If we have grown up in a chronically stressful and traumatic environment in which we often experienced anxiety, trepidation, stress and fear we are at high risk of developing a fundamental, core belief (on a conscious and/or unconscious level) that the world is a dangerous place and that we need to be constantly on ‘red-alert’ and ‘on-guard’ in order to protect ourselves from sustaining further psychological injury.
In other words, we GENERALIZE our perception that our childhood environment was a dangerous place (because of the emotional and/or physical harm done to us there) into a perception that everywhere else/the world in general poses an on-going threat to us.
As a result, we may develop a symptom known as HYPERVIGILANCE.
HYPERVIGILANCE is the main symptom of complex PTSD (complex PTSD is a serious psychological disorder strongly associated with childhood trauma which you can read more about by reading my post entitled: Childhood Trauma: Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (With Questionnaire).
HOW DOES HYPERVIGILANCE MANIFEST ITSELF?
Individuals suffering from hypervigilance may :
- constantly analyze the behaviour (including body language, facial expressions, intonation etc) of those around them in an attempt to determine if they pose a threat (and, frequently, they may perceive a threat to exist when, in reality, it does not)
- be in a constant state of anxiety, irritation and agitation
- have an exaggerated startle response to loud, unexpected noises
- experience excessive concern regarding how they are viewed by others
- be excessively suspicious of others / expect others to betray them; this can give rise to paranoid-like states
- perceive danger everywhere even though this is not objectively justified
- easily be provoked into aggression (as a means of defending themselves against perceived threats from others; in other words, such aggressive outbursts are a (primarily unconsciously motivated) DEFENSE MECHANISM.
- PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS (including elevated heart rate, hyperventilation, trembling and sweating)
- have false perceptions that others dislike them, are plotting against them or mean them harm
- see minor set-backs as major disasters (this is a cognitive distortion sometimes referred to as CATASTROPHIZING.
- frequently experience fear and panic when, objectively speaking, it is not justified
- experience obsessive worry and rumination that is intrusive and hard to control
- suffer from sleep problems (including very frequent waking and nightmares)
- feel constantly exhausted (due to both sleep problems and the sheer debilitating effects of being in a constant state of anxiety)
- social anxiety / impaired relationships / social isolation
Therapies For The Treatment Of Hypervigilance :
Therapies that may ameliorate symptoms of hypervigilance include :
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- exposure therapy
- somatic psychology
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)