Articles About Childhood Trauma And Related Topics

Category Archives: Whole Site (all 850+ Articles)

Over 850 free, concise articles about childhood trauma and its link to various psychological conditions, including : complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), borderline personality disorder (and other personality disorders), anxiety disorders, depression, physical health conditions, psychosis, difficulties forming and maintaining relationships, addictions, dissociation and emotional dysregulation (such as dramatic mood swings and outbursts of rage). The site also comprises articles on treatments for childhood trauma and related mental health problems as well as articles on posttraumatic growth and other relevant topics. There is a search facility on the site to facilitate exploration of subjects covered.

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?

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 :

  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.

RESOURCES :

Assertiveness Training | Self Hypnosis Downloads

The Real You | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Setting Boundaries | Self Hypnosis Downloads

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

 

 

 

 

 

How Childhood Trauma Harms The Brain’s Insula

insula

WHAT IS 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

insula

STUDY ON HOW CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ADVERSELY AFFECTS THE INSULA :

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).

WHAT BRAIN SCANS REVEALED ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS IN EACH OF THE TWO GROUPS :

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

RESULTS :

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.

HOWEVER :

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 :

a) Boys in the TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 1) had insulae of a GREATER VOLUME AND SURFACE AREA than the boys in the NON-TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 2).

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).

WHAT CAN WE CONCLUDE FROM THESE FINDINGS?

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.

IMPLICATIONS FOR TREATMENT OF PTSD :

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.

eBooks :

     

Above eBooks available from Amazon for immediate download. Click here.

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.

SUPPORTING EVIDENCE :

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).

The Main Ways Trauma Continues To Ruin Our Lives Long After It’s Over

The effects of trauma, in the absence of effective therapy, can adversely affect our lives for years or even decades (for our WHOLE lifetimes, in fact) after it is over (indeed, the effects of trauma themselves can take years from when the traumatic experience ended to present themselves – in relation to this, you may wish to read my previously published article entitled : ‘Why Can Effects Of Childhood Trauma Be Delayed?’).

In his book, ‘The Betrayal Bond‘, Patrick Carnes, PhD, outlines eight main ways in which the experience of severe trauma can continue to affect us. I list these below :

Trauma reaction :

The ‘alarm’ response to the traumatic experience. These responses can be both biological and psychological. Extreme and prolonged trauma can lead to an individual becoming essentially ‘trapped’ in the alarm response which results in him/her becoming extremely, emotionally reactive and prone to flying into rages in response to the smallest of provocations. This state is sometimes referred to as hypervigilance or hyperarousal.

Furthermore, this ongoing trauma reaction frequently involves :

Trauma arousal :

This refers to deriving pleasure from taking large risks, sensation seeking, and exposing oneself to high levels of danger or even from getting involved in violent situations ; individuals who are traumatized may behave in such ways to detract from feelings of emptiness and emotional pain.

Individuals displaying trauma arousal may :

  • find it difficult being alone
  • be intolerant of ‘low-stress situations’ (as such situations do not satisfy their cravings for mental stimulation).
  • need ever increasing ‘hits’ of stimulation and excitement due to habituation, leading to taking greater and greater risks
  • use stimulant drugs (e.g. cocaine)
  • associate with dangerous people
  • become increasingly addicted to the arousal state

Trauma blocking :

Trauma blocking refers to the individual’s attempts to numb him/herself so as to escape / block out painful feelings associated with the traumatic experiences.

Individuals displaying trauma blocking behavior may :

  • over-eat, especially carbohydrates to induce drowsiness
  • consume excessive amounts of alcohol
  • sleep excessively (referred to as hypersomnia)
  • workaholism
  • undertaking excessive exercise
  • compulsive sex
  • ‘zone out’

Trauma splitting :

This refers to the unconscious process of avoiding the reality of the traumatic experience by ‘splitting it off’ from conscious awareness so that it is compartmentalized and unintegrated into personality so as to allow day-to-day functioning (if it was not ‘split off’ and compartmentalized, it would psychologically overwhelm the individual. Therefore ‘splitting’ can be categorized as defence mechanism ; however, such splitting prevents the information associated with the traumatic experience being properly processed which, in turn, prevents traumatic resolution. (For more about ‘splitting’, click here).

‘Splitting’ can manifest itself in various ways :

  • using hallucinogenic drugs (such as LSD) to ‘enter an alternative reality.’
  • In extreme cases, ‘splitting’ can take on the form of dissociative identity disorder (which used to be called ‘multiple personality disorder’) which may involve amnesia about what one has been doing and where one is
  • certain religious and spiritual practises
  • ‘obsessive love’ – see my previously published article about OBSESSIVE LOVE DISORDER
  • frequently retreating in one’s own mind to a ‘fantasy world.’
  • living a double life

Trauma abstinence :

This refers to a compulsion to experience deprivation. This is especially likely to happen when the individual is experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or shame ( to read my article entitled, ‘Shame Caused By Childhood Trauma And How We Try To Repress It) or even at times when great success has been achieved (see my article on self-defeating personality disorder).

According to Carnes, self-deprivation may relate to the individual having been deprived and neglected during childhood, causing him/her to believe, as an adult, that s/he is unworthy and undeserving of ‘the good things in life.’ If such an individual also has a high level of arousal caused by childhood trauma such as severe abuse (click here to read my article about hyperarousal ), this may also have led neurochemical changes in the individual’s brain making him/her prone to addictive behavior. When these two two factors (i.e. self-neglect caused by a belief of being ‘unworthy’ and proneness to addiction) coalesce, s/he may become, as it were, addicted to self-deprivation.

Carnes provides the example of anorexia, explaining that self-starvation operates like an addiction to drugs because it can increase the production of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killers (e.g. Tepper, 1992). He also states that such addictions to deprivation may operate to psychologically compensate for a sense of loss of control in other areas of life ; the example Carnes provides is that of a woman who is sexually out of control ‘compensating’ by becoming anorexic.

Food is just one example of what such individuals may deprive themselves of, other examples include :

  • heating
  • medical care
  • depriving oneself of success (self-sabotage)
  • sufficient rest and relaxation
  • holidays
  • anything that could be categorized as a luxury
  • vacations

Trauma shame :

This refers to feelings of shame (see my previously published article, ‘Childhood Trauma, The Shame Loop And Defenses Against Shame’ ) and self-hatred (see my previously published article, ‘ Childhood Trauma Leading To Self-Hatred And Intense Self-Criticism) that, all too frequently, arise following chronic and severe childhood trauma

Feelings of shame can manifest themselves in various ways, including :.

 

  • Trauma repetition :

This refers to an unconscious drive to recreate and re-experience the trauma through people (e.g. forming relationships with physically abusive partners if one was physically abused as a child) and situations and to repeat behaviors associated with the original trauma.

Trauma repetition may also involve the traumatized individual being unconsciously driven to treat others in the same abusive manner that they themselves had been treated.

There exist different theories as to why individuals often re-enact their original traumatic experiences later on in life. For example,  Levy PhD (1998) proposed that reenactments might be caused by :

To read Levy’s original paper on these four possible causes of reenactment of trauma, click here.

Trauma bonds :

This refers to the tendency to form relationships with others that are maladaptive and dysfunctional and expose one to harm, danger, shame, emotional pain, exploitation or, in extreme cases, even death. Examples of traumatic bonds operating in relationships include those that exist within a context of domestic violence or incest. Other examples include codependents who live with alcoholics or compulsive gamblers.

Carnes provides us with various examples of signs that a relationship may be based upon a traumatic bond, some of which I present below :

  • remaining loyal to those who betray one
  • keeping the abuse secret
  • staying in conflict with others when walking away would cost one nothing
  • being constantly attracted to / obsessed with / preoccupied by untrustworthy people
  • staying in a relationship which causes one great psychological pain

 

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

Childhood Trauma And Psychosis

Although there is now a vast amount of research that has been conducted on the link between childhood trauma and the later development of non-psychotic disorders, the amount of research that has been conducted on the link between childhood trauma and the later development of psychotic conditions has been rather less plentiful ; however, increasingly, researchers are focusing on this, so far, less studied link and in this article I will review some of what is currently known or theorized about the association.

 

Childhood Trauma And Psychosis :

‘The psychiatric profession is about to experience an earthquake that will shake its intellectual foundations…there is tectonic, plate-shifting evidence'[for the environmental basis of psychosis]’

-Oliver James (leading UK psychologist). Comment in relation to the now overwhelming evidence that psychosis is strongly related to childhood trauma and the need to stop over-focusing on biological causes.

There is now extremely strong research evidence showing the link between childhood trauma and the affected individual’s likelihood of developing PSYCHOTIC ILLNESS in later life.

It is, of course, already well-established that there is a powerful link between childhood trauma and psychiatric conditions which include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, personality disorder, dissociation and suicidal ideation. Now, however, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is also a strong link with psychotic conditions such as BIPOLAR DEPRESSION and SCHIZOPHRENIA.

An ever-increasing body of  evidence is now demonstrating the very high prevalence of experiences of severe childhood trauma in psychiatric patients who are suffering from psychotic illnesses

Indeed, many leading psychologists are arguing that researchers have neglected the importance of childhood experiences in relation to psychotic illness in the past. Here, then, I present some recent research which helps to redress the balance:

Studies About Childhood Trauma And Psychosis :

– Read et al reviewed 51 previous studies on causes of psychotic illness and found that 69% of female psychotic patients and 59% of male psychotic patients had suffered severe childhood trauma. It was also pointed out by the researchers that these figures, although already extremely high, may be UNDERESTIMATES due to the fact that experiences of child abuse are well known to be under-reported.

– Bebbington et al : these researchers, examining data generated from 8500 individuals, found that those suffering from psychosis were approx. 15 times more likely than the mentally well to have suffered severe childhood trauma.

– A Dutch study of 4000 patients found that those who had suffered severe childhood trauma were approx. 11 times more likely to have developed psychotic conditions in later life.

– A Californian study found that those who had suffered severe childhood trauma were 5 times more likely to have gone on to experience HALLUCINATIONS in later life.

HOW IS CHILDHOOD TRAUMA THOUGHT TO LEAD TO PSYCHOSIS?

– COGNITIVE THEORY: Due to adverse childhood experiences, the individual develops what is called a NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD of beliefs; these are:

a negative view of self
– a negative view of others
– a negative view of the world in general

More specifically, beliefs such as the following are likely to develop:
– I am vulnerable
others cannot be trusted
– the world is dangerous

Such beliefs can become so ingrained and severe that they eventually manifest themselves in the guise of psychotic symptoms e.g PARANOIA.

– AFFECT OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ON THE BRAIN: Research is showing that extreme stress in childhood can adversely affect the physical development of vital brain regions responsible for emotional control (e.g the AMYGDALA) which can lead to extreme emotional dysregulation (INABILITY TO CONTROL STRONG EMOTIONS) and concomitant over-sensitivity and emotional over-reactivity. If the problem becomes sufficiently intense psychotic conditions may result.

IMPLICATIONS:

It is thought a new, over-arching theory of the causes of psychosis (known in scientific circles as a PARADIGM SHIFT) is likely take root in the field of psychiatric research – namely one that emphasizes the enormous importance of adverse childhood experiences.

It is argued that patients who present with psychotic symptoms should ROUTINELY undergo DETAILED ASSESSMENTS relating to their childhood experiences and that there should be a much greater emphasis upon the importance of psychological therapy (as opposed to drug therapy- so popular up until now- based upon theories of the biological origins of psychotic conditions).

 

Early Signs Of Psychosis :

 

Usually a person does not suddenly become psychotic. Instead, the onset of psychosis is often a gradual process and sometimes individuals may start to show possible signs of incipient psychosis in their teens.

So what are the early warning signs? I provide a list based on the most current research in this area below. However, it is important to realize these symptoms are NOT specific to psychosis, they may also be due to numerous other conditions or set of personal psychosis. Anyone worried they or someone else may be psychotic or may be developing psychosis should seek an expert opinion and NOT attempt an amateur diagnosis based on the symptoms that follow.

 

Possible Early Signs That A Person May Be Becoming Psychotic:

These signs may be split into six categories as follows:

1) Cognitive symptoms

2) Neurotic symptoms

3) Changes in mood

4) Changes in volition

5) Behavioral symptoms

6) Physical symptoms

Let’s look at each of these six categories below:

Cognitive Symptoms:

– problems with concentration/attention/mental focus

– frequent daydreaming/ retreating into fantasy worlds

– thought blocking (a sudden lapse into silence during conversation due to the mind ‘going blank’. This most frequently occurs when the individual is asked about something that is, consciously or unconsciously, psychologically disturbing to him/her. It is a psychological defense mechanism and form of repression.)

– reduced ability to think in abstract terms

Neurotic Symptoms:

– restlessness/agitation

anger

– irritability

Changes in Mood:

guilt

– suicidal ideation

– depression

– mood swings

anhedonia (an inability to derive pleasure from people, events or circumstances – a feeling of emptiness, flatness and numbness)

Change in Volition:

– loss of drive

loss of interest in events, activities and people that used to interest one

– feelings of apathy and fatigue and a general lack of energy

Behavioural Symptoms:

– social withdrawal

– drop in standard of school/college work

– increase in impulsivity

– increasingly odd/strange behaviour

– aggression

– destructiveness

Physical Symptoms:

– weight loss

– poor appetite

sleep problems

 

The Main Types Of Psychotic Delusions :

 

Psychotic delusions can occur in two conditions linked to childhood trauma : 

A) DEPRESSION WITH PSYCHOTIC FEATURES (click here to read my article about the link between childhood trauma and depression) 

B) SCHIZOPHRENIA (click here to read my article about the link between childhood trauma and SCHIZOPHRENIA) may involve the sufferer developing psychotic delusions.

 

What Is Meant By The Term ‘PSYCHOTIC DELUSION?’

A PSYCHOTIC DELUSION results from a THOUGHT DISORDER that gives rise to BLATANTLY FALSE BELIEFS. Whilst the belief is clearly and obviously false, the person who holds it has an UNSHAKEABLE BELIEF that the belief is true, even in the face of utterly overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Classification of delusions:

Delusions can be classified as follows:

They can be:

A) Bizarre or non-bizarre

and:

B) Mood-congruent or mood- incongruent

I define these classifications below:

BIZARRE – extremely strange and odd beliefs that are CLEARLY IMPOSSIBLE. For example, a belief that the birds’ singing is really Morse code and they are communicating with each other in such code in order to form a plot to take over the world.

NON- BIZARRE – the belief held is still clearly wrong but, theoretically, not totally impossible. For example, a belief that the government has placed listening devices in every room of one’s house.

MOOD – CONGRUENT – the delusion is in line with the mood the person manifests as a result of his/her condition. For example, a depressed individual who believes that aliens have removed the part of his/her brain the used to give rise to the experience of pleasure. Or, a person who is manic may believe s/he has supernatural powers

MOOD – INCONGRUENT – the delusion is not obviously in line with the individual’s prevailing mood  (eg. a newsreader on the TV is talking about him/her. These are sometimes referred to as ‘mood-neutral’ delusions

Within these classification groups, delusions can also be of a specific type. I list these types below:

   – Delusions of jealousy : an all-consuming obsession that one’s partner is being unfaithful when there is no evidence this is the case and there is no objective reason for suspicion.

   – Delusions of nihilism : the belief that oneself, other people or the world do not really exist

   – Delusions of grandeur ,: a belief one is a person of massive importance such as Jesus, Emperor of the World etc. Or the belief one has made a great achievement (that the world refuses to recognise) such as a belief one has written plays vastly superior to those of Shakespeare when, in reality, they are barely literate.

– Delusions of control : a belief that one is having one’s thoughts and behaviour controlled by an external force e.g. by aliens

– Delusions of reference : a clearly false belief that people are talking about one or making reference to one when they are not e.g. a belief that the newsreader on the radio is always referring to one in a or a coded or indirect manner

– Delusions of guilt : a false belief one is responsible for some terrible event (such as a belief one is personally responsible for all the starving people in the world

Erotomania : the belief a famous person or person of high status (normally a person the sufferer of the delusion has never met) is deeply and passionately in love with one ( click here to read my article on this)

– Delusions of mind-reading : the belief that others are reading one’s mind

– Delusions of persecution : the belief that others are conspiring against one ( e.g trying to poison or drug one)

– Religious delusions: Delusions with a religious theme e.g .that one is a human incarnation of God

– Somatic delusions : these are delusions about one’s body ( e.g. that ants are crawling under one’s skin)

ALL OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT PSYCHOSIS :

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

[do_widget id=media_image-11] [do_widget id=media_image-11]