Mothers More Likely To Be Abusive Than Fathers, Study Suggests

abusive mothers

Abusive Parents

We have already seen, from numerous other articles that I have published on this site, when a parent is abusive towards their child, the adverse psychological effects upon that child can be most profound, not least because such a child is being harmed by the very person who is supposed to care for, protect and nurture him/her; this constitutes a devastating betrayal, the psychological reverberations of which may, without effective therapy, endure for a lifetime and, even, considerably shorten the abused individual’s life expectancy.

Abusive Mothers

If questioned on the matter, most people would probably guess that fathers are more likely to act abusively towards their children than are mothers (in part because males are more likely, in general, to commit crime and are more likely to be violent). However, when maltreatment of children is being considered as a whole (taking into account mental/psychological/emotional abuse and neglect) the study outlined below suggests that, contrary, perhaps, to popular belief, mothers are more likely to abuse their children than are fathers.

abusive mothers

The Study

The study (conducted by the DHSS – the Department of Health and Human Services) showed that, in the cases of children who had been abused by one (as opposed to both) parents, 70.6 per cent reported having been abused by their mother and the remaining 29.4 per cent reported having been abused by their father. However, it should be pointed out that a caveat of the study concerns the fact that it is unclear from the data / statistics included whether or not the researchers controlled an important extraneous variable, namely that, in the case of single-parent families, the child or children are more likely to be in the custody of the mother rather than in the custody of the father. Clearly, if this factor was not taken account of by the statistical analysis of the data, it is likely that approximate 7:3 ratio derived from it (i.e. the ratio of abusive mothers : abusive fathers) is too heavily biased against mothers.

Nevertheless, it can at least be inferred that mothers make up a very significant proportion of parents who abuse their children – a fact that society, at the present time, is perhaps not ready to properly acknowledge.

Not all mothers are natural, instinctive care-givers to their children.

 

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Self-Acceptance More Helpful To Mental Health Than Self-Esteem.

developing self-acceptance

We have already seen that, most frequently because how they were made to feel about themselves by parents / primary care-givers whilst growing up, one of the most painful, demoralizing and soul-destroying symptoms those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) must strive to endure is irrational feelings of self-hatred, self-loathing and self-disgust. (If you would like to read my article entitled : ‘ Childhood Trauma: How The Child’s View Of Their Own ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuated’ , please click here.)

Indeed, many individuals with BPD suffer from frequent, intrusive thoughts such as : ‘I am a terrible person’ ; ‘I am of absolutely no value to anybody whatsoever’ and so on…

In other words, their self-esteem is extremely low and sometimes it is hard to change such deeply entrenched, negative self-views through therapy, at least at the beginning of any such therapy. (If you would like to read my article entitled : ‘Childhood Trauma : A Destroyer of Self-Esteem’ , please click here.)

self-acceptance

However, one effective way of breaking into, and disrupting, this profoundly ingrained and seemingly perpetual cycle of self-derogatory thinking may be to develop first an attitude of SELF-ACCEPTANCE.

In relation to this possibility, Huber (2001) suggests that, in order to develop an attitude of self-acceptance, we can start off simply by trying to attain ‘a single moment of self-acceptance.’ For example, instead of thinking a thought such as :

I am a terrible person‘, we can try to replace it with the self-accepting thought :

‘Given how I was made to feel about myself as a child, it is completely understandable why I view myself as a terrible person.

Gradually, we can try to increase the frequency with which we modify our self-lacerating thinking style so that, when negative thoughts arise, we compassionately accept why we are having them as a matter of newly acquired habit.

The advantages of developing a self-accepting style of thinking, as outlined above, has been backed up by research. For example, Neff (2009) found that self-compassion is more positively correlated with psychological health than self-esteem is.

Neff also points out that, whilst self-esteem, at least in part, depends upon how we perceive others’ evaluation of us and how well we perceive ourselves to be succeeding in life’s myriad aspects at any given time, self-compassion (by definition) is self-generated and comes entirely from within ; it is always available to us no matter what the external circumstances. Because of this, it is more reliable and dependable than self-esteem and can comfortably co-exist along with feelings of inadequacy or, even, gross inadequacy.

However, we need not equate self-acceptance with ‘standing still in life’ and with not trying to improve ourselves – indeed, self-acceptance can be a great aid to self-improvement as it allows us to take a compassionate attitude towards ourselves when we face inevitable set-backs on our journey of personal development (as opposed to despising ourselves and giving up).

 

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What Are ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ (Aces)?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a term most commonly associated with the ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES STUDY.

These adverse childhood experiences have been split into three categories :

  • ABUSE
  • NEGLECT
  • FAMILY DYSFUNCTION

In the original ACE study, these three categories were further broken down into :

ABUSE : Emotional; physical and sexual

NEGLECT : Physical; emotional

FAMILY DYSFUNCTION : Witnessing domestic violence; person/s with depression / mental illness in the home; substance abuse in home ; loss of a parent (divorce / separation / death).

NB : Of course, the child may suffer trauma in many other ways, but the above categories were focused upon in the original ACE study.

THE EFFECTS OF ACEs ON THE BRAIN :

ACEs that take place during the critical and sensitive developmental period of the person’s childhood (especially during the first three years of life and during puberty and early adolescence), coupled with their effects upon the person’s genetic expression (how our genes express themselves depends upon how they interact with our experiences / environment – this is known as epigenetics) can adversely affect brain development on a number of levels (see below):

ACEs Can Adversely Affect Brain Development On A Number Of Levels :

  • ELECTRICAL
  • CHEMICAL
  • CELLULAR MASS

In turn, these adverse effects, taken together, can damage the brain upon both a STRUCTURAL and FUNCTIONAL level.

BRAIN CHANGES BECOME ‘HARDWIRED’ FOR SURVIVAL :

These brain changes then become hardwired in the brain’s biology as the behaviors that these brain changes are associated with are, on a fundamental level, ADAPTIVE AND ‘INTENDED’ TO HELP THE CHILD SURVIVE HIS/HER TRAUMATIC ENVIRONMENT. 

For example, certain brain changes caused by the child’s traumatic experiences may predispose the child to hypervigilance and explosive outbursts of rage and anger, both of which are adaptations which enhance survival chances in a dangerous, threatening and hostile environment. Indeed, children who grow up in traumatically threatening environments are at significantly increased risk of developing OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANCE DISORDER (ODD).

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACEs) AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PSYCHIATRIC, PHYSICAL AND ‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS :

The original ACE study found that, overall and on average, the greater the number of ACEs an individual had experienced during childhood, the more likely s/he was to suffer from the following problems later in life :

PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS :

PHYSICAL PROBLEMS :

‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS :

NB : The above list is NOT exhaustive.

RESOURCES :

Link :

To read more about the original ACE study, you may wish to visit this site

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What Are The Differences Between BPD And Complex PTSD? : A Study

difference between complex ptsd and bpd

Because there is a considerable overlap in symptoms between those suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) and those suffering from complex posttraumatic disorder (complex PTSD) , those with the latter condition can be misdiagnosed as suffering from the former condition (you can read my article about this by clicking here).

In order to help clarify the differences between the two conditions and help show how they are distinct from one another, this article is about a research study which sought to delineate these two very serious psychiatric conditions.

What Are The Differences In Symptoms Between Those Suffering From Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) And Those Suffering From Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD)?

A study into the different symptoms displayed by sufferers of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) involving the study of two hundred at eighty adult women who had experienced abuse during their childhoods and published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology in 2014 compared the symptoms of those suffering from BPD with those suffering from complex PTSD.

The following results from the study were obtained :

SYMPTOMS SHARED APPROXIMATELY EQUALLY BETWEEN THOSE SUFFERING FROM BPD AND THOSE SUFFERING FROM COMPLEX PTSD :

Some symptoms were found to be shared approximately equally between those suffering from  borderline personality disorder (BPD) and those suffering from complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). The symptoms that fell into this category were as follows :

  • AFFECTIVE DYSREGULATION (ANGER) i.e. frequent feelings of intense rage that the individual cannot control (regulate)
  • VERY LOW FEELINGS OF SELF-WORTH
  • AFFECTIVE DYSREGULATION (SENSITIVE) i.e. feelings of hypersensitivity that cannot be controlled (regulated)
  • INTENSE FEELINGS OF GUILT
  • INTERPERSONAL DETACHMENT / ALONENESS i.e. feeling cut-off and alienated from others, isolated and apart
  • FEELINGS OF EMPTINESS

However, some symptoms were found to be significantly more prevalent amongst those suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) than amongst those suffering from complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) as shown below :

SYMPTOMS THAT WERE FOUND TO BE SIGNIFICANTLY MORE PREVALENT AMONGST THOSE SUFFERING FROM BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD) THAN AMONGST THOSE SUFFERING FROM COMPLEX POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (COMPLEX PTSD) :

 

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Techniques (Evidence-Based) For Reducing Negative Thoughts.

evidence based techniques to reduce negative thoughts

We have seen that if we suffered significant, recurring trauma as children, we are put at increased risk of developing depression as adults (see the DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY section of this site which contains many articles about the link between childhood trauma and depression). One of the hallmarks of depression is, of course, NEGATIVE THINKING.

Fortunately, however, much scientific research has been conducted into techniques those suffering from depression can employ in order to reduce their tendency constantly to think in negative ways ; I briefly describe several of the most effective of these techniques below :

1) LEARNED OPTIMISM :

The psychologist, Seligman, has developed a method by which people who are pessimistic and prone to negative thinking can train themselves mentally to respond to adverse events in ways that are less negative and more optimistic by challenging their initial pessimistic responses.

Seligman developed his idea of how optimism may be learned whilst he was studying a phenomenon known as LEARNED HELPLESSNESS (you can read my article Trauma, Depression And Learned Helplessness’  by clicking here); he reasoned that if people, through conditioning, can ‘learn’ to be helpless they may, too, be able to learn a more positive attitude to life and its vicissitudes.

There exists research to support Seligman’s theory. For example, the findings of a scientific study (Buchanan) conducted at the University of Pennsylvania strongly suggested that individuals with a tendency towards pessimism can be made significantly less vulnerable to depression and anxiety by being taught Seligman’s learned optimism techniques.

HOWEVER, there is a balance to be struck here as constantly striving to be positive and ‘upbeat’ at all times is likely to backfire – it is, I think we can all safely agree, axiomatic that one cannot go through life without encountering distress (some of us more than others, of course). Even so, we can make distress less painful to endure by learning techniques in DISTRESS TOLERANCE you can read my article about this by clicking here.

(Interestingly, trying to relax can backfire, too – you can read about why this is in my article : Does Trying To Relax  Paradoxically Increase Your Anxiety?  by clicking here).

 

2) COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT) :

This can help us challenge our negative thoughts and correct irrational, faulty thinking styles associated with negative thinking (you can read two my articles relevant to this by clicking below):

 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy : Challenging Negative Thoughts

or

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Childhood Trauma

 

3) DEFENSIVE PESSIMISM : 

Despite the finding that learned optimism can be helpful in reducing depression it may, too, be paradoxically the case that a tendency towards pessimism, in certain situations, can sometimes be, as it were, strategically exploited.

This can be achieved by considering the worst possible outcome of an event in order to put things in perspective (the caveat being that it is necessary to put an action plan into operation to ensure the worst possible outcome does not come to fruition!).

 

MINDFULNESS :

This involves allowing negative thoughts to pass through the mind whilst NOT emotionally engaging with these thoughts or judging them – a simile that is sometimes used is that one should just observe, in a detached manner, these thoughts running through our heads with the same tranquility we would feel were we to be watching leaves on the surface of a river gently flow past us. You can read more about mindfulness in the HYPNOSIS AND MINDFULNESS section of this site.

 

THE ADVERSITY HYPOTHESIS :

It is important to remember that even very distressing experiences can improve us as a person (e.g. by providing us with a better perspective on life, making us realize what’s important in life, helping us to get our priorities straight, increasing the empathy we feel with others who have suffered in a similar way to ourselves, and toughening us up mentally.

An article of mine you may wish to read relating to this is :

 

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Dysfunctional Ways Parents May Seek To Over-Control Children

over controlling parents

I outline some of the most common ways in which parents may attempt to exert excessive control over their children below :

Emotional Enmeshment :

This occurs when a parent is intensely and overwhelmingly emotionally involved with his/her child so that, rather than seeing the child as an individual with his/her own thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, views him/her as an extension of him/herself.

The parent who emotionally enmeshes the child may be over-dependent on him/her :

  • in relation to seeking advice that the child is not mature enough to give (e.g. a parent asking a ten year old for advice on romantic relationships),
  • for companionship,
  • for psychological counselling.

Such parents may also interfere inappropriately in the child’s life and fail to respect his/her boundaries.

Divorced / single parents may even expect their child to serve as a kind of ‘spouse substitute’ (most frequently in emotional terms).

You can read mt article on EMOTIONAL INCEST, which is closely related to the above, by clicking here.

Parentification :

Emotionally immature parents may expect their child to act as a kind of substitute parent – you can read my article about how parents may ‘parentify’ their child by clicking here.

 

Perfectionism :

Perfectionist parents may constantly insist upon laying down myriad petty, unnecessary and, perhaps, seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations (for example, my father used to be obsessed with making sure I held my cutlery in precisely the right way – apparently I would ‘mistakenly’ hold my knife ‘like a pen’ which would cause my father an absurdly disproportionate level of unnecessary angst more appropriate to me holding a live grenade in a way that would allow it imminently to detonate.

Living in such a household can put the child into a constant state of tension, or, even, hypervigilence, leading him/her constantly to anticipate the next shaming and disheartening criticism.

Perfectionist parents may also psychologically damage their children by expecting them to achieve in sports, academia, music etc in ways that are unreasonable and unrealistic. In relation to this, they may only offer their children love and approval when they excel, withholding such love and approval the rest of the time.

These types of parents may, too, strongly disapprove of their children expressing particular emotions such as anger or sadness, perhaps to the extent that they even ridicule their children for doing so.

Micromanagement :

The parent who micromanages their child may be unnecessarily and inappropriately involved in what a child eats or how a child dresses. Such parents may also interfere in superfluous and counter-productive ways with the child’s school life (e.g. visiting the school to complain to teachers about the child’s grades or about the child not making a particular school sport’s team). Or they may not respect their child’s privacy (e.g. constantly checking their child’s room for no good reason, looking through their diary or unnecessarily texting their child whilst s/he is at school to ‘check up’ on him/her in a way the child finds oppressive).

Such parenting is also sometimes referred to as ‘helicopter parenting’, a term originally coined by Dr. Haim Ginott in the late 1960s.

Coercive Control :

The term ‘coercive control’ was first coined by the Duluth Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) but the concept can also be applicable to the parent-child relationship. The DAIP propose that coercive control can take many forms which include :

  • intimidation (including threatening body language and facial expressions)
  • humiliation
  • isolation
  • minimizing the level of abuse
  • denying any abuse has taken place
  • blaming the victim for the perpetrator’s abuse
  • homophobia
  • coercion and threats

Parents Who Use Their Child For ‘Narcissistic Supply’ :

The concept of narcissistic supply stems from psychoanalytic theory. A parent in need of narcissistic supply may emotionally exploit his/her children by overly depending upon them to express their admiration of the him/her (the parent), to emotionally support him/her and to bolster his/her self-esteem. To read my article about narcissistic parents, click here.

 

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Family Systems Theory And The Family Scapegoat

family systems theory

FAMILY SYSTEMS THEORY :

FAMILY SYSTEMS THEORY was developed by the American psychiatrist, Murray Bowen (1913-1990). The theory proposes that :

a) The family acts as a highly complex system

b) This system is made up of family members who are emotionally intertwined

c) The ‘units’ of the system (i.e. the emotionally intertwined family members) interact in highly complex ways

d) Family members, through emotional interaction, affect each other’s thoughts, behaviors and emotional states (though are often unaware of the degree to which this process is taking place)

e) Some family members are more emotionally interconnected than others, but all are emotionally interconnected to some extent.

THE EFFECTS OF ANXIETY PERMEATING THE FAMILY SYSTEM :

When one or more of the family members become anxious, the anxiety becomes ‘contagious’ and ‘infects’ other members of the family. As the level of anxiety increases, so, too, do the emotional interactions between family members become correspondingly, increasingly stressful.

Eventually, a particular family member (the most sensitive and vulnerable) starts to absorb the majority of the anxiety produced by the family system which puts this person at risk of developing various forms of mental illness including depression and anxiety disorders. In this way, this individual acts as a kind of ‘container’ or ‘vessel’ into which the lion’s share of the stress and anxiety generated by the entire family system is poured ; this process, in turn, can result in him/her becoming the ‘family symptom bearer‘ and/or ‘family scapegoat’ (see related article recommendations below).

I provide an example of how this can play out below :

Let’s take a hypothetical family consisting of four members : mother, father, oldest son (age 16), and youngest son (age 14). Now, let’s imagine the following scenario :

The family functions relatively well until the parental marriage comes under strain. The stress and anxiety generated by this marital friction permeates the whole family.

In response to the increased anxiety in the family home, the father spends much more time at the office, becoming a workaholic; the mother, to distract herself and bolster her self-esteem and self-image, throws herself into charity work and religious activities; the oldest brother cuts off from the family, spending his time in his bedroom listening to music or doing homework (when he is not bullying his younger brother); the youngest son responds by getting drunk, taking drugs, getting into fights and becoming involved in petty crime.

The family then identify the youngest son as being at the root of the family problems and decide they should all attend family therapy sessions.

However, the family therapist points out that the youngest son is NOT, in fact, the source of the family’s problems, and that therapy can only work if all family members face up to their own specific problems.

However, the father, mother and older brother do not wish to entertain the idea that they might have anything to do with the way in which the family has become dysfunctional, insisting, instead, that it is the youngest son who needs to be ‘fixed’, certainly not any of them!

Having made their feelings on the matter abundantly clear, the family then terminates the family therapy. Permanently.

Because the family is still convinced that the youngest son is, as it were, ‘the root of all evil’, the family pack him off to a psychiatric hospital for a couple of months.

Due to the fact that the youngest son is now away from the malign influence of the family atmosphere (rather than due to any treatment the hospital attempts to provide proactively) the youngest son’s psychological condition improves considerably. Eventually, therefore, his family (magnanimously, in their own grossly distorted and self-serving view) grant him permission to return home.

However, when the son does return home, because the other family members have failed to acknowledge, let alone address, their own issues, the youngest son’s psychological condition deteriorates again and things go from bad to worse…

In other words, it is the system as a whole that needs to be ‘repaired’, not just one part of it (i.e. the family member displaying the most inconvenient, and least socially acceptable, symptoms / psychological defenses).

 

You may like to read two related articles from this site (see immediately below) :

 

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A Study On The Childhoods Of Murderers

childhoods of murderers

A study conducted by Lewis et al (1985) and published in the American Journal Of Psychiatry examined the childhoods of nine convicted murders with the aim of discovering what characteristics (if any) they had in common. The main characteristics identified fell into four main categories :

  1. Acts of violence as children
  2. Psychiatric / medical history
  3. Psychiatric history of parents / first-degree relatives
  4. History of parental abuse

ACTS OF VIOLENCE AS CHILDREN :

All of the nine individuals in the study had perpetrated extreme violent acts as children / adolescents. Examples of these violent acts include :

  • two had committed robbery at knife point
  • one, at the age of four, had thrown a dog out of a window
  • one had set his bed on fire
  • one, at the age of ten, had threatened his teacher with a razor

PSYCHIATRIC / MEDICAL HISTORY :

  • three had been hospitalized in psychiatric units during childhood
  • three had histories of grand mal seizures and abnormal EEGs ( the term EEG stands for electrencephalogram which is a procedure that measures the electrical activity in the brain).
  • one was macrocephalic (the term ‘macrocephalic’ refers to a condition that results in the affected individual developing an abnormally large region of the brain called the cranium) and had an abnormal EEG
  • three had histories of ‘losing contact with reality’
  • six had sustained severe head injuries as children

PSYCHIATRIC HISTORY OF PARENTS / FIRST-DEGREE RELATIVES :

  • all nine had a first-degreee relative who had been hospitalized in a psychiatric unit and/or was known to be psychotic
  • five had a mother who had been hospitalized in a psychiatric unit
  • four had fathers who were known to be psychotic (one of whom had been hospitalized in a psychiatric unit)

HISTORY OF PARENTAL ABUSE :

  • seven had been severely, physically abused by one or both parents
  • six had witnessed extreme domestic violence

Conclusion :

Based on the findings of the above study and other relevant, previously conducted studies by other researchers, the authors of this study conclude that whilst it is not possible to predict whether individuals will commit murder at some point in the future, when a person has has been affected by all of the above factors (i.e. a prior history of violence, neuropsychiatric impairment,  parental psychosis and a history of having been physically abused as a child),  therapeutic intervention is necessary, irrespective of considerations relating to what one may, or may not, be able to predict about the individual’s future conduct in relation to violence.

It seems difficult to disagree with this conclusion as, obviously, anyone who is affected by the above combination of factors is likely to be experiencing extreme levels of mental distress.

 

NB : The above description of the study is a simplification to convey the main findings as concisely as possible ; a full description of the study can be accessed here.

 

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Neurocounseling And Its Relevance To Treating Complex-PTSD

neurocounselling

The term neurocounseling refers to a form of therapies that seek to take advantage of the relatively recent neuroscientific discovery that the human brain has far more NEUROPLASTICITY than was previously believed to be the case.

What Is Neuroplasticity?

The brain’s quality of neuroplasticity can be defined as its capacity to be physically changed, not only during childhood, but over the whole life-span ; it is only relatively recently that the extent to which the adult brain can be physically altered (both in terms of its structure and its pattern of neuro-pathways) has been discovered.

Why Is The Brain’s Neuroplasticity, And Therefore Neurocounseling, Relevant To The Treatment Of Complex-PTSD Resulting From Childhood Trauma?

Neurocounseling and the phenomenon of neuroplasticity have important implications for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and   complex-PTSD as sufferers of both types often have incurred damage to certain brain regions as a result of their traumatic experiences.

These brain injuries can include a shrunken hippocampus ( the hippocampus is a brain region involved in the processing of memories, including differentiation between past and present memories); increased activity in the amygadala ( a region of the brain involved in the processing of emotions and that is intimately related to the fear response); and a shrunken ventromedial prefrontal cortex (this region of the brain processes negative emotions that occur in response to exposure to specific stimuli).

Neurocounseling :

Neurocounseling is founded upon the premise that that symptoms of psychiatric conditions (both psychological and behavioral) are underpinned by maladaptive, neurological structures and functions and that these neurological structures and functions can be beneficial altered due to the quality of the brain known as neuroplasticity. It combines neuroscience with counseling techniques and, in this way, the individual receiving treatment is helped to learn new skills and new ways of thinking in an attempt to help correct the maladaptive physical development of the brain that has occurred in response to the person’s traumatic past experiences. Examples of neurocounseling techniques include :

  • incorporating biofeedback into the treatment plan ; this can help to treat emotional dysregulation – emotional dysregulation is a major symptom of PTSD and complex-PTSD and is linked to damage to the amygdala (see above)
  • incorporating neurofeedback into the treatment plan
  • mindfulness meditation training (one study found that this can alter the actual physical structure of the brain in just eight weeks)

Additionally, studies have shown that interpersonal psychotherapy and compassion focused therapy can lead to beneficial alterations to the brain.

Furthermore, research shows that neurocounseling can also be successfully employed to treat a range of addiction issues (including prevention of relapse and recovery management), sleep difficulties, ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome and problems relating to aggression (all of which, potentially, can be linked to childhood trauma).

As understanding of the relationship between the way in which the physical brain operates and symptoms of psychological problems increases, it should be possible, in the future, to be apply neurocounseling more effectively to an expanding range of behavioral and psychological difficulties that have their roots in maladaptive brain biochemistry and physiology.

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Why Some Parents Can’t Love Their Children

parent unable to love

It is generally assumed that parents (in particular, mothers) have an innate, instinctive, natural and inborn capacity to love their children unconditionally. However, sadly, this is not the case. In this article, I will look at some of the most common factors that may inhibit a parent’s inclination to love his/her children :

 

Factors  That  May  Inhibit Parents’ Inclination To Love Their Children :

  • Parents may resent the responsibility / burden placed on them by having children
  • A parent may resent character traits in their child that , consciously or unconsciously, remind them of aspects of their own personalities that they dislike or aspects of their partner’s / ex-partner’s (i.e. the child’s other biological parent) personality that they dislike
  • Parents may resent being made to feel inadequate by children ; for example, narcissistic parents may find the child’s challenges to his/her (i.e. the parent’s) impossible demands intolerable, especially if the child becomes, due to quite natural, normal and necessary survival mechanisms, rebellious in response to such impossible demands when s/he reaches puberty.
  • The parent may feel bitterly jealous of the child’s youth (e.g. a narcissistic mother may resent being reminded of her fading looks by her daughter’s youthful appearance)
  • A parent may have low self-esteem and a child’s success, or future prospects of success, may serve to make the parent feel inadequate or that s/he has, by comparison, wasted his/her life
  • Postpartum depression : biological changes that a woman undergoes when pregnant can lead to chemical changes in the brain that result in depression and impair  her ability to bond with her new born baby in the usual way.
  • A parent may have been emotionally neglected or abused during his/her own childhood, restricting his/her ability to express and feel love
  • A parent (most frequently, but not exclusively, the mother) may resent his/her child whom s/he perceives as having ‘got in the way’ of his/her career.
  • A parent may resent his/her child if that child does not share, or actively rebels against, his/her (i.e. the parent’s) strongly held beliefs (e.g. religious beliefs, especially in relation to sexuality)
  • Projection: parents who have a poor self-image, low self-esteem and, essentially, don’t like themselves, may off-load their negative feelings about themselves by projecting them onto their children (e.g. a parent who has latent homosexual inclinations and dislikes himself for it may project these feeling onto his son by using deprecating language in relation to his son’s (real or imagined) homosexuality, or, even, by disowning him (and thereby, on a symbolic level, disowning his own repressed, sexual feelings).

The Importance Of Showing Love :

Some parents may believe they love their children but the way in which they act towards these children does not reflect this ; in other words, despite the parents’ beliefs, their children do not perceive themselves as being loved – such parents may not be properly attuned to their children’s emotional needs ; this, too, can be very psychologically damaging to the child. Indeed, children who are not loved or perceive themselves not to be loved, especially in very early life (but at other stages, too) can incur damage to the physical development of their brains which, in turn, can lead to serious psychiatric problems.

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

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