Tag Archives: Amygdala

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

Three critical brain regions that may be adversely affected by significant and chronic childhood trauma are :

1) The thalamus

2) The amygdala

3) The hippocampus

Below, I will briefly describe the main functions of each of these three crucial regions of the brain, together with providing a summary of the damage they may sustain to their development due early adverse experiences.

1) Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Thalamus :

The thalamus is the part of the brain that assesses all incoming sensory data (ie. information from sound, vision, touch,  smell and taste) and then sends this information on to the appropriate, higher region of the brain for further analysis.

If a child constantly experiences trauma (for example, by frequently witnessing domestic violence perpetrated by a drunken father) the child’s thalamus can become so overwhelmed by the intensity and quantity of sense data it needs to process that it is no longer able to process it properly.

This can lead to the child’s memories of trauma becoming very fragmented.

Another effect of the thalamus being overloaded with traumatic sensory data is to shut down the cortex, resulting in impairment of rational thinking processes. Also, due to the shutting down of the cortex, many of the traumatic experiences are stored without awareness (so that they become unconscious memories).

 

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

Above : diagram showing the position of the thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus (together with other brain regions).

 

2) Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Amygdala :

The amygdala is the brain region that responds to fear, threat and danger.

If a child experiences frequent fear due to childhood abuse the amygdala becomes overwhelmed by the need to process too much information. This can damage it in two main ways :

a) the amygdala becomes overactive and remains constantly ‘stuck on red alert’, leading the individual feeling constantly anxious and fearful, even at times when there is no need to feel this way, objectively speaking. An oversensitive amygdala is also thought to be a major feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious psychiatric condition.

b) the amygdala shuts down as a way of protecting the individual from intolerable feelings of being in danger, which can have the effect of leaving the him/her feeling numb, empty, emotionally dead and dissociated.

3)  Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Hippocampus:

The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for long-term storage of memories. If trauma is severe, the consequential production by the body of stress hormones can have a toxic effect upon this brain area, reducing its capacity by as much as 25℅.

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

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

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

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

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

 

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

– prefrontal cortex

– anterior cingulate

– medial frontal cortex

– subgenual cingulate

– ventral striatum

– ventromedial prefrontal cortex

– amygdala

 

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

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

 

What Are These Brain Areas Associated With?

The function of these brain areas are described below:

PREFRONTAL CORTEX:

– decision making

– conscious control of social behaviour

– speech / writing

– logic

– purposeful (as opposed to instinctual) behaviour

– planning for the future

– expression of the personality

ANTERIOR CINGULATE :

– decision making

– heart rate

– blood pressure

– impulse control

– emotions

MEDIAL PREFRONTAL CORTEX:

– decision making

– memory

SUBGENUAL CINGULATE :

– sleep

– appetite

– anxiety

– mood

– memory

– self esteem

– transporting serotonin

– our experience of depression

VENTRAL STRIATUM :

– decision making

– emotional regulation (the control of emotios)

– the extinction of conditioned responses

AMYGDALA :

– appetite

– emotion

– emotional content of memories

– fear

The Effects Of Disruption Of The Above Brain Areas :

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

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

Resources :

General Information :

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

EBook :

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

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

Self-help :

For immediate help with many of above problems click here.

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

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

3 Types Of Emotional Control Difficulties Resulting From Childhood Trauma

3 Types Of Emotional Control Difficulties Resulting From Childhood Trauma

We know that those who suffer significant childhood trauma are more likely to suffer from emotional dysregulation (ie problems controlling their eemotions) in adulthood compared to those who had a relatively stable upbringing. This is especially true, of course, if they develop Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as a result of their childhood experiences (BPD is strongly associated with childhood trauma and one of its main symptoms is emotional dysregulation.

It is theorized (and there is much evidence building up which supports the theory) that one main reason childhood trauma causes the person who suffered it to develop problems controlling his/her emotions in later life is that the experience of significant childhood trauma can lead to damage of the brain structure called the amygdala which is responsible for our emotional reactions to events. (It is also thought that the experience of childhood trauma can also damage other areas of the brain that affect our emotional responses, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex). Click here to read my article on this.

3 Types Of Emotional Control Difficulties Resulting From Childhood Trauma

The three types of emotional control difficulties that an individual who has suffered significant childhood trauma may develop are:

1) Severe emotional over-reactions.

2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state (also known as emotional lability).

3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Severe emotional over- reactions:

We may react emotionally disproportionately to the things that happen to us. For example, disproportionately angry as a result of what would objectively appear to be very minor provocation, disproportionately anxious in response to a very minor threat or even suicidal behaviour/self-harming behaviour in response to events that the ‘average’ person could take in their stride with little difficulty.

To take a personal example : when I was a teenager I had a minor argument with a friend. As a result, he demanded that I leave his house. Before I knew it, I had punched him. It was only years later (because I’m stupid) that it occurred that I’d reacted as I did because the incident reminded me, on an unconscious level, of my mother throwing me out of the house some years earlier (when I was thirteen years old); in so doing, it had triggered intensely painful feelings associated with the memory of this ultimate rejection.

2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state:

For example, one minute the individual may be withdrawn, depressed and reticent but then suddenly swing, with little or no provocation, into a highly agitated, angry and voluble state.

3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels:

It thought that this is due to problems of communication between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala (in healthy individuals the prefrontal cortex acts efficiently to send messages to the amygdala to reduce its activity once the cause of the emotions is over – the amygdala being a part of the brain which gives rise to emotional responses).

Indeed, it is thought all three of the above problems occur due to brain dysfunction caused, at least in part, by early life trauma.

3 Types Of Emotional Control Difficulties Resulting From Childhood Trauma

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

Other Resources:

Control Your Emotions (hypnosis MP3 download). Click here for details.

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

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Copyright 2015 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Possible Life-Long Effects Of Toxic Stress On The Child.

Possible Life-Long Effects Of Toxic Stress On The Child.

We have been programmed by evolution to have physical responses to perceived dangers and threats. These evolved to prepare our ancestors for ‘fight or flight’, when, for example, they were being stalked by a predator. The bodily responses we experience when we feel endangered and threatened include:

– an increased heart rate

– an increase in blood pressure

– an increase in the amount of stress hormones (such as cortisol) in our blood stream.

If a child experiences severe and chronic (ie. long-lasting) stress and has no emotional support (or poor and inadequate emotional support) to help him/her to cope with the stress and to buffer its effects then it can result in the actual architecture of the brain being damaged (the young brain is particularly sensitive and susceptible to the adverse effects of stress – psychologists call this sensitivity and susceptibility to architectural/physical change as the result of experience plasticity).

For example, a child may be emotionally abused by the mother over a num aber of years with no adequate support from the father (perhaps due to divorce from the mother, which was my own situation), older siblings (indeed, they may even join in the abuse), school, wider family or wider society.

The Three Types Of Stress Response:

Possible Life-Long Effects Of Toxic Stress On The Child.

 

1) Positive stress response:

This is a functional, normal, non-damaging type of stress, causing an only mild physiological response. An example might be a child’s first day at school. It is actually helpful to the child to experience such mild forms of stress and learn that s/he can cope with it as it helps to prepare him/her for adult life.

2) Tolerable stress response :

Here the stress experienced is more severe and/or long-lasting. The corresponding physiological response is therefore greater but still do no long-term damage as long as the child receives sufficient emotional support.

3) Toxic stress response:

Here the stress experienced is severe, long-lasting and frequent. Examples include:

– physical/emotional abuse

– neglect

– maternal depression

– lack of adequate stimulation due to poverty

– living in a household where there is domestic violence

– living in a household where there is alcoholism/drug abuse

– parental mental illness

The effects of toxic stress on the young mind can be life-long. Physical effects on the brain may include:

– disruption of brain circuitry

– anatomical changes

– physiological dysregulation

– damage to the brain structure called the amygdala

– damage to the brain structure called the hippocampus

– damage to the brain structure called the prefrontal cortex

Possible Life-Long Effects Of Toxic Stress On The Child.

Above: We can see here how severe neglect has physically affected the brain.

 

Adverse effects resulting from the above may include:

– poor mood control

– high, chronic anxiety

– severely reduced capability to cope with stress

– severe reduction in socio-emotional skills

– excessive drinking in an attempt to reduce anxiety

– excessive smoking in an attempt to reduce anxiety

– unemployment

– poor academic achievement

– gang membership

– prison

– poverty

– homelessness

– highly unstable and volatile interpersonal relationships

– unhealthy lifestyle leading to physical illnesses

– greater proneness to some medical conditions even in the absence of an unhealthy lifestyle

Conclusion

Toxic stress is a prevalent and very serious threat to young people’s welfare. Its adverse effects can be devastating, and, without appropriate therapy, last a lifetime.

It is therefore vital to identify individuals at risk as early as possible and to develop more effective therapeutic interventions. The earlier effective intervention occurs, the less likely the damage done to the young person will be irrevocable.

 

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

Possible Life-Long Effects Of Toxic Stress On The Child.

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

Other Resources:

Complete Stress Management Pack (downloadable MP3). Click here for details.

 

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Copyright 2015 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery