Neurofeedback And Reducing Activity In Brain’s Fear Circuitry.

According to Mobbs, the brain consists of two areas involved in how we experience fear as shown below :

It is becoming increasingly recognized that overactivity in the brain’s fear circuitry may be of fundamental relevance to not only complex-PTSD and PTSD, but to many other psychiatric disorders as well and it clearly follows, therefore, that damping down the over-intensity of neuronal firing in this part of the brain may be key to effective therapy for the treatment of a whole array mental health issues. In relation to this, there is mounting excitement about how NEUROFEEDBACK / BIOFEEDBACK can benefit many individuals who suffer from acute psychological distress.

  • the reactive-fear circuit

  • the cognitive-fear circuit

Let’s look at each of these in turn :


This circuit deals with threats that are IMMEDIATE and require an instant reaction (namely, activation of the ‘fight or flight’ response); it involves the interconnection between two areas of the brain as shown below :

  • the periaqueductal grey
  • midcingulate cortex


This circuit deals with threats that DO NOT require an immediate response, allowing us time to consciously consider the risk they pose to us and how we should respond to them; this circuit involves connections between the following brain areas :

  • the posterior cingulate cortex
  • the ventromedial prefrontal cortex
  • the hippocampus


Mobbs asserts that the relationship between these two brain regions can be compared to the two ends of a see-saw; in other words, as one goes up, the other comes down, which means :

  • The more activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes.

And the reverse is also true, so :

  • The more activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes.


As we have seen from many other articles that I have already published on this site, if we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma we are at increased risk of developing various disorders as adults (such as complex PTSD and borderline personality disorder) which are underpinned by having oversensitive and overactive fear-response circuitry and, correspondingly, underactive cognitive-response circuitry.


Armed with this information, and by continuing to learn from the neurofeedback their brains provide them with (via the software mentioned above), the patients can then, gradually, be trained to exercise control over their brain wave activity (for example, by soothing it with visualization techniques, breathing exercises or calming thoughts etc.). With enough training, the patients’ dysregulated brains can be helped to heal and to become less fear-driven.

This results in the reactive-fear circuit become less sensitive and active which, in turn, provides the cognitive-fear circuit, as it were, ‘more room to manoeuvre.’ In this way, irrational feelings of fear that were originally being driven by the (unthinking and automatic) reactive-fear circuit can now be more soberly and rationally considered by the (reflective and thinking) cognitive-fear circuit and, therefore, more easily be dismissed as unwarranted, made impotent and deprived of their power to cause us anguish.


According to Buzsaki, Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers University, Zen meditation needs to be undertaken for years until the person practising it is able to slow the frequency of the brain’s alpha waves and to spread the alpha oscillations more forward to the front of the brain; slowing these brain waves have many beneficial effects including :

  • reducing fear
  • reducing ‘mind chatter’
  • increasing feelings of calm
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce feelings of panic

However, Buzaki states that (as alluded to above) whilst it takes years of Zen meditation to optimally alter alpha wave brain activity, the same results can be obtained after a mere week’s training with neurofeedback.    


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Twelve Signs We Are Recovering From The Effects Of Childhood Trauma

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These 12 signs that we are recovering from our traumatic experiences are as follows:

1) More able to live in the present:

We finally come to the full realisation that the past is truly over and that the trauma we experienced need no longer be central to our identity nor define us as a person

2) Greater inclination to contemplate the future, whereas, before, we may have suffered from a sense of a foreshortened future.

This is due to the fact we are no longer trapped in our past nor obsessed with ceaselessly analysing it

3) Become less avoidant:

Before, we may have felt it necessary to avoid situations and people which reminded us of our traumatic experiences. However, we no longer feel compelled to do this as we find such reminders less difficult for us to cope with

4) Able to participate more fully in life:

Our energy is no longer exhausted by merely just about managing to cope and survive; we can begin to start actively pursuing positive activities

5) Our trauma-related thoughts, feelings and memories become easier to deal with :

We still experience such thoughts, feelings and memories but no longer with the intensity which we previously found so overwhelming

6) Become less reliant on dysfunctional coping mechanisms :

For example, we may find we have more control over drinking too much alcohol, drug use, over-eating etc

7) More able to control our emotions :

For example, anger and fear (emotional volatility and dysregulation are often one of the hallmark symptoms resulting from the experience of childhood trauma).

8) Reduction in negative thoughts about ourselves:

Another extremely common symptom of having experienced significant childhood trauma is the development of the false belief that we are an intrinsically bad person (click here to read my article about this phenomenon).

Part of our recovery involves rediscovering our positive qualities which may have been lying dormant or may have been masked by feelings of anger, self-absorption, resentment and cynicism.

9) Reduction in feelings of helplessness :

It is also extremely common for survivors of childhood trauma to develop a condition known as learned helplessness (click here to read my article about this).

However, when we start to recover, this feeling of helplessness begins to disperse and we subsequently become more aware that we are in a position to choose to do things to help ourselves and to exert some control over our future. In short, we start to feel more empowered.

10) Feeling that we are starting to get back some self-respect:

(Many who experience childhood trauma lose their self-respect – this may involve self-sabotaging behaviour, continuously putting oneself at risk, believing oneself to be unworthy of love or happiness, complete lack of interest in appearance etc).

11) A cessation in the forming of unhealthy relationships:

If we have suffered severe childhood trauma, many of us develop what is known as a repetition compulsion (click here to read my article on this) which involves us (unconsciously) seeking out relationships with others who are likely to treat us very badly. We may, too, put up with bad relationships as we have developed (again, quite possibly unconsciously), a kind of ‘ I don’t deserve any better’ mentality.

However, with the return of our self-respect, we can decide to no longer tolerate such destructive relationships.

12) No longer feel like a victim:

Instead, we can start to concentrate on posttraumatic growth. This may entail, for example, using our former deep suffering to initiate positive change e.g. becoming a stronger and more resilient person, gaining a better perspective on life, developing a better ability to empathise with the suffering of others, and to help them.

Click here to browse all articles in the recovery section of this site.

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




The Difference Between Psychology, Psychiatry, Psychotherapy And Psychoanalysis



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It is not uncommon for people to be unclear about the difference between psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. So how do these four terms differ? To answer this question, let’s look at each in turn:

 1. A clinical psychologist has expertise in both normal human behaviour and abnormal human behaviour. In connection with the latter, a clinical psychologist is especially highly trained in diagnosing and treating emotional, mental and behavioural conditions. Clinical psychologists focus on the use of talking therapies and behavioural interventions in order to treat mental health issues. They are also qualified to administer and interpret psychological tests which can serve as tools in the diagnostic process.

2. A psychiatrist is qualified as a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. S/he tends to focus most on the management of mental disorders using psychoactive medications such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.

Despite their differences, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists also have many skill and qualities which overlap with, and/or complement, each other. They frequently work together.

3. Psychotherapy is sometimes also referred to as ‘talk therapy’ or ‘the talking cure’ and is used to treat mental and emotional conditions. It involves talking to a trained therapist either on a one-to-one basis, in a group (group psychotherapy), with one’s partner or with one’s family. There are many different types of psychotherapy and these fall into five main categories:

  • psychoanalysis (see below)
  • behaviour therapy: this type of therapy has the aim of helping the client to identify behaviours that are dysfunctional and self-destructive and then changing them. It is based on the principle that behaviours are learned.
  • cognitive therapy: this type of therapy is based on the idea that how we think about situations, other people, events, ourselves etc. influences both how we feel and how we behave. It aims to help people identify cognitive errors (errors in thinking) and encourage them to replace such erroneous thinking with a thinking style that is less distorted and less skewed towards the negative, theoretically leading to improvements in how we feel and behave.
  • humanistic therapy: this type of therapy revolves around the basic assumption that people are innately good and that human behaviour is essentially driven by ethical principles, a moral sense and good intentions. It also emphasizes the importance of living an authentic life, true to one’s own values and free from self-delusion (‘This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man’, as Polonius puts it in Hamlet) and that is as personally fulfilling as possible. Another core principle of this type of therapy is that everyone has their own unique perspective and way of looking at the world which underpins their choices and actions.
  • integrative/holistic therapy: this type of therapy recognizes the complexity of the human mind and that each individual may need to be treated by more than one, single therapeutic approach and understood from numerous perspectives including behavioural, cognitive, physiological and social.

4. Psychoanalysis: this is a particular type of psychotherapy (see above) originating from Freud’s theory that how we behave, relate to others, and feel are strongly influenced by the unconscious part of our minds and that unconscious conflicts can lead to a wide variety of psychological problems such as mood disorders, problems in our relationships with others, sexually aberrant behaviour, obsessions and anxiety disorders. The psychoanalyst helps the client to gain awareness of, and insight into, his/her unconscious conflicts and how they may be connected to early life relationships. This awareness and insight are, in turn, intended to free the client from destructive effects of (previously) unconscious forces. Psychoanalysts are professionals who were initially trained in general psychotherapy and then went on to study psychoanalysis as a speciality.

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



Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Stress Hormone Cortisol


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We have seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that severe and protracted childhood trauma can greatly impair our ability to control our stress levels as adults (meaning we are more adversely affected by stress than the average person, both in terms of our physical and mental health).

Cortisol is a primary stress hormone that helps us to control our mood, levels of fear and our levels of motivation. It is produced by the adrenal glands. The body increases its level of cortisol production when we are in a highly stressful situation. The functions of cortisol include the following:

  • helps control our blood pressure
  • increases blood glucose levels thus aiding the ‘fight/flight’ response
  • helps us to cope with stress by increasing our energy levels
  • plays an important role in our sleep/wake patterns
  • helps the body to return to a state of equilibrium after a stressful event
  • reduces bodily inflammation
  • manages respiration
  • increases muscle tension
  • regulation of digestive, reproductive and immune systems
  • growth whilst growing up
  • balances salt in the body
  • converts food to energy

The amount of cortisol in the blood at any one time is controlled by the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland.

How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Cortisol Levels?

If a stressful event is short-lived and not too severe, the level of cortisol the body produces should settle down once the event is over (e.g. after a minor road accident) bringing the body back into a state of comfortable equilibrium (e.g. the heart rate and blood pressure both return to normal levels).

However, a severely traumatic childhood can involve feeling highly stressed and frightened for very extended periods of time, by which I mean years, with limited respite. This, unsurprisingly, overloads the body’s ability to control stressful reactions in a normal way and alters our physiological stress response. In terms of cortisol production and how the body makes use of it, the process, under such conditions, can become seriously disrupted and dysfunctional.

This can give rise to a large range of conditions, both physical and mental. These may include:

  • increased weight
  • problems concentrating
  • anxiety
  • heart disease
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • insomnia
  • depression

An excess of cortisol in the blood can also lead to Cushing’s syndrome, symptoms of which include: increased weight, blood clots, bruises, weak muscles, depression, heart attacks, high blood pressure, broken bones, infections and type 2 diabetes. However, according to the National Centre For Health Research, there is so far no evidence that stress causes Cushing’s syndrome either directly or indirectly. Instead, its causes include the use of glucocorticoid medications, pituitary tumours, adrenal cortical tumours and lung, thyroid and thymus tumours.

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On the other hand, too little cortisol in the blood can lead to a condition known as Addison’s. This includes the following symptoms: weak muscles, low mood, increased level of thirst, loss of appetite and weight loss (NOT as a result of dieting), low levels of motivation, lack of energy and fatigue.

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  • To learn more about Addison’s, including treatments, click here for the relevant NHS page.
  • To learn more about Cushing’s disease, including treatments, click here to visit the relevant NHS page.


The theory of ‘adrenal fatigue’ (Wilson, 1998). According to Wilson, ‘adrenal fatigue’ refers to various symptoms caused by the adrenal glands failing to function correctly and can develop as a result of prolonged, intense exposure to stress. Symptoms include sleep-related problems such as difficulty falling asleep and/or frequent waking during the night, sugar and salt cravings, and fatigue. However, such symptoms are non-specific and frequently occur in relation to many conditions and the theory of adrenal fatigue remains controversial. However, Wilson contests that the syndrome comes about by chronic, severe stress over-activating the adrenal glands (which release cortisol and adrenaline) as part of the fight/flight response) which, in the long-term, causes them to overproduce cortisol and eventually ‘burn out.’


Help for Adrenal Fatigue | Self Hypnosis Downloads


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

The ‘Orphanhood Effect’ And Related Phenomenon

Many exceptionally successful people (in terms of personal achievement) can trace the source of their success to their childhood suffering.

One example of this is the so-called ‘orphanhood effect.’ Of course, losing a parent as a child is a terrible experience. but, for some, as alluded to above, the loss can act as a spur to great achievement.

This phrase ‘orphanhood effect’ was coined to reflect this link between devastating early loss and later great success. 

Gladwell, in his book, David And Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits And The Art Of Battling Giants (published by Little Brown and Co, 2013) refers to several studies of relevance to the ‘orphanhood effect.’ One study that provides supportive evidence for such an effect looked at 700 hundred eminent individuals and found that 45 per cent had experienced the death of a parent before they’d reached the age of twenty-one. Another study focused specifically upon authors and found that over half had similarly experienced the death of a parent, but, in their case, even earlier – before they had reached the age of 15 years. A third study (conducted by the historian Iremonger) found that 67 per cent of prime ministers who were in office between the start of the nineteenth century and the Second World War had suffered the loss of a parent before they reached the age of 16 years. Furthermore, nearly a third of American Presidents lost a parent while they were young. Numerous other studies have produced similar findings (e.g. Silverman, 1974; Eisenman, 1995).

Childhood Trauma, Personality Disorder And High Achievement

Many articles that I have already published on this site discuss the link between severe and protracted childhood trauma and the later development of personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD), anti-social personality disorder (APD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCPD). 

Whilst, as we have seen, such disorders lead to much suffering, they can, in some instances, also give rise to high or exceptional achievement.

For example, Board and Fritzon looked at 3 types of personality disorder: narcissistic, histrionic and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and found that the incidence of these disorders was greater in top-level executive business people than they were in psychiatric patients incarcerated in Broadmoor Hospital (a high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, England).  Why should personality disorders sometimes contribute to a high level of occupational success? be? I consider this question below, with reference to narcissistic personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive) personality disorder.

A study conducted by Papageorgiou suggests narcissists tend to do better in exams than their natural ability would predict (and better than non-narcissists who were judged to have the greater natural ability). Papageorgiou inferred that this was because they were highly motivated, determined, possessed ‘mental toughness’ and tenacity, driven by the belief that they were superior to their competitors.

Psychopaths may thrive in certain occupations such as surgery, sales and holding powerful positions such as CEOs. According to  Babiak and O’Toole, success in the workplace is achieved by psychopaths by taking advantage of various personality traits including self-confidence, a grandiose sense of self-worth, the absence of a fear of failure, bravado, a propensity to lie with impunity, a willingness to take risks, the ability to multitask and aggressive ambition.

Furthermore, according to Dr Sara Swart (a neuroscientist and psychiatrist), psychopaths, too, are able to hold onto their nerve under pressure, ‘resilient to chaos’ (which others are likely to find very stressful), fearlessness, charisma, ruthlessness, lack of guilt and an absolute focus on only own perspective.

Those with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, according to Widiger and Gore, 2016, may be particularly successful in their chosen careers due to personality traits such as conscientiousness, perfectionism and workaholism.


Those severely emotionally wounded in childhood may be more likely to strive to compensate themselves for their early life emotional losses by various means and for various reasons. For example, a child largely ignored by his/her parents may grow up to desperately seek fame in order to gain the attention of which s/he was deprived in early life; the child who felt completely powerless because of abusive parents may ardently seek positions of great power in adult life in order to feel the sense of control s/he was unable to experience in youth, and the child made to feel worthless may grow up to crave enormous wealth and high status. Sadly, such strategies tend to fail to bring the solace and contentment so dearly desired as the root psychological issues remain unaddressed.


Russell Eisenman (1995) Creativity and Eminence: On Albert’s Genius and Eminence, Creativity Research Journal, 8:2, 201-204, DOI: 10.1207/s15326934crj0802_8

Malcomb Gladwell David And Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits And The Art Of Battling Giants (published by Little Brown and Co, 2013)

Silverman, S. M. “Parental Loss and Scientists.” Science Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, 1974, pp. 259–264. JSTOR,

T.A. Widiger, W.L. Gore, in Encyclopedia of Mental Health (Second Edition), 2016

Possible Effects Of Maternal Depression On Infants’ Cognitive, Social And Emotional Development

Mothers suffering from serious depression are less likely than non-depressed mothers to interact with their infants in joyful, stimulating and positive ways. Instead, they are more likely to demonstrate negative moods around their infants, to exhibit more anxiety, sadness and agitation, to be less playful, to smile and laugh less, to frown more, to lack animation and to speak in a less encouraging and more monotone manner, to be withdrawn, unresponsive and disengaged.


According to Field, infants of depressed mothers start to mimic the maternal behaviour. For example, they demonstrate lower than average of motor activity, are less vocal, are less inclined to make eye-contact and protest more frequently. Field is also of the view that infant’s find the emotional absence of the mother more stressful than her physical absence.

According to Tronick, the mother’s emotional disturbance is essentially ‘transmitted’ to the infant via her dysfunctional interactions with her child.


It has been hypothesized using EEG brain measurements that the activation of the brain’s left and right frontal hemispheres (sides) are involved in the expression of different emotions. For example, according to Dawson, the right frontal area of the brain is relatively more activated when experiencing sadness, disgust and distress whereas the left frontal area of the brain is relatively more activated when experiencing joy and curiosity. As might be guessed from these findings, it has also been found that depression is associated with  increased levels of activity (as measured by EEG) in the brain’s right frontal region whereas happiness is associated with increased levels of activity in the brain’s left frontal region. It therefore follows that depressed mothers increase activation of the infant’s right frontal brain region at the expense of activation of their infant’s left frontal hemisphere.If this pattern of overstimulating the right frontal hemisphere and understimulating the infant’s left hemisphere is ongoing and chronic,


Research suggests the process described above may have long-term adverse effects on:

  • how the child relates to others in general in the future
  • increase the level of stress children feel, leading them to experience more problems at school, both socially and academically
  • suffer from elevated levels of cortisol (sometimes referred to as the ‘stress hormone’) making them emotionally vulnerable, especially under stressful conditions
  • overactivation of the adrenocortical system
  • impaired ability to self-soothe
  • impaired ability to monitor and control his/her emotions which may result in aggressive and self-destructive behaviour
  • the child’s thinking (i.e. a preoccupation with negative thinking)
  • the child’s general emotional state (i.e. a preoccupation with negative emotions)
  • the child’s emotional and cognitive patterns (i.e. rigid and inflexible due to a fear of losing control)

According to Field, the young person may be at greatest risk of being adversely affected by having a depressed mother when s/he is between the ages of 8 and 18 months, whilst Dawson suggests that the presence of a competent, mentally healthy father/partner/caregiver may to some extent protect the infant from the adverse effects on his/her emotional/cognitive/social development that may result from solely being cared for by the depressed mother.


The effects of being primarily cared for by a depressed mother in early life can extend in adolescence (and beyond). However, the relationship between maternal depression and child outcome is complex and involves many factors including the type of depression, when it occurs, how long it lasts and how severe it is. Also, being depressed does not automatically equate to poor parenting.Below is a table (Source: Maternal depression and child development. Paediatr Child Health) showing possible effects on child development from birth to adolescents:

PRENATAL: inadequate prenatal care, poor nutrition, higher preterm birth, low birth weight, pre-elampsia and spontaneous abortion.

INFANT: Anger and protective coping style, passivity, withdrawal, self-regulatory behavior, and dysregulated attention and arousal. Lower cognitive performance.

TODDLER: Passive noncompliance, less mature expression of autonomy, internalizing and externalizing problems, lower interaction, lower creative play, lower cognitive performance..

SCHOOL AGE: Impaired adaptive functioning, internalizing and externalizing problems, affective disorders, anxiety disorders and conduct disorders. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and lower I.Q. scores.

ADOLESCENT: Affective disorders (depression), anxiety disorders, phobias, panic disorders, conduct disorders, substance abuse and alcohol dependence, attention  deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disorders.

Source: Maternal depression and child development. Paediatr Child Health


In the light of continuing research into maternal depression and its effect upon the infant, new ways of treating the mother and her baby are being developed and modified.These include massage therapy, music, yoga, aerobics and visual imagery and other methods with the aim of lifting the mothers’ moods and encouraging more positive interaction with their infants.


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Dawson, G., Hessl, D., & Frey, K. (1994). Social influences on early developing biological and behavioral systems related to risk for affective disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 6(4), 759-779. doi:10.1017/S0954579400004776REFERENCES:

Tiffany Field Ph.D.Maternal Depression Effects on Infants and Early Interventions..Preventive Medicine.Volume 27, Issue 2, March 1998, Pages 200-203

Tronick, E.Z. and Gianino, A.F., Jr. (1986), The transmission of maternal disturbance to the infant. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 1986: 5-11.
Maternal depression and child development. Paediatr Child Health. 2004;9(8):575-598. doi:10.1093/pch/9.8.575


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Reasons Why, Sometimes, No Therapy Works.

No one therapy, of course, works for everyone and there is no one-size-fits-all’ solution to mental distress. Furthermore, some people with psychiatric conditions adamantly do not wish to engage with psychiatric services. Others may be unable to interact with psychiatric services in any meaningful or sustained way. This group includes those persistently high on drugs, incapacitated by alcohol or in a state of unrelenting paranoia and suspicion of the motives of others, including those who profess to wish to help. Some individuals, too, may be in a state of denial about their mental condition even when, objectively speaking, it seems clear that their lives are being ruined by it.

If one particular form of therapy does not suit an individual, it is important that s/he is able to explore other treatment options. Sadly, though, many people give up too soon because the initial therapies and treatments they’ve tried have proved unhelpful. Such people may have low motivation and pessimistic outlook anyway (e.g. if they are suffering from depression) and, with the addition of the disappointment caused by failed attempts to benefit themselves through therapy to contend with, are tipped into a state of utter despair, hopelessness and helplessness.

Those who have some kind of secret relating to their emotional distress may also avoid therapy because they are terrified of the deep sense of shame the revelation of their secret may entail. For example, they may be carrying out some form of abuse connected to their own abuse in childhood (this is not, of course, to say that all those who have suffered abuse will go on to abuse others).

Another group of people who may avoid interaction with therapists, counsellors, psychiatrist etc. are those who realize that their psychological problems are connected to their traumatic childhoods but are afraid that ‘raking over the past’ will entail unbearable emotional pain. However, talking about one’s own experiences in a safe place and with a therapist who one trusts with whom a bond of empathy exists, can prove highly beneficial. This is because, often, if we have had a traumatic childhood, defence strategies and coping mechanisms we (mainly unconsciously) developed to protect ourselves, while serving a vital purpose at the time, are no longer useful once we are free of the traumatizing environment of our childhood. Yet they may have become so deeply entrenched that they continue to dominate how we feel, think and behave. For example, we may find we are hypervigilant and constantly on ‘red-alert’, expecting catastrophe at any moment even though now, as adults, we are relatively very safe. Or we may, due to betrayal by our parents/primary carers, feel deeply distrustful of everyone, making healthy relationships with others extremely problematic.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates, The Trial of Socrates from Plato’s Apology.

Talking all this through with a therapist, helping us to understand how our current dysfunctional behaviour and ways of thinking and feeling are closely tied to our traumatic childhood experiences can, by giving us a greater understanding of ourselves and our motivations, help to free us from the unconscious forces of the past that continue to conspire against us. Furthermore, understanding ourselves can also help us to forgive ourselves for things we might have done to hurt others and help us to develop greater self-compassion. Also, through talking things through with a therapist and gaining this deeper understanding we can come to realize that our behaviour has not been abnormal – instead, it has been a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.

However, because talk therapy can be so emotionally painful, it is highly important that we work with an appropriately trained therapist who we can trust, and who understands, validates and empathizes with us. (For other articles about the benefits of self-understanding, see Start Your Own Mental Health Blog or Study Suggests Writing About Our Traumatic Experiences Can Be Beneficial To Health.


Some Suggestions If Nothing Has Worked So Far

  • Has success not yet come because of a mismatch between yourself and your therapist? Research shows that the biggest predictor of whether or not therapy is successful is the extent to which the client and therapist are a ‘good fit.’ Indeed, this good fit appears to be more important than the type of therapy applied.
  • Has the length of the treatment been sufficient to allow it to work? Are we unrealistically expecting a ‘quick fix’?
  • Have all treatments and therapies been considered?
  • Is the therapist fully qualified and sufficiently experienced?
  • Discuss with the therapist why the therapy might not be working and how this situation might be resolved. A good therapist should be happy to have such a conversation and may explore avenues such as changing the frequency of the therapy sessions, changing which day/time of day they take place, taking a break from therapy, changing therapist or changing the type of therapy.
  • Are we resistant to treatment because talking about issues such as childhood trauma is emotionally painful, even though experiencing such psychological discomfort (In a safe place with a compassionate therapist) may be necessary for the long-term success of the treatment? It may be helpful to discuss this with the therapist.
  • Has therapy been disrupted due to transference (the redirection of feelings about another person, such as a parent, onto the therapist) or counter-transference (the redirection of the therapist’s feelings towards the client)?
Some examples Of Action That Can Be Taken When No Appropriate Therapy Can Be Undertaken
  • lifestyle changes such as removing ourselves from our stressful environment, if possible., improving diet, taking sufficient exercise, mindfulness meditation, talking to supportive and compassionate others such as friends, self-hypnosis, yoga, trauma-release exercises and other ‘bottom-up’ strategies.

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


The Importance Of Understanding The Meaning Of The Traumatized Child’s Behaviour.

When trying to understand why a traumatized child is behaving in a particular way – such as being prone to outbursts of rage aggression or being perpetually withdrawn – it is important to remember that all behaviour carries with it meaning and is a form of (often unconscious) communication.

When a child is behaving in a negative way, which is exacerbating the level of stress any particular family is having to cope with, parents/primary carers may focus solely upon exerting control over the child by using cognitive (e.g. self-instruction, self-praise,, thinking about benefits of achieving a particular goal etc.)and behavioural strategies (e.g. using a rewards chart, creating a family rules board, selective ignoring, having a consistent rewards/consequences approach to the child’s behaviour etc.).

However, an alternative way of intervening is, rather than taking a cognitive or behavioural approach, to take a psychodynamic approach. The psychodynamic approach has the advantage of helping us answer questions such as ‘What are the underlying reasons for the child’s negative behaviour?’ ; ‘What is the child unconsciously trying to communicate through his/her behaviour?’ ; ‘What does the child’s behaviour mean?’ and ‘Why is the child behaving in this way at this particular time?’

Unfortunately, many families wish to avoid taking the psychodynamic approach due to a fear of the emotional pain and guilt digging into and exposing, the deeper reasons for the child’s behaviour is likely to entail (in connection with this, you may wish to read my previously published article entitled: Family Secrets And The Damage They Do).

Psychodynamic Counselling

Psychodynamic counselling is predicated upon the notion that how our mind works as an adult is strongly influenced by our early life experiences. The psychodynamic therapist helps the client to understand unconscious forces created by childhood experiences that may be adversely affecting his/her behaviour and interpretation of the world in the present. For example, suppressed anger towards a parent stemming from childhood may be connected to the client’s generalized feelings of aggression towards others in his/her present, adult life.

By resolving previously hidden, unconscious conflicts relating to childhood and bringing exposing them to the revealing light of consciousness, the psychodynamic therapist is able to, through making suggestions about, and offering interpretations of, the client’s present behaviours, increase his/her level of self-awareness and insight into the reasons for these current behaviours.. This increased level of insight and self-awareness is intended to facilitate the client’s ability to behave is different, more positive and beneficial ways both in relation to himself and to others.

You may also be interested in reading my related articles:


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

Childhood Trauma And Somatic Psychology


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We have seen how significant and protracted trauma in childhood can adversely affect the body’s physiology leading to constant feelings of hypervigilance in adulthood due to a dysregulated autonomic nervous system and how therapy involving the body can help reverse such effects.

Somatic psychology is a type of therapy which focuses on somatic (i.e. bodily) experiences and is therefore often extremely relevant to those who have suffered severe childhood trauma and, as a result, find themselves perpetually tense, anxious, fearful and hypervigilant as adults. (In relation to this you may wish to read my previously published article: How Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Hypervigilance).

According to Shapiro (2020), somatic psychology can be divided up into 3 main categories. These are as follows:


Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail:


These develop the individual’s awareness of their SOMA (defined as the body as distinct from the soul, mind or psyche) through movement, embodiment  (see embodiment theory below) and expressive arts, including:

  • Authentic movement
  • Five rhythms
  • Open floor qigong
  • Alexander technique
  • Body-mind centring
  • Feldenkrais method
  • Yoga


Somatic therapy involves embodiment-based (see embodiment theory below) and movement-based activities to repair and expand developmental motor skills and movement range as well as movement techniques to repair the body. These include:

  • Yoga chakra theory
  • Rolfing structural integration
  • Bioenergetics
  • Network spinal analysis
  • Reiki
  • Kestenberg movement profile


These involve the body, embodied experiences (see embodiment theory below), movement impulses and expressions that help one understand and repair emotional, social, developmental and psychological scars and lacunae. These include:

    • Somatic experiencing
    • Moving cycle
    • EMDR
    • Dance movement therapy
    • Hakomi method
    • Body-Mind psychotherapy
    • Sensorimotor psychotherapy


Embodiment theory stresses the important influence the body has upon emotional experience (e.g. a warm bath inducing feelings of relaxation). The theory also encompasses the idea that we make use of our somatic (bodily) experiences to facilitate our comprehension of not only our own emotional experience (e.g. feeling our face burn red with embarrassment) but also our emotional experience of others (e.g. shaking if another person is frightening us). The theory offers us a mechanism (i.e. bodily sensations modifying and interacting with how we feel emotionally) that increases our understanding of how we process our emotions.




David Hosier BSc Hons; MSC; PGDE(FAHE)

Very Early Life Trauma can ‘Burn’ Memories into The Brain that are not Consciously Recollectable

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay


Most of us have no conscious memory of our experiences that occur before the age of two or older (I myself remember nothing that happened to me before the age of five and only very little indeed of what happened to me before the age of about eleven apart from highly emotionally charged, negative events. There is also a complete gap in my memory for anything at all that happened to me between the ages of six and eight – my parents divorced when I had just turned nine but whether or not this is relevant I don’t know; however, I suspect it is for reasons I may write more about at some stage in the future.


Anyway, as I said, whilst nearly everyone remembers nothing before the age of two, this does NOT mean that these very early life experiences fail to be stored in the brain. We know this due to some extraordinary research, some of which I outline below. This research provides irrefutable evidence that traumatic events that we experience before the age of two, consciously irretrievable, are, figuratively speaking, ‘BURNT INTO (Terr) the brain’ in the form of unconscious memories.


Because of these burnt in, unconscious memories we now also know that what used to be believed, i.e. as because nothing before the age of two is remembered, these have no effect upon the person’s life, are categorically mistaken.

This is illustrated by research conducted by Terr (university of California Medical Center, San Francisco. Terr’s study involved children aged 5 years-old who had experienced significant trauma (for which there existed evidence including eye witness statements and police reports) before they were 34 months old (i.e. at an age before verbal memory had developed)

Despite this, it was apparent that these children HAD retained unconscious memories of their trauma as they were reflected in their play behaviour, sometimes in their entirety.

Other research, conducted by Clifton and Myers (University of Massachusetts) has found that children exposed to mildly frightening stimuli at the age of 6 months show behavioural signs as having unconsciously remembered the experience through behavioural responses to similar stimuli at the age of 30 months.

I was confidently informed, as a child that, I would not have been affected by the trauma I was exposed to in my household when I was a baby and infant because I had no memory of it. The above research adds further evidence that such an assertion is misplaced.

Traumatic Amnesia Resulting From Childhood Trauma

Why Trauma Survivors May Find It Hard To Learn From Past Behaviour.

Childhood Trauma And Memory – Why Some Remember, Others Forget

Effects Of Repressed Anger Towards Parents

Childhood Trauma : Reactions to Trauma According to Age

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

Unable To Live In The Present? Therapy And Dual Awareness Can Help



Many people who have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma and, as a result, go on to develop complex posttraumatic stress disorder or related conditions often feel permanently stuck in the past and unable to live in the present. Indeed, the past may seem more real and substantial than the present – in fact, what’s going on in the present may feel so nebulous and ethereal that it has little impact on how one feels; it is as if it isn’t really happening. Instead, one’s feelings and behaviours remain rigid and inflexible, fixed in place by one’s adverse childhood experiences, even experiences that happened years or decades ago. Indeed, something traumatic which happened ten years ago may feel more real and more recently occurring than something that happened five minutes ago.

In this distressing state, the individual may feel constantly hypervigilant, dissociated or fluctuate between these two extremes. Whilst these responses might have been adaptive responses at the time of the trauma if one’s situation is now relatively safe and secure and one has long escaped the traumatic environment, they may now be highly dysfunctional and prevent the person from living in the ‘now.’

For example, someone who, for years, was a child victim of his/her father’s physical violence may, long after s/he he has left his/her abusive childhood environment, continue to be frequently triggered when interacting with any male authority figures (even though they pose no threat) and react and feel as s/he did at the time s/he was experiencing the abuse. The effects of this might be dramatic, such as repeatedly getting into physical fights, walking out of jobs due to minor criticism from the boss or seeking oblivion from painful recollections of the past through drink, drugs, gambling, promiscuous sex or other behaviours that augment a dissociative state.

And, because these (now) unhelpful ways of behaving are so deeply rooted in past experience, they can prove hard to change whilst one’s traumatic experiences remain unresolved so one may find oneself constantly reenacting the past yet be unable to learn from experience even though such behaviour simply compounds the person’s emotional and practical problems. Such a person, also, may find they frequently suffer ‘flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and nightmares connected to their past trauma.

Such a state of being unable to feel properly engaged in the present is also frequently accompanied by a state of anhedonia.

How ‘Dual Awareness’ Can Help Us To Once Again Live In The Present

In order to free him/herself from the past, and from being constantly caught up in distressing emotions connected to it, such as fear and anger, and/or from being tormented by intrusive thoughts and memories, the individual must know, feel and believe, on a deep level, that s/he can do so in a safe environment such as with a therapist who empathizes with him/her and whom s/he trusts. In such an environment, sometimes figuratively referred to as a ‘holding environment‘, the individual can start to utilize a state called ‘dual awareness

A holding environment is a term originally coined by Winnicott who defined it as: “That aspect of the mother experienced by the infant as the environment that literally-and figuratively, by demonstrating highly focused attention and concern – holds him or her comfortingly…’

Bebette Rothschild defines ‘dual awareness as the ability “to recognize that I’m feeling upset right now…that I might even be having a flashback, but what’s going on with me right now has to do with something from the past, and I’m aware of where I am in the here and now, which is separate from that memory of the past.

This ability allows the person to start properly processing hitherto suppressed, traumatic memories that may be upsetting whilst ALSO understanding that, at the present time, s/he is not in danger. In other words, dual awareness involves, metaphorically, having one foot in the past and, simultaneously, having one foot in the safety and security of the present. Thus, s/he can revisit his/her traumatic experiences but his/her dual awareness (i.e.that s/he is presently in a safe and secure holding environment) helps to prevent him/her from being overwhelmed by distressing feelings which, without ‘dual awareness’ would make therapy and recovery more difficult.


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


PTSD Nightmares : Content, Symbols, Information Processing Theory And Paradoxical Intention

Childhood Trauma Leading to Anhedonia (Inability to Experience Pleasure).

Unconscious Processes : How Our Past Affects Our Present.

Unconscious Processes : How Our Past Affects Our Present.

Labelling People As Having BPD May Adversely Affect Their Treatment


Image by BRRT from Pixabay



A study conducted at Bath University in the United Kingdom has found that labelling an individual as suffering from BPD can lower the standard of treatment they receive.


The study involved 3 groups of mental health clinicians and required them to watch a video of a man manifesting symptoms of anxiety disorder.

However, each of these 3 groups was given different sets of information about the man featured in the video. These differences were as follows:

GROUP 1: Those in GROUP 1 were provided with only simple and basic information about the man in the video

GROUP 2: Those in GROUP 2 were given the same information as those in GROUP 1 AND ADDITIONALLY given information about the man’s behaviour that implied he might be suffering from BPD.

GROUP 3: Those in GROUP 3 were ADDITIONALLY informed that the man in the video had previously been FORMALLY DIAGNOSED as suffering from BPD by a psychiatrist.


Despite the fact that mental health clinicians in each of the 3 groups watched exactly the same video and were given identical instructions to make an evaluation and assessment of the man in the video, the researchers involved in the study found that many of them had been negatively influenced in their interpretations of what they saw because they believed the label of borderline personality disorder had been attached to the patient.


The results of the study suggest that mental health clinicians may be negatively influenced in their analysis of a patient’s behaviours by their prior expectations, even if those prior expectations are predicated upon false information – in this case, that the man in the video was likely to have or was formally diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder as those in GROUP 2 and GROUP 3 respectively believed due to the bogus information with which they were supplied by those running the experiment.

Researchers at Bath University (where the study was conducted) suggested that such negatively biased attitudes towards patients based upon the psychiatric labels (in this case, borderline personality disorder) that have been foisted upon them may adversely affect the treatment they receive.


Lam, D.C.K., Salkovskis, P.M. and Hogg, L.I. (2016), ‘Judging a book by its cover’: An experimental study of the negative impact of a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder on clinicians’ judgements of uncomplicated panic disorder. Br J Clin Psychol, 55: 253-268.

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


Attitudes Of Medical Professionals Towards BPD Sufferers

Unhappy With BPD Diagnosis? Is ‘Formulation’ The Answer?

The Link Between ‘Mental Illness’, Ideology, Meaning And Powerlessness

Traumatized As A Child And Wrongly Diagnosed With BPD?

Study Suggests Writing About Our Traumatic Experiences Can Be Beneficial To Health

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay







We know that childhood trauma is strongly associated with poor mental and physical health in later life (e.g. see the ACE study) due to the hazardous, longterm effects of prolonged and repetitive toxic stress and the effect that has on the mind, brain and body e.g. due to the prolonged overproduction of the stress hormone, cortisol. In connection with this, you may wish to read my article about how the experience of severe and prolonged exposure to childhood trauma may reduce our life-expectancy by 19 years.

It follows then that if we can reduce the psychological effects of trauma over the longterm, we can also improve our physical health.

Trauma therapy aims to achieve just this by helping us to process our trauma experiences (as long as we feel safe and secure enough) integrate them into our personal historical narratives (or, more simply, our ‘life-story) in a healthily processed manner.

The study described below suggests that writing about our traumatic experiences (if we feel safe and secure enough to do so – see above) may be one way to help us achieve this, i.e. help us to process and integrate our traumatic experiences and consequently benefit our health.

Relevant to the above is a study conducted by Pennebaker (1986) was carried out to see if writing about one’s traumatic experience was beneficial.


The study involved students who were asked to spend 15 minutes writing about the most traumatic/stressful thing that had ever happened to them. They were required to carry out this writing exercise every day over 4 consecutive days. They were also encouraged to describe their most profound and, if applicable, (previously) secret thoughts and feelings relating to the traumatic/stressful event/experience about which they had chosen to write. Although some of the students found the exercise emotionally distressing, when given the option of whether to continue taking part in the experiment or not, they all wanted to carry on rather than leave the study. (I refer to this group as GROUP 1).

In order to find out whether it was writing about the trauma that could be helpful or if just writing, in general, was beneficial, a control group was also set up. Those in the control group also carried out the 15-minute writing exercise over the 4 day period, the only difference being that they wrote about neutral topics (GROUP 2).


All of those who had taken part in the study were followed up over a six month period and it was found that individuals who had written about a traumatic/stressful experience made significantly fewer visits to the doctor than those in the group that had written about a neutral topic thus suggesting those in the first group had gained health benefits by writing specifically about their traumatic/stressful experience. However, it was also found that those in GROUP 1 had relatively higher blood pressure and higher self-reports of negative feelings immediately after completing the writing exercise (though they felt more positive a few days later) compared to those in GROUP 2.


Pennebaker (1986) also examined the type of language students had used in their writing exercises.

He found, for example, that those who used the word ‘because’ the most, in comparison with the other students in GROUP 1, tended to benefit more than their counterparts and Pennebroke suggested that this may be because it showed they were often trying to ‘make sense of’ what had happened to them. He also found that those in GROUP 1 who transitioned, during the writing exercises from initially writing in the first person singular to, later on in the writing exercises, writing in the third person singular were also particularly likely to be benefited – this, Pennebaker surmised, may be because the alteration in the use of grammar indicated that they were trying to comprehend what had occurred to them using a multiple-perspective approach so that they were able to analyze what had happened to them from a variety of psychological angles.


Therapies that may help us to process the past include the following:


  • DESENSITIZATION THERAPY – This involves reflecting on the trauma, including sensory details (i.e.details pertaining to the five senses), feelings and thoughts associated with it with the aim of this process leading the individual to become ‘desensitized’ to thinking g about this information – i.e. reaching a stage in which thinking about this material is significantly less emotionally distressing and less physiologically activating (i.e. reduces feelings of hypervigilance and hypersensitivity to stress).


  • COGNITIVE PROCESSING THERAPY – This form of therapy aims to help the individual identify and overcome thoughts that are preventing him/her from attaining resolution of the trauma s/he has experienced.

It also involves specific writing tasks involving writing about one’s traumatic experience including as much detail as possible about sensory elements of the experience (i.e. relating to touch, taste, vision, hearing and smell) and also about thoughts and feelings one experienced during the traumatic event.

The individual undergoing is also encouraged to read out what s/he has written to him/herself every day and also to his/her therapist during the session following the written task (so having a therapist one can trust and feel comfortable with is vital, as it is in all therapeutic relationships).



Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274–281.


Write Everyday | Self Hypnosis Downloads.  CLICK HERE


Posttraumatic Growth : Trauma, The Brain, Dissociation And Creativity

Trauma Release Exercises For Effects Of Childhood Trauma

How Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms Reinforce Each Other

How Borderline Personality Symptoms Reinforce
Each Other.

One of the greatest difficulties of managing borderline personality disorder
(BPD) is that the symptoms it creates tend to feed off, and intensify, each
other; often this will end in a crisis point at which the affected individual
will become suicidal and/or require hospitalization.

Until the disorder is properly treated with the relevant therapy, the individual is likely to keep
experiencing such crisis points throughout his/her life.
In this article, I want to look at how the symptoms of BPD can keep
reinforcing and worsening each other, leading to a downward spiral from
which the majority will find it impossible to break free without professional
intervention. In order to do this, it is worth revisiting the main symptoms of

– almost always full of painful and distressing emotions

– becomes intensely attached to others very quickly, leading to feelings for,
and expectations of, others that are not warranted given the context and/or
history of the relationship

– expects to be rejected by those s/he forms an emotional attachment to

– is simultaneously deeply needy of, and rejecting towards, others; feels
deep need of emotional intimacy with, and caring from, others but then will
tend to reject it when it is offered

– interpersonal relationships become unstable and chaotic

– experiences great difficulty in controlling (regulating) emotions which
quickly become powerful and overwhelming; these frequent powerful,
intense, uncontrollable emotions frequently spiral out of control and then
have a very adverse effect upon normal functioning

– inability to self-soothe (it is theorized that this is due to damage to the area
of the brain known as the AMYGDALA, thought to be caused by severe
trauma and high levels of stress during childhood)

– suffers from impulsivity and recklessness

– frequently, or continuously, prone to severe depression and anxiety

– feels, and almost always is (by non-experts), misunderstood

– tends to constantly expect utter and devastating calamity (a mind-set
referred to by psychologists as CATASTROPHIZING, a state of mind
cognitive behavioural therapy, and other types of therapy for BPD, seek to


Because the symptoms of BPD trap the sufferer in a downward spiral, as I
shall illustrate below, it is just about impossible for individuals to cope
with, let alone manage, the condition on their own. Professional
intervention is therefore imperative. Because BPD is frequently
misdiagnosed, it is worth noting down relevant symptoms and presenting
them to the relevant professional in advance of an appointment.

Also, there is nothing to prevent one seeking a second (or even third!) opinion. It is
important to seek out a therapist who is expert in the condition and one is,
of course, free to ask any potential therapist what experience s/he has of the
disorder, together with their views about treatments (eg medication, talk
therapy, a combination?) What is your own instinct on this? Let the
therapist know.

Let’s now look at how the symptoms of BPD may become so mutually,
destructively intertwined:

Because the person who suffers from BPD can be in such continuous,
painful emotional distress it is very common for him/her to turn to alcohol
or drugs in an attempt to numb these intolerable feelings.

The individual may well then castigate him/herself about this alcohol/drug use, seeing
him/herself as an alcoholic or drug addict which lowers even further his/her
already greatly damaged self-esteem.

S/he may then seek psychologically support from a friend, but, as a consequence of his/her distress, become
clingy and demanding. In response to this, the friend may set down
boundaries which the BPD sufferer interprets as rejection, thus further
lowering his/her self-esteem and causing further painful emotions leading to
yet more excessive drinking or drug taking…

Of course, this is just one example of how symptoms of BPD may
unhelpfully feed off each other, though an almost infinite variety of harmful
interactions between other symptoms can be easily imagined.

MENTAL PAIN AND STRESS so will turn, with depressing regularity, to
relationships or activities which allow temporary, psychological
DISSOCIATION from the emotional distress being experienced, such as
words, maladaptive (unhelpful) coping mechanisms.

As these maladaptive coping strategies continue to aggravate and worsen
one another, the BPD sufferer is likely to become increasingly desperate
and to undertake increasingly self-destructive behaviours.

How can s/he break free from this vicious cycle? Sometimes, as I said in the opening
paragraph of this post, hospitalization may be required to interrupt the
cycle; however, this has its negative side: being placed in a psychiatric
hospital can significantly worsen, yet further, damaged self-esteem, making
the sufferer feel like a pariah – stigmatized, demeaned, humiliated, and on
the bottom rung of society’s ladder.

S/he will also be burdened with the often acute worry of how s/he will now be perceived by others for having
being placed in a psychiatric ward, making him/her less capable still of
finding the confidence to interact successfully with acquaintances, friends
and society in general. In extreme cases (eg when the sufferer is actively
suicidal), however, there may, sadly, be little alternative

BPD Sufferers May Have Subtle Learning Difficulties

Childhood Trauma : Reactions to Trauma According to Age

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

BPD Link To Mothers Who Fluctuate Between Nurturing And Abusive Behaviour


As we have seen from other articles that I have published on this site, individuals who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (a very serious psychiatric disorder strongly associated with severe and protracted childhood trauma) have a strong tendency to see others and ‘black and white’ terms or as ‘all good’ and ‘all bad’. Indeed, BPD sufferers may suddenly switch from idealizing a person, such as a partner, to ‘demonizing’ this same person.

Unfortunately, as I know from my own experience, mothers with BPD or with BPD traits may treat their own children in this way – sometimes smothering them with love and engulfing them, then, unpredictably and dramatically, altering their behaviour to treating them in a highly psychologically abusive way. In other words, their parenting is inconsistent in a particularly extreme way

Obviously, to be on the receiving end of such treatment is disorientating, deeply confusing, toxically stressful and traumatizing, particularly (as in my case) the mother is a single parent and there is no stable father or partner to protect and comfort the child. (Throw into the mix a complicit, bullying older sibling and things are apt to turn out especially badly).


Because of the diametrically opposed ways in which the mother has of treating her child (vacillating between nurturing and abusive), this may lead to the child to being unable to construct an integrated mental representation of his/her mother that encapsulates her whole range of potential behaviours (from very good to very bad) towards him/her.


Instead, the child forms two mental representations of the mother (one reflecting her ‘all bad’ side and one representing her ‘all good’ side and stores these representations, it has been hypothesized, in two different parts of the brain, as follows:

  • the mental representation of the ‘all good’ mother is stored in the right hemisphere of the brain.
  • the mental representation of the ‘all bad’ mother is stored in the left hemisphere of the brain. 


The process described above is often referred to by psychologists as ‘splitting‘, a psychological defence mechanism which can lead to not only two opposing, unintegrated mental representations of the mother (‘good’ and ‘bad’) but, similarly, two such contrasting, unintegrated views of the world in general. Because of the mother’s extremes of behaviour, the two hemispheres in the brain are theorized not to develop in the normal, integrated way, but to develop in such a way that makes each hemisphere relatively autonomous. 


This lack of integration between the two hemispheres, and because of the different ways in which each hemisphere operates, may also mean that the individual whose brain development has been harmed in such a way may also develop a marked tendency to dramatically fluctuate between viewing people, events and circumstances in a logical or over-valuing way (when in what we might call ‘left-hemisphere mode’) and viewing these same people, events and circumstances in a severely hostile, negative and critical way when in the ‘right-brain mode’, seeing everything in terms of ‘black and white’ rather than in more subtle, nuanced and sophisticated shades of grey. 

As I said at the beginning of this article, seeing everything in terms of ‘black and white’ is one of the defining characteristics of sufferers of BPD so it can be seen from the above why mothers with BPD are far more likely to have children who develop BPD than the average mother although there are, of course, many other reasons why this is the case which I write about elsewhere but are beyond the scope of this current, brief article.


Childhood Trauma, Therapy And The Right Brain

Why A ‘Love-Hate’ Relationship Develops Between The Abusive Parent And The Child

Bowlby’s Theory Of The Damaging Psychological Effects Of Maternal Deprivation

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


The Link Between ‘Mental Illness’, Ideology, Meaning And Powerlessness

Many are of the view that too much of what people feel and do is being pathologized and labelled as a mental illness when, in fact, it should be seen as a natural response to negative life experiences often involving being adversely affected by the misuse of power by others, social deprivation, and political, philosophical, cultural, sociological ideologies.


In relation to this, a new framework has been recently developed called the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) which aims to explain psychological and emotional distress in an alternative way to the traditional method of medicalizing/pathologizing signs of such distress, calling them ‘symptoms’ and placing the bearer of those symptoms in a diagnostic box (which, although sometimes helpful, can also be stigmatizing and traumatizing).

One of the great advantages of the PTMF is that it was developed not only by clinical psychologists but also by service-users.

A fundamental aspect of the PTMF is that it emphasizes how social factors can contribute to our feelings of psychological and emotional distress, including:

  • economic deprivation
  • inequality
  • social exclusion

It also takes into account the effect trauma has on our lives, including:

  • abuse
  • violence
  • neglect


The PTMF also recognizes the various ways in which ideological power and control (which forms the basis to all other forms of power and control) can psychologically harm us. Ideological control can be defined as the way in which people in positions of power and influence seek to persuade people to develop particular values and norms about what is important in society as well as what is ‘good’ and worthy of praise through the assumptions they make, the language they use and the meanings they create.

For example, in the 1950s in the UK homosexuality was assumed to be immoral and criminal and men were sent to prison because of this particular form of ideological control. Many, too, committed suicide as they internalized the implicit meaning those in power had associated being homosexual i.e. that they were ‘sick’, ‘dirty’ and ‘perverted’ and, tragically, could not cope with the guilt and shame they felt as a result. Perhaps one of the best-known examples of such a tragedy is Alan Turing, the mathematical and computer genius who significantly contributed to the Allied victory in World War Two by breaking German code. He was taken to Court and given the choice between prison or taking hormones that would reduce or eliminate his libido. He opted for the second option which had the side effect of causing him to develop breasts and he killed himself by injecting an apple with cyanide and then eating it. (This is why the computer company Apple have an image of an apple with a bite taken out of it as their logo).

Religion is another example of an institution that can create ideologies that cause psychological harm. For example, indoctrinating children that they are ‘born in Sin,’ instilling them with needless feelings of guilt and shame, and telling them that that without redemption from Christ they will suffer eternal agonies in Hell. (Psychiatrists have given the fear of Hell a name – hadephobia – and you can read my article about it here; you may, too, wish to read my article entitled: ‘ The Use Of Religion As A Weapon Of Abuse.

And let’s consider, as another example, childhood depression. Depression is another diagnostic label that has been increasingly attached to children in recent years. However, rather than just categorizing children as ‘mentally ill’, medicalizing their behaviours and emotions and ‘ treating them with ‘medication it is necessary to understand why the behaviours and emotions (leading to a diagnosis of depression) may be emerging at an increasing rate over recent decades in relation to cultural changes in attitudes and ideologies including which have manifested themselves, for example, as:

  • increased rate of separation and divorce of children’s parents
  • a reduction of close-knit communities and community spirit 
  • increase in the amount of time parents spend working
  • the decrease in time children spend with parents
  • reduction in exercise 
  • the targeting of children as consumers by the pharmaceutical industry (the more children diagnosed with conditions that require the medications they produce the greater their profits)

There has also been an explosion of children diagnosed as having ADHD. This is another example of a diagnosis that has been heavily influenced by cultural attitudes, ideologies and the resultant meaning attached to children’s behaviour. For more on this, see my previously published article: Reasons Why ADHD Might Be Being Over-diagnosed.

We may also consider racism. Indeed, black people are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than white people in the UK which may be attributable, at least in part, to the distress induced by having to endure living in a society in which the racist ideology, and the potential social exclusion and unfair treatment that goes with it – a cancer that is yet to be entirely excised from our culture (even though, thankfully, racism is not as bad as it was, say, forty years ago).

The final example I shall provide is the use of the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) which many find highly stigmatizing and which can detract from the fact that the signs a person displays leading to such a diagnosis are often entirely understandable responses to extreme early life trauma and abuse of power by parents and others. Indeed, many are still diagnosed with BPD even though the psychiatrist making the diagnosis has asked nothing about the individual’s childhood or life story in general. The same is true of people diagnosed with ‘clinical depression’ or ‘schizophrenia’,. both of which, research now clearly demonstrates, are more likely to be diagnosed in people who have experienced significant childhood trauma and/or live in areas of social and economic deprivation.

Why Is The Traditional Approach Of Medicalizing And Pathologizing Human Distress And Unhappiness Still So Prevalent?

Even though the medical labels used to describe people in distress are essentially just social constructs, they persist. This is for a variety of reasons including: hiding the real reasons for this distress (e.g. depression is far more frequently diagnosed in areas of economic deprivation but rather than solving the problem of inequality it is easier for certain elements of society to dish out antidepressant drugs), the profits they bring the pharmaceutical industry and the keeping of psychiatrists in business.

The Fundamental Power Threat Meaning Framework Questions:

Central to the PTMF is the idea that abuse and misuse of power can cause people to feel under threat. The behaviour and feelings individuals undergo as a result of such threats are termed symptoms by those who base their understanding of human distress on the medical model.

The central idea behind PTMF, which is interested in people’s lived experience, their interpretations of this experience and resultant personal narrative and how these affect the meaning we attribute to their distress can be summarized by the questions ‘What happened to you?’ (How is power operating in your life?); ‘How did it affect you? (What kind of threats does it pose?); ‘What sense did you make of it?'(What is the meaning of these experiences to you?); ‘What did you have to do to survive? (What kinds of threat response are you using?).

According To The PTMF, there are also two key questions those in distress can ask themselves which might provide them with a more optimistic personal narrative that does not involve diagnostic labels that might imply weakness, blame or a sense of being in some way flawed. These two questions are:

  • What are your strengths?'(What access to power resources do you have?)
  • ‘What is your story?'(How does all this fit together?)’

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

Can ADHD Be A Good Thing?


Should ADHD Be Seen As A ‘Medical Disease’?

I have already explained in other articles that ADHD is a controversial diagnosis (for example, see my previously published articles: Reasons Why ADHD Might Be Being Overdiagnosed or Childhood Trauma And ADHD: Is PTSD Being Misdiagnosed As ADHD?

Indeed, some do not regard ADHD as a medical disease at all but, instead, as a product of a dysfunctional society.

Others regard ADHD having biological causes but, within this camp, attitudes towards ADHD can vary dramatically. In fact, views about ADHD and the behaviours that accompany it are sometimes diametrically opposed. A main area of contention is whether to view ADHD:

  • as being a medical disease that leads to unwanted behaviours that need to be corrected and treated in line with these negative assumptions


  • as a biological difference (as opposed to a medical illness) that leads the person who has it to develop many behaviours and qualities that are, far from being negative, actually advantageous and beneficial in many contexts.

Why Might The Negative Side Of ADHD Be Over-Focused On? Is The Research Biased?

Those who do not wish to describe ADHD as a medical disease point out that ADHD has received such a bad press is that the majority of the research that has been conducted on those who have been diagnosed with ADHD focuses on investigating areas in which those with ADHD don’t perform as well, on average, than those who have not been diagnosed with the condition.

Despite the propensity of researchers to focus on the negative side of ADHD, increasingly research is being conducted on the positive side. For example, research conducted by

A study conducted by Sedgwick and Merwood (2019) found that those diagnosed with ADHD compared to those without ADHD were more likely to flourish in terms of:

  • cognitive dynamism
  • divergent thinking
  • nonconformity (useful, for example, when ‘out of the box’ thinking is required)
  • adventurousness
  • self-acceptance
  • sublimation

Such strengths (and the above lists are not, of course, by any means exhaustive) allow many of those diagnosed with ADHD to function very highly and flourish.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the Workplace. How to Optimize the Performance of Employees with Adult ADHD. Graziadio Business Review. Volume 12, Issue 2.

Sedgwick, J.A., Merwood, A. & Asherson, P. The positive aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a qualitative investigation of successful adults with ADHD. ADHD Atten Def Hyp Disord 11, 241–253 (2019).

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