The Role Of Being Unloved By Parents In Cancer And Heart Disease

The Role Of Being Unloved By Parents In Cancer And Heart Disease

A study carried out at Harvard University during the 1950s was conducted in order to gain insight into the link (if any) between the quality of individuals’ relationships with their parents and their physical health.

The participants in the study were 126 undergraduates and each was given a simple questionnaire with the aim of collecting information relating to how emotionally close each of these young people felt to their mothers and fathers.

The questionnaire presented three options for describing these relationships – I show these below :

  • VERY CLOSE
  • TOLERANT
  • STRAINED AND COLD

The study was longitudinal, and the original participants were followed up THIRTY-FIVE YEARS LATER (meaning that they were now all in either their fifties or their sixties) and their MEDICAL RECORDS WERE EXAMINED.

THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY :

  • 91% of those individuals who had, thirty-five years earlier, described their relationship with their mother as either TOLERANT or STRAINED AND COLD had been diagnosed with a serious medical condition by midlife ; these conditions included HEART DISEASE, HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE and ULCERS.

FURTHERMORE :

  • In the case of those individuals who had, thirty-five years earlier, described their relationship with BOTH their mother AND father as either TOLERANT or STRAINED AND COLD, this figure climbed to a staggering 100%.

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS :

  • Amongst individuals in the study who described their relationship with their mother as ‘warm and friendly’, only 45% had developed a disease by the time they reached their fifties.
  • Those who reported feeling loved by their fathers also developed lower rates of disease by the time they reached midlife than those who did not report a positive relationship with their fathers

 

Another similar, longitudinal study, carried out at John Hopkins University, found that students who reported impoverished emotional relationships with their parents were far more likely to have developed cancer by the time they had reached their forties and fifties than those individuals who had reported more warm and loving relationships with their parents,

 

CONCLUSION :

The researchers concluded that, according to their findings and based upon their (non-random) population samples, the quality of the emotional bond with parents was the single most powerful predictor of the later development of illness and disease, including cancer and heart disease (more powerful, even, than drinking, smoking, parental divorce, death of a parent and exposure to environmental toxins).

 

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

 

 

 

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Are Those With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Manipulative?

are those with BPD manipulative?

Sadly, many individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) are stigmatized by others and, amongst other perjorative terms, are frequently described as ‘manipulative’.

However, in recent years, it has been increasingly recognized that intentionally manipulative behavior is, in fact, NOT a defining characteristic of BPD sufferers after all ; this shift in attitude is best exemplified by the fact that the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Illness, Fifth Edition, or DSM-V (sometimes informally referred to as the ‘psychiatrists’ bible’), has ceased to list ‘manipulative’ as one of the personality traits associated with borderline personality disorder.

However, this begs the question : ‘Why has it been so common for those suffering from BPD to be scornfully dismissed as manipulative in the past?

According to the psychologist, Marsha Lineham (well known for having developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for the treatment of BPD), this mis-labelling of BPD sufferers as manipulative has been based on a MISINTERPRETATION of certain types of their behavior.

Lineham puts forward the view that, often, some of the behaviors of BPD patients are wrongly perceived as being  manipulative whereas, in fact, they are desperate manifestations of intense psychological and emotional pain.

Indeed, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is generally accepted as being the most excruciatingly, psychologically and emotionally, painful of all mental health conditions ; as I have stated elsewhere on this site, approximately one in ten of those suffering from BPD end their lives by suicide. (To read my article, Living With Mental Agony, click here, or to read my article, Anger May Operate To Soothe Emotional Pain, click here.)

Sometimes, an example some people may give of so-called ‘manipulative’ behavior from BPD sufferers is the threat of suicide. For example, someone with BPD may take an overdose of tablets but then phone a friend or family member to say what they have done. Lineham points out, however, that this is unlikely to be a coldly calculated ploy but, rather, a desperate and confused expression of inner mental turmoil (the intensity of which the individual may not have the words to convey) and ambivalence – ambivalence in the sense that a part of the BPD sufferer may genuinely want to die whilst another (say, instinctual) part may be driven to survive.

Indeed, the fact that, as stated above, one in ten BPD sufferers eventually die by suicide suggests that any threat to do so should be treated extremely seriously.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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BPD And Psychodynamic Treatment

bpd and psychodynamic treatment

Crucial Importance Of First Five Years Of Life :

Central to psychodynamic theory, initially developed by Sigmund Freud, is the assertion that events occurring to the child between birth and five years of age have the most vital effect upon his/her psychological development.

Safe World Versus Unsafe World :

Crucially, according to psychodynamic theory, it is during these first five years of life that an individual’s view of whether the world is fundamentally safe or unsafe is formed ; which of these two opposing views the child develops depends upon the treatment s/he receives from his/her mother / primary carer – I elucidate upon this below :

  • if the child’s mother / primary carer is loving and nurturing towards him/her then s/he is likely to develop the belief that the world is an essentially safe place
  • if the child’s mother / primary carer mistreats / neglects him/her then s/he is likely to develop the belief that the world is an essentially unsafe place

The Role Of The Unconscious :

Another concept of fundamental importance to psychodynamic theory is the absolutely critical role played by the UNCONSCIOUS MIND.

According to Freud, the unconscious mind contains memories, urges, impulses, thoughts and feelings that are cut off from conscious awareness ; frequently, according to Freud, this is because they are painful, cause us mental conflict, cause us anxiety or are otherwise unacceptable to us.

However, even though these ‘banished’, ‘buried’, ‘cut off’ memories, urges, impulses,  thoughts and feelings lie outside of our conscious awareness they, nevertheless, POWERFULLY INFLUENCE HOW WE FEEL AND HOW WE BEHAVE.

The Iceberg Metaphor :

unconscious mind iceberg

The metaphor most commonly used to help explain the unconscious mind is that of the iceberg. Just a very small part of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the water and, in this way, according to Freud,  it is similar to the mind. The visible part of the iceberg represents the conscious mind, whereas by far the largest and most powerful part of the mind – the unconscious mind –  lies below the surface of the water. In other words, the visible part of the iceberg represents the conscious mind whereas the submerged part represents the unconscious mind. (The surface of the water, therefore. represents the division between the conscious and the unconscious).

Transference :

One method that can facilitate discovery of what is going on in a patient’s unconscious mind is to analyse his/her relationship with his/her therapist. It is theorized that such an analysis can be insightful due to a process in psychodynamic theory known as TRANSFERENCE that operates within the context of this relationship.

What Is Transference?

Transference can be defined as : the redirection of emotions (usually onto a therapist) that were originally felt in childhood (towards the parents and/or significant others).

To provide a simple example : the anger a patient expresses towards his/her therapist may be redirected anger that the patient originally felt towards his/her mother during childhood.

Transference Focused Therapy :

Kernberg, of New York Hospital, Cornell University, modified Freud’s original therapeutic techniques to develop TRANSFERENCE FOCUSED PSYCHOTHERAPY which involves analysis of the process of transference that occurs via the patient’s relationship with the therapist ; it is the aim of the therapy that, by such analysis, the patient’s fundamental personality disturbance may be resolved, rather than just (relatively superficial) symptoms of the presenting psychological disorder.

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Childhood Psychological Trauma Can Lead To Brain Inflammation

stress and brain inflammation

It has recently been discovered that chronic, unpredictable, psychological stress in early life can lead to inflammation in the brain. This has come as something of a surprise to many researchers as it had previously been believed by most of those working in this recondite field of neurology that such inflammation of the brain had to have a physical (rather than psychological) cause such as a head injury or an infection.

According to McCarthy, an expert in this area of study, chronic and unpredictable stress in early life can cause particular brain cells (called microglia) to malfunction. This malfunctioning causes the microglia to produce neurochemicals that lead to neuroinflammation (i.e. inflammation of the brain).

microglia brain inflammation

What Is The Function Of Microglia?

Under normal circumstances (i.e. in a healthy brain) the function of microglia is to control the amount of neurons needed by the cerebral cortex by ‘pruning away’ neurons that are superfluous to requirements.

What Happens When Microglia Malfunction?

However, when, due to chronic and unpredictable stress, the microglia malfunction, this may result in them going into a kind of destructive overdrive and the subsequent ‘pruning away’ of NECESSARY BRAIN CELLS THAT ARE VITAL TO EXECUTIVE BRAIN FUNCTIONING ; this destructive process can lead to various neurological problems such as POOR IMPULSE CONTROL and IMPAIRED REASONING ABILITY.

Research also suggests that malfunctioning microglia may interfere with the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus and that this may be closely linked to the development of depressive disorders.

Depression, Microglia And Animal Studies :

Indeed, the hypothesis that malfunctioning microglia may interfere with the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus which may, in turn, give rise to depressive disorders has been supported by studies of mice ; when HEALTHY microglia are reintroduced into the brains of mice which have been induced into a depressive state their depressive symptoms ameliorate.

Implications For Treatment Of Depression In Humans :

However, more research needs to be conducted in order to discover to what (if any) extent we can extrapolate from these studies in mice to help us develop similar ways of treating depression in humans.

 

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Childhood Trauma Can Damage Genes Leading To Inability To Manage Stress

Childhood Trauma Can Damage Genes Leading To Inability To Manage Stress

A study led by Seth Pollak (University of Wisconsin) suggests that abuse can adversely affect children at a cellular level, including the turning off or on of particular genes (this phenomenon is called EPIGENETICS – the modification of genes by the environment).

The study involved examining the DNA of children who had been identified (by Child Protection Services) as having been abused. Blood samples were taken from each of the children in order to enable this analysis.

It was found that, in each of the children, the same, specific gene (NR3C1) had been damaged. When this gene is working properly, it helps the child to manage stress (i.e. to calm down in a timely fashion after having been upset). It does this, when healthy, by preventing too much cortisol (a major stress hormone) from building up in the body.

However, in the abused children, the damage to this gene means that, under stress, too much cortisol DOES build up in their body. The effect is that the children are unable to calm themselves in the way non-abused children are able to.

This damage to the gene can result, therefore, in the child being in a constant state of hypervigilance (i.e. perpetually tense and in a state of ‘red-alert’). As a result, the child is likely to perceive threats where, objectively speaking, they do not exist, and frequently become preemptively aggressive and very easily enraged.

Additionally, such children are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, to find any kind of significant change difficult to cope with, and, later in life, to develop physical problems such as diabetes 2 and heart disease.

THE GOOD NEWS :

stressed rat experiment

Studies of rodents have found that rat pups that are abused in early life also incur damage to the same (NR3C1) gene that, when operating correctly, helps them regulate stress (the same as it does in humans, as described above).

The good news, though, is that it has been found that when these rats are removed from their abusive environments and returned to nurturing mothers, the damage to the NR3C1 gene is reversed.

By extrapolation, this suggests the same reversal of damage may be possible in humans. Unfortunately, however, the necessary research to establish whether or not this is the case has not yet (at the time of writing) been carried out.

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Possible Long-Term Effects Of Highly Stressed Mothers On Infants

possible effects of stressed mothers on infants

Mothers who are suffering severe and protracted stress (e.g. due to an anxiety disorder) for a significant period of time whilst bringing up their infants are likely to be less attentive to their off-spring than are mothers who are mentally healthy.

In such a deprived environment, the part of the infant’s neuroendocrine system known as the HYPOTHALAMIC-PITUITARY-ADRENAL (HPA) AXIS is likely to be repeatedly activated during this critical part of his/her development due to a variety of stressors (e.g. by sensing the mother’s anxiety, not being sufficiently soothed when in distress etc).

WHAT IS THE HYPOTHALAMIC-PITUITARY-ADRENAL (HPA) AXIS?

The HYPOTHALAMIC-PITUITARY-ADRENAL (HPA)  AXIS is a major part of the neuroendocrine system that controls the infant’s stress response. The repeated activation the HPA axis undergoes over time, due to the stressed mother’s inattentiveness (this is not to say, of course, all stressed mothers are inattentive ; it only applies to mothers who are so severely stressed that it significantly impairs their maternal functioning), has the effect of signalling to the infant that s/he is growing up in a dangerous environment.

Under such conditions, the HPA axis can become highly sensitized to both real and perceived threats. In other words, the infant’s fear response becomes very easily triggered due to the HPA axis becoming oversensitive / over-reactive.

Whilst this exaggerated fear response acquired during infancy would have been of evolutionary adaptive value to the future lives (i.e. childhood and adulthood) of our ancestors living in physically dangerous environments, it has no such adaptive value as far as the modern-day infant’s future life is concerned ; indeed, it can lead to serious problems as we shall see below.

HPA axis

ABOVE : The components of the HPA axis : the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal cortex ; their interaction controls the fear-response.

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF HAVING AN OVER-SENSITIVE HYPOTHALAMIC-PITUITARY-ADRENAL (HPA) AXIS?

Having an HPA axis that is, in effect, constantly on red-alert, may have myriad adverse, long-term effects. These include :

  • A damaged immune system (leading to an increase in the likelihood of suffering from a variety of diseases, including cancer).
  • Impairment to cognitive functioning (e.g. loss of neurons in the hippocampus (a region of the brain involved with memory function)
  • Increased likelihood of psychiatric conditions (e.g. anxiety and depression)
  • Perceiving danger to exist where, objectively, it does not / over-estimating risks/dangers
  • Less ‘mental energy’ (being constantly fearful and anxious is debilitating, demoralizing and enervating) for positive activities (e.g. play, creativity and building healthy relationships)

Important note : Although the damage done to the infant happens very early in life, many of the problems that such damage results in may not become apparent until very much later in, and, without effective therapeutic intervention, may even persist throughout the lifetime.

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

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Posttraumatic Growth : The Importance Of Relationships And Social Support

posttraumatic growth relationships social support

Our relationships with others significantly influence how we cope with and respond to trauma ; the researchers Fedesch and Calhoun (2006) suggested that specific reasons as to why this should be so included the following :

  • other people may positively alter how we view the world and how we interpret and perceive events
  • other people may introduce us to additional coping methods
  • other people may provide us with social support

Other researchers (e.g. Cordova et al., 2001 ; Leopore and Revenson, 2006) suggest that relationships with others in which we feel safe to make emotional disclosures may be of particular value.

Leopore and Revenson also suggest that our relationships with others can help with how we respond to trauma in the following ways :

  • weakening the connection between the trauma and negative emotional responses and replacing them with positive emotional responses
  • helping us to regulate (control) our negative emotions connected to the trauma by shifting our focus of attention
  • helping us to habituate to negative emotions connected to the trauma
  • facilitating positive cognitive reappraisals in relation to the trauma

Other Ways That Relationships And Social Support May Be Of Benefit :

  • Through his research, Weiss (2004) found that those who had suffered traumatic experiences can benefit in particular by having social relations with others who have also lived through trauma and who have not only coped with it, but have also experienced posttraumatic growth in response to their traumatic experiences and can, therefore, act as role-models.
  • Schroevers et al., (2010) conducted research suggesting that having other people to help the individual who has suffered trauma cognitively process information connected with the traumatic experience can also be of significant benefit

The Importance Of Avoiding Negative And Critical Social Interaction :

Research also suggests that, in the aftermath of trauma, it is at least as important (and, perhaps, even more important), to avoid negative and critical social interaction in the aftermath of trauma as it is to find positive support if one wishes to experience posttraumatic growth.

RESOURCE :

IMPROVE RELATIONSHIPS – DOWNLOADABLE SELF-HYPNOSIS AUDIO (MP3). Click here for further details.

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

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Failure Of Information Processing At Core Of PTSD

failure of information processing at core of PTSD

Research suggests (for examples, see below) that traumatic memories are not stored in the normal way (this theory was initially proposed by the psychologist and philosopher Pierre Janet) but non-linguistically as feelings / emotions and sensations (e.g. images, sounds, smells). This means that they cannot be properly articulated nor integrated into the individual’s personal narrative (story) in a meaningful way. This is why people frequently find trauma  extremely difficult to talk about.

Also, traumatic memories are stored in a fragmentary way (as opposed to in a way that allows them to form a coherent whole) and remain unmodified over time. 

Another feature of traumatic memories, according to Pierre Janet, is that they frequently cannot be remembered at will but are state-dependent (i.e. can only be recalled – in the form of flashbacks, for example – when the individual is in a similar state of consciousness to the one s/he was experiencing at the time of the trauma).

So, as we can see from the above, traumatic memories are not processed in the normal way and it is this lack of normal information processing that lies at the core of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One main theory related to this is that they (i.e. the traumatic memories) are prevented from being properly processed by the EXTREME LEVEL OF AROUSAL the individual feels whilst experiencing the trauma.

Supporting Evidence :

Research (Kolk and Ducey) into flashbacks (a central feature of PTSD) using neuroimaging has revealed that, when these flashbacks occur :

  • there is increased activity in areas of the right hemisphere which are involved with emotional processing
  • there is increased activity in the right visual cortex

These two findings support the theory that traumatic memories (in this case, flashbacks) are processed / stored in the form of emotions and sensations (in the case of the above research visual sensations).

Furthermore, Rauch et al (1995) conducted research showing that individuals experiencing flashbacks simultaneously experienced a decrease in activity in the part of the brain, located in the left hemisphere, called Broca’s area (a brain region involved with language) ; this finding supports the theory that traumatic memories are not stored in linguistic form.

Implications For Therapy :

The above supports the notion that effective therapy for PTSD should involve the individual afflicted by it being helped by the therapist to properly process traumatic memories so that they may be safely integrated into the person’s personal narrative.

RESOURCE :

NHS Advice On Treatments For PTSD – click here.

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What Is The Difference Between Repression And Dissociation?

what is the difference between repression and dissociation?

I have frequently referred to the concepts of DISSOCIATION and REPRESSION on this site as, of course, both are highly relevant to the subject of childhood trauma. But what is the difference between the two?

REPRESSION :

In terms of psychoanalytic theory (of which Sigmund Freud is considered to be the ‘father’) REPRESSION can be divided into two types :

  1. PRIMAL REPRESSION
  2. REPRESSION PROPER

I briefly explain these two types of repression below :

REPRESSION PROPER :

This refers to an unconscious process whereby the part of the mind that Freud referred to as the ego prevents distressing and threatening thoughts from ever permeating consciousness. Freud believed that often such thoughts were kept banished from conscious awareness as otherwise they would produce intolerable guilt (generated by the part of the mind that he referred to as the superego). 

Examples of types of thoughts that Freud believed are kept repressed by this process are those concerning certain types of sexual and aggressive impulses and instincts (generated by the part of the mind Freud referred to as the id) that we have learned from our environment (influence of culture, parents etc) are unacceptable.

PRIMAL REPRESSION :

the difference between repression and dissociation

The term primal repression refers to an unconscious process whereby the ego buries distressing and threatening thoughts, feelings and memories down below the level of consciousness into the id.

So, to summarize : in the case of repression proper, distressing and threatening thoughts are prevented from ever gaining access to conscious awareness whereas, in the case of primal repression, distressing and threatening thoughts, feelings and memories which have gained ephemeral access to consciousness are banished from it (buried in the id).

However, Freud also pointed out that there is a high price to pay for the unconscious process of repression in so far as this hidden, buried information that has been forced down into the id will create symptoms of anxiety.

DISSOCIATION :

In the case of dissociation (one of the core features of complex PTSD), thoughts / feelings / memories do NOT get pushed down into / buried in the id ; instead, they become separated / compartmentalized in a different part of the ego.

So, we can finally summarize in this way :

  • In the case of repression, mental information / content is split off into the id.
  • In the case of dissociation, mental information / content is split off into a separate part of the ego.

NB : This distinction relates to how the terms are used in psychoanalytic theory ; in other areas of psychology, the term ‘dissociation’ can take on other meanings (as the articles listed below will show).

To learn more about dissociation, you may like to read some of my other articles (listed below) :

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Psychotic ‘Hallucinations’ : Could They Be Trauma-Based Memories?

are hallucinations trauma-based memories?

The renowned UK psychologist, Oliver James, argues both eloquently and convincingly in his most enlightening book :  ‘Not In Your Genes’, that the extremely serious and distressing psychiatric disorder, schizophrenia , is almost entirely the result of environmental factors, and far less related to genetic influences than has previously believed. In making this argument, he also alerts us to the incipient theory that so-called psychotic hallucinations may, in fact, frequently actually be intrusive, TRAUMA-BASED MEMORIES.

In fact, this theory is far from new ; over eighty years ago, in 1936, Sigmund Freud proposed that hallucinations were caused by repressed memories of trauma erupting out of the unconscious mind and into consciousness.

RESEARCH SUGGESTING LINK BETWEEN HALLUCINATIONS AND MEMORIES :

But there exists, too, much more recent research into the putative connection between hallucinations (both of the auditory kind – sometimes referred to as ‘hearing voices’ and of the visual kind – sometimes referred to as ‘visions’). For example, Read and Argyle (1999) conducted a study involving one hundred psychotic patients and found that, amongst the content of hallucinations that these patients reported, fully half of this material consisted of fragments of memories relating to trauma that they had suffered during their childhoods.

hallucinations and trauma-based memories

Furthermore, Morrison et al (2002) conducted a study involving 35 psychotic individuals and found that very nearly half (17 out of the 35) reported having visual hallucinations, the content of which was associated with actual events which had taken place earlier during their lives.

Additionally, McCarthy-Jones et al (2014) conducted research into 199 patients who ‘heard voices’ (i,.e. experienced auditory hallucinations) and found that 12% of these individuals reported that these ‘voices’ exactly replicated actual conversations they had had in their earlier lives ; a further 31% reported ‘hearing voices’ that approximated actual conversations they had had in their earlier lives.

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED :

However, no firm conclusions may yet be drawn regarding the possible link between the content of hallucinations and trauma-based memories. One of the reasons for this is that most of the research that has been conducted in relation to intrusive, trauma-related memories (as occurs in PTSD and complex-PTSD) has focused upon VISUAL MEMORIES, whilst, on the other hand, most of the research that has so far be conducted into the hallucinations of psychotic patients has focused upon the AUDITORY SENSE. In order for more light to be shed on this topic, this dichotomy of research focus needs to be addressed.

 

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

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