Many children who grow up in dysfunctional family homes find themselves living in a state of hypervigilance, never knowing how their parents are going to respond to them at any given time (for example, this is often the
- BEHAVIORAL EFFECTS
- COGNITIVE EFFECTS (i.e. effects on thinking and conscious mental processes)
- PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS (i.e. effects on physical health and biological processes)
Below, I list the possible effects of being exposed to prolonged and significant trauma on young children :
A) FROM 0 YEARS OLD TO TWO YEARS OLD
B) FROM THREE YEARS OLD TO SIX YEARS OLD
A) POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON CHILDREN AGED 0 TO 2 YEARS :
Extreme temper tantrums
Fear of adults connected to the traumatic experiences
Fear of separation from the parent / primary caregiver (see my article about separation anxiety)
Highly sensitive ‘startle response’
According to DeYoung, author of the excellent book : ‘Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame : A Relational / Neurobiological Approach‘, the experience of shame comes about as a result of dysfunctional relationships with other people (in particular, of course, with our parents when we are growing up) who are of emotional importance to us as opposed to affecting us as isolated, independent individuals. Because of this, DeYoung describes the experience
‘Bottling Up’ Emotions
It is often said that it is psychologically unhealthy to ‘bottle up’ (suppress) feelings connected to trauma, loss and grief. But what does the research tell us?
Bowlby’s Position :
Bowlby’s (1980) work on the effects of suppression (he mainly focused on the suppression of grief) of such feelings proposes that grief is a natural feeling and ‘bottling up.’ or suppressing, such feelings causes an important psychological process to become inhibited and that
How Does Dysthymia Differ From Major Depression?
Children who experience significant and protracted trauma and/or stress during childhood are at increased risk of developing a condition known as dysthymia, which is sometimes described as a less severe/dramatic version of major depression.
Stith’s (2009) Meta-Analysis :
A study carried out by Stith et al. (2009) reviewed 155 other studies (this is called a meta-analysis) that had already been carried out in order to identify factors that put the child at risk of physical abuse by his/her parents.
In order to identify these factors, one part of Stith’s study examined which particular characteristics of the parent put that person at increased risk of physically abusing his/her child. I list these characteristics below :
Characteristics Of Parents That Increase The Probability That They Will Be Physically Abusive Towards Their Child/Children (according to Stith’s, 2009 meta-analysis of 155 previously published studies) :
- alcohol abuse by parent
- the parent is single
- the parent is unemployed
- the parent abuses drugs
- the parent approves of corporal punishment as a means of instilling discipline in / control over the child
- parent has poor coping skills
- parent has health problems
- parent has poor problem solving skills
- parent lacks social support
- parent is involved in criminal behavior
- parent is under significant stress
- parent suffers from significant anxiety
- parents suffers from mental illness
- parent suffers from depression
- parent suffers from low self-esteem
- parent has problems controlling own anger
- parent had dysfunctional relationship with own parent/s
- parent suffers from hyper-reactivity / has poor control of emotions
Which Of The Above Are The Biggest Risk Factors?
According to Stith’s (2009) research,
Childhood Trauma May Damage Development Of Certain Brain Structures, Including Prefrontal Cortex :
We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that severe and chronic psychological and emotional trauma in early life may adversely affect the physical development of various structures in the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. In individuals who have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) following childhood trauma, such impairment to the brain is thought to be particularly likely.
What Is The Prefrontal Cortex And What Is Its Function?
The prefrontal cortex is a brain region located in the front of the skull (see diagram below) and its main functions include :
- complex planning and decision making
- self-control in the context of social behavior
- setting and achieving goals
- impulse control
ABOVE : Position of frontal cortex in the brain
Evidence For Damage To The Prefrontal Cortex In Individuals Diagnosed With BPD:
MRI Studies : have shown that individuals with BPD have reduced volume in the brain’s frontal lobe and left orbitofrontal cortex (although further studies are required in order to ascertain if this link is causal).
fMRI Studies : have shown thatBPD sufferers experience abnormal
One of the main hallmarks of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is the pronounced tendency of those who suffer from it to display marked rigidity in relation to both their thought processes and behaviors.
This means that, when events occur, the way in which the BPD sufferer interprets them tend to be habitual and fixed and it is very difficult indeed for him/her to adopt a more flexible view or alternative perspective ; instead, once the rigid way of interpreting events formulated in
Parental Maltreatment Of Children :
Except in very extreme cases, such as severe physical abuse, the vast majority of parental mistreatment of children not only goes unreported, but is unacknowledged and, essentially, ignored (although this situation is gradually improving as people become more educated about the potentially devastating effects of bad parenting).
Emotional Abuse :
In particular, emotional abuse can be very subtle yet profoundly insidious
Problems Relating To The Diagnosis Of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):
In order to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) an individual must suffer from AT LEAST FIVE SYMPTOMS out of a total of NINE listed in the DSM V (The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition). These nine symptoms are listed in the table presented below :
It logically follows, therefore, that two individuals could BOTH BE DIAGNOSED WITH FIVE OF THE ABOVE SYMPTOMS, YET HAVE ONLY ONE OF THESE SYMPTOMS IN COMMON WITH ONE ANOTHER.
Peter Fonagy, an internationally renowned clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and expert in borderline psychopathology and early attachment relationships, and who has produced some of the most influential work relating to this field, has stressed the importance of MENTALISING (or, more precisely, the avoidance of it) in relation to borderline personality disorder (BPD).
What Is Meant By The Term ‘Mentalising’?
The term ‘mentalising’ refers to a person’s ability to perceive, understand and make
The Study : A Mouse Model Of Early-Life Stress :
This experiment was conducted to look at the effects on mice of early-life stress. It involved separating baby mice from their mothers for three hours per day for each of the first ten days of their lives.
Results Of The Study :
It was found that the effect of this early-life separation from their mothers caused these baby mice to grow up into adults who were significantly more highly stressed than mice who had not been removed from their mothers in early life ; in particular, it was found that
What Is The Corpus Callosum?
The brain is divided into two halves called the RIGHT HEMISPHERE and the LEFT HEMISPHERE. These two halves are connected by a structure called the CORPUS CALLOSUM. (It is located above the thalamus, underneath the cortex, see image below)
Above : The location of the corpus callosum (marked in orange). Of all the brain’s white matter structures, it is the largest.
What Is The Function Of The Corpus Callosum?
What Does ‘Diathesis’ Mean?
The medical definition of ‘diathesis’ is ‘a heriditary or constitutional predisposition to a disease or other disorder.‘ (The word ‘diathesis’ itself derives from the Greek word for ‘disposition).
What Is The Diathesis-Stress Model?
The diathesis-stress model is a psychological theory that proposes that a psychiatric disorder is caused not by heriditary factors (i.e. predispositional vulnerability) alone, NOR by psychologically stressful experiences