Category Archives: Posttraumatic Growth Articles

Signs Of Recovery From Complex-PTSD

According to Peter Levine, an expert on the adverse effects of childhood trauma on our adult lives and the complex post traumatic stress disorder that can result, typically there develops various signs in victims that may indicate the recovery process is underway. The main signs of recovery that Levine identifies are as follows :

1) A REDUCTION IN THE NUMBER, AND INTENSITY, OF EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS THAT WE EXPERIENCE (an emotional flashback is when an event occurs in our lives that triggers similar painful emotions to those we experienced as a child in relation to our traumatic experiences – such flashbacks may result in regressive behaviour such as extreme, uncontrollable, childlike tantrums. For example, if we had a cold and rejecting father who was always denigrating us, we may over-react when we are criticized by our boss at work).

2) WE BECOME LESS SELF-CRITICAL (those who have suffered childhood trauma very frequently, and erroneously, blame themselves for their terrible childhood experiences and/or internalize the negative view parents/primary carers had of them when they were children – to read my article on how a child can falsely come to see him/herself as ‘bad’ and how this inaccurate self-view may be perpetuated, click here).

3) WE BECOME LESS ‘CATASTROPHIZING’ (many who suffer childhood trauma develop into adults prone to extremes of negative thinking, often referred to as cognitive processing errors.’ One such cognitive processing error is that we may be prone to ‘catastrophizing’ which means we tend to always expect the worst and to interpret situations in their worst possible light. Often, too, we attribute the worst possible intentions and motivations to the behaviour of others. As we begin to recover, this tendency diminishes).

4) WE START TO FIND IT EASIER TO RELAX (one of the worst aspects of my illness was a perpetual, tormenting feeling of the most intense agitation making anything even vaguely approaching relaxation utterly impossible, every medication was tried – and failed; even electro-convulsive shock therapy (ECT) was tried on several different occasions over the years – again, utter failure. When we finally do start to recover, however, the ability to relax gradually returns).

5) WE BECOME LESS DEPENDENT UPON OUR LEARNED DEFENSE MECHANISMS (it is very common for those of us who have experienced childhood trauma to develop into adults who feel very vulnerable to being hurt or exploited by others if we ourselves were hurt and exploited by our parent/s or primary-carer/s during our early lives. In order to protect ourselves, we may have unconsciously learned to develop certain defense mechanisms such as aggression  or avoidance. As we recover, however, we find we become less reliant on these psychological defenses, according to Levine.

6) OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS START TO IMPROVE AND WE BECOME LESS INTIMIDATED BY SOCIAL SITUATIONS (another common outcome of significant childhood trauma is that we can find, in adulthood, that we are quite inept when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships with others. We may, too, find social situations very intimidating, and, even, develop social phobia. A sign of recovery, however, is an easing of such interpersonal difficulties).

 

FOUR MAIN STEPS ALONG THE ROAD TO RECOVERY :

Levine states that the main steps to recovery are as follows :

1) PSYCHOEDUCATION

2) REDUCING SELF-CRITICISM

3) GRIEVING FOR OUR CHILDHOOD LOSSES

4) ADDRESSING ‘ABANDONMENT DEPRESSION’

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

1) The first step, according to Levine, is psycheducation (which is sometimes referred to as ‘bibliotherapy‘. This involves learning about our psychological condition and becoming aware of how it is linked to our adverse childhood experiences. Levine also emphasizes the usefulness of learning about mindfulness).

2) The second step is to, in Levine’s phrase, ‘shrink our inner critic.’  In other words, we need to gradually learn how to stop taking such a negative view of ourselves and of everything we do – one effective therapy which can help us to achieve this is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). (To read my related article, entitled :‘How The Child’s View Of Their Own ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuated’, click here).

3) The third step, says Levine, is to grieve for our childhood losses. These losses may include our missing out on feelings of safety, security, simple childhood happiness and a care-free state of mind as well as a loss of any self-esteem we may have once had. To read my article about coming to terms with childhood losses, click here). Levine suggests that this process may take up to two years.

4) The final step is to address what Levine calls the core issue, namely our ‘abandonment depression.’ An important part of this step is also to learn how to be self-compassionate. (To read my article about abandonment issues which may we may develop as a result of childhood trauma, click here).

eBook :

The above eBook is now available for immediate download from Amazon.

Click here for further details.

 

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

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Copyright 2017 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Resentment : Effects Of Holding Onto It

If we experienced significant childhood trauma, it is quite understandable that we may harbor feelings of deep resentment. However, such feelings can serve only to prolong and intensify the mental pain we feel. Below is a fairly well-known quote that encapsulates this idea :

‘Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die’. 

– Malachy McCourt

Feelings of resentment against another usually build up over a long period of time, often years. If we are still in contact with the person we resent, these feelings may be triggered by present events (such as again being let down by the person), perhaps giving rise to anger that seems, objectively, disproportionate to the current provocation but reflects the intensity of the omnipresent, latent, resentful sentiments that underlie this anger.

Indeed, feeling resentful involves constantly replaying and reliving in our minds the wrong that was done to us and so it can potentially give rise to strong emotional and visceral responses.

The reason we feel resentful against another person may be due to acts of commission (what someone did to us) or acts of omission (what someone failed to do for us), or both.

Feelings of resentment can torment us and make it impossible for us to achieve any semblance of peace of mind. We may, too, displace our feelings of resentment onto others, making us cynical, suspicious and incapable of forming meaningful and reparative new relationships.

So why do we hold onto feelings of resentment?

We may hold onto our feelings of resentment out of a sense of ‘moral integrity’ and a conviction that it would somehow be ‘against justice’ to allow our resentful feelings to abate (in other words, we may firmly believe that our feelings of resentment are ‘just’, therefore to jettison such feelings would be ‘unjust’).

Indeed, we may be of the view that to forgive the perpetrator would show us to be weak and make us vulnerable to incurring yet further psychological damage.

Or we may feel that to let go of our resentment would in some way seem to diminish the seriousness with which we feel the offence against us should be taken – rather like saying what we experienced ‘wasn’t that bad after all’ (which would constitute self-invalidation).

Finally, by hanging onto our resentment we may create for ourselves the illusion that we have more control and power over what happened to us than we actually do.

What Can We Do To Free Ourselves From Such Self-Destructive Feelings Of Resentment?

The bottom line is that tenaciously holding onto resentment, like a snarling pit-bull terrier with a cyanide-laced bone, is often extremely self-defeating and can act as an insurmountable obstacle between us and recovery.

To overcome feelings of resentment it can be useful :

1) to remind ourselves that our resentment may be negatively colouring our view of others, the future and the world in general

2) to remind ourselves that we might be displacing our feelings of resentment onto others who do not deserve to be treated badly, spoiling our relationships

3) to view our insistence on clinging onto our feelings of resentment as a kind of addiction or obsession which needs to be overcome

4) to remind ourselves that the stress and mental anguish our resentment causes us is almost certainly not worth it, especially as we cannot change the wrong that was committed against us and that our resentment is likely to be hurting us much more than the person we resent

5) to consider undergoing a therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help us think less negatively

6) to remind ourselves that our belief that our feelings of resentment make us more powerful, in control and strong is likely to be an illusion

7) to remind ourselves that staying resentful, in many ways, allows the perpetrator to continue to make us unhappy, thus giving him/her continued power over us

8) to consider forgiving the perpetrator

Resources:

Self-hypnosis MP3s/CDs:

 

LET GO OF THE PAST – click here for more details.

DON’T HOLD GRUDGES – click here for more details.

 

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

 

 

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Recovery : The Five Elements Of Well-Being (PERMA)

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that not only is it possible to recover from the effects of childhood trauma (with the aid of psychotherapies such as dialectical behaviour therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and other treatments), but also to enter an enduring phase of posttraumatic growth in which we wish, and strive, to develop our greatest possible level of well-being.

But what is meant by ‘well-being’?

One of the world’s leading researchers is this area, the psychologist Seligman, identifies five main elements that lead to optimum well-being which can be represented by the acronym PERMA ; these are :

Positive emotion

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Accomplishment

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

 

Positive Emotions

The first element is, I think you’ll agree, fairly obvious : we need often to experience positive emotions.

Almost equally obviously, however, it is, of course, unrealistic for us to always and at all times feel positive emotions (thus going around in a kind of unthinking and mindless state of bovine contentment) and an expectation to do so would, in all likelihood, serve only to achieve its opposite – being happy all the time is hardly an appropriate (or rational) response to life, after all.

Engagement

This refers to being fully engaged, immersed and engrossed in activities in a way that we lose inhibiting feelings of self-consciousness (rather like a contented child – we’re not nearly so good at it as often stressed and preoccupied adults – does when s/he is utterly absorbed in a play activity, living entirely in the moment).

Psychologists sometimes refer to this state as ‘flow’. In this state, time may seem to ‘stop’ or ‘slow down.’ It is also frequently a state that sportsmen/sportswomen (such as tennis players) try to attain in order to perform at their optimum level.

Relationships

Seligman suggests that our best experiences are likely to involve positive relationships with other people rather than being derived from solitary activity and that such relationships are therefore crucial to our well-being.

Meaning

Seligman defines meaningful activity as activity ‘that serves something bigger than ourselves’ (such as working for a charitable, social or political cause). He also states that a meaningful activity incorporates the following elements:

a) it contributes to our well-being

b) personal gain is not the main aim of carrying out a meaningful activity so we will carry it out even if it involves personal sacrifice and personal costs (such as risking going to prison for political beliefs/actions; for example, protesting against nuclear weapons).

c) ‘meaningfulness’ is ‘defined and measured independently’ [from the other four elements that contribute to well-being, namely positive emotion (see above), engagement (see above), relationships (see above) and accomplishment (see below)].

Accomplishmet

This may lead to positive emotions, engagement and meaning, but, according to Seligman, may also be sought for its own sake.

Indeed, Seligman states that all of the five elements above may be pursued for their own sake, rather than as a means to an end.

Resources:

FIND MEANING IN LIFE

IMPROVE RELATIONSHIPS

LEARN TO ‘LIVE IN THE MOMENT’

ACCOMPLISH MORE AND ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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The Adversity Hypothesis : Posttraumatic Growth

the adversity hypothesis

‘He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’

AESCHYLUS, AGAMEMNON 


The vast majority of studies examining the effects of trauma on the individual have concentrated on the negative effects such as depression, anxiety, phobias, flashbacks, nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and so on. However, more recently, an increasing number of studies have focused on how the experience of trauma may, in some ways, actually benefit us.

Indeed, the ADVERSITY HYPOTHESIS puts forward the proposal that adversity and suffering are necessary for optimum human development.

Closely linked to the adversity hypothesis is the concept of posttraumatic growth (PTG).

The theory of posttraumatic growth suggests that some individuals who undergo traumatic experiences find that they grow and develop as a person in beneficial ways once the trauma is over. These benefits often include :

  1. Discovering/developing strengths and abilities that weren’t apparent prior to the traumatic experience and becoming a more confident person as a result.
  2. Feeling stronger as a person in the knowledge one can survive great difficulty and suffering.
  3. Developing a greater appreciation of life once the trauma is over.
  4. Strengthening of pre-existing valuable and meaningful friendships/bonds/relationships (the colloquial expression ‘finding out who your real friends are’ is of relevance here).
  5. Gaining of a better perspective on life.
  6. Gaining insight into life’s priorities and what one really wants to do with it to make it fulfilling – often leading to decisive and positive life-change.
  7. Gaining a deeper insight into life in general leading to spiritual growth and development.

Indeed, there may well be other benefits, but the above list represents the main ones so far highlighted by the research carried out to date.

It is also worth noting that research carried out by Pennebaker (1990) suggests that if we are able to ‘make sense of’ our traumatic experiences in a way that is meaningful to us we are particularly likely to benefit from posttraumatic growth.

Also, research by Helgeson (2006) suggests that individuals are most likely to start to benefit from posttraumatic growth if their traumatic experiences ceased two years ago or more.

COPING PROCESS OR OUTCOME?

Whether posttraumatic growth represents an active coping process or is a more passive outcome of the experiencing of trauma (or, indeed,  is a combination of the two) is still a matter of debate amongst psychologists; notwithstanding this, not everyone who experiences trauma also experiences posttraumatic growth.

 

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

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Recovering Our Self-Esteem : 6 Key Elements.

self-esteem

If we have experienced significant childhood trauma, such as parental rejection, our self-esteem is likely to have been severely damaged. However, it is possible for us to rebuild it.

Branden (1994) identified six key foundations upon which the development of a healthy level of self-esteem is built; these six building blocks of self-esteem are as follows:

THE SIX KEY FACTORS THAT UNDERPIN A HEALTHY LEVEL OF SELF-ESTEEM:

1) Being consciously engaged with the present

2) Being accepting of oneself

3) Taking responsibility for oneself

4) Having a definite and meaningful purpose in life

5) Having personal integrity

6) Having a capability to act in an assertive manner when necessary

recover self esteem

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Being consciously engaged in the present :

When a young child is playing, s/he becomes ‘lost’ in the present, utterly mentally involved with the activity and living entirely in the here and now.

As adults, we tend to lose this ability; instead of living in the present we dwell on/ ruminate about the past (as is often the case for people suffering from clinical depression) and/or worry about the future (which frequently occurs, often to an obsessive degree, in people who suffer from an anxiety disorder), rarely living for now.

Whole lifetimes can be wasted in this manner, possibly spent using drink and drugs in a futile attempt to recapture this childhood mental state of unsullied psychological purity.

However, we can train ourselves to live more in the present through the practice of mindfulness meditation. Indeed, research into the positive psychological effect of mindfulness meditation had yielded impressive results.

2) Accepting oneself :

This means accepting both one’s good qualities and bad (after learning from our mistakes and undertaking not to repeat them we need to forgive ourselves, acknowledging we are a highly fallible human being, like everyone else, rather than torturing ourselves with guilt. Also, making mistakes ourselves can give us empathy for others around us who make mistakes too, and help us not to judge them.

3) Taking responsibility for ourselves :

If we deny any responsibility for our own lives, we deprive ourselves of the motivating belief that we can significantly contribute towards the shaping our own destinies.

4) Having a definite and meaningful purpose in life:

This could be finding one’s true vocation (rather than a job one would rather not do due to financial necessity) which may involve downsizing and living a less materialistic life.

And, of course, some find meaning through religion, spirituality or a political or social cause.

5) Having personal integrity :

This means living an authentic life that is true to who we are, developing our own moral code based on personal reasoning and attempting to live by it.

6) Having a capability to act assertively when necessary :

A key component of this is to value our own needs and not allow ourselves to be exploited by others. This means having the strength and courage to stand up for ourselves in a firm, but not aggressive, manner.

Resource:

hypnosis for self esteemTen Steps To Solid Self-Esteem. Click here.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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Freeing Ourselves From Anger About Our Past.

let_go_of_anger

It is far from uncommon for those of us who have experienced a traumatic childhood to remain angry and resentful about the past, specifically, perhaps, about how our parents badly treated us. This can result in us bearing grudges and feeling bitter for years, decades, or even for a whole lifetime.

We have all heard the expression, ‘forgive and forget’, but how applicable is it to the kind of situation that I have just described?

Well, first of all, it is not possible to forget (unless, that is, we have unconsciously repressed the memories of what happened to us as a means of psychological defense).

But what about forgiveness? As we are all different, and as our past experiences are also all different, this boils down to a matter of personal choice. Notwithstanding this, many psychologists advocate forgiveness, not least because the act of forgiving is very likely to benefit us, and, of course, the flip side of this is that a decision NOT to forgive is liable to damage us.

let_go_of_past

How Does Remaining Angry Harm Us?

If we constantly brood about how we were wronged in the past this can be mentally exhausting and cause us to feel perpetually anguished, unhappy and unable to enjoy the present or look forward to the future.

It also gives more power to those who wronged us : not only have they hurt us in the past, but, by refusing to let go of what they did to us, we allow them to keep us unhappy, both now and in the future. To put it colloquially, we permit them to score a double whammy against us.

By staying angry, bitter and resentful we may perpetuate a self-destructive feeling of unresolved anger (which we may displace onto others, ruining our relationships); emotionally exhaust ourselves with constant feelings of animosity and, in some cases, hatred; get caught up in a futile mental cycle of revenge fantasies and of waiting for those who hurt us to make amends (which, sadly, often never happens).

Moving On:

Instead of inflicting this pointless mental suffering on ourselves, we have the option to take what lessons we can from our adverse experiences and move forward with our lives, perhaps even turning these adverse experiences to our own advantage, in as far as this may be possible.

The Bottom Line :

The bottom line is straight-forward :

Does holding on to anger, bitterness and resentment make our present lives, and future prospects, better or worse?

It is, of course, up to each individual to decide.

Resources:

LET IT GO : self-hypnosis downloadable MP3. Click here.

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

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

The Vital Importance Of Having Our Traumatic Experiences Validated.

validation of childhood experiences

Research has established, beyond doubt, that, all else being equal, the greater our experience of childhood trauma, the worse both our physical and mental health are likely to be during our adulthood, and the more likely we are to die prematurely.

Research has also shown that having our perception of our childhood trauma, and its adverse effect on us, validated is an essential part of our recovery.

Surrounding my own childhood experiences there has always been a conspiracy of silence by family members. My feelings about my early experiences have been met variously with evasion, denial, contempt, disdain, cold dismissiveness, minimisation, stone-walling, passive -aggression and straight- forward lies.

When our experiences are NOT validated, or, worse still, shamelessly refuted, recovery becomes almost impossible : insult is added to injury, with the likely outcome that our condition will actually become worse .

When our experiences and their effects remain NON-VALIDATED, our very sense of reality is undermined which puts us in danger of developing psychosis (a condition in which we become pathologically detached from reality).

child trauma

When we are told things such as ‘stop harping on about the past’ or, ‘you sound like a broken record, let it go’, it is this very contemptuous dismissal of our feelings that perpetuates our condition. The tacit implication is that we are self-absorbed, self-pitying, egotistical and should stop blaming our problems on our childhooods as this is wrong and selfish. But let’s examine the logic (or lack, thereof) of this rebuffal to our fundamental beliefs about our early traumatic experiences:

Can we take seriously the suggestion that a child who was frequently beaten to a pulp by a drunken father (as a hypothetical example), or the person whose brain development was impaired by emotional abuse (as another hypothetical example), and develops psychological problems in adulthood as a result, is somehow being weak and self-indulgent, and is wrong and unentitled to suggest his/her childhood may be linked to his/her adult difficulties?!

Of course we can’t. In fact, it takes an awful amount of inner, mental strength to face up to and acknowledge the harm done to oneself by one’s childhood, and doing so is absolutely key to one’s recovery. 

Recent research has shown that if a person’s feelings about their traumatic experiences in childhood are just sympathetically listened to and validated, and their pain and suffering as a result of their trauma is acknowledged and authenticated, their condition improves, even in the absence of any additional, active therapy.

This is powerful evidence that having our feelings about our childhoods validated is absolutely essential in order for us to recover from our adverse experiences.

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

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Radical Acceptance : A Method To Help Us Cope With Trauma

 

The psychologist, Linehan, developed the therapeutic method known as radical acceptance in order to help individuals cope with life’s myriad difficulties and so help them to recover from the psychological effects that may arise from having experienced childhood trauma, such as, for example, depression and anxiety.

NB The radical acceptance method forms part of the therapy known as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT).

radical_acceptance

The Futility Of ‘Blocking Out’ Reality:

When we attempt to ‘block out’ reality, it frequently leaves us, in the long-run, feeling worse rather than better. It also takes up a considerable amount of mental energy, quite possibly leaving us feeling constantly exhausted, depressed and anxious. (You may wish to read more about this in my article entitled: ‘Why Fighting Depressive Thoughts Can Worsen Them.’ )

Negative events leading to psychological pain are an  inevitable part  of life for everyone. Indeed, even those whose lives we may, superficially, envy will have to face illness, death of friends and loved ones, together, of course, with the prospect of their own eventual demise ; not to mention all the other losses, humiliations, misery, torments and suffering life involves.

According to radical acceptance theory, we need to accept and face up to the negative elements of our lives rather than to try to suppress the painful emotions they evoke. This is because when we suppress our negative feelings, our ability to feel positive feelings is also reduced. Indeed, trying to suppress negative feelings can lead us to feel emotionally numb, dissociated, anxious and depressed.

Denial Of Reality Leading To Addictions:

Furthermore, if we do not permit ourselves to accept our reality, we may, in a feverish and desperate attempt to escape it, turn to dysfunctional and harmful addictive behaviors such as drug taking, excessive drinking, gambling, overeating and workaholism.

Delayed Recovery:

Finally, it should be stated that the denial of our reality, however unpalatable, according to the radical acceptance theory, serves only to delay the psychological recovery process.

We cannot change what has happened in our lives, only our reaction to it.

Resource:

self acceptance hypnosis  Develop Self Acceptance Downloadable Hypnosis Audio.

 

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

 

 

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