Coping Mechanisms for Survivors of Childhood Trauma

In my last post I mentioned it might be useful to look at some coping mechanisms one may wish to make use of in the recovery stage from childhood trauma and it is to some of these that I now turn.

There are two main types of coping mechanisms:

1) Those which are helpful in the short-term, but unhealthy in the long-term.

2) Those which are useful in the long-term (but can take more effort and discipline).

Examples of the first include: drinking too much, use of illicit drugs, gambling, over-eating and taking anger out on others (and, almost always, later regretting it).

Examples of the second are: going for a walk, talking things over with a friend, having a relaxing bath or listening to music.

It should be pointed out that the strategies in the first category tend to leave the person with a lower sense of self-worth over time whereas the opposite tends to be the case with the kinds of strategies mentioned in the second category.

The key is to gradually reduce the use of the coping strategies in category one and gradually increase the use of the coping strategies in category two. This can take time.

BREATHING EXERCISES:

Another coping strategy is very simple but very effective (when I first learned this one I was dubious that something so simple could help and was surprised when it did) is to learn ‘controlled breathing’.

Under stress, we tend to HYPERVENTILATE (this refers to the type of breathing which is rapid and shallow) which has the physiological (and indeed psychological) effect of making us feel much more anxious. CONTROLLED BREATHING, on the other hand (breathing DEEPLY, GENTLY and EVENLY THROUGH THE NOSE) has the physiological (and, again, psychological) effect of calming us down. It is recommended by experts that with controlled breathing we should take 8-10 breaths per minute (breathing in AND out equates to ONE breath). With pratise, this skill can become automatic.

FORMING SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS:

Survivors of childhood trauma often find it difficult to form lasting relationships in adulthood (sometimes related to anger-management issues, volatility, inability to trust others and other problems). However, those who can form such relationships tend to have a much better outcome.

My next post will look at ways to help overcome difficulties in building and sustaining relationships. David Hosier. BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Childhood Trauma: An Analysis of Blame.

effects-of-childhood-trauma

When we are children, if someone treats us badly, we attempt to understand why. But in trying to understand, the child’s logic is very often flawed and s/he falsely deduces s/he is to blame for it. The child’s flawed logic may flow similarly to this:

‘Someone is hurting me…punishment only happens to bad children…that means I must be bad…therefore I am to blame for this happening…it is my own fault, there’s something wrong with me.’ THIS CAN OCCUR ON AN INSIDUOUS, UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL.

For this reason, many individuals who have survived trauma spend their adult lives feeling deeply guilty. Often, too, the individual will feel deeply unworthy and may be filled with a strong sense of self-loathing.

It is important to realize such feelings have been ‘programmed’ in through the abuse and are absolutely not a true and accurate reflection of the person who suffers them.

THE NECESSITY TO STOP BLAMING ONESELF:

Although stopping blaming oneself is a very important step and obviously extremely beneficial to one’s sense of self-worth and peace of mind, it can be difficult and challenging. For example, one may have led a life without looking for joy, success or close relationships because ONE FELT ONE DIDN’T DESERVE SUCH THINGS. Seeing things in a new way, and the realization one isn’t a bad person or to blame for the childhood trauma and had , in fact, every right to live an enjoyable life, may cause the individual to feel overwhelmed by a sense of GRIEF for all the wasted years.

Another possibility is that the realization one isn’t to blame will sometimes cause this blame, sometimes in a very intense way, to be turned on those who are perceived to be responsible (such as carers or parents).

Letting go of self-blame, then, whilst necessary, can in itself be stressful. However, coping mechanisms can be employed to help alleviate such stress. It is to this I will turn in my next post.

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

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How Childhood Trauma can Affect View of Self. Part 2.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

DEVELOPMENT OF BELIEF SYSTEMS IN CHILDHOOD:

We develop our most fundamental belief systems in childhood. If a child is brought up with love, affection and security s/he tends to build up positive beliefs. For example:

– people should not treat me badly

– I am a decent and likeable person

– I have rights

– I deserve respect

However, negative belief systems often develop in children who have been abused. For example:

– people cannot be trusted

– I am vulnerable

– I am worthless

– everyone is out to get me

– I am intrinsically unlovable

negative view of self

These negative beliefs often feel very true, but most of the time they are very inaccurate. JUST BECAUSE WE FEEL OUR BELIEFS ARE TRUE, IT IN NO WAY LOGICALLY FOLLOWS THAT THEY ARE.

In effect, then, childhood abuse can cause us to become PREJUDICED AGAINST OURSELVES – we see ourselves through a kind of distorting, black filter.

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY:

Negative, prejudiced self-beliefs are dangerous as they may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example:

– someone who thinks s/he will always fail may, as a result, not try to achieve anything and therefore not succeed in the way s/he in fact had the potential to do (if only s/he had believed in her/himself).

– someone who believes s/he is unloveable (when in reality this is untrue) may never attempt to form close relationships thus remaining unnecessarily lonely and isolated.

In summary, childhood EXPERIENCES form OUR FUNDAMENTAL BELIEF SYSTEMS. This in turn affects:

– our mood

– our behaviour

– our relationships

This negative belief system can become deeply entrenched. It is therefore necessary to ‘re-program’ our belief systems and I shall be examining how this might be achieved in later articles.

Resource:

Traumatic childhoodTEN STEPS TO SOLID SELF-ESTEEM. Click here.

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

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Self-Image : How Childhood Trauma Can Adversely Affect It. Part 1.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

If we have experienced childhood trauma to a significant degree, we may irrationally blame ourselves for it which, in turn, may well seriously, negatively, distort our self-perception; in other words, adversely affect our view of ourselves.

Our ENVIRONMENT has a large influence on how our personalities develop. For example, children brought up in a loving and secure environment are much more likely to become relatively content and self-confident adults.

On the other hand, a child who has suffered abuse and neglect may develop into an adult lacking self-confidence and prone to anxiety, depression and other serious difficulties.

Also, if a child has had an unstable parent or carer who has been unpredictable and has given mixed messages, they may develop into an adult who is fearful of abandoment. As a result, he/she may:

1. cling to close relationships
2. avoid close relationships

and, quite often:

a painful combination of the two.

This can make maintaining close relationships very problematic.

Children are ‘programmed’ to learn from adults (for evolutionary reasons) so if the adult carer has been abusive and critical the child may well grow up FALSELY BELIEVING that he/she is bad, stupid, unloveable and worthless. Also, trusting others may become very difficult as the individual’s experience during childhood was to be badly let down BY THE VERY PERSON/S WHO WERE SUPPOSED TO CARE FOR THEM AND PROTECT THEM.

negative self-image

The more stresses and traumas a child has, the more likely it is that he/she will develop into a pessimistic, anxious, depressed adult who believes things are hopeless and cannot improve.

It should be pointed out, though, that if a child suffers abuse but also has significant positive support in other areas of his/her life during childhood, this can make the individual more RESILIENT to the negative effects of the trauma.

It is also important to note that if a person has suffered trauma and as a result has a negative view of themselves, the future and the world in general (sometimes referred to as the ‘depressive cognitive triad’), IT IS POSSIBLE TO CHANGE THIS PESSIMISTIC OUTLOOK.

Resources:

Hypnosis_download_to_boost_self-esteem  Ten Steps To Improve Self Esteem – instantly hypnosis Audio pack. Click here.

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

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Childhood Trauma: Recovery.

effects-of-childhood-trauma

Research shows those who suffer childhood trauma CAN and DO recover.

Making significant changes in life can be a very daunting prospect, but those who do it in order to aid their own recovery very often find the hard work most rewarding.

Some people find making the necessary changes difficult, whereas others find it enjoyable.

THE DECISION TO CHANGE

Change does not occur instantly. Psychologists have identified the following stages building up to change:

1) not even thinking about it
2) thinking about it
3) planning it
4) starting to do it
5) maintaining the effort to continue doing it

childhood_trauma_recovery

THE RECOVERY PROCESS

Each individual’s progress in recovery is unique, but, generally, the more support the trauma survivor has, the quicker the recovery is likely to occur.

Often recovery is not a steady progression upwards – there are usually ups and downs (eg two steps forward…one step back…two steps forward etc) but the OVERALL TREND is upwards (if you imagine recovery being represented on the vertical axis of a graph and time by the horizontal). Therefore, it is important not to become disheartened by set-backs along the recovery path. These are normal.

Sometimes, one can even feel one at first is getting worse (usually if traumas, long dormant, are being processed by the mind in a detailed manner for the first time). However, once the trauma has been properly consciously reprocessed, although this is often painful, it enables the trauma survivor to work through what happened and to form a new, far more positive, understanding of him/herself.

Once the trauma has been reworked (ie understanding what happened and how it has affected the survivor’s development) he or she can start to develop a more positive and compassionate view of him/herself (for example, realizing that the abuse was not their fault can relieve strong feelings of guilt and self-criticism).

Once the reworking phase has been passed through, improvement tends to become more consistent and more rapid.

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

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Childhood Trauma Leading To Traumatic Memories.

effects-of-childhood-trauma

Remembering traumatic events is in some ways beneficial. For example, it allows us to review the experience and learn from it. Also, by replaying the event/s, its/their emotional charge is diminished.

However, sometimes the process breaks down and the memories remain powerful and frightening. Sometimes they seem to appear at random, and at other times they can be TRIGGERED by a particular event such as a film with a scene that shows a person suffering from a similar trauma to that suffered by the person watching it.

Traumatic memories can manifest themselves in any of the 3 ways listed below:

FLASHBACKS
INTRUSIVE MEMORIES
NIGHTMARES

1) FLASHBACKS

These are often intense, vivid and frightening. They can be difficult to control, especially at night.

Sometimes a flashback may be very detailed, but at other times it may be a more nebulous ‘sense’ of the trauma.

Sometimes the person experiencing the flashback feels that they are going mad or are about to completely lose control, but THIS IS NOT THE CASE.

Traumatic_memories

2) INTRUSIVE MEMORIES

These are more likely to occur when the mind is not occupied. They are more a recollection of the event rather than a reliving of it. When they do intrude, they can be painful. Often, the more we try to banish them from memory the more tenaciously they maintain their grip.

3)NIGHTMARES

These can replay the traumatic events in a similar way to how they originally happened or occur as distorted REPRESENTATIONS of the event.

HOW RELIABLE ARE MEMORIES OF TRAUMATIC EVENTS?

There used to be concern that some memories of trauma may be false memories. However, the latest research suggests that memories of trauma tend to be quite accurate but may be distorted or embellished.

However, false memories CAN occasionally occur. This is most likely to happen when someone we trust, such as a therapist, keeps suggesting some trauma (eg sexual abuse) must have happened.

It is important to remember, though, that parents or carers will sometimes DENY or DOWNPLAY and MINIMIZE our traumatic experiences due to a sense of their own guilt. In other words, they may claim our traumatic memories are false when in fact they are not.

REPRESSION

Very traumatic memories may sometimes be REPRESSED (buried in the unconscious with no conscious access to them). In other words, we may forget that a trauma has happened. As I suggested in PART 1, this is a defense mechanism. Sometimes the buried memories can be brought back into consciousness (eg through psychotherapy) so that the brain may be allowed to process and work through the memories allowing a recovery process to get underway.

Further Information:

An excellent link to read more about traumatic memories can be found by clicking here.

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

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Childhood Trauma: Problems It Causes. Part One.

effects of long lasting trauma

 

Overcome_childhood_trauma OVERCOME CHILDHOOD TRAUMA MP3 – CLICK HERE

One thing from research is clear: the experience of childhood trauma makes it more likely the individual will suffer problems as an adult. Abuse does not, though, necessarily lead to severe problems, but makes a person more VULNERABLE to them in later life.

THE MORE SEVERE AND REPEATED THE ABUSE THE MORE LIKELY THE INDIVIDUAL WILL DEVELOP PROBLEMS LATER.

However, if the child also has good experiences in childhood this can serve to build up RESILIENCE, diminishing the negative effects of abuse.

For resilience to develop, it is particularly important that the child does not blame him or herself for the abuse.

COMMON PROBLEMS RESULTING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA:

difficulty controlling emotions

guilt and shamedepression, hopelessness, helplessness

alcohol and drug misuse

eating disorders

dissociation

self-harm eg. cutting self, attempting suicide

lack of confidencesocial withdrawal

poor anger management

difficulty trusting others

being drawn into further abusive relationships

NEGATIVE BELIEF SYSTEM.

Survivors of childhood abuse are much more likely to hold an array of negative beliefs. Their view of themselves and their general outlook tend to be negative. British Psychologist Professor Jehu summarized the kinds of negative beliefs held:

BELIEFS ABOUT SELF:

I am unusual
I am bad
I am worthless
I am to blame

BELIEFS ABOUT OTHERS:

Others are untrustworthy
Others will reject me

BELIEFS ABOUT THE FUTURE:

The future is hopeless

THE EFFECTS OF ABUSE ON THINKING PROCESSES:

Research on this has led to two main findings:

1) Those who have been abused tend to DETACH (or ‘space/zone out’) more than the average person. This is known as DISSOCIATION. It can involve cutting off from emotions or feeling ‘unreal’. Sometimes, if the original trauma was especially adverse and distressing, it might be REPRESSED (‘blanked out’ from memory). READ MORE ABOUT TRAUMA AND MEMORY BY CLICKING HERE.

Survivors are sometimes driven by their pain to INTENTIONALLY dissociate by:

drinking alcohol
smoking
using drugs
binge eating
self-injuring /gambling

2) Survivors of abuse are much more sensitive to abuse-related triggers. This is a kind of defense mechanism: by being hyper-alert to possible danger, the person is more able to protect him or herself. However, if as an adult there is much lower risk, this oversensitivity can severely interfere with the person’s quality of life.

Resources:

Childhood_trauma

Above e-book now available on Amazon for immediate download. $4.99. CLICK HERE (Other titles also available).

 

Useful Link:

Childhood Trauma: What Is It? Click here.

 

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

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Childhood Trauma: What Is It?

childhood_trauma_effects

What Is Childhood Trauma?

There is no one, absolute and precise definition of childhood trauma. However, experts in the field of its study generally agree that an individual’s traumatic experience will be related to one or more of the following three types of abuse:

1) Emotional abuse

2) Physical abuse

3) Sexual abuse

In the past it was generally agreed amongst clinicians that sexual abuse had the most significant adverse impact on the child’s subsequent development. However, it is important to point out that more up-to-date research shows emotional and physical abuse can be just as damaging (some children will experience a combination of two or more of the three types).

The exact nature of the abuse will be inextricably intertwined with the developmental problems which emerge in the individual as a result of it.

childhood trauma

Neglect.

There is a problem, though, with the categorization method. This is because the three individual categories do not tend to take account of neglect. Neglect may involve a parent or carer doing nothing to intervene to prevent the child from being abused by someone else, or a parent burdening a young child with their own psychological problems which the child is not old or mature enough to cope with. A parent or carer might neglect a child knowingly or unknowingly.

How Common is Child Abuse?

It is difficult to know the true figures as childhood abuse is often covered up or unreported. Also, accurate figures are hindered by the fact childhood abuse cannot be precisely defined.

However, current estimates in the UK suggest about 12% of children experience physical abuse and 11% experience sexual abuse.

So if you have been abused as a child, you are far from alone.

Childhood Trauma And Personal Meaning.

Whilst it is impossible to precisely define child abuse, what is important is the PERSONAL MEANING the sufferer ATTACHES to it. In other words, recognizing the problems a person has developed as a result of the abuse and providing therapy to help the individual deal with those problems is more important than precisely defining the traumatic experience which caused the problems, and arguing about whether it technically qualifies as abuse or not.

Events in childhood which cause trauma are often referred to as ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES or ACEs) in the literature. To view an infographic of ACEs, please click here.

To read more about the ACEs study, click here.

Other Resources Related To Childhood Trauma :


Childhood_trauma

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download : click here

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

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery