David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE), Author at Childhood Trauma Recovery - Page 2 of 17

Author Archives: David Hosier Bsc Hons; Msc; Pgde(fahe)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

Childhood Trauma And Arrested Self-Development

Early life trauma can interfere with, or arrest, the development of the self.

The normal development of self involves the following stages.

  1. Approximately 6 months : the capacity for self-observation develops
  2. Approximately 12 months : the capacity for symbolic thinking becomes well established as does a ‘sense of self’
  3. Approximately 7 to 11 years : the capacity for concrete operational thinking becomes established, as does an intense emotional life. Also, at this stage, the child becomes increasingly concerned about his / her interaction with his / her peers.
  4. Adolescence : the capacity for concrete operational thinking continues to develop as does the ability to negotiate increasingly complex and nuanced social interactions
  5. Early Adulthood : concerns turn to intimacy and family.
  6. Mid-Life : concerns extend to wider society.
  7. Later Life : world view / understanding deepens ; metaphysical concerns may become increasingly profound.

However, those who have experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma FAIL TO DEVELOP A STRONG SENSE OF SELF / SELF-IDENTITY, especially if they developed, because of their upbringing, an ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT STYLE (Main et al., 2002). An anxious attachment style can develop when an emotionally unstable parent (particularly a parent prone to explosive outbursts of rage) causes their child to have to be hyper-alert / hyper-vigilant regarding this parent’s unpredictably changing moods as a form of self-preservation (my own mother’s emotions fluctuated wildly which had an effect on me that made me able to sense how she was feeling from the minutest change in her expression, intonation or body language, and, to this day, I am able instantly to pick up on the most subtle of people’s changes in mood via tacit signs to which others may be oblivious).

Sadly, too, children brought up by such parents are unconsciously indoctrinated into developing the core belief that their own, personal concerns, worries, anxieties and needs are, at best, secondary to those of their emotionally unstable parent’s. Whilst, on the surface, tho child / young person may appear to be ‘coping’ with such impossibly onerous responsibilities, there is often an extremely heavy emotional price to be paid in later life (in relation to this, you may be interested in reading my previously published article entitled :  Why Can The Effects Of Childhood Trauma Be Delayed?


There are three main ways in which childhood trauma can impair the development of self; these are as follows :

  1. No strong sense of self is developed ; instead, a ‘false self’ is created that tends to take its cues about how to behave by the expectations of others, so lacks autonomy, authenticity and consistency.
  2. A less weak sense of self than the above type, but still a very fragile sense of self which is kept hidden due to a sense of shame and of being judged and rejected.
  3. This third type of self develops as a result of an emotionally over-involved parent / primary caretaker. The self is undeveloped as the individual has grown up to ‘learn’ (on an unconscious level) that s/he must be hypervigilant to the parent’s / primary caretaker’s needs (and, by extension, as s/he gets older, to the needs of others – such individuals may become ‘chronic caretakers’ of others whilst remaining neglectful of his / her own needs and lacking in assertiveness and in a sense of personal boundaries.


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






How Childhood Trauma Harms The Brain’s Insula



The insula is a small region of the brain’s cerebral cortex (see diagram below). Its precise function is not fully understood but it is hypothesized to play a significant role in :

  • generating our conscious self-awareness of our emotions.
  • interoceptive processing (this refers to degree to which we are paying attention to the sensory information generated by our bodies).
  • how the above 2 functions interact to generate our perception of the present moment.
  • pain
  • love
  • addiction



A study conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine involved 59 participants who were aged between 9- years-old and 17-years-old.

These 59 participants comprised 2 groups :

GROUP 1 (The Traumatized Group) : This group comprised 30 young people (16 males and 14 females).

Of these 30 participants, 5 had been exposed to one traumatic stressor in childhood, whilst the other 25 had been exposed to two or more traumatic stressors or to ongoing / chronic traumatic stress during childhood.

All 30 participants of this group had exhibited symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

GROUP 2 : (The Non-Traumatized Group) : This group was the ‘control’ group and comprised the remaining 29 particpants.

None of the 29 participants in this group exhibited symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


The brains of all 59 participants were scanned using a technique known as structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI).


In the NON-TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 2) there was found to be NO DIFFERENCE in the structure of the insulae when the males were compared to the females.


In the TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 1) there WAS FOUND TO BE A DIFFERENCE in the structure of the insulae when the males were compared to the females. The difference was as follows :


b) Girls in the TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 1) had insulae of a LESSER VOLUME AND SURFACE AREA than the girls in the NON-TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 2).


We are able to draw two main inferences based upon the above observations ; these are :

a) the experience of significant childhood trauma adversely affects the structural development of the insula.

b) the way in which  the experience of significant childhood trauma adversely affects the structural development of the insula.differs between boys and girls.


The above findings imply that because the effects of traumatic stress on the brain appear to differ between males and females, the type of treatment provided for individuals with PTSD need to take into account their sex.

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






How Mental And Physical Suffering Generated By Childhood Trauma Are Intrinsically Interlinked.

Perhaps the best known study on the effects of childhood trauma on the individual is the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study conducted by Felitti and Robert Anda in the 1990s. The study involved a survey of 17,337 volunteers (approximately half of whom were female) to ascertain whether there was a link between the experience of childhood trauma and the development, in later life, of emotional, behavioral and physical problems.

In summary, the study found that (on average) the greater the individual’s experience of childhood trauma, the more likely, on average, s/he was to develop the emotional, behavioral and physical problems in later life that I referred to above.

It is now known that these mental and physical problems experienced in later life by individuals who have suffered significant and ongoing childhood trauma are intrinsically interlinked due to the intimate relationship between the brain and the body. This intimate relationship is illustrated by the recent research study described below :

Recent research conducted at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that (a hitherto undiscovered) ‘brain-body pathway’ exists linking the brain,  via the lymphatic vessels , to the the body’s immune system (prior to this discovery, it was assumed that the brain was isolated from the body’s immune system). This newly discovered pathway transports immune cells around the body and helps to detoxify it.

A central effect on children of suffering significant and protracted childhood trauma is that the ongoing, severe stress that they are forced to endure leads to the production of excessive quantities of damaging and inflammatory chemicals (Bierhaus et al., 2003).

It is now known that, because of the existence of this newly discovered ‘brain-body pathway’, these harmful chemicals are distributed throughout the entire human biological system, thus adversely affecting both mind and body and, accordingly, leading to both mental (e.g. anxiety and depression) and physical problems (e.g. high blood pressure and heart disease).

Indeed, research shows that those who have experienced severe and protracted childhood trauma are, on average, likely to die significantly earlier than individuals who were fortunate enough not to live through such early life traumatic experiences.

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

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help Repair The Cortex

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site how severe and protracted childhood trauma can adversely affect the physical development of the brain, including, most importantly, the prefrontal cortex ; this damage to the cortex, amongst other affects, can make it much more difficult for us to control our emotions.

This is because the prefrontal cortex is the ‘thinking / rational’ part of the brain that we use to control our emotions (which are generated in the part of the brain known as the limbic system).

If its functioning is impaired, we are in danger of our emotions dictating our behavior at the expense of our more rational judgment (which, in severe cases, of course, can be a recipe for personal disaster in ways that would constitute a very long list).

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps to retrain the functionality of the prefrontal cortex so that we can increase our control of over our emotions, as opposed to permitting our emotions to be in control over us.

In more technical terms, CBT, by helping to change the way in which we think and behave, enhances the ability of the prefrontal cortex to inhibit our irrational and dysfunctional emotions that may otherwise may cause us to make decisions, or act in ways, of which we later feel regretful or ashamed.

In essence, then, CBT can help our cognitive system to over-ride our emotional system, rather than letting our emotional system over-ride our cognitive system.


A study conducted by Porto et al. (2009), which carried out a meta-analysis of the relevant research, supported the idea that CBT does indeed beneficially alter the brain on a neurobiological level by changing neural circuits in a manner that helps to control dysfunctional emotions, as has other studies.

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

Borderline Personality Disorder And The Brain


Nobody chooses to suffer from borderline personality disorder ; this is obvious.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is probably the most tormenting and agonizing psychiatric condition known to man. One in ten sufferers end up killing themselves after years, or even decades, of appalling mental suffering. Due to the disturbed behavior that accompanies BPD,  sufferers may become social pariahs and/or be rejected by their families – in the latter case, often by the very family member/s who have played a major role in causing the disorder ; I have said elsewhere that this is rather like somebody cutting off all your limbs and then blaming you for bleeding for over them. Or injecting you with a cancer causing agent and then blaming you for wasting away and dying.

One of the great torments of BPD sufferers is a belief that they are bad and that their behavior is due to some fundamental character flaw rather than due to a desperately serious psychiatric condition. It is this false belief (frequently caused by internalizing parental negative views of them whilst growing up) that contributes to many of the suicides and, as such, is a belief which is in urgent need of correcting.

On what grounds do I make this assertion? I summarize them below :


The physical development of the following three brain regions is affected by our upbringing in early life and this physical development may be adversely affected if that upbringing is significantly dysfunctional.



Let’s look at each in turn:

AMYGDALA : This part of the brain controls emotions and, especially, negative emotions like fear, anxiety and aggression. It follows that because the amygdala has developed abnormally in BPD sufferers, they will be prone to experiencing abnormal levels of fear, anxiety and aggression.

HIPPOCAMPUS : This part of the brain plays a significant role in our ability to exert self-control. Again, it follows that because the hippocampus has developed abnormally in BPD sufferers, they will have difficulties with self-control, leading to impulsive and self-destructive behaviors.

ORBITOFRONTAL CORTEX : This part of the brain is involved with planning and decision making. Yet again, it follows that because the orbitofrontal cortex has developed abnormally in BPD sufferers, they will have problems planning ahead (including poor ability to consider future implications of behaviors or to act in a premeditated or carefully deliberated manner) and be prone to irrational and illogical decision-making.

Furthermore, these three brain areas play a very significant role in mood regulation / our ability to control how we feel. As these three areas have developed abnormally in BPD sufferers, this helps to explain why their moods can fluctuate so dramatically, in turn leading to extensive problems both forming and maintaining healthy relationships with others.

Now, consider this : If a person was hit on the head with a hammer, causing brain damage which, in turn, affected how s/he felt and behaved, should s/he (the person hit) be blamed for this change in behavior? No, of course not. So, why should a different view be taken in the case of BPD sufferers? Indeed, to take a different view would seem suspiciously like discrimination against mental illness and a failure of imagination in regard to how devastating the infliction of emotional suffering can be.

Types Of Dysfunctional Upbringing That May Damage These Brain Regions :

These include :

  • suffering abuse from parent/primary carer
  • being neglected by parent/primary carer
  • being brought up by a parent with a significant mental health problem
  • being brought up by a parent/primary carer who is an alcoholic
  • being brought up by a parent/primary carer who is a drug addict

What About The Role Of Genes?

There is NOT a gene for BPD.

However, some may be born with a greater vulnerability to being adversely affected by stressful environments due to high levels of sensitivity.


Are Those With BPD Manipulative?

Sadly, many individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) are stigmatized by others and, amongst other perjorative terms, are frequently described as ‘manipulative’.

However, in recent years, it has been increasingly recognized that intentionally manipulative behavior is, in fact, NOT a defining characteristic of BPD sufferers after all ; this shift in attitude is best exemplified by the fact that the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Illness, Fifth Edition, or DSM-V (sometimes informally referred to as the ‘psychiatrists’ bible’), has ceased to list ‘manipulative’ as one of the personality traits associated with borderline personality disorder.

However, this begs the question : ‘Why has it been so common for those suffering from BPD to be scornfully dismissed as manipulative in the past?

According to the psychologist, Marsha Lineham (well known for having developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for the treatment of BPD), this mis-labelling of BPD sufferers as manipulative has been based on a MISINTERPRETATION of certain types of their behavior.

Lineham puts forward the view that, often, some of the behaviors of BPD patients are wrongly perceived as being  manipulative whereas, in fact, they are desperate manifestations of intense psychological and emotional pain.

Indeed, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is generally accepted as being the most excruciatingly, psychologically and emotionally, painful of all mental health conditions ; as I have stated elsewhere on this site, approximately one in ten of those suffering from BPD end their lives by suicide. (To read my article, Living With Mental Agony, click here, or to read my article, Anger May Operate To Soothe Emotional Pain, click here.)

Sometimes, an example some people may give of so-called ‘manipulative’ behavior from BPD sufferers is the threat of suicide. For example, someone with BPD may take an overdose of tablets but then phone a friend or family member to say what they have done. Lineham points out, however, that this is unlikely to be a coldly calculated ploy but, rather, a desperate and confused expression of inner mental turmoil (the intensity of which the individual may not have the words to convey) and ambivalence – ambivalence in the sense that a part of the BPD sufferer may genuinely want to die whilst another (say, instinctual) part may be driven to survive.

Indeed, the fact that, as stated above, one in ten BPD sufferers eventually die by suicide suggests that any threat to do so should be treated extremely seriously.



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


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