Childhood Trauma And Stress
We have already seen that those of us who have suffered severe and chronic childhood trauma are at increased risk, compared to those who experienced a relatively happy and stable childhood (all else being equal), of experiencing extreme difficulty dealing with stress in our adult lives; it is theorized that this is often, in no small part, due to damage to our brain’s development in early life, in particular to brain regions called the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.
Indeed, research shows a clear link between early life trauma and the later development of borderline personality disorder (BPD); one of this condition’s hallmark symptoms is the inability to adequately control one’s emotions, in particular those emotions induced by stress such as anxiety and anger.
So which areas of our lives are likely to be adversely affected if we have developed a particular sensitivity to stress?
Albrecht, an expert, and pioneer in the development of stress management techniques identified four key types of stress. These are:
1) Time Related stress
2) Anticipatory Stress
3) Situational stress
4) Encounter stress
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
If we feel this type of stress, we are likely to worry about all the things we need to do and how little time we have to do them, especially if we have deadlines to meet. We will tend to rush things and feel a constant, oppressive sense of pressure, leading to a perpetual state of anxiety, tension, and unease.
We may, too, frequently find ourselves obsessively ruminating, at night in bed, about what we need to do the next day, leading, perhaps, to insomnia.
This type of stress may :
a) be linked to a specific event or activity we have to undertake in the future, such as a job interview, public speaking engagement, or examination.
b) be ill-defined, vague, and generalized and, when severe, may take the form of a pervasive sense of dread about the future and a constant and abiding feeling of impending doom or disaster.
This negative view of the future is one of the negative cognitive triads of clinical depression, the other two being a negative view of the self and a negative view of other people.
This type of stress may occur when:
– we find ourselves in a threatening situation over which we are unable to exert control
– we feel unaccepted (e.g. by work colleagues)
– we suffer a sudden drop in social status, such as being fired from a good job and becoming unemployed
– we find ourselves involved in interpersonal conflict (e.g. with a boss or family member).
This kind of stress can occur if we have to mix socially with others who intimidate us or who make us feel awkward and self-conscious or whom we simply dislike.
Also, interacting with those who are unpredictable can give rise to this category of stress.
Those who work in jobs that involve interacting with others who are emotionally distressed (e.g. doctors or police officers) are also susceptible to this kind of stress.
Important: If we have suffered childhood trauma that has led us to develop conditions such as BPD, it is imperative that we reduce the stress we experience to manageable levels in as many areas of our lives as possible if we are to give our brains a chance of recovery.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).