terror) that it originally evoked.

Adverse Effects Of Trauma On Memory

So, for example, if we are viciously attacked and maimed by a savage and demented Rottweiler, cortisol and adrenaline will be released into our brain to ensure that the memory is indelibly stored. These same stress hormones will also ensure that the emotions we felt at the time of the attack, such as fear and terror, also become strongly associated with the memory of our unfortunate encounter with the less than friendly canine miscreant.

This way of storing such memories evolved for the survival value it confers on our genes.

Also, when extremely traumatic events occur, the hippocampus can become so excessively flooded by stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that it incurs damage.

This damage can then alter the way that the traumatic event is stored. Because of this the memory may become:

fragmented

‘foggy’ / ‘blurry’

distorted

inaccessible to conscious awareness

Furthermore, the memory of the extremely traumatic event may become highly invasive – especially when the person in possesion of the memory is reminded of the traumatic event (even tangentially) – and constantly break through into consciousness wholly unbidden, re-triggering the release of excessive amounts of stress hormones into the brain ; this can lead to:

flashbacks

nightmares

obsessive rumination about the traumatic event

 

Resources:

For advice about dealing with intrusive memories, click here.

 

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

 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

3 Ways To Repair Brain Damage Caused By Protracted Childhood Trauma

 

3 Ways To Repair Brain Damage Caused By Protracted Childhood Trauma

We have already seen in other articles that I have posted on this site that significant and protracted childhood trauma can physically damage the developing brain and have an adverse effect upon the body’s physiology as a whole. In particular, it can:

– effect the way that the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus interact

which, in turn, can:

– lead to massive over-production of stress hormones in the body such as cortisol

which results in:

a constant state of feeling under threat, extreme vulnerability, agitation, anxiety, fear and even (and I can confirm this from my own unhappy experienced) terror.

 

Because of these physical brain changes and the accompanying alteration in the body’s biology, any dysfunctional behaviours they lead to, such as disproportionately violent responses to perceived threat (to take just one example from myriad possible others), are very hard to change because of their physical underpinnings in the brain. This leads to repetitive dysfunctional behaviour that persists because it is so hard to unlearn. 

This is why people affected in this way may frustrate those closest to them by their greatly diminished capacity to learn from experience.

In effect, the childhood trauma has re-programed the brain in a particularly unhelpful manner.

Damage to other areas of the brain caused by prolonged childhood trauma also frequently lead to a sense if being ‘unreal‘, ‘cut off from reality’, ‘living life behind a thick pane of glass’, and ’emotionally dead inside’, unable to feel anything remotely positive (also known as anhedonia), including loss of feeling towards previously close ones.

3 Ways To Repair Brain Damage Caused By Protracted Childhood Trauma

It is the brain’s neuroplasticity that allows this damage to occur. However, the brain’s neuroplasticity may also be exploited to reverse the adverse effects our childhood trauma has had on our brains.

 

Exploiting Neuroplasticity To Repair The Damage To Our Brains Caused By Our Childhood Trauma:

Three main ways we can reverse this damage done to our brains may include the following:

– learning about how our childhoods have affected, on a very deep level, what we feel, how we think and behave, and how we act eg. through bibliotherapy – thus helping us to process our trauma

– medication, ECT (in extreme cases) , deep brain stimulation. (Obviously, none of these should be undertaken accept on advice of an appropriately qualified professional, usually a psychiatrist).

– undertaking experiences that make us feel safe, cared for, relaxed and loved and that make us feel these things on as deep a level as possible, as often as possible (just as the brain can be harmed by negative experience, so, too, may it be healed through positive experience eg. meditation and mindfulness).

3 Ways To Repair Brain Damage Caused By Protracted Childhood Trauma

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

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

 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Childhood Stress Can Lead To Inflammation Of Brain.

Childhood Stress Can Lead To Inflammation Of Brain.

Research on the brain carried out by McCarthy suggests that if a child is subjected to significant, chronic stress, particularly when the cause of this stress is unpredictable (eg due to a hostile, abusive, unstable parent prone to random explosions of terrifying rage), s/he may develop brain inflammation.

This is a recent finding – until not long ago, the prevailing wisdom was that brain inflammation could only be caused by physical damage to the brain, not psychological damage. However, this theory has now been discredited.

It now appears that when a child is exposed to the type of chronic stress described above, the action of vital cells in his/her brain (called microgrial cells) is disrupted, leading them to go haywire and run amock; it is thought that when their action is disrupted in this manner they start to destroy other neurons (brain cells) that, prior to their destruction, were beneficial to the brain.

Childhood Stress Can Lead To Inflammation Of Brain.

Research suggests that the main neurons that the microgrial cells destroy are involved in reasoning and impulse control. Therefore, of course, it follows that, due to the adverse action of microgrial cells caused by chronic stress, the individual’s ability to control his/her impulses, and to reason, will be impaired.

These rogue microgrial cells are also believed to reduce the volume of both grey and white matter in the brain, leading to anxiety, depression and even psychosis. 

And, as if this weren’t bad enough, they also seem to inhibit regeneration of neurons (brain cells) in the part of the brain known as the hippocampus; this, too, is liable to contribute yet further to mental illness.

Related Animal Study Provides Hope:

A related research study involved rats being exposed to chronic stress. This resulted, as the researches intended, the microgrial cells in the rats’ brains being damaged (as too, we have seen from the above, occurs in humans).

This resulted in the rats behaving in a highly stressed manner.

However, when the researchers reintroduced healthy microgrial cells into their brains, the rats’ observable stressed behaviour was ameliorated.

This finding provides hope that, in the future, we may be able to extrapolate from this experiment and relieve human stress related problems, where applicable, in a similar manner.

Also, meditation, properly done, has been scientifically proved to reduce inflammation.

Childhood Stress Can Lead To Inflammation Of Brain.

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

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

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery