Author Archives: David Hosier Msc

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

Serotonin And Childhood Trauma

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

As we have seen from other articles that I have previously published on this site, neurological problems resulting from childhood trauma can be reversed, and it is to the research into this exciting and fast developing area of study that I now turn.

Studies have shown that because SEROTONIN (a chemical, also known as a neurotransmitter, in the brain) can become depleted by childhood trauma, ANTI-DEPRESSANTS (for example, Setraline) which increase the availability of serotonin in the brain can help to REVERSE the harmful effects of childhood trauma on it.

However, the beneficial effects of anti-depressant treatment is greatly increased if, in addition, the childhood trauma survivor’s ENVIRONMENT is also significantly improved, providing as many positive experiences as possible. Indeed, positive experiences can BENEFICIALLY AFFECT BRAIN CHEMISTRY (for example,  by increasing the availability of serotonin and other important neurotransmitters in the brain), just as anti-depressants can.

serotonin

So: brain chemistry can be affected by environmental factors, as well as by medication.

Because survivors of childhood trauma often FEEL OVERWHELMED BY THEIR EMOTIONS, studies have been conducted which also show that activities that discharge these emotions in a creative or constructive manner can also change brain chemistry for the better. Examples include drawing, painting, writing or even undertaking exercises such as hitting a punch bag at the gym.

In addition to human studies, there have also been some studies on animals. There is now a growing body of evidence that new experiences can regenerate animals’ brain cells. Studies in this area are likely to be conducted on humans in the near future.

Because many of these studies are new, their implications have not yet been fully taken advantage of in the construction of treatment programs. Indeed, it is estimated that fewer than 10% of childhood trauma survivors are receiving appropriate therapeutic interventions.

The exciting conclusion that we are able to draw from all of the above is that there is now good evidence that even if the brain has undergone neurological damage as a result of childhood trauma, this CAN BE REVERSED due to the fact that THE BRAIN CONTINUES TO CHANGE THROUGHOUT LIFE.

brain_damage_Caused_by_childhood_trauma

Above eBook available for immediate download at Amazon. CLICK HERE

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

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Challenging Our Negative Thoughts.

Challenging Negative Thoughts :

This article examines how we can use cognitive behavioral therapy to challenge our negative thoughts.

When we have negative thoughts, it is important to ask ourselves:

‘What is the evidence to support this negative thought/belief?’ OFTEN, WILL WILL FIND THERE IS VERY LITTLE OR AT LEAST NOT THE COMPELLING EVIDENCE WE’D ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED.

It is important for us to get into the habit of challenging negative thoughts in this way because very often the negative thoughts come to us automatically (due to entrenched negative thinking patterns caused in large part by our traumatic childhoods) without us analyzing them and examining them to see if they are actually valid.

So, to repeat, we need to try to get into the habit of CHALLENGING OUR NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND ASKING OURSELVES IF THERE REALLY IS PROPER EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THEM.

A SUGGESTED EXERCISE FOR CHALLENGING NEGATIVE THOUGHTS :

1) Think of two or three negative thoughts that you have experienced lately.

2) Ask yourself what evidence you have to support them.

3) Ask yourself how strong this evidence actually is.

4) Now think of evidence AGAINST THE NEGATIVE THOUGHT.

Step 4 above is very important.This is because when we are depressed and have negative thoughts we tend to focus on the (often flimsy) evidence which supports them BUT IGNORE ALL THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THEM (in other words, we give ourselves an ‘unfair hearing’ and , in effect, are prejudiced against ourselves). This is sometimes referred to as CONFIRMATION BIAS.

Challenging our negative thoughts and FINDING EVIDENCE TO REFUTE THEM is a very important part of CBT. It is, therefore, worth us putting in effort to search hard for evidence which weakens or invalidates our automatic negative thoughts/beliefs.

ALTERNATIVE THOUGHTS:

When we have successfully challenged our negative thoughts, and found, by reviewing the evidence, reason not to hold them anymore, it is useful to replace them by MORE REALISTIC APPROPRIATE THOUGHTS.

One way to get into the habit of this is to spend a little time occasionally writing down our automatic negative thoughts. Then, for each thought, we can write beside it:

1) Evidence in support of the negative thought.

2) Evidence against the negative thought.

3) In the light of the analysis carried out above in steps 1 and 2, replace it with a more realistic, valid and positive thought. Here is an example:

Negative Thought: I failed my exam which means I’m stupid and will never get the job I wanted or any other.

1) Evidence in support of negative thought:

‘after a lot of revision, I still didn’t pass.

2) Evidence against negative thought:

I only failed by a couple of per cent and was affected by my nerves – failing one exam does not make me stupid’.

3) Alternative, more valid, realistic and positive thought:

‘I can retake the exam and still get the job. Even if I don’t get my first choice of job, that does not mean there won’t be other jobs I can get, and they may turn out to be better.’

Getting into the habit of occasionally writing down negative thoughts, challenging them, and coming up with more positive alternative thoughts will help to ‘reprogram’ the brain not to just passively accept the automatic negative thoughts which come to us without subjecting them to scrutiny and challenging their validity.

 

Self-Help Link :

Ten Steps To Overcoming Negative Thinking. Click here for further information.

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Childhood Trauma.

WHAT IS COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY AND HOW CAN IT AID RECOVERY FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ?

 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)  was initially devised during the 1970s by Aaron Beck and has since been developed by other psychologists (for example, David Burns, MD) and is now used to treat many conditions that individuals who have experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma are at increased risk of suffering from (especially depression and anxiety).

 

Put simply, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works on the basic observation that:

 

1) how we think about things and interpret events affects how we feel

2) how we behave affects how we feel

therefore:

3) by changing how we think about things, interpret events and behave will CHANGE HOW WE FEEL.

I have over-simplified here but those are the essential three points and my aim in this blog is not to present information in an over-complex way.

 

RESEARCH :

CBT is widely used by therapists to treat survivors of childhood trauma and there is now a solid base of research which supports its effectiveness. I myself underwent a course of CBT some time ago and found it very helpful.

 

WHAT WE THINK ABOUT THINGS DECIDES HOW WE FEEL :

In this post I wish to concentrate on how our thinking styles affect our state of mind and emotions. Survivors of childhood trauma often develop depressive illness and, as a result, thinking styles often become extremely negative:
NEGATIVE THINKING

Depression often gives rise to what is sometimes called a COGNITIVE TRIAD of negative thoughts. These are:

– negative view of self
– negative view of the world
– negative view of the future

I have referred to this NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD in previous posts, but it is worth revisiting. The aim of CBT is to change these negative thinking patterns into more positive ones. It aims to correct FAULTY THINKING STYLES.

 

FAULTY THINKING STYLES:

Individuals who suffer from this cognitive negative triad of depressive thoughts, as I did for more years than I care to remember, are generally found to have deeply ingrained faulty thinking styles; I provide the most common ones below and give a very brief explanation of each type (if the examples seem a little extreme, it is merely to illustrate the point):

1) GENERALIZATION:

e.g. someone is rude to us and we conclude: ‘nobody likes me or ever will’.

So, here, the mistake is vastly over-generalizing from one specific incident.

2) POLARIZED THINKING:

e.g. ‘unless I am liked by everyone then I am unpopular’.

This is sometimes referred to as ‘black or white’ thinking ie. seeing things as all good or all bad and ignoring the grey areas.

3) CATASTROPHIZING:

e.g. ‘I know for sure this will be an unmitigated disaster and I’ll be utterly unable to cope.’

Here, the mistake is to overestimate how badly something will turn out or to greatly overestimate the odds of something bad happening. It often also involves underestimating our ability to cope in the unlikely event that the worst does actually happen. Also known as ‘WHAT IF…’ style thinking.

4) PERSONALIZATION:

e/g. taking an innocent, casual, passing remark to be a deliberate and calculated personal attack. Here, the mistake is thinking everything people do or say is a kind of reaction to us and that people are pre- disposed to wanting to gratuitously hurt us.

5) SELF BLAME :

e.g. someone says our team has not met its monthly target and we then look for ways to convince ourselves it is specifically and exclusively due to something we have done wrong. With this type of faulty thinking style, we blame ourselves for something for which there is no evidence it is our fault.

6) MINIMIZATION :

e.g. ‘I failed one exam out of ten, therefore I’m stupid and a complete failure’.

Here, the positive (passing nine out of ten exams) is pretty much ignored (minimized) and the negative (failing one exam) completely disproportionately affects our view of ourselves. Individuals who minimize the positive tend to also MAXIMIZE (ie. make far too much of) the negative.

 

CONCLUSION :

What tends to underlie all these faulty thinking styles is that we UNNECESSARILY BELIEVE NEGATIVE THINGS IN SPITE OF THE FACT WE HAVE NO, OR EXTREMELY LIMITED, EVIDENCE FOR SUCH BELIEFS. Therefore, we unnecessarily and irrationally further lower our own sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Because of these faulty thinking styles, we increase our feelings of inadequacy and depression.

 

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

Childhood Trauma: Coming to Terms with what We have Lost.

Many who suffered childhood trauma grow up feeling that there childhood has been ‘stolen’ from them.

They may have grown up feeling worthless and uniquely unloveable, lacking, too, in feelings of safety and security. They may also grow up with a lack of confidence and find it extremely difficult to trust anyone or to believe that they will not be betrayed again. They may have experienced no joy or carefreeness in childhood such as other children take for granted.

As an adult, realizing what one has lost will often give rise to powerful feelings of sadness and grief. This is quite normal. Indeed, grief is an intrinsic component of the recovery process.

We may find ourselves grieving for the kind of parents we would have wished for, but, in reality, never had.

If the relationship with our parents or those who who were supposed to be caring for us and looking after us in childhood was deeply fractured, we might, nevertheless, hold out hope that these deeply problematic relationships will improve now that we’re adults; but we may, in due course, discover this is most unlikely to happen. In such cases, we may find ourselves grieving all over again – this time for the loss of our hope. Ideally, we will eventually come to accept this depressing state of affairs and realize, also, that we may never fully understand why we were treated as we were.

Some people are already familiar with the stages of grief, but, for those who are not, I will very briefly summarize them below:

1) a sense of feeling numb (as we saw in a previous post, this is also sometimes referred to as a DISSOCIATIVE state).

2a) a strong, sometimes overwhelming, yearning for what has been lost, which can develop into:

2b) a preoccupation or obsession with what has been lost

3) anger can follow which itself may lead to:

4) feelings of guilt, particularly if we have expressed our anger in a way which is unhelpful to us (lowering ourselves yet further in our own view) or to others.

Eventually, one emerges from the grieving process the other side and the feelings of emotional pain and suffering are ameliorated. However, a less intense general sense of loss may remain, but often we can cope with this and move forward in our lives.

PUTTING THINGS IN PLACE OF LOSSES

Many things may have been lost in our traumatic childhoods. For example:

-fun and enjoyment
-security
-peace of mind
-safety
-positive relationships and friendships

However, as adults, we are in the position to COMPENSATE ourselves for such losses. Examples may include:

– bulding a social life and support network (perhaps joining appropriate support groups)
– putting aside time to do things that we enjoy
– putting aside time for tranquillity and relaxation

Also, if we lacked good parenting as children, we may have felt worthless, frightened, insecure and unloveable. But, to remedy this, at least in part, we can start to ‘parent ourselves’ in the manner that we wish we had actually been parented. This is sometimes also referred to as ‘SELF-NURTURING’. This can include showing ourselves the same level of compassion we might show to a friend: forgiving ourselves, perhaps, for our own failures of behaviour in adult life that were largely brought on by our difficult childhood experiences, stopping blaming and punishing ourselves, building our own sense of self-worth (independent of, and, unreliant upon, the approval of others) or simply giving ourselves permission to be happy and to enjoy life (which protracted and intense guilt makes impossible).

The ultimate goal is to resolve the problems caused by our traumatic childhoods and no longer to let the pain associated with the past remain the predominant feature of who we are or the defining feature of the lives that, despite everything, we still have in front of us.

David Hosier BSc; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Overcoming Relationship Difficulties Caused by Childhood Trauma

childhood trauma and relationship difficulties

We have already seen that as survivors of childhood trauma we often find it very difficult to trust others. We may avoid close relationships in order to avoid the possibility of being hurt.

Whilst this can allow us to feel safe from harm, it can also lead to extreme loneliness.

Research shows that without good social support the childhood trauma survivor is much more likely to suffer emotional problems. Having just one person to confide in, though, can help to SIGNIFICANTLY ALLEVIATE emotional distress.

Because of our negative experiences in childhood, we might often have NEGATIVE BIASES in our thinking when it comes to considering relationships. These are sometimes based on FEAR.

Below are some examples of negative biases we might have when thinking about relationships.

broken-heart

1) everyone has always hurt me, therefore this person will too; I won’t try to form a close relationship with him/her.

2) he/she has let me down. That means he/she will always let me down and is completely untrustworthy.

3) there’s no way I’m going to the party – they’ll be lots of people I don’t know and it’s certain they’ll all hate me.

HOWEVER, in all three examples it is likely our beliefs are erroneous and based on a negative thinking bias caused by our childhood experiences. Below are some ways it would be reasonable for us to mentally challenge our beliefs held in the three above examples.

1) I am OVERGENERALIZING. My past experiences don’t mean everyone in the future is bound to always hurt me.

2) He/she is usually good to me; therefore there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation why he/she seems to have let me down on this particular occasion.

3) I’m being far too harsh on myself – I may be lacking some confidence at the moment but this does not mean people will hate me. Anyway, I can work on ways to gradually rebuild my confidence.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help people to get into the habit of challenging their habitual, unhelpful, negative thinking patterns in a similar way to how I’ve illustrated above. 

DEVELOPING SOCIAL SKILLS:

One way to do this is to observe others who already possess good social skills – the type of things they do may include:

-smiling reasonably often

-using a reasonable amount of eye contact

-giving genuine compliments (but not overdoing it)

-using the other person’s name when talking to them (but, again, not overdoing it)

Others that can be observed to help develop social skills may include friends, strangers or even characters from TV or cinema. It can be of particular benefit to observe how others deal with difficult situations.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that when developing social skills, it is best to build up gradually, rather than to throw ourselves immediately into an especially challenging social event.

Resources :

 

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

Coping Mechanisms for Survivors of Childhood Trauma

survivors of child abuse

How Do Survivors Of Child Abuse Cope?

In my last post I mentioned it might be useful to look at some coping mechanisms one may wish to make use of in the recovery stage from childhood trauma and it is to some of these that I now turn.

There are two main types of coping mechanisms:

1) Those which are helpful in the short-term, but unhealthy in the long-term.

2) Those which are useful in the long-term (but can take more effort and discipline).

Examples of the first include: drinking too much, use of illicit drugs, gambling, over-eating and taking anger out on others (and, almost always, later regretting it).

Examples of the second are: going for a walk, talking things over with a friend, having a relaxing bath or listening to music.

It should be pointed out that the strategies in the first category tend to leave the person with a lower sense of self-worth over time whereas the opposite tends to be the case with the kinds of strategies mentioned in the second category.

The key is to gradually reduce the use of the coping strategies in category one and gradually increase the use of the coping strategies in category two. This can take time.

BREATHING EXERCISES:

Another coping strategy is very simple but very effective (when I first learned this one I was dubious that something so simple could help and was surprised when it did) is to learn ‘controlled breathing’.

Under stress, we tend to HYPERVENTILATE (this refers to the type of breathing which is rapid and shallow) which has the physiological (and indeed psychological) effect of making us feel much more anxious. CONTROLLED BREATHING, on the other hand (breathing DEEPLY, GENTLY and EVENLY THROUGH THE NOSE) has the physiological (and, again, psychological) effect of calming us down. It is recommended by experts that with controlled breathing we should take 8-10 breaths per minute (breathing in AND out equates to ONE breath). With pratise, this skill can become automatic.

FORMING SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS:

Survivors of childhood trauma often find it difficult to form lasting relationships in adulthood (sometimes related to anger-management issues, volatility, inability to trust others and other problems). However, those who can form such relationships tend to have a much better outcome.

My next post will look at ways to help overcome difficulties in building and sustaining relationships.

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

Childhood Trauma: An Analysis of Blame.

 

Childhood Trauma And Blame

When we are children, if someone treats us badly, we attempt to understand why. But in trying to understand, the child’s logic is very often flawed and s/he falsely deduces s/he is to blame for it. The child’s flawed logic may flow similarly to this:

‘Someone is hurting me…punishment only happens to bad children…that means I must be bad…therefore I am to blame for this happening…it is my own fault, there’s something wrong with me.’ THIS CAN OCCUR ON AN INSIDUOUS, UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL.

For this reason, many individuals who have survived trauma spend their adult lives feeling deeply guilty. Often, too, the individual will feel deeply unworthy and may be filled with a strong sense of self-loathing.

It is important to realize such feelings have been ‘programmed’ in through the abuse and are absolutely not a true and accurate reflection of the person who suffers them.

THE NECESSITY TO STOP BLAMING ONESELF:

Although stopping blaming oneself is a very important step and obviously extremely beneficial to one’s sense of self-worth and peace of mind, it can be difficult and challenging. For example, one may have led a life without looking for joy, success or close relationships because ONE FELT ONE DIDN’T DESERVE SUCH THINGS. Seeing things in a new way, and the realization one isn’t a bad person or to blame for the childhood trauma and had , in fact, every right to live an enjoyable life, may cause the individual to feel overwhelmed by a sense of GRIEF for all the wasted years.

Another possibility is that the realization one isn’t to blame will sometimes cause this blame, sometimes in a very intense way, to be turned on those who are perceived to be responsible (such as carers or parents).

Letting go of self-blame, then, whilst necessary, can in itself be stressful. However, coping mechanisms can be employed to help alleviate such stress. It is to this I will turn in my next post.

RESOURCE :

Stop Self Blame | Self Hypnosis Downloads

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

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