How Childhood Trauma Can Make Us Constantly Hypervigilant

hypervigilant, How Childhood Trauma Can Make Us Constantly Hypervigilant

What Is Meant By Hypervigilance?

A person who is hypervigilant feels constantly ‘on edge’ , ‘keyed up’ and fearful. S/he experiences a perpetual sense of dread and of being under threat despite the fact, objectively speaking, there is no present danger. Indeed, the person affected in this way is so intensely alert to, and focused upon, any conceivable imminent danger that s/he may develop paranoia-like symptoms and frequently perceive danger in situations where no such danger, in reality, exists.

Nervous System

In physiological terms, the nervous system becomes ‘stuck’in an over-activated state and it is very difficult for the hypervigilant individual to calm him/herself sufficiently to enable it to return to a normal level of activation ; instead, it becomes locked into the fight or flight mode (the hypervigilant person’s body is in a continuous state of preparedness to fight or flee because of the anticipation of threat the person feels).

Hypervigilane, Hyperarousal, Childhood Trauma And Complex PTSD :

Hypervigilance is one of the many symptoms of hyperarousal.

Hyperarousal, in turn, is a symptom of PTSD / Complex PTSD which are conditions linked to severe and protracted childhood trauma.

hypervigilant, How Childhood Trauma Can Make Us Constantly Hypervigilant

 

Other symptoms of hyperarousal may include :

  • insomnia (e.g. constant waking in night and finding it hard to go back to sleep)
  • extremely sensitive startle response
  • problems with concentration and mental focus
  • abiding feelings of irritability and anger, perhaps giving rise to outbursts of extreme rage / verbal aggression, or, even, physical violence
  • constant anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • reckless behavior
  • using short-term ‘solutions’ such as drinking too much alcohol or using street drugs to reduce painful feelings which, in the longer-term, are self-destructive

It is not difficult to see why the experience of childhood trauma should be linked to increased risk of develop hypervigilance as an adult : if we have lived our early life in an environment that made us feel constantly anxious, under threat and fearful ,our very neural development (i.e. the development of our brain) can be adversely affected and it is such negative effects that can leave us so vulnerable and predisposed to developing the disorder, particularly at times when  our adult lives expose us to further stressful experiences.

RESOURCES :

 

LINK : One of the world’s leading experts on how trauma affects the body, and what can be done about it, is the author of The Body Keeps Score’, Bessel van der Kolk, and his website can be found here : besselvanderkolk.net

 

David Hosier BSC Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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