The normal development of self involves the following stages.
- Approximately 6 months: the capacity for self-observation develops
- Approximately 12 months: the capacity for symbolic thinking becomes well established as does a ‘sense of self’
- 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.
- Adolescence: the capacity for concrete operational thinking continues to develop as does the ability to negotiate increasingly complex and nuanced social interactions
- Early Adulthood: concerns turn to intimacy and family.
- Mid-Life: concerns extend to wider society.
- 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. Whilst, on the surface, the 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.
THE THREE MAIN WAYS IN WHICH CHILDHOOD TRAUMA CAN IMPAIR THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF :
There are three main ways in which childhood trauma can impair the development of self; these are as follows :
- No strong sense of self is developed; instead, a ‘false self’ is created that tends to take its cues about how to behave from the expectations of others, so lacks autonomy, authenticity and consistency.
- 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.
- 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.
Arrested Development : Are Adult BPD Sufferers Eternal 13-Year-Olds?
New research suggests that those suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD), a condition strongly associated with childhood trauma, may have ceased to develop emotionally at around the age of thirteen years due to the occurrence of severe trauma around this critical period in their psychological development.
In other words, they become emotionally developmentally arrested: puer aeternus (eternal children). Far from being a desirable state, it can make their adult lives all but impossible.
And their consequent behaviour during adulthood, as a result of having BPD, is not like that of a well-balanced and well-adjusted thirteen-year-old, but that of a challenging and difficult one.
So, according to this new research, those suffering from BPD can be regarded as being ‘stuck’ in the early adolescent phase of personality and emotional development. Because of this, their emotions remain labile, unstable and turbulent.
In particular, due to this arrested development of the personality, research suggests such individuals will :
– be hypersensitive to rejection
– have poor self-control (eg impulsivity/recklessness/diminished concern for the negative consequences of behaviour)
– have an excessive need for instant gratification
Therapies which may help individuals experiencing the kinds of psychological symptoms that I have referred to above may benefit, in particular, from two specific types of psychotherapy – these are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc, PGDE(FAHE).
David Hosier MSc holds two degrees (BSc Hons and MSc) and a post-graduate diploma in education (all three qualifications are in psychology). He also holds UK QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). He has worked as a teacher, lecturer and researcher. His own experiences of severe childhood trauma and its emotional fallout motivated him to set up this website, childhoodtraumarecovery.com, for which he exclusively writes articles. He has written several books on topics related to childhood trauma.
He has published several books including The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Borderline Personality Disorder, The Link Between Childhood Trauma ANd Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and How Childhood Trauma Can Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed).
He was educated at the University of London, Goldsmith’s College where he developed his interest in childhood experiences leading to psychopathology and wrote his thesis on the effects of childhood depression on academic performance.
This site has been created for educational purposes only.