Do You Over-react?


Research has firmly established that certain kinds of severe childhood trauma can seriously impair our ability to control our emotions long into our adult lives (without therapeutic intervention such as dialectical behaviour therapy). This will especially be the case if our childhood trauma has been so serious that we have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD).

If we have been affected in such a way, we are likely to find others pointing out to us that we have a marked tendency to OVER-REACT to occurrences that other people would be able to  take calmly in their stride.

So why is this?

Essentially, it is likely to be mainly due to us continuing to react to things as if we were still experiencing the overwhelming stress of our childhoods. This is so because our stress response system, during our childhood, was chronically overloaded, resulting in exceptionally large quantities of ADRENALIN and other stress hormones being delivered, far too frequently, or, indeed, chronically, to our brain.

This can result in the AMYGDALA (a brain structure strongly associated with our emotional reactions) being damaged and our STRESS RESPONSE SYSTEM BECOMING PERMANENTLY STUCK ON ‘RED ALERT.’ In effect, this means that we are continually in ‘EMERGENCY RESPONSE MODE’.

overreaction_stress response_trauma


Effects which may frequently be experienced include :

– over-reacting to events/circumstances in ways which seem vastly disproportionate from the perspective of an objective observer

– frequently being ‘bad tempered’/finding our temper to constantly be on a ‘hair-trigger’

– having a tendency to be highly argumentative and confrontational

– finding ourselves to be very easily irritated

– being prone to outbursts of rage (again, these outbursts may often seem disproportionate to the provocation, from an objective stand-point)

– feeling constantly agitated, nervous and ‘on-edge’

– having a hyper-sensitive ‘startle-response’ (eg may ‘jump’ in response to an unexpected noise, such as a knock at the door or our phone ringing or in response to an unexpected movement)

In particular, we are likely to over-react, perhaps dramatically, to situations/events/circumstances/people that REMIND US OF OUR ORIGINAL TRAUMA (even if we are only reminded by these things on an unconscious level). Such reminders, or TRIGGERS, will tend to lead to massive surges of adrenalin within our bodies making our resultant behaviour exceptionally difficult to control, at least in the short-term – indeed, responses to reminders of severe trauma are likely to be essentially ‘automatic’ as our childhoods have ‘programmed’ us to expect danger and to respond accordingly.

Unfortunately, such responses are very likely, now we are adults, to be dysfunctional; this is because we are now likely to live in a different environment/social context which no longer carries the dangers of our childhood environment.

If we are in this situation, it is likely that we may benefit from dialectical behaviour therapy (see above) or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).


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

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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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