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Childhood Trauma Increases Frequency Of ‘Negative Events In Daily Life’ In Middle Age.

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A study conducted by Infuma et al., (2015) suggests that those who have suffered significant and protracted childhood trauma suffer significantly more problems and disturbances in their daily life, as well as more dysfunctional reactions to such problems and disturbances, during middle-age and beyond (when compared to those who have been fortunate enough to avoid the experience of significant childhood trauma).

This adds to the already enormous amount of evidence suggesting that the adverse effects of childhood trauma, both physical and psychological, in the absence of appropriate, effective therapy, can last for years, decades, or, indeed, a whole lifetime (for example, see my article about the ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACE) STUDY).

The study required the participants to keep a daily diary for a total of 30 days and record within it of NEGATIVE EVENTS, POSITIVE EVENTS and CHANGES IN WELL-BEING AS A RESULT OF THESE EVENTS.

THE HYPOTHESIS OF THE STUDY WAS :

Those who had experienced significant childhood trauma would REPORT MORE NEGATIVE EVENTS each day, and LESS ENGAGEMENT WITH POSITIVE EVENTS each day, than participants who had NOT experienced significant childhood trauma.

AND THAT…

Those who had experienced significant childhood trauma would REPORT HIGHER LEVELS OF EMOTIONAL REACTIVITY TO BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EVENTS that occurred each day than participants who had NOT experienced significant childhood trauma.

For both NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE EVENTS that the participants recorded in their diaries, participants were required to make a note of which of the following categories the event fell into :

  • Spouse / Partner
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Work Finances
  • Health
  • Other

RESULTS FOR NEGATIVE EVENTS :

  • Those who had experienced childhood trauma had a 43 per cent increased likelihood of reporting a daily negative event on any particular day.
  • Those with HIGHER LEVELS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, on average, experienced daily negative events on 66 per cent of the 30 days, whereas for those with LOWER LEVELS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA this figure fell to an average of 50 per cent.
  • The more childhood trauma that a participant had experienced, the stronger his emotional reactivity, and consequential reduction in well-being, to NEGATIVE EVENTS FOCUSED UPON FRIENDS AND HEALTH.

RESULTS FOR POSITIVE EVENTS :

  • The more childhood trauma the participant had experienced, the greater his increase in positive emotions in response to positive events focused upon spouse / partner, family, friends and work.

CONCLUSION :

Extrapolating from the above figures, these results suggesr that

  • Over the period of a year, those who have experienced significant childhood trauma experience negative events on 60 more days (on average) each year than those who have experienced little or no childhood trauma.
  • Those who have experienced significant childhood trauma experienced greater emotional reactivity to both positive and negative events than those who have experienced little or no childhood trauma.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PHYSICAL HEALTH :

The researchers also suggested that the differences found between those who had experienced significant childhood trauma and those who had not, as described above, may help to explain why individuals who have experienced significant childhood trauma, on average, suffer worse physical health than those who have not (in relation to this, you may wish to read my previously published article entitled : How Childhood Trauma Can Reduce Life Expectany By 19 Years). This is because previous research has shown that daily stressors, over time, can, cumatively, have a seriously damaging effect upon our physical health (both directly – by increasing the level of damaging hormones such as cortisol in our blood stream – and indirectly – by increasing the likelihood that we will turn to unhealthy coping strategies such as drinking, smoking and drug-taking).

It may also be the case that the increased emotional reactivity that those who have experienced significant childhood trauma show in response to negative daily events and the associated increased activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system may also adversely impact upon health (although increased reactivity to positive events may off-set this to some degree), according to the researchers.

Finally, the fact that those who have experienced significant childhood trauma show increased reactivity to positive daily events and that this may off-set, to some degree, physiological damage caused by increased reactivity to negative events, suggests, according to the researchers, that for those seeking therapy this finding could be exploited by encouraging such individuals to undertake more pleasurable activities by using therapeutic techniques such as behavioral activation.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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