Tag Archives: Effects Of Childhood Trauma.

So-Called ‘Low – Level’ Childhood Trauma Can Damage Brain Development

brain damage

Research conducted at the University Of Cambridge, UK, in 2014 has shown that trauma that some may regard as ‘low-level’ can adversely affect the developing brain leading to adult psychological problems (such as severe depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder), behavioral problems (such as aggression and violence) and physical problems (such as increased risk of heart attack and stroke).

The study looked at how traumatic experiences that a group of children had suffered from between the ages of nought and eleven years had impacted on their brain development.

Information about the children’s exposure to traumatic experiences was gathered by interviewing their parents (although it is acknowledged that it is possible some parents’ reports may not have been perfectly accurate).

The effects of these traumatic experiences on the children’s brain development was measured through the use of brain imaging techniques.

The experiment found that relatively common and relatively ‘low level’ trauma can adversely affect physical brain development and disrupt the brain’s biochemical balance. These adverse effects can then make the individual’s adult life extremely difficult and problematic in ways that I have already alluded to in the first paragraph.

Examples Of Relatively Common And Relatively ‘Low – Level Traumatic Experiences’ That Can Damage The Developing Brain:

(N.B.  I place the phrase ‘low – level traumatic experiences’ in inverted commas as many would not consider them such, particularly those on the receiving end).

– recurring teasing

– recurring humiliation

– recurring shaming

– recurring blaming

– lack of affection from parents

– constant criticism (especially when never or rarely ‘counterbalanced’ with praise)

– ongoing parental discord/arguments/conflict

– parental abandonment (e.g. due to divorce or separation)

– inconsistent parenting

– growing up with a depressed parent

(the above list is not exhaustive, of course).

 

To read more about how childhood trauma can harm the brain click here.

To read how the damaged brain can repair itself click here.

 

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

 

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Four Very Common Reactions To Childhood Trauma

 

Research has shown that there are four main characteristics that children who have suffered significant childhood trauma very frequently display. These are:

1) Repetitive Behaviours

2) Repeated Memories

3) Specific Trauma Related Fears

4) A Profoundly Altered View Of Other People, The Future, And Life In General

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Children who have experienced significant trauma frequently act out their trauma in repetitive and obsessive ‘play’. I place the word ‘play’ in inverted commas as it is devoid of any ‘fun’ element; it is also often referred to by psychologists as ‘post-traumatic play.’

The reason for this ‘play’ is believed to be an unconscious attempt to mentally process and emotionally master the trauma that they experienced.

Usually the child is not consciously aware that s/he is repeatedly acting out the traumatic experience through the post-traumatic play. This is made clear by the fact that the child may repeatedly carry out the ‘play’ activity that relates to the original trauma even if s/he has no verbal memory of the traumatic event/s themselves.

Post-traumatic_play

 

Above : Post-traumatic Play.

2) Repeated memories of the trauma are vivid, intrusive and distressing. Usually, they are visual, but may also be aural (relating to hearing), tactile (relating to touch) or, even, (if relevant), olfactory (relating to smell).

Such intrusive memories are particularly likely to occur just before the child falls asleep. However, they may also occur in other contexts, such as at school in the classroom, leading often to dissociative states.

Repeated memories may also take the form of nightmares. Often such nightmares will represent the trauma in a highly disguised form.

3) Specific fears relating directly to the traumatic experience also usually occur. To take a simple example, if a child is seriously injured by being knocked down by a motorbike s/he may come to fear the sound of motorbikes revving their engines.

Also, however, children frequently develop more general fears after a significantly traumatic experience. For example, they may develop fears of the dark, being alone or of strangers etc.

4) Children who have suffered significant trauma often develop an extremely restricted view of their own future and become devoid of ambitions, hopes and dreams; they also often assume their lives to come will be filled with yet further traumatic experiences.

They also frequently develop a lack of basic trust in others and develop feelings of helplessness and a general lack of autonomy (Erickson).

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

 

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The Association Between Child Abuse, Trauma and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

childhood_trauma_and_early_signs_of_psychosis

‘Character depends essentially on whether a person is given love, protection, tenderness and understanding during the formative years or is exposed to rejection, coldness, indifference and cruelty.’

Alice Miller.


THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN CHILDHOOD ABUSE, TRAUMA AND BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER.

Many research studies have shown that individuals who have suffered childhood abuse, trauma and/or neglect are very considerably more likely to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) as adults than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable childhood.

it is thought marilyn munroe suffered from BPD

It is thought Marilyn Monroe suffered from BPD

Kurt Cobain bpd
Did Kurt Cobain Suffer From BPD?

 

WHAT IS BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD)?

 

BPD sufferers experience a range of symptoms which are split into 9 categories. These are:

1) Extreme swings in emotions
2) Explosive anger
3) Intense fear of rejection/abandonment sometimes leading to frantic efforts to maintain a relationship
4) Impulsiveness
5) Self-harm
6) Unstable self-concept (not really knowing ‘who one is’)
7) Chronic feelings of ’emptiness’ (often leading to excessive drinking/eating etc ‘to fill the vacuum’)
8) Dissociation ( a feeling of being ‘disconnected from reality’)
9) Intense and highly volatile relationships

For a diagnosis of BPD to be given, the individual needs to suffer from at least 5 of the above.

frequently rejected in childhood, BPD sufferers live in terror of abandoment

frequently rejected in childhood, BPD sufferers live in terror of abandonment

A person’s childhood experiences has an enormous effect on his/her mental health in adult life. How parents treat their children is, therefore, of paramount importance.

BPD is an even more likely outcome, if, as well as suffering trauma through invidious parenting, the individual also has a BIOLOGICAL VULNERABILITY.

In relation to an individual’s childhood, research suggests that the 3 major risk factors are:

– trauma/abuse
– damaging parenting styles
– early separation or loss (eg due to parental divorce or the death of the parent/s)

Of course, more than one of these can befall the child. Indeed, in my own case, I was unlucky enough to be affected by all three. And, given my mother was highly unstable, it is very likely I also inherited a biological/genetic vulnerability.

 

EXAMPLES OF DAMAGING PARENTING STYLES:

 

1) Dysfunctional and disorganized – this can occur when there is a high level of marital discord or conflict. It is important, here, to point out that even if parents attempt to hide their disharmony, children are still likely to be adversely affected as they tend to pick up on subtle signs of tension.

Chaotic environments can also impact very badly on children. Examples are:

– constant house moves
– parental alcoholism/illicit drug use
– parental mental illness and instability/verbal aggression

 

2) Emotional invalidation. Examples include:

– a parent telling their child they wish he/she could be more like his/her brother/sister/cousin etc.
– a parent telling the child he is ‘just like his father’ (meant disparagingly). This invalidates the child’s unique identity.
– telling a child s/he shouldn’t be upset/crying over something, therefore invalidating the child’s reaction and implying the child’s having such feelings is inappropriate.
– telling the child he/she is exaggerating about how bad something is. Again, this invalidates the child’s perception of how something is adversely affecting him/her.
– a parent telling a child to stop feeling sorry for him/herself and think about good things instead. Again, this invalidates the child’s sadness and encourages him/her to suppress emotions.

Invalidation of a child’s emotions, and undermining the authenticity of their feelings, can lead the child to start demonstrating his/her emotions in a very extreme way in order to gain the recognition he/she previously failed to elicit.

 

3) Child trauma and child abuse – people with BPD have very frequently been abused. However, not all children who are abused develop BPD due to having a biological/genetic RESILIENCE and/or having good emotional support and validation in other areas of their lives (eg at school or through a counselor).

Trauma inflicted by a family member has been shown by research to have a greater adverse impact on the child than abuse by a stranger. Also, as would be expected, the longer the traumatic situation lasts, the more likely it is that the child will develop BPD in adult life.

 

4) Separation and loss – here, the trauma is caused, in large part, due to the child’s bonding process development being disrupted. Children who suffer this are much more likely to become anxious and develop ATTACHMENT DISORDERS as adults which can disrupt adult relationships and cause the sufferer to have an intense fear of abandonment in adult life. They may, too, become very ‘clingy’, fearful of relationships, or a distressing mixture of the two.

This site examines possible therapeutic interventions for BPD and ways the BPD sufferer can help himself or herself to reduce BPD symptoms.

 

 

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

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Factors that Influence the Severity of Effects of Child Abuse

childhood trauma

The degree to which a person who suffers abuse during childhood is damaged by the experience will depend upon a number of different factors.

Those who research such factors have split them into two groups :

1) RISK FACTORS – these are factors connected to the abuse that are likely to increase the emotional damage it causes

2) PROTECTIVE FACTORS – these are factors that are likely to reduce the emotional damage the abuse causes

THE FACTORS INFLUENCING THE SEVERITY OF EFFECTS OF ABUSE :

– if the child confides in somebody about the abuse, the response of that person is of great importance : if the child is made to feel shame over what has happened, or his/her complaint is minimized or not taken seriously, the damage done by the abuse is likely to be very significantly increased. If, on the other hand, the child’s complaint is taken seriously and s/he is offered emotional support and understanding, the effects of the abuse are likely to be reduced.

– the effects of abuse will tend to be increased if the abuser has a particularly close relationship with the child. This includes parents, step-parents or other primary carers in a position of trust and responsible for the welfare of the child.

– the age of the child is also of importance ; in general terms, the younger the child is when the abuse is occurring, the more psychological damage the child is likely to incur.

– another highly relevant factor concerns the duration of the abuse – the longer it went on, the more harmful its effects are likely to be

– the severity of the abuse is also clearly relevant ; the greater the severity, the greater the psychological distress caused,

– the form that the abuse takes is another vital consideration eg physical, sexual, emotional or neglect? Recent research is starting to indicate that emotional neglect may be particularly damaging, due, of course, to the child’s fundamental need to be shown warmth, affection and love. Being deprived of these things can have particularly serious consequences.

– finally, it is very important to consider the relationships the child has with people other than the abuser. If the child has good emotional support from people outside the family (eg friends, teachers etc) and/or has some family members who express love and affection towards him/her (eg grandparents, siblings), this can make the child more resilient and protect him/her from the worst effects of the abuse.

CONCLUSION :

Each case, however, is unique and the above factors interact in highly complex ways which cannot be precisely measured ; therefore, it is difficult to predict with any degree of accuracy how specific individuals will be affected by their traumatic experiences. Each case needs to be evaluated on its own particular merits.

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

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Types of Abuse and Their Effects : An Infographic

effects of child abuse

effects of childhood trauma

The infographic below illustrates different types of child abuse together with some of the effects of such abuse :

 

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

what is child abuse

effects of child abuse

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

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The Five Main Routes Through Which Childhood Trauma Harms Us-Part 2

effects of child trauma

effects of childhood trauma

This post follows on from The Five Main Routes Through Which Childhood Trauma Harms Us – Part 1. Click here to read it.

We have already looked at the emotional route (item 1 on the list of the five routes – see Part 1) through which childhood trauma may harm us in Part 1. In this post, I want to turn to the other four routes through which childhood trauma can harm us; these are :

2) THE BEHAVIOURAL ROUTE

3) THE COGNITIVE ROUTE

4) THE SOCIAL ROUTE

5) THE BIOLOGICAL ROUTE

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

THE BEHAVIOURAL ROUTE : Our adverse childhood experiences (eg rejection, betrayal, abuse) often lead us to develop counter-productive coping mechanisms to attempt to deal with our distress in adult life; in turn, these dysfunctional coping mechanisms are likely to adversely impact on our physical health; examples include :

smoking

excessive drinking

– illicit drug use

over-eating

high risk sexual activity (ie unprotected, promiscuous sex)

self-harm

Essentially, we adopt these behaviours in order to psychologically dissociate from our all too painful reality (click here to read my post on dissociation).

Unfortunately, in addition to the fact that these behaviours can lead to physical illness, our reliance upon them also PREVENTS US FROM LEARNING MORE EFFECTIVE COPING STRATEGIES.

THE COGNITIVE ROUTE : The term ‘cognitive’ relates to how we think about things; for example, the attitudes and beliefs which, in large part, determine our day-to-day behaviour. As I have written about fairly extensively in other posts, the experience of childhood trauma often results in us developing a cognitive negative bias towards ;

– ourselves

– other people

– the world in general

This three-way despairing outlook has been termed ‘THE NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD’ and is one of the main hallmarks of clinical depression. We tend, for example, to (completely erroneously) blame ourselves for the trauma that we suffered and this prevents us from developing good self-esteem or a cohesive and positive self-identity (eg Kralik, 2005).

If, as children, we were in a more or less perpetual state of stress, it is likely that we frequently experienced the ‘fight/flight response’ as a reaction to frightening stimuli. If this occurred frequently enough, and over a long enough period, such a response may well have become DEEPLY INGRAINED INTO OUR PERSONALITY – we become conditioned to respond in this way (beyond our conscious control) whenever we feel threatened.

Therefore, as an adult, we may, for example, frequently react with extreme anger which seems, to an objective observer, as both excessive and inappropriate. However, such rage occurs because the (even very small) threats we experience in adulthood remind us (usually on an unconscious level) of the threats we experienced as children – thus the response which was conditioned into us over long years of suffering in childhood is triggered.

THE SOCIAL ROUTE : We have seen in previous posts how childhood trauma can lead us to experience extreme difficulties in relation to our personal relationships in adult life (eg – click here). As a result, we may, as adults, find we have little social support – in turn, a lack of social support and close personal relationships has been shown (eg Draper et al., 2007) to be associated with poor physical and mental health. Indeed, Tucker (1999) carried out research showing that our social environment is more important in relation to our mental health than our physical environment.

THE BIOLOGICAL ROUTE : Chronic stress in childhood can adversely affect our neurological development, and, therefore, we are more likely to develop neuropsychiatric conditions as adults (click here to read a previous post I wrote on this).

I hope you have found this post interesting.

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

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The Five Main Routes Through Which Childhood Trauma Harms Us-Part 1.

effects of child trauma

effects of childhood trauma

It has already been established in previous articles on this site that childhood trauma can affect us ;

– psychologically

neurologically

– biologically

It has further been described that the damage done by the experience of childhood trauma may manifest itself in a variety of ways; these include :

– our ability to emotionally regulate (ie our ability to control our emotions)

– extreme anxiety

– high degree of impulsiveness (acting without thinking through the consequences, implications and ramifications)

– sleep disturbance including insomnia, nightmares/night-terrors and, sometimes, an excessive need to sleep

severe depression

personality disorders

(NB the above list is by no means exclusive)

In this article, I want to look at the various routes through which the experience of childhood trauma adversely impacts on us; these have been identified as the following :

– emotional

– behavioural

– cognitive

– social

– biological

1) THE EMOTIONAL ROUTE : If, as a child, we were unable to rely upon our primary caregiver to console and soothe us when we were under psychological duress, research strongly indicates that we become incapable of effectively dealing with stress as adults (assuming there has been no therapeutic intervention). We lack the ability to self-soothe and therefore find we are highly reactive and sensitive to stress as adults, to the degree that it may engulf and overwhelm us. The extreme emotional problems that we may find ourselves having to deal with as adults (often, most unsuccessfully) have been documented by various researchers (eg Van Der Horst et al., 2008).

It has also been demonstrated (eg Bowlby, 1988) that a failure to establish a healthy emotional bond with the primary caregiver as children often leads to us experiencing significant difficulties with forming and maintaining relationships in our adult life. Indeed, we may find that our adult relationships are full of conflict and disruption (Henderson, 2006).

Bowlby’s extensive research on the vital importance of our experience of early relationships with caregivers to how we form (or fail to form) relationships as adults has clearly indicated that we INTERNALIZE OUR EARLY RELATIONSHIPS;  it is this psychological process that affects how we relate to others later on in life. In other words, the DYSFUNCTIONAL ATTACHMENT STYLE we had with our primary caregiver in childhood repeats itself in the relationships we form in adulthood. In essence, OUR ADULT RELATIONSHIPS WILL TEND TO MIRROR OUR EARLY, PROBLEMATIC RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR PRIMARY CAREGIVER.

Bowlby described three types of dysfunctional attachment style (ie ways of relating to others) we may develop as adults due to our adverse early experiences; these are :

a) AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT

b) AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT

c) DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

a) AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT – If we develop this dysfunctional attachment style as adults it is likely that the parenting we received was inconsistent and emotionally negligent – often, the parent’s emotional responsiveness to the child has been intermittent at best; the result of this tends to be that the child will intensely cling to the parent on the rare occasion s/he is available in order to attempt to compensate for when s/he is not and to, as it were, ‘make the most of it.’

In adulthood, as a consequence of the above, the individual may become extremely ‘clingy’, obsessive and dependent in connection to relationships. S/he may, too, become excessively angry and/or upset in response to perceived rejection.

b) AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT – If, as children, the parenting we received was hostile, rejecting and cold, we may learn not to approach others for emotional support for fear of meeting with more painful rejection. As adults, we may become obsessively self-reliant, dislike intimacy and view others as hostile and essentially unreliable. Underlying this, there may well be feelings of anxiety, depression and general emotional distress which we dare not confide in others about and attempt to keep hidden (eg Alexander and Anderson, 1994).

c) DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT – Generally, this dysfunctional attachment style has been found to have its origin in the early experience in which the child is frightened of interactions with the primary caregiver. However, no matter how afraid of the primary caregiver the child might be, s/he must, by necessity, interact with him/her and, for psychological protection, develops coping strategies to do so; a prime example of such a coping mechanism is dissociation (click here to read my article on dissociation).

Following such childhood experiences, s/he may grow up to be an adult who views him/herself (erroneously) as irredemiably bad and (also erroneously) as responsible for the trauma s/he experienced as a child. As an adult, too, as a result of the traumatic childhood, social adjustment is frequently impaired and feelings of depression and distress are likely to predominate.

Part 2 of this article will look at items 2-5 on the above list, namely the behavioural, cognitive, social and biological routes through which the experience of childhood trauma can adversely affect us in our adult life.

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

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Child Trauma and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) PART 1.

obsessive compulsive disorder

child trauma and OCD

Several of the posts in this blog have already examined the link between childhood trauma and anxiety. In this post, I want to consider one specific anxiety based disorder known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). When a person has this disorder, as its name suggests, s/he suffers recurring obsessions and/or compulsions. I define these below :

OBSESSIONS – intrusive and anxiety creating thoughts, images or impulses

COMPULSIONS – behaviours or mental acts intended to reduce the anxiety the obsession causes (but which, in fact, actually makes the anxiety worse over the long-term). Any effect the compulsion has on reducing the anxiety created by the obsession is temporary.

I show below how thoughts, feelings and behaviours flow into each other to keep the symptoms of OCD going :

OBSESSIONS (intrusive thoughts or images related to contamination, sexuality, danger, morality etc) >>>>>DISTRESS (eg shame, fear)>>>>>COMPULSION (repetitive behaviours or mental acts aimed at reducing the anxiety created by the obsession)>>>>>TEMPORARY RELIEF>>>>>OBSESSIONS (intrusive thoughts or images related to contamination, sexuality, danger, morality etc)>>>>> (eg shame, fear)>>>>>COMPULSIONS (repetitive behaviours or mental acts aimed at reducing the anxiety created by the obsession)>>>>>TEMPORARY RELIEF>>>>> and so on…and so on…leading to chronic distress.

In order for a person to be diagnosed with OCD, the following criteria normally have to be met :

a) the obsessions and compulsions cause significant distress

b) the obsessions and compulsions significantly interfere with day to day functioning.

c) the behaviours engendered by the OCD take up about an hour a day or more

d) the person with OCD is aware, at least at some level, that his/her behaviours are excessive and illogical

It is, of course, necessary to get a diagnosis from a professional as opposed to trying to self-diagnose.

HOW PREVALENT IS OCD THROUGHOUT THE GENERAL POPULATION?

It is estimated that approximately 2-3% of the population will suffer from OCD at some point during their lives. However, this may well be an underestimate as many people choose to keep their condition a secret. Research indicates, however, that OCD is becoming increasingly common.

Whilst the condition can begin in childhood, its onset is more common in late adolescence. It seems to be equally common in both men and women. However, women are more likely to seek out treatment for the disorder.

OCD can be made worse by stress. Also, those who suffer from OCD often suffer from other conditions as well. These include :

– depression

excessive worry

– insomnia

– panic attacks

– social phobia

– specific phobias

– eating disorders

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON OBSESSIONS/COMPULSIONS?

In descending order. the most common are :

– checking and cleaning

– counting

– needing to ask or confess

– symmetry/ordering rituals

– hoarding

It should also be noted that people often nave multiple obsessions/compulsions and these can change over time.

Due to the amount of distress OCD causes, and its link to other serious psychological conditions, if a person suspects s/he suffers from it, it is very important to seek out professional advice.

I examine OCD further in Part 2.

STOP OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS - CLICK IMAGE

STOP OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS – CLICK IMAGE

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

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