Tag Archives: Child Abuse

The Effects of Emotionally Distant Parents on the Child.

clinical hypnotherapy 728 90 - The Effects of Emotionally Distant Parents on the Child.

cropped childhood trauma fact sheet1 - The Effects of Emotionally Distant Parents on the Child.

Clearly, the child has both physical and emotional needs that the parents have a responsibility to meet. Both are obviously of vital importance. Often, however, a child may be well provided for in a material sense, but utterly deprived of emotional nurturance; this can be regarded as a form of child abuse.

This places the child in a state of psychological conflict, even turmoil.  He may be grateful on the one hand (for having his material needs met), but angry and hurt on the other (due to emotional deprivation).

So what are the effects on the child that result from him not having his emotional needs met, or, as occurred in my own particular case, not having one’s emotional needs met AND being expected to meet the emotional needs of the parent (ie, the child is compelled to act as his parent’s parent) ?

First, let’s look at some of the child’s most important emotional needs :


– needs to receive love/affection and attention

– needs to have personal feelings and emotions respected

– needs to be free of burdensome adult responsibilities / spontaneously enjoy self / play in care-free manner

– needs to be encouraged and helped to develop a sense of self-worth

– needs behaviour to be guided by compassionate discipline which does not cause physical or emotional damage

– needs to be protected, as far as is reasonably possible and desirable (some knocks in childhood are clearly unavoidable and can provide valuable learning experiences)

This is not a definitive list, but, I think, covers the main areas.

Both verbal and tacit (non-verbal) messages from parents are absorbed by the child, as water into a sponge, both consciously and unconsciously, and have an enormous impact on his self-image and identity.

If, however, the child is essentially emotionally abandoned, family roles become confused and blurred ; indeed, if the child is expected to provide for the emotional needs of the parent, role-reversal can occur. Not only does this place the child under immense psychological strain, it also deprives him of a parental role model. The child is then likely to develop a very shaky and uncertain self-image and low self-esteem as he has learned that his own psychological well-being is of no importance, or, at the very best, comes a poor second to that of the parent.


The adult who has experienced a childhood such as described above is likely to repress, or shut off from, his emotions as he has learned they will be dismissed as unimportant ( due to the fact that they were invalidated by the parent). There can be a sense of emotional numbness, or of being ’emotionally dead’.

Such people are likely to be very poor at expressing, or even identifying, their emotions as they were unable to assimilate an ’emotional language’ as they grew up. The loneliness and emotional deprivation they suffered in youth will frequently lead them to deny their own needs as adults.

If the child was expected to fulfil the parent’s emotional needs in youth,  at the expense of his own, he is also likely to carry a heavy weight of guilt into adulthood, as well as a deep sense of inadequacy. This is because he was given an impossible task which was thus impossible to succeed at : to be his parent’s parent.

Psychological scars inflicted in such ways may be very severe, leading to much anger and pain in adulthood, in which case an appropriate form of therapy should be given serious consideration.

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

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Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).

‘People are disturbed not by things, but by their view of things.’


REBT emphasizes that the key to emotional health, even in the face of life’s adversities, is RATIONAL THINKING. In the context of REBT, it is useful to consider the reasons the 4 words: RATIONAL, EMOTIVE, BEHAVIOUR and THERAPY have been used to make up the name:

1) RATIONAL – REBT stresses that irrational thinking leads to emotional problems. Irrational thinking, in the context of the therapy, has the following characteristics: it is rigid, it is extreme, it is false and it is unconstructive. Rational thinking, on the other hand is seen to be flexible, true, non-extreme and constructive.

Irrational thinking tends to lead to unhelpful emotional responses such as anxiety, which, in turn, lead to unhelpful behaviours.

2) EMOTIVE – in this context, the word ’emotive’ means ‘relevant to emotions’. REBT is concerned with reducing feelings of emotional distress, but, importantly, it also recognizes the fact that, in life, people will, inevitably, experience NEGATIVE FEELINGS WHEN FACED WITH ADVERSITY, BUT THESE NEED NOT BE UNHEALTHY.




The theory states that UNEs we experience as a reaction to adversity are a result of IRRATIONAL BELIEFS ABOUT OURSELVES, OTHERS and THE WORLD IN GENERAL. We need to change our irrational beliefs to rational ones so that we may experience HNEs rather than UNEs. The theory incorporates the ABC model to help illustrate this. In the ABC model A,B and C stand for the following:

A : Adversity

B : Beliefs

c : Consequences of beliefs (eg emotions)

Let’s consider, with this model in mind, the following scenario :

First, an adverse event occurs (A) – a colleague at work snaps at you

this leads to you having a belief (B). The belief (B) may be IRRATIONAL or RATIONAL. Let’s look at examples of both:

(B) IRRATIONAL : ‘It is imperative that my work colleague likes me’


(B) RATIONAL : ‘I would prefer it if my work colleague liked me, but it is not a catastrophe if she does not.’

These opposing two responses then give rise to commensurate emotional responses:

(B) IRRATIONAL leads to UNEs eg Anxiety


(B) RATIONAL leads to HNEs eg Concern (the emotion of concern, whilst a negative emotion, is also a healthy one).

In order to illustrate further how negative emotions can be both healthy and unhealthy, below are two lists. The left hand column is a list of unhealthy negative emotions (UNEs), whilst the list on the right gives the healthy negative emotion equivalents (HNEs):







INTELLECTUAL VERSUS EMOTIVE UNDERSTANDING : it has already been stated that REBT views irrational beliefs as rigid, false, not sensible and unconstructive. The example given of an irrational belief was ; ‘it is imperative that my work colleague likes me’ whereas the rational response would be : ‘it would be nice if my work colleague liked me but it is not a catastrophe if she does not.’ REBT states that we need to understand ON AN INTELLECTUAL LEVEL that the second response is the rational one but that this INTELLECTUAL UNDERSTANDING is not sufficient on its own. If we only understood only intellectually, our ‘head would understand but our heart wouldn’t’ – this would mean we would not FEEL any different : we would still have a UNE (ie anxiety), consistent with an IRRATIONAL BELIEF. So, REBT emphasizes that our understanding that the rational belief is the correct one needs to be not only INTELLECTUAL, BUT ALSO EMOTIVE. Only then can we feel, think and act in a way that is consistent with the rational belief (ie in a CONCERNED rather than ANXIOUS manner).

3) BEHAVIOUR : REBT states that IRRATIONAL BELIEFS lead to UNCONSTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOUR whereas RATIONAL BELIEFS lead to CONSTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOUR. In our example about the work collegue, this idea might be illustrated by the irrational belief leading us to AVOID our work colleague whereas the rational belief might lead us to approach her assertively and talk the problem through calmly and maturely.

Below are examples of how UNEs can lead to unhelpful behaviour whilst HNEs can lead to helpful behaviour:

UNE – DEPRESSION leading to withdrawal from enjoyable activities/EQUIVALENT HNE – SADNESS leading to participation in enjoyable activities after period of adjustment

UNE – GUILT leading to begging for forgiveness/EQUIVALENT HNE – REMORSE leading to asking for forgiveness

UNE – SHAME leading to withdrawal from others/EQUIVALENT HNE – DISAPPOINTMENT leading to contact with others and talking things over

UNE – HURT leading to sulking/EQUIVALENT HNE – SORROW leading to assertiveness and communicating with others.

4) THERAPY – in order to get the most out of REBT it is necessary to first address one’s maladaptive (unhelpful) responses to life’s adversities BEFORE dealing with the practical side of the actual problems. The rationale behind this is that otherwise the unhelpful responses will impede the individual’s ability to deal with the particular adversities in an effective way.

I hope you have found this post a useful introduction to REBT.

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

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Addressing The Effects Of Childhood Trauma With Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Part 2

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In part 1, I introduced the new and promising therapy called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT); as I said, there is growing evidence that it is a very effective treatment for conditions which may arise as a consequence of an individual having suffered childhood trauma (especially those who have developed borderline personality disorder -BPD).

As a quick reminder, five key skills which DBT endeavours to teach those who choose to undergo the therapy are:


download 34 - Addressing The Effects Of Childhood Trauma With Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Part 2

In part one I covered 1 and 2 above. It seems quite logical then (!) that I should, in this post, move on to look at number 3 – DISTRESS TOLERANCE:


Practitioners of DBT try to instil the view in their clients that sometimes it is easier, and psychologically healthier, to stop struggling against reality, and,(they tell us) we need to accept that we, nor anybody else, for that matter, can prevent painful events from occurring in life (sometimes extremely painful ones, if we’re going to be up-front about it), nor can the painful emotions they bring with them. It is hardly a new idea, but practitioners of DBT also remind us that some painful things in life cannot be changed and that the only viable option we really have, therefore, is to accept the fact. This, of course, is difficult and requires considerable inner strength. By accepting the things which cannot be changed, though, it is reasoned, we free up energy which could have been wasted (by, say, being angry and bitter about the existence of these unchangeable facts) to deal with what CAN BE CHANGED.

DBT therapists tell us that there are certain skills we may wish to develop which will INCREASE OUR ABILITY TO TOLERATE DISTRESS; these are:

a) distraction/improving the moment
b) self-soothing
c) considering pros and cons of the situation
d) radical acceptance

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

a) distraction/improving the moment – eg distracting ourselves with activities we enjoy, keeping our minds busy ; reminding ourselves of the good things in life ; reminding ourselves that it is better to think clearly and in a focused way about our problems ‘after the storm has passed’ (rather than try to make decisions when in the middle of an intense crisis which may be over-determined by our emotions) ; remind ourselves that difficult periods will pass

b) self-soothing – eg we can use postive self-talk (see my posts on cognitive behavior therapy for more on this – to access the posts just type ‘CBT’ into this site’s search facility) ; meditation/relaxation activities/breathing exercises ; using our imaginations to recall a soothing and comforting memory or place (if recalling a place it can be helpful to imagine, for a while, actually being there) ; thinking of things in life which are meaningful to us and give us the motivation to get through the difficult period.

c) considering the pros and cons of the situation : eg we may wish to consider how getting through a very difficult period may benefit us – for example, we may learn from it, it may strengthen us, it may make us more compassionate and sensitive towards others, we may be able to pass on the benefit of our experience to help others, it may even open up completely unexpected avenues in life which may not otherwise have been available to us (bad events do sometimes lead to positive outcomes, however indirectly – it is often worth keeping that in mind).

d) radical acceptance : this might involve trying to view what is happening, however undesirable, from as objective and detached a perspective as possible – a bit like watching the events unfold around somebody else in a movie ; another, perhaps surprising, technique suggested by DBT therapists is to try to, literally, half-smile. This sounds strange and even rather silly, but research shows that just as the mind can affect the body (eg thinking about something embarrassing and going red in the face) so too can the body effect the mind – in this case, the idea is that the half-smile ‘fools’ the brain into ‘believing’ things aren’t as bad as all that. It is obvious, however, that in certain situations this technique would be highly inappropriate (I need hardly list examples).


The fourth skill that DBT teaches is how to cope with intense and overwhelming emotions – this skill is referred to by practitioners of DBT as emotional regulation.

This skill is made up of three sub-skills : a) increasing one’s understanding of one’s emotions; b) decreasing one’s emotional vulnerability; c) lessening the degree of distress caused by one’s negative emotions.


The final skill of interpersonal effectiveness helps the person undertaking DBT to communicate with others effectively when interacting with others in a way that helps to improve his/her relationships.

In order to achieve this, s/he is helped to communicate with others in a more controlled manner and to be less prone to speaking impulsively and without forethought due stress or overwhelming emotions (such as anger).

homepage category 5 - Addressing The Effects Of Childhood Trauma With Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Part 2CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS PACK – click here for further details :




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


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Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

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DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY (DBT) is an exciting new treatment option for those suffering with BPD. It is a therapy which has elements in common with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

It is an evidence-based treatment (ie it is backed by scientific research).

In the past, BPD was considered to be extremely difficult to treat, but, with the development of therapies such as CBT and DBT, the prognosis is now far more optimistic.

DBT was originally created by the psychologist Marsha Lineham; at first, it was developed with the treatment of females who self-harmed and were suicidal in mind. However, since then, its possible applications have become much broader; it is now used to treat both males and females suffering from a large array of different psychological conditions.

As already stated, DBT has many elements in common with CBT; in addition to this, it also borrows from ZEN and a therapy, which is becoming increasingly popular, called MINDFULNESS.

DBT has been particularly successful in the treatment of BPD (for information about BPD see Category 3 of the main menu : BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO CHILDHOOD TRAUMA). It is thought that one of the main CONTRIBUTING FACTORS of BPD is a traumatic childhood in which the child grows up in an INVALIDATING ENVIRONMENT (eg made to feel unloved and worthless). Such a childhood environment is especially likely to result in the child developing BPD in later life if he/she also has a BIOLOGICAL VULNERABILITY (carries certain genes making him/her particularly vulnerable to stress).

When a person is suffering from BPD the condition causes him/her to REACT WITH ABNORMAL INTENSITY TO EMOTIONAL STIMULATION; the individual’s level of emotional arousal goes up extremely fast, peaks at an abnormally high level, and, takes much longer than normal to return to its baseline level.

This condition leads to the affected individual – a victim of his/her uncontrollable, intense emotional reactions – prone to stagger in life from one crisis to the next and to be perceived by others as emotionally unstable. It is thought that, due to the invalidating environment which the sufferer experienced in childhood, the normal ability to develop the coping strategies needed to regulate emotions is blocked, leaving the person defenceless against painful emotional feelings and leading to maladaptive (unhelpful) behaviors.

It is this problem which DBT was is now used to address. The therapy teaches individuals how to cope with, and regulate, their emotions so that they are no longer dominated and controlled by them. This is vital as the inability to control feelings will often wreck crucial areas of life, including friendships, relationships and careers. It is because of these possible effects that DBT also helps individuals develop SOCIAL SKILLS to help reduce the likelihood of them occurring.

DBT has been found to be effective in helping people suffering from a large range of psychiatric conditions; these include;

– self-harming
– depression
– suicidal ideation
– bipolar
– anxiety
– ptsd
– eating disorders
– substance abuse
– low self-esteem
– problems managing anger
– problems managing relationships/friendship

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

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Latest Research Leads to New List Of Main Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Symptoms: The List

cropped childhood trauma fact sheet1 - Latest Research Leads to New List Of Main Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Symptoms: The List

Recent research has led to an expansion of the description of the main symptoms of BPD. Following the development of the Sheldern Western Assessment Procedure 200 (an assessment tool which includes 200 questions that aid in the diagnosis of BPD) experts, based on up-to-date research, have now developed a much more detailed and comprehensive list of symptoms of BPD than used to be the case. The list is published in a book by Patrick Kelly and Francis Mondimore -called Borderline Personality Disorder – New Reasons For Hope – who are experts in the field of BPD. I reproduce the list of symptoms in full below:


– FULL OF PAINFUL AND UNCOMFORTABLE EMOTIONS : unhappiness, depression, despondency, anxiety, anger, hostility.

– INABILITY TO REGULATE EMOTIONS : emotions change rapidly and unpredictably; emotions tend to spiral out of control leading to extremes in feelings of anxiety, sadness, rage, excitement; inability to self-soothe when distressed so requires involvement of others ; tends to catastrophize and see problems as unsolvable disasters ; tends to become irrational when emotions stirred up which can lead to a drop in the normal level of functioning ; tends to act impulsively without regard for the consequences

– BECOMES EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED TO OTHERS QUICKLY AND INTENSELY : develops feelings and expectations of others not warranted by history or context of the relationship ; expects to be abandoned by those s/he is emotionally close to ; feels misunderstood, mistreated and victimized ; simultaneously needy and rejecting of others (craves intimacy and caring but tends to reject it when it is offered) ; interpersonal relationships unstable, chaotic and rapidly changing.

– DAMAGED SENSE OF SELF : lacks stable self-image ; attitudes, values, goals and feelings about self may be unstable and changing ; feels inadequate, inferior and like a failure ; feels empty ; feels helpless, powerless and at mercy of outside forces ; feels like an outsider who does not belong ; overly needy and dependent ; needs excessive reassurance and approval.

Quite a list! These symptoms, in my case, ring all too familiar sounding bells ; so much so, in fact, that a set of ear-plugs would not go amiss. Actually, I feel exhausted just by having typed the list out! I think I’ll go and have a lie down.

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

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A Closer Examination of The Effects of Childhood Trauma. Part One..

It has been stated in several of the posts which I have already published on this site that our childhood experiences have an incalcuably large effect on how we develop later on in life, and, in particular, the quality (or lack, thereof) of the relationship we had with our parents. Research has informed us that the effects of early, adverse experience may permeate and poison major areas of the affected individual’s life later on in life.

I’d like to start by recapping the major areas of a person’s life that the experience of childhood trauma may affect; these effects can last for many, many years, and, if effective treatment is not assiduously sought and implemented, even a whole life-time :

1 – the individual’s ability to regulate (control) emotions
2 – the individual’s capacity to form lasting relationships and integrate/interact in an appropriate manner socially.
3- the individual’s behaviour
4- the individuals cognitive ability (thinking skills) and achievements related to this
5- the individual’s physical health

In PART ONE of this post, I will look only at numbers 1 and 2 above. Numbers 3,4 and 5 will be examined in PART TWO, to be published shortly.

Let’s examine each of these in turn:

1) THE INDIVIDUAL’S EMOTIONAL HEALTH – Effects of childhood trauma can, and frequently do, lead to the individual developing a perpetual and pervasive sense of unease, fearfulness and anxiety in later life. Often, in an attempt to reduce these distressing feelings, the individual may WITHDRAW FROM INTERACTING WITH OTHERS. In earlier childhood, such anxiety may have expressed itself through self-harm such as hair pulling or creating lesions (sometimes with a knife) to the flesh.

If early stress in life has been protracted in nature, sleep disruption (eg constant waking, vivid, intense nightmaers etc) may frequently develop.

If some of the trauma in childhood was of a particularly intense nature, it may also lead to ‘flashbacks’ in later life, together with the types of nightmares mentioned above.

In later life, too, the individual who has experienced childhood trauma may develop a constantly ‘flat’ mood, devoid of excitement or joy; indeed, the ability of the brain (this need NOT be permanent) to feel positive or pleasant emotions may be completely lost (psychologists term this type of joyless, ‘flat’ emotional state, in which the brain loses its ability to create positive feelings, ANHEDONIA). A mental state such as this will also, often, be accompanied by intense feelings of (usually irrational) GUILT.

However, some may be emotionally affected in a different way : as a result of having suffered childhood trauma the affected individual’s emotions may become HIGHLY VOLATILE and UNPREDICTABLE. The individual may become very quick to anger. and, also, as a result, s/he may develop a reputation as someone who is EMOTIONALLY UNSTABLE and prone to EXTREME EMOTIONAL OVER-REACTIONS. The term ‘over-sensitive’ may also be freely banded, in relation to the suffering and hurt individual, by incomprehending and bemused others, and they are likely, sadly, to ‘wash their hands’ of the individual, preferring not to invest time attempting to get to the root of things and offer help and support.

As the individual who has experienced childhood trauma gets older, CHRONIC FEELINGS OF INTENSE EMOTIONAL DISTRESS MAY DEVELOP. Relentless anxiety, which will, invariably, be a significant component of such distress, may, too, lead to a state of constant exhaustion and dibilitating fatigue. This, in turn, may well lead to DEPRESSION; the depression may, itself, then lead to alcoholism or misuse of other mood altering substances.

Finally, as a result of severe childhood trauma, DISSOCIATIVE (see my post on DISSOCIATION) symptoms may appear; when dissociative symptoms do develop, research suggests that such symptoms are linked to EXCESSIVE ANGER and LOW SELF-ESTEEM.

2) THE INDIVIDUAL’S CAPACITY TO FORM LASTING RELATIONSHIPS AND INTEGRATE/INTERACT APPROPRIATELY SOCIALLY – Different individuals will be affected later in life, with respect to their social functioning, in different ways. These include:

– becoming very withdrawn (tragically, this may lead to them being perceived as sullen, morose and unlikeable, which is then likely to lead on to SOCIAL REJECTION , and, even, perhaps, total OSTRACISISM).

– becoming ‘difficult’ (frequently, this also has damaging knock-on effects, such as conflict with others, and, thus, as above, social rejection)

– becoming easily angry at other people to ‘push them away’ (often this will operate on an unconscious level) : the individual may have been so denigrated by others in childhood that s/he has been made to feel worthless and ashamed (having INTERNALIZED THE VIEW OF HIM/HER THOSE CLOSE TO HIM/HER HAVE TAKEN – as a result, very often, of PROJECTING THEIR OWN GUILT onto him/her (who may well have been turned into A CONVENIENT FAMILY SCAPEGOAT, deflecting the need for other family members to examine their own consciences).

– in adulthood, too, sexual promiscuity may also develop, possibly (and, again, unconsciously) in a (futile) attempt to gain attention and love.

I hope you have found this post of interest. I look forward to seeing you again for Part Two, to be published imminently! Please click on the FOLLOW icon if you would like immediate notification of all future post publications. Or you may wish to leave a comment, to which I’ll reply a.s.a.p.

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

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Childhood Trauma: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety. Part 1

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The human brain has developed, to save unnecessary mental work, to learn to carry out many activities so well that they become automatic. Examples include, for instance, tying our ties or shoelaces, or more complicated procedures like driving a car. When we first undertook such activities, we had to concentrate hard on them and give them our full attention. But once we have performed them sufficiently often, we can carry them out without much conscious thought at all; on ‘automatic pilot’, as it were. This is a very good thing for many activities; however, when it comes to our thinking processes, many irrational beliefs and ideas we have picked up throughout our lives we can mentally repeat to ourselves so often that they, too, become automatic and we accept them as representing ‘that’s how things are’ unquestioningly. In this way, irrational beliefs can become habitual and ingrained, affecting our view of the world, ourselves, the future and others in most unhelpful ways. Such irrational and habitual negative thinking is often a major cause of feelings of anxiety.

Automatic thought processes which often contribute to anxiety include:

a – our internal ‘self-talk’ or ‘internal monologue’
b – past events and memories which perpetually recur in our minds (these can be extremely selective and are also strongly influenced by mood; so, if we are depressed, we will selectively recall our failures rather than our successes, for example. Or we might dwell on our bad characteristics, rather than our good ones. Unsurprisingly, this perpetuates the depression).
c – explanations we provide ourselves with for how our lives have turned out (eg I am not in a relationship because I am intrinsically unloveable).
d – key stories we tell ourselves about our lives, which we believe are crucial to them (eg in relation to our work or our childhoods etc)
e – our reflections on our daily living experience (again, this can be very selective; for example, if we are depressed we may focus solely on our errors and failings whilst, at the same time, ignoring or devaluing our successes).

All of these thinking processes are underpinned by OUR CORE BELIEFS WHICH WERE LARGELY LAID DOWN IN CHILDHOOD. Core beliefs relate to 3 main areas:


COGNITIVE THERAPY HELPS US TO CHANGE OUR HABITUAL, UNHELPFUL THOUGHT PROCESSES (a-e above) and our CORE BELIEFS for the better. By changing how we think (eg by challenging our irrational, negative, automatic thoughts) and reassessing our belief system we can change the way we interpret events and very significantly and positively alter how we experience our lives. Part 2 will examine, more specifically, how cognitive behavioural therapy can help us to achieve this.

For more information about CBT and help for recovering from trauma a good site to visit is: http://www.psychologytools.org/ptsd.html

There are also links to online `CBT programs which address anxiety in the ‘Recommended Resources’ category of this site.

I hope you have found this post of interest.

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

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Childhood Trauma and Self-Harm : How it can be Addressed.

cropped childhood trauma fact sheet1 - Childhood Trauma and Self-Harm : How it can be Addressed.

Three key elements to reducing our risk of harming ourselves are:

1) distracting our thoughts away from self-harm
2) reducing the intensity of our emotional arousal to levels which we are able to manage
3) dealing with internal critical ‘voices’ (ie thought processes).

However, as self-harming is often deeply ingrained, we cannot expect instantaneous results. It needs working at.

Let’s look at each of the 3 elements in turn:

1) DISTRACTION: these can be very simple things such as listening to music, watching a movie, going for a walk or a run, reading, calling a friend, browsing the internet, doing something creative like art or craft (eg making a collage), taking a bath, and keeping a journal or diary (including writing down our feelings).

2) REDUCING THE INTENSITY OF OUR EMOTIONAL AROUSAL: one way to do this is to get the painful emotion out. Again, there are simple ways to accomplish this. They include: going for a run, punching a punch bag (or even a pillow), writing a letter to, for example, our parents (without actually sending it), writing out our feelings in a journal, calling a crisis line, going to an online chatline/support group and sharing our feelings, writing poetry about how we feel, playing moving music/crying.


Sometimes our anger can overwhelm us, so it is important to be able to discharge it in a safe way. Those of us who have experienced childhood trauma have very frequently been taught to blame ourselves. This can result in remaining angry at ‘the child within us’. It is therefore necessary to realize:

a) this child did nothing wrong and does not deserve our anger.
b) the anger needs to be appropriately and safely redirected at those who caused our childhood trauma (in a way which is not destructive to ourselves or them).
c) FEELING angry is not the same as EXPRESSING anger, so does no harm: so we don’t need to fear these angry feelings.
d)we need to stop repressing or misdirecting our anger (at those who do not deserve it – known as DISPLACEMENT in psychodynamic theory) as this can lead to it becoming obsessive.
e) we need to learn to express our anger safely, appropriately and positively. For example, writing a letter we have no intention of sending in order to release our pent up feelings, taking up Judo or a martial art, role playing with a friend or counsellor ( saying to him/her what we would like to say to those who caused our childhood trauma).



A acknowledge anger
N nip it in the bud
G get help for your anger if necessary (eg anger management classes)
E express anger constructively
R release anger appropriately and let it go


A avoid it
N numb it with food/ illicit drugs/alcohol etc
G grin and grit your teeth (ie suppress it as it will just ‘fester’)
E explode
R rationalize it (ie explain it away)

3) DEALING WITH OUR INTERNAL CRITICAL ‘VOICES’: growing up with negative parents leaves many of us with a lot of negative messages running around our heads – we may have had horrible things said about us so often that we have INTERNALIZED them (ie come to see them as true so they form the basis of our self-concept). As adults, we first need to acknowledge that we have these self-lacerating thoughts. This is because the attempt to ignore them can paradoxically make them all the more intense and tenacious.

We may come to notice triggers for these thoughts. For example, if someone is just slightly off-hand with us we may feel we must be a horrible person who everyone will always reject as a matter of course. The root of this may be that we were rejected by one or both of our parents. Being able to trace our self-critical thoughts back to their roots in such a way, and, therefore, understand their triggers, can reduce their intensity of them quite considerably.

In order to retrain the way we think about ourselves, it is helpful, every time we have a negative thought about ourselves, to replace it with a positive one. It can be helpful, too, to write those positive messages down and to keep them somewhere they can easily be retrieved so that we can, on occasion, read through them. It is even possible to make an audio file of them and listen to them occasionally.

As time goes on, it is necessary to let our self-critical messages go and to stop emotionally tormenting ourselves – instead, we need to treat ourselves with compassion.

When individuals come to the point that they are ready to stop hurting themselves with self-critical messages, some make a kind of ritual out of it such as writing down all the negative thoughts they used to have about themselves on a piece of paper and then burning it or tearing it up and throwing it away.

In summary, then, we need to realize that we have absolutely nothing whatsoever to gain, for either ourselves or others, by constantly emotionally torturing ourselves. It is necessary, instead, to start treating ourselves with the love and compassion which may well have been denied us in childhood. We can give ourselves the love and compassion the child within us deserves.

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

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Childhood Trauma and Self-harm. Part 1.

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Many research studies (eg Arnold, 1995) have demonstrated a link between having been abused as a child and self-harm. In one study,84% of individuals who self-harmed reported that childhood trauma had contributed to their condition.


The following are examples:

-skin cutting
-skin burning
-compulsive skin picking
-hair pulling
-interfering with wound healing
-swallowing foreign objects
-pulling off nails

Whilst it sounds counterintuitive, self-harm is fundamentally a COPING MECHANISM born out of trauma and a profound sense of powerlessness.


Self-harm has been described as a kind of ‘pain-exchange’. This means invisible, extreme emotional pain is converted into visible, physical wounds. After a period of self-injury individuals report feeling calmer and more able to cope. Self-injuring causes the brain to release ‘natural pain killers’ which may have the twin effect of diminishing psychological pain. A further theory is that, due to an individual’s self-loathing (see later in the post), self-injury acts as a form of self-punishment which the individual consciously or unconsciously believes s/he deserves.

Typically, people who self-harm are emotionally fragile and highly sensitive to rejection.


Not all self-harm is direct. Indirect methods include:

-substance misuse
-extreme risk taking
-staying in an abusive relationship

With these, the damage is not immediate, but, rather, they are physically and/or psychologically damaging over the long-term.


The following have been found to be associated with self-harm:

-physical/sexual/emotional abuse
-loss of primary care giver (eg through divorce)
-having ’emotionally absent’ parent/s
-growing up in a chaotic family (eg due to parental mental health problems)
-being raised in the care system
-role reversal in child-parent relationship (eg child acting as a disturbed parent’s counsellor)

Furthermore, many who self-harm have NEGATIVE CORE BELIEFS such as the following:

-I am bad/evil
-I am worth nothing
-I shouldn’t have been born
-I’m never good enough
-I don’t deserve to be happy
-I’m unlovable
-I’m inferior
-I don’t fit in anywhere
-there’s something wrong with me

Such beliefs lead to: SELF-LOATHING and EXTREME LOW SELF-ESTEEM. This in turn leads to emotional distress which can trigger acts of self-harm such as those illustrated in this post. My next post will look at ways we can minimize our risk of self-harming.

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Above eBooks available for immediate download from Amazon. $4.99 each. CLICK HERE.

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

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Repression Of Traumatic Childhood Memories.

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Repression Of Traumatic Childhood Memories

Most of us are familiar with the idea that people who have experienced severe traumas sometimes REPRESS the memory of them (ie. bury them deep in the unconscious where they cannot be consciously recalled). This process is known as REPRESSION.

This is thought to be an automatic process (ie. not under conscious control) which operates as a defense mechanism (when people deliberately try to push disturbing thoughts/memories out of conscious awareness, the process is known as suppression). Freud thought that such repressed memories festered in the unconscious, causing neurotic symptoms or hysteria, and that they needed to be brought back into consciousness and worked through in order for healing to take place.

Psychologists refer to the inability to recall traumatic events DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA.

Many have claimed that repression of traumatic memories is very common. For example, one therapist, Renee Frederickson (1992), claimed: ‘millions of people have blocked out frightening episodes of abuse, years of their lives, or their entire childhood.’ Indeed, today, many psychotherapists regard uncovering repressed memories as vital to the treatment of their patients.

But what does the research indicate?

Loftus (1993) found that most people seemed to have no trouble recalling traumatic events, up to, and including, the Holocaust. Indeed, such memories disturbed many in the form of FLASHBACKS.

The scientific community has also become increasingly aware that the ‘memory recovery’ procedures some psychotherapists use, such as hypnosis, can generate false memories of traumatic events, due, often, to a combination of SUGGESTION and LEADING QUESTIONS. So, patients can be encouraged to ‘recall’ something that, in fact, never actually happened. Indeed, so powerful can the effect be that the patient may truly believe the ‘recalled’ event happened, despite documentary evidence disproving it.



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

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery