Category Archives: Complex Ptsd And Its Link To Childhood Trauma

Articles about how severe and protracted childhood trauma can lead to a form of PTSD commonly referred to as Complex PTSD, symptoms of which include : problems controlling emotions, self-harm, hypersexuality, dissociation, intrusive thoughts, psychogenic amnesia, flashbacks, shame, guilt, self-blame, helplessness, inability to trust others, relationship difficulties, withdrawal, isolation, extreme anger, confusion, terror, feelings of emptiness, despair and a conviction that life is utterly without meaning.

Ego State Therapy For Treatment Of CPTSD

ego states therapy

EGO STATE THERAPY is an approach to treating complex posttraumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) and is sometimes referred to as ‘parts work.’

In particular, this therapy is designed to help treat symptoms of CPTSD which come under the headings of :

  • avoidance symptoms
  • intrusive symptoms
  • depressive symptoms

Let’s briefly look at each of these three types of symptoms :

AVOIDANCE SYMPTOMS :

These include avoiding places, people, events and situations which remind one of one’s past trauma. However, individuals often employ psychological defenses (usually unconsciously) as a way of avoiding accepting the reality of their childhood traumatic experiences; these psychological defenses include :

Finally, people who have suffered traumatic childhoods may use dysfunctional coping strategies to avoid their emotional pain which, in turn, can lead to addictions such as :

  • addiction to alcohol
  • addiction to drugs (both illegal and prescribed such as sleeping tablets and tranquilizers)
  • addiction to gambling
  • sex addiction
  • comfort food / carbohydrate addiction
  • excessive exercise
  • addiction to self-cutting / self-harm with short-term effect of relieving unbearable stress/anxiety

INTRUSIVE SYMPTOMS :

These include nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, anxiety, feelings of aggression and irritablity ; such symptoms can also be categorized as high-arousal symptoms.

DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS :

These include despair, shame, inadequacy, unworthiness, hopelessness, helplessness and a sense of being trapped in a tormenting frame of mind, with no escape route (this is sometimes referred to as ‘learned helplessness.’
Feeling one has no hope is a particularly invidious symptom as it is known that feelings of hope, even when highly distressed over long periods, lowers the probability of suicide attempts; logically, therefore, the opposite holds true.

Depressive symptoms can also be categorized as low-arousal symptoms.

‘PARTS’ WORK :

Ego states theory involves a technique known as parts work.

Parts work is based upon the theory that as a psychological defense we unconsciously ‘compartmentalize’ different aspects of our personalities to enable us to ‘mentally partition-off’ the ‘parts’ of ourselves that we find unacceptable, and/or that contain intolerable memories, from the more acceptable ‘parts’ of ourselves that allow (at least a semblance of) day-to-day functioning.

These ‘parts’, or ego states, that hold we find unacceptable and/or hold distressing memories frequently reflect earlier developmental phases in our lives that occurred during our traumatic childhood and that are therefore related to traumatic memories.

How Can These Parts That Reflect Earlier Developmental Phases Manifest Themselves Now We Are Adults?

These parts may manifest themselves when we are under stress in the form of regressive behaviors.

For example, under extreme stress we may display child-like tantrums or behave in an aggressive, rebellious manner like that of a young teenager. Or, when upset, we may curl up on our beds clutching a soft toy.

Internalized Parts :

We may, too, possess ‘parts’ of ourselves that we have internalized from emotionally significant others (usually parents or primary-carers) during our childhood.

For example, if we had a parent who was highly critical of us when we were children, we may find we are prone to judging ourselves with a very unforgiving and self-lacerating attitude, constantly feeling that we failed to meet the exacting standards that we’ve set ourselves.

Or, if we had a parent / primary-carer who was highly religious and regarded us as fundamentally flawed and sinful, we may, as adults, find ourselves tormented by fears of ‘eternal damnation’.

INTERNAL FAMILY SYSTEMS (IFS) THERAPY:

IFS therapy is perhaps the most well known therapy to incorporate ‘parts work.’ It is based on the idea that the individual has three types of parts; these are as follows :

  • Exile parts
  • Manager parts
  • Firefighter parts

ego state therapy

Let’s briefly look at each of these in turn :

EXILE PARTS :

As the name suggests, these are the parts of ourselves that developed as a result of the damage done to our personalities by our childhood trauma and which we largely keep banished and cut off from conscious awareness / repressed / suppressed.

The exile parts are kept closed off from conscious awareness as a means of psychological self-protection as these parts contain distressing memories and painful emotions such as neediness/dependency, intense anger, grief, fear, shame, loneliness and vulnerability.

MANAGER PARTS :

These are the parts of ourselves that try to keep us in control and allow us to function on a day-to-day basis and keep extreme/distressing/counterproductive emotions at bay. Frequently, too, these parts are extremely self-critical.

FIREFIGHTER PARTS :

These parts attempt to protect us from the emotional pain the comes upon us when our exile parts start to break through and impinge upon our consciousness and behavior (as may happen,for instance, during periods of intense stress and/or when we are reminded – either consciously or unconsciously – of our childhood trauma).

However, they do this by causing us to behave in impulsive, and, in the long-term, self-destructive ways such as excessive drinking, abuse of narcotics, workaholism, risky, promiscuous sex, gambling and overeating.

Link :

To learn more about IFS therapy and how it works, click here.

EBook:

CPTSD ebook

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here.

 

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

 

Factors That Make Complex PTSD More Severe

severe_complex_PTSD

What Factors Make The Symptoms Of Complex PTSD Even More Serious?

We have seen from several other articles that I have published on this site that the experience of a traumatic childhood is linked to the development of complex PTSD later on in life.Whilst all cases of complex PTSD are extremely serious, certain factors are thought to increase the risk that we will develop an especially severe form of the disorder. These are as follows :

 

  • the person responsible for causing the trauma was a parent / primary carer (this worsens the effect of the trauma because of the emotional devastation caused by being harmed and betrayed by the very person whose responsibility it was to care for us and protect us)
  • how protracted the experience of the trauma was (on average, the longer the trauma lasts, the worse the effect will be ; tragically, some people experience pretty much ongoing trauma of one form or another (some of which may overlap and occur simultaneously) from birth to eighteen years which may, potentially, have a particularly adverse affect upon multiple stages of brain development and upon the young person’s development in general.

 

 

  • the individual is isolated during the period of trauma (this worsens the effect of the trauma due to the fact that emotional support from significant others (such as members of the wider family, teachers, therapists etc) have a protective effect on mental health ; this protective effect is unavailable to those who experience their trauma in isolation.
  • the earlier in life the traumatic experience occurs, the more psychological harm it is likely to do. This is because the young brain is especially ‘plastic’ / malleable and, therefore, more vulnerable to being damaged by the experience of protracted, high levels of stress / fear / anxiety.
  • the person responsible for causing the trauma is still in contact with the traumatized individual.

 

RELATED ARTICLES :

 

 

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

 

Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn? Trauma Responses

Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn  – Responses To Threat

Most of us are already familiar with the concept of the ‘fight or flight’ response to perceived danger – namely that when presented with a threat our bodies physiologically respond by preparing us (e.g. through the release of adrenalin) to fight against it or run from it. This response served our ancestors well in the event, for example, that they came face-to-face with a dangerous predator.

images222

However, there are two other responses to threat which are less well known – the ‘freeze’ response and the ‘fawn’ response. I will explain what these are in due course.

Collectively, these responses to threat are known as the 4F responses and each of them represent different responses that modern day humans can have if they have been subjected to sustained and repeated trauma during their childhood.

If we have suffered problematic relationships with our main caregiver/s during our early life, it is likely that we will grow up to be very guarded, ambivalent and suspicious about forming close relationships with others during later life. After all (our conscious or unconscious reasoning goes), if we can’t trust and rely upon our parent/s, whom can we trust and rely upon?

On top of this problem, any relationships we do form, with their inevitable ups and down, are bound, occasionally, to remind us of similar relationship problems we had in our early lives with our caregivers, and, in this way, trigger upsetting and painful flashbacks.

NON-TRAUMATIZED CHILDHOOD VERSUS TRAUMATIZED CHILDHOOD :

Those lucky enough not to have experienced a significantly disrupted childhood only utilize the 4F responses appropriately (i.e. only when they are faced with real danger). However, those who were exposed to serious, ongoing trauma during childhood frequently become FIXATED with one, or, perhaps, two, of the 4F responses (i.e .the response/s become DEEPLY INGRAINED and REFLEXIVE). Unlike those who did not experience a traumatic childhood, these individuals will also tend to over-rely on these responses and use them inappropriately (ie when there is no serious threat); the response/s upon which they have become fixated, learned as a defense mechanism during childhood, tend to remain on a hair-trigger and are thus easily activated.

images111

Above graph shows that after experiencing trauma our ‘fight/flight’ response becomes much more easily activated than previously.

Let’s look at each of the 4F responses to childhood trauma in turn:

1) THE FIGHT TYPE – The individual who has become fixated, due to his/her childhood experiences, on the ‘fight’ response avoids close relationships with others by frequently becoming enraged and often, too, by being overly demanding. It is theorized that s/he is unconsciously driven to behave in this way because s/he has a deep-rooted need to alienate others so that an intimate relationship cannot develop (as such a relationship would make him/her intolerably vulnerable in that it would carry with it the risk of rejection, similar to the rejection experienced in childhood, which would be psychologically catastrophic).

2) THE FLIGHT TYPE – It is theorized that this type of individual, for the same reasons as above, avoids close relationships with others by immersing him/herself in activities (e.g. by becoming a workaholic) which do not leave him/her the time to build deep, serious relationships with others.

3) THE FREEZE TYPE – This type avoids serious relationships with others by not participating with others socially; often they will become reclusive and increasingly take refuge in fantasies and day-dreams.

4) THE FAWN TYPE – This type will often go out of their way to help others, perhaps by performing some kind of community service, but without building up emotionally close, or intimate, relationships, due to a fear,like the other three types detailed above, of making him/herself vulnerable to painful rejection which would reawaken intense feelings of distress experienced as a result of the original, highly traumatic childhood rejection.

Above eBook available on Amazon for instant download (other titles also available) CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Hartman’s 12 Stages Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

12-steps_ptsd_diagram

Hartmans twelve stages

I have written extensively on this site about how severe and chronic childhood trauma can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adulthood (see the PTSD section on the main menu). This is also sometimes referred to as complex post-traumatic stress syndrome (CPTSD). In order to understand the theoretical difference between PTSD and CPTSD, click here.

In connection with PTSD, the writer and researcher, Hartman, has proposed a model of how the terrible mental illness can progress over time, involving the afflicted individual going through 12 painful steps.

 

The 12 Steps Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

 

  1. Acute anxiety

  2. Depression

  3. Resentment

  4. Anger

  5. Fear

  6. Anxiety

  7. Feelings of worthlessness

  8. Shame

  9. Guilt

  10. Confusion

  11. Pain

  12. Activating events / Triggers

PTSD Treatment:

The NHS provides excellent information about treatment options for PTSD and this can be found by clicking here.

Information For Therapists:

A downloadable course that trains practitioners to treat PTSD  (using the Rewind Technique) can be found by clicking here.

eBooks:

brain damage caused by childhood trauma         PTSD

Above eBook now available for instant download from Amazon – click here for further details.

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

How Childhood Trauma Can Make Us Constantly Hypervigilant

What Is Meant By Hypervigilance?

A person who is hypervigilant feels constantly ‘on edge’ , ‘keyed up’ and fearful. S/he experiences a perpetual sense of dread and of being under threat despite the fact, objectively speaking, there is no present danger. Indeed, the person affected in this way is so intensely alert to, and focused upon, any conceivable imminent danger that s/he may develop paranoia-like symptoms and frequently perceive danger in situations where no such danger, in reality, exists.

Nervous System

In physiological terms, the nervous system becomes ‘stuck’in an over-activated state and it is very difficult for the hypervigilant individual to calm him/herself sufficiently to enable it to return to a normal level of activation ; instead, it becomes locked into the fight or flight mode (the hypervigilant person’s body is in a continuous state of preparedness to fight or flee because of the anticipation of threat the person feels).

Hypervigilane, Hyperarousal, Childhood Trauma And Complex PTSD :

Hypervigilance is one of the many symptoms of hyperarousal.

Hyperarousal, in turn, is a symptom of PTSD / Complex PTSD which are conditions linked to severe and protracted childhood trauma.

 

Other symptoms of hyperarousal may include :

  • insomnia (e.g. constant waking in night and finding it hard to go back to sleep)
  • extremely sensitive startle response
  • problems with concentration and mental focus
  • abiding feelings of irritability and anger, perhaps giving rise to outbursts of extreme rage / verbal aggression, or, even, physical violence
  • constant anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • reckless behavior
  • using short-term ‘solutions’ such as drinking too much alcohol or using street drugs to reduce painful feelings which, in the longer-term, are self-destructive

It is not difficult to see why the experience of childhood trauma should be linked to increased risk of develop hypervigilance as an adult : if we have lived our early life in an environment that made us feel constantly anxious, under threat and fearful ,our very neural development (i.e. the development of our brain) can be adversely affected and it is such negative effects that can leave us so vulnerable and predisposed to developing the disorder, particularly at times when  our adult lives expose us to further stressful experiences.

RESOURCES :

 

LINK : One of the world’s leading experts on how trauma affects the body, and what can be done about it, is the author of The Body Keeps Score’, Bessel van der Kolk, and his website can be found here : besselvanderkolk.net

 

David Hosier BSC Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

How Childhood Trauma Can Profoundly Damage Our View Of Ourselves

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

If we have experienced childhood trauma to a significant degree, we may irrationally blame ourselves for it which, in turn, may well seriously, negatively, distort our self-perception; in other words, adversely affect our view of ourselves.

Our ENVIRONMENT has a large influence on how our personalities develop. For example, children brought up in a loving and secure environment are much more likely to become relatively content and self-confident adults.

On the other hand, a child who has suffered abuse and neglect may develop into an adult lacking self-confidence and prone to anxiety, depression and other serious difficulties.

Also, if a child has had an unstable parent or carer who has been unpredictable and has given mixed messages, they may develop into an adult who is fearful of abandonment. As a result, he/she may:

1. cling to close relationships
2. avoid close relationships

and, quite often:

a painful combination of the two.

This can make maintaining close relationships very problematic.

Children are ‘programmed’ to learn from adults (for evolutionary reasons) so if the adult carer has been abusive and critical the child may well grow up FALSELY BELIEVING that he/she is bad, stupid, unlovable and worthless. Also, trusting others may become very difficult as the individual’s experience during childhood was to be badly let down BY THE VERY PERSON/S WHO WERE SUPPOSED TO CARE FOR THEM AND PROTECT THEM.

 

The more stresses and traumas a child has, the more likely it is that he/she will develop into a pessimistic, anxious, depressed adult who believes things are hopeless and cannot improve.

It should be pointed out, though, that if a child suffers abuse but also has significant positive support in other areas of his/her life during childhood, this can make the individual more RESILIENT to the negative effects of the trauma.

It is also important to note that if a person has suffered trauma and as a result has a negative view of themselves, the future and the world in general (sometimes referred to as the ‘depressive cognitive triad’), IT IS POSSIBLE TO CHANGE THIS PESSIMISTIC OUTLOOK.

 

DEVELOPMENT OF BELIEF SYSTEMS IN CHILDHOOD:

We develop our most fundamental belief systems in childhood. If a child is brought up with love, affection and security s/he tends to build up positive beliefs. For example:

– people should not treat me badly

– I am a decent and likeable person

– I have rights

– I deserve respect

However, negative belief systems often develop in children who have been abused. For example:

– people cannot be trusted

– I am vulnerable

– I am worthless

– everyone is out to get me

– I am intrinsically unlovable

These negative beliefs often feel very true, but most of the time they are very inaccurate. JUST BECAUSE WE FEEL OUR BELIEFS ARE TRUE, IT IN NO WAY LOGICALLY FOLLOWS THAT THEY ARE.

In effect, then, childhood abuse can cause us to become PREJUDICED AGAINST OURSELVES – we see ourselves through a kind of distorting, black filter.

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY:

Negative, prejudiced self-beliefs are dangerous as they may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example:

– someone who thinks s/he will always fail may, as a result, not try to achieve anything and therefore not succeed in the way s/he in fact had the potential to do (if only s/he had believed in her/himself).

– someone who believes s/he is unlovable (when in reality this is untrue) may never attempt to form close relationships thus remaining unnecessarily lonely and isolated.

In summary, childhood EXPERIENCES form OUR FUNDAMENTAL BELIEF SYSTEMS. This in turn affects:

– our mood

– our behaviour

– our relationships

This negative belief system can become deeply entrenched. It is therefore necessary to ‘re-program’ our belief systems and I shall be examining how this might be achieved in later articles.

 

Eleven Types Of ‘Self’ That May Develop After Trauma :

 

In his book, The Posttraumatic Self, the psychotherapist John Wilson describes eleven types of ‘selves’ (or, what Wilson refers to, more technically, as ‘typologies of personality that form unique configurations of self-processes’) that may develop in the individual following severely traumatic experiences.

These eleven ‘selves’ can be seen as existing on a continuum such that the first (THE INERT SELF) represents those individuals most severely psychologically damaged by their traumatic experiences whereas, at the other end of the spectrum, the eleventh (THE INTEGRATED-TRANSCENDENT SELF), represents those individuals who have proved the most resilient in the face of their traumatic experiences and can be said to have ‘transcended’ them.

I list all eleven of the types of ‘selves’ below :

  1. Inert Self
  2. Empty Self
  3. Fragmented Self
  4. Imbalanced Self
  5. Over-controlled Self
  6. Anomic Self
  7. Conventional Self
  8. Grandiose Self
  9. Cohesive Self
  10. Accelerated Self
  11. Integrated-Transcendent Self

There follows a brief outline of each of these eleven types :

 

1) THE INERT SELF :

Wilson describes those individuals who develop an ‘inert self’ in response to trauma as ‘broken in spirit‘, ‘autistically withdrawn‘ and devoid of all motivation (‘even the motivation to be safe’); they are emotionally numb and facially expressionless. They may, too, experience catanoid states, brief episodes of psychosis or paranoid states.

2) THE EMPTY SELF :

Individuals displaying the ’empty self’ are passive and devoid of energy. They have also lost interest in activities which they previously (before their traumatic experiences) found to be engaging and have become withdrawn, socially isolated (having lost social confidence and social skills) and insecure. They also suffer from anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure), are anxious, fearful and have lost trust in the world. Suicidal ideation is also a prominent feature of this group of individuals.

3) THE FRAGMENTED SELF :

Individuals in this category suffer from identity defusion (confusion about their identity and about ‘who they are’ – in other words, they have lost of a coherent and solid sense of self). They also feel as if their personalities have become fragmented (click here to read my previously published article about the ‘fragmented personality’).

Furthermore, they experience problems with relationships (including intense emotional responses towards others which fluctuate dramatically), are likely to function erratically in the work place, may experience dissociative states and develop traits similar to those suffering from dependent personality disorder.

4) THE IMBALANCED SELF :

Those who respond to trauma by displaying an imbalanced self suffer from extreme emotional lability similar to that suffered by individuals who have developed emotional instability disorder.

They are also afraid of being left alone and have a constant need for reassurance, to be looked after and cared for.

Furthermore, they suffer from chronic anxiety and their relationships with others are highly dysfunctional ; if they perceive themselves to be abandoned by others, even briefly, they are prone to becoming severely agitated and/or angry.

5) THE OVER-CONTROLLED SELF :

Such individuals have difficulty expressing their emotions and have a fear of losing control. They display trairs similar to those displayed by individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

They are highly driven, disciplined, routine-orientated and ‘overactive’ – this ‘over-activity’ unconsciously serves to exert a sense of control over inner, deep-seated feelings of anxiety; in other words, their frantic attempts to impose control over their external world represents an  an unconscious overcompensation for an anxiety-provoking sense of loss of control over their internal world.

It has also been suggested (e.g. Horowitz, 1999, cited in Wilson) that their intense overactiviry is an unconscious defense mechanism which serves to ‘block out’ / prevent conscious attention being directed towards traumatic memories.

6) THE ANOMIC SELF :

These individuals experience life as empty and meaningless, are mistrustful of society in general and feel alienated and disconnected from it; indeed, often they may be seen as ‘loners’. They rebel against authority and lead an unconventional lifestyle. Also, because of the trauma they have suffered, they are wary of forming close emotional bonds with others. Furthermore, they may suffer from antisocial personality traits.

7) THE CONVENTIONAL SELF :

In contrast to individuals displaying an ‘anomic self’ (see above), these individuals have adjusted to, and reintegrated with, society following their traumatic experiences. By connecting with others, they help themselves redevelop a feeling of being safe; in relation to this, they have a strong need to gain the approval of others and to be liked and respected by them ; this powerful desire drives them to be highly conventional and conformist (Wilson, 1980).

8) THE GRANDIOSE SELF :

These individuals strive to achieve and succeed in the desperate attempt of gain recognition from others in ordered to restore their shattered self-esteem (caused by their traumatic experiences).

Their grandiosity can be seen as a defense mechanism serving to ward off and protect from inner feelings of vulnerability, similar to the function it serves in those suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

9) THE COHESIVE SELF :

Such individuals have proved resilient in the face of their traumatic experiences and may be described by others as having bounced back.’ In contrast with the ‘anomic type’ (see above), these individuals are prosocial and concerned with questions relating to ethics and justice.

10) THE ACCELERATED SELF :

Those displaying the ‘accelerated self’ type have become highly individualistic as a result of having overcome their traumatic experiences. Wilson also describes them as being ‘tough, resolute, resilient, morally principled, altruistic and self-directed [who have] ‘transformed traumatic impact into prosocial humanitarian modes of functioning’.

Wilson refers to such people as displaying an ‘ACCELERATED’ self as they have, as a result of their profound, traumatic experiences, had their psychosocial development ‘speeded up’ which, in turn, has led them to consider ‘critical life-stage issues‘ earlier than would normally have been the case.

11) THE INTEGRATED-TRANSCENDENT SELF :

Such individuals have optimally overcome their traumatic experiences and, therefore, can be described as having ‘transcended’ them to achieve a ‘structurally [integrated] self, the components [of which] reflect optimal functioning.’ Indeed, they can be seen as having achieved what Maslow describes as ‘SELF-ACTUALIZATION.’

These individuals embrace growth and challenges, have achieved ‘spiritual transcendence‘, gained profound wisdom and have the ‘capacity to have peak experiences of the numinous.‘ Wilson also describes such individuals as altruistic and able to ‘live in the present with consciousness attuned to a higher awareness of reality and cosmic order.’

 

Repairing Our Self-Image :

Those of us who suffered childhood trauma caused by our parents/primary carer are very likely to have received extremely negative messages about ourselves from these people – these messages may have been stated directly or implied and intimated.

Indeed, many of us were made to feel unwanted, worthless and utterly unlovable during the crucial stage of our development when we were forming our self-image.

In other words, we INTERNALIZED these messages which, in turn, may have led to us living all our adult life believing these messages to be true and also as being an accurate reflection of the essence of who we are ; this process can gradually erode, by a kind of drip-drip effect, and, eventually, destroy our self-esteem.

 

REPETITION COMPULSION :

Furthermore, if we had a bad relationship with our parents/primary carer when we were young, we may have found that we have, since, experienced a pattern of forming similarly poor relationships with others during our adult lives; for example, perhaps we have been unconsciously drawn to form relationships with others who are likely to abuse us – this can be due to what is referred to by psychologists as a REPETITION COMPULSION (an unconscious attempt to master our adverse childhood relationship experiences), leaving us extremely vulnerable to revictimization.

Naturally, this lowers our view of ourselves even further as it just serves to REINFORCE our belief that we are ‘worthless and unlovable’.

 

A FORM OF’ BRAINWASHING’ :

In effect, we were programmed and ‘brainwashed’, when we were young, into a forming a FUNDAMENTAL (yet FALSE) BELIEF that we are ‘intrinsically bad’ people (click here to read my article entitled : HOW THE CHILD’S BELIEF IN HIS OWN ‘BADNESS’ IS PERPETUATED‘).

Coming to fully realize and understand this is A VITAL STEP TOWARDS COMING TO VIEW OURSELVES IN A MUCH MORE POSITIVE, AND, INDEED, COMPASSIONATE, WAY.

An effective therapy (this has been backed up by many research studies) that can help us to do this is COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT) – click here to read my article on this.

It is also possible that having been indoctrinated with the belief that we are essentially bad, and having internalized this view, coupled with pent up rage about having been ill-treated in childhood, may have led us to make some significant mistakes in life.

However, we can lower the probability that we will repeat such mistakes by thinking about how we would like to change, in line with our now more positive view of ourselves (assuming we have worked at this), and then devise strategies as to how this goal may best be achieved.

It is also to point out that if we were conditioned to think ill of ourselves as children we may have found that, as adults, we have overly focused on our bad points whilst remaining oblivious to our more positive points.

 

Ways to help ourselves feel better about ourselves also include :

– cutting off contact with people who make us feel bad about ourselves

– associating more with people who make us feel good about ourselves

– taking up activities which make use of, and develop, our strengths

 

RESOURCES :

Develop a Positive Self Image | Self Hypnosis Downloads

10 Steps to Overcome Negativity Hypnosis Course | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

How Does PTSD Develop?

WHAT IS THE DEVELOPMENTAL PROCESS OF POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)?

The psychologists Foa et al. developed the following model to illustrate the psychological process through which PTSD develops.

When a person experiences something which is very traumatic the memory becomes enmeshed into the brain’s circuitry – in essence, a FEAR STRUCTURE becomes incorporated into the brain.

THE FEAR STRUCTURE can be divided into 3 individual units. These are as follows :

a) STIMULI of the trauma. This refers to things which my trigger memories of the trauma. Stimuli my gain access to the brain via any of the 5 senses (i.e. sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch). To use a simple example, someone traumatized by being injured in an explosion in a war may have the trauma response triggered by loud bangs such as fireworks going off (the loud bang being the stimuli).

b) RESPONSES to the traumatic event. This includes both physiological responses (e.g. racing pulse, hyperventilation) and psychological responses (such as a feeling of terror).

c) MEANINGS ATTRIBUTED TO THE STIMULI AND RESPONSES (e.g. this means I must be in great danger).

When somebody suffering from PTSD experiences an event which triggers the original memory of trauma, laid down in the brains circuitry, they feel intense distress. Typically, in response to this distress, they will take evasive action (i.e. try to evade, or get away from, the event which is triggering the traumatic response). It is the meaning aspect of the fear structure ( c, above) which creates the most anguish. The problem lies in the fact that they find it exceptionally difficult to reconcile their old (pre-trauma) beliefs about events and their new (post trauma) beliefs about events (doing this successfully, which therapy can help them, eventually, to do, is known as the PROCESS OF ACCOMMODATION).

An example of pre- and post- traumatic beliefs, which, if the process of accommodation has not taken place, would be in opposition with one another are :

PRE-TRAUMA – the world is a pretty safe place in which I can generally feel relaxed in

POST -TRAUMA – the world is very dangerous and unpredictable and I must always be on my guard against threats which seem to be coming at me from every direction (at worst, leading to clinical paranoia)

COMPULSION TO MAKE SENSE OF THE TRAUMATIC BELIEF

The individual who suffers from PTSD will often try , obsessively, to make sense of the traumatic event which occurred to him/her. This arises because s/he finds it impossible to square what has occurred with pre-trauma beliefs.

THE DEEP PSYCHOLOGICAL PAIN OF TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF THE TRAUMATIC EVENT

Whilst the individual suffering from PTSD feels driven to make sense of the trauma, constantly thinking about it creates feelings which are both terrifying and overwhelming. THIS CREATES A TERRIBLE PSYCHOLOGICAL TENSION IN THE MIND – there is the PULL TOWARDS ATTEMPTING TO MAKE SENSE OF WHAT HAPPENED ON THE ONE HAND, BUT ALSO THE PULL OF TRYING TO STOP THINKING ABOUT IT ON THE OTHER.

Foa and her colleagues have put forward the theory that it is the tension, created by having one’s thoughts pulled powerfully in two directly opposing directions, which leads to the extreme HYPERAROUSAL (intense anxiety).

The two opposing views of the world the individual tries desperately to fit together (‘safe world’ versus’ unsafe world’) is rather like trying to FIT TWO PIECES OF JIGSAW TOGETHER, ONE OF WHICH HAS BEEN DAMAGED, SO IT NO LONGER FITS.

Therapy can lead to a resolution of this dilemma, leading to a compromise belief, linked to the two opposing beliefs, such as :

THE WORLD IS GENERALLY SAFE FOR ME BUT NOBODY HAS A COMPLETE GUARANTEE, OCCASIONALLY BAD THINGS HAPPEN.

TREATMENTS :

COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY IS AN EFFECTIVE TREATMENT FOR THE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA – there is a lot of research evidence to support this.

Also, hypnotherapy can provide relief from many of the symptoms of trauma (eg anxiety, fear etc).

 

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

How Does Trauma Affect Memory?

childhood trauma and traumatic memories

Traumatic Memories

Remembering traumatic events is in some ways beneficial. For example, it allows us to review the experience and learn from it. Also, by replaying the event/s, its/their emotional charge is diminished.

However, sometimes the process breaks down and the memories remain powerful and frightening. Sometimes they seem to appear at random, and at other times they can be TRIGGERED by a particular event such as a film with a scene that shows a person suffering from a similar trauma to that suffered by the person watching it.

Traumatic memories can manifest themselves in any of the 3 ways listed below:

FLASHBACKS
INTRUSIVE MEMORIES
NIGHTMARES

1) FLASHBACKS

These are often intense, vivid and frightening. They can be difficult to control, especially at night.

Sometimes a flashback may be very detailed, but at other times it may be a more nebulous ‘sense’ of the trauma.

Sometimes the person experiencing the flashback feels that they are going mad or are about to completely lose control, but THIS IS NOT THE CASE.

Traumatic_memories

2) INTRUSIVE MEMORIES

These are more likely to occur when the mind is not occupied. They are more a recollection of the event rather than a reliving of it. When they do intrude, they can be painful. Often, the more we try to banish them from memory the more tenaciously they maintain their grip.

3) NIGHTMARES

These can replay the traumatic events in a similar way to how they originally happened or occur as distorted REPRESENTATIONS of the event.

HOW RELIABLE ARE MEMORIES OF TRAUMATIC EVENTS?

There used to be concern that some memories of trauma may be false memories. However, the latest research suggests that memories of trauma tend to be quite accurate but may be distorted or embellished.

However, false memories CAN occasionally occur. This is most likely to happen when someone we trust, such as a therapist, keeps suggesting some trauma (eg sexual abuse) must have happened.

It is important to remember, though, that parents or carers will sometimes DENY or DOWNPLAY and MINIMIZE our traumatic experiences due to a sense of their own guilt. In other words, they may claim our traumatic memories are false when in fact they are not.

REPRESSION :

Very traumatic memories may sometimes be REPRESSED (buried in the unconscious with no conscious access to them). In other words, we may forget that a trauma has happened. As I suggested in PART 1, this is a defense mechanism. Sometimes the buried memories can be brought back into consciousness (eg through psychotherapy) so that the brain may be allowed to process and work through the memories allowing a recovery process to get underway.

 

Trauma, Memory And The Brain :

New memories are stored in the region of the brain known as the hippocampus. However, not all memories that enter the hippocampus are stored by the brain permanently.

Only some are transferred to the cerebral cortex for long-term storage; the rest fade away. The more important the memory, and, in particular, the more intense the emotions connected to the memory are, the more likely it is to be permanently stored. This process in called memory consolidation.

When an event occurs that is very threatening or damaging to us, the stress of this causes stress hormones ADRENALIN and CORTISOL to be released into the brain.

The effect of these stress hormones is to strengthen the memory of this threatening or damaging event.

The stress hormones released into the brain (in particular, the amygdala) also ensure the memory of the negative event becomes strongly associated with the emotions (such as fear and terror) that it originally evoked.

intrusive_memories

So, for example, if we are viciously attacked and maimed by a savage and demented Rottweiler, cortisol and adrenaline will be released into our brain to ensure that the memory is indelibly stored. These same stress hormones will also ensure that the emotions we felt at the time of the attack, such as fear and terror, also become strongly associated with the memory of our unfortunate encounter with the less than friendly canine miscreant.

This way of storing such memories evolved for the survival value it confers on our genes.

Also, when extremely traumatic events occur, the hippocampus can become so excessively flooded by stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that it incurs damage.

This damage can then alter the way that the traumatic event is stored. Because of this the memory may become:

fragmented

‘foggy’ / ‘blurry’

distorted

inaccessible to conscious awareness

Furthermore, the memory of the extremely traumatic event may become highly invasive – especially when the person in possession of the memory is reminded of the traumatic event (even tangentially) – and constantly break through into consciousness wholly unbidden, re-triggering the release of excessive amounts of stress hormones into the brain ; this can lead to:

flashbacks

nightmares

obsessive rumination about the traumatic event

 

TRAUMA AND NON-DECLARATIVE MEMORY :

Our long-term memory can be divided into :

1. Declarative Memory (sometimes called explicit memory or narrative memory) – it is the part of our memory that we use for the conscious recall of facts or events.

Declarative memory depends upon language in order to organize, store and retrieve the information that it holds.

2. Non- Declarative Memory (sometimes called implicit memory, procedural memory or sensorimotor memory) – it is this part of our memory that allows us to automatically retrieve information connected to something we have learned without conscious deliberation.

Non-declarative memory

For example, we can get on a bike and ride it without having to concentrate on exactly how we’re doing it or go over in our minds the steps involved in how we learned to do it; indeed, we need not even remember when or how when learned to do it (I certainly don’t) – nevertheless, the necessary ‘know-how’ has been unconsciously, permanently retained.

Non-declarative memory, unlike declarative memory, does not depend upon language for the organization, storage and retrieval of information. Because of this, non-declarative memories are frequently very hard indeed to describe in words (try explaining all the tiny body and muscle adjustments necessary to maintain balance whilst riding a bicycle – yet the memory of exactly how to do this has been faithfully, unconsciously stored, courtesy of your non-declarative memory!).

TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES ARE FREQUENTLY STORED AS NON-DECLARATIVE MEMORIES :

Due to their their utterly overwhelming nature, we often can’t completely and linguistically, mentally process our traumatic experiences which prevents them from being stored in declarative memory ; when this happens, the traumatic experiences are instead stored in our non-declarative memory.

THE FRAGMENTARY NATURE OF INCOMPLETELY PROCESSED TRAUMATIC MEMORIES :

The incompletely processed traumatic memories stored in non-declarative memory tend to be very fragmentary in nature. As we have seen, too, they are not stored in linguistic form but, instead, often in the form of :

bodily sensations (e.g. muscular tension, increased heart rate, hyperventilation)

images (e.g. these might come to us in nightmares or intrusively and unheralded during our waking hours as a result, often, of unconscious triggers – see below)

emotions (e.g. extreme anger or fear)

Also, our unconscious, non-declarative memories may express themselves through chronic, seemingly inexplicable symptoms and behaviours.

WHY WE FIND IT HARD TO ARTICULATE OUR TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES :

Because the memory of our trauma has not been properly processed at the linguistic level we are likely to find ourselves unable to articulate our traumatic experiences in any coherent manner. (Click here to read my article on how we find it difficult to talk about our trauma).

TRIGGERS :

Bodily sensations, images, emotions, symptoms and behaviours linked to our non-declarative memories of our original, childhood trauma may be triggered whenever anything even remotely reminds us of this trauma.

In this way, we may find ourselves re-enacting aspects of our original trauma in our everyday lives months, years or, even (in the absence of effective therapy), decades after the actual experience of our childhood trauma is over.

 

RELATED POSTS :

TYPES OF DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA IN COMPLEX PTSD

FIVE TYPES OF AMNESIA LINKED TO CHILDHOOD TRAUMA

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND MEMORY – WHY SOME REMEMBER AND OTHERS FORGET.

CAN ‘BURIED MEMORIES’ BE UNCOVERED BY HYPNOSIS?

 

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

 

 

 

 

How PTSD Can Leave Us Feeling Unremittingly Exhausted.

Many sufferers of PTSD feel constantly exhausted and, in this article, I want to examine the reasons why:

Causes of exhaustion in the PTSD sufferer:

1) Disrupted sleep.

At my most ill, I was having to retire to bed at 3pm and would not re-emerge until about 15 hours later (ie 6am the next day).The sleep itself was very low quality, extremely broken and unrefreshing; I would wake up literally dozens of times and the sleep I did get was full of hideous, terrifying nightmares.

Indeed, badly disrupted sleep is very common in individuals who suffer from PTSD. The person may have frequent and intense nightmares, suffer broken sleep, take a long time to fall asleep and wake up undesirably early in the morning, unable to get back to sleep despite feeling exhausted (indeed, this is also one of the hallmarks of major depression).

 

PTSD sufferers who experience such symptoms of insomnia wake up feeling both mentally and physically unrefreshed and, as a consequence, find both their physical and mental abilities are impaired.

Also, as a result of not sleeping properly, they often find their ability to cope with everyday life is greatly diminished and their vulnerability to the adverse effects of stress are greatly increased.

2) Psychological strain.

People with PTSD are constantly tormented by, and attempting to fight, extremely painful memories and distressing intrusive thoughts. This, too, is exhausting.

3) Effort of ‘putting up a front’/hiding behind a false self.

Many sufferers of PTSD do not want others  (such as acquaintances and work associates) to know about their illness so feel they need to ‘wear a social mask’ and pretend that ‘everything’s fine’. Keeping up such a pretence is mentally taxing and extremely tiring.

4) Effects on diet.

People with PTSD may lose their appetites and consequently under-eat, leading to malnutrition and deprivation of important minerals and vitamins which may cause increased fatigue.

5) Workaholism.

Woody Allen, who has written, directed and, often, acted in one film a year for many decades says he works so much to distract himself from pessimistic thoughts and existential angst. In a similar way, one way some PTSD sufferers try to cope with their disturbing thoughts and feelings is to immerse themselves in work in order to divert their minds, working each day for excessive hours ( up to 20 hours a day, in the most extreme cases).

Consequences of extreme tiredness/exhaustion in the PTSD sufferer:

The consequences of the great fatigue the PTSD sufferer may experience include:

1) Lacking in mental and physical energy

2) Poor concentration

3) Poor decision making / poor judgment

4) Irritable mood

5) Extreme tiredness can lead to the development of depression (on the other hand, depression can also lead to constant tiredness)

6) Reduced ability to cope with everyday life

7) Impaired work performance / leads to more days absent from work

8) Impaired social life

9) Increased risk to physical health

 

ADRENAL FATIGUE ?

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that significant and protracted childhood trauma can physically damage the developing brain and, in particular, the development of a brain region known as the AMYGDALA.

 

One of the functions of the amygdala is to regulate our emotions, including fear and anxiety, and, as a result of this damage, it can become dysfunctional.

This dysfunction may result in the amygdala becoming ‘stuck in overdrive’ leading us to feel constantly highly anxious and fearful – in other words, locked into a perpetual state of ‘fight or flight’.

When we are in a state of ‘fight or flight’, our bodies undergo certain physical effects; these include :

– increased heart rate

– increased blood pressure

– rapid breathing

– an increase in the production of the stress hormone known as cortisol

– an increase in the stress hormone known as adrenalin

According to Adrenal Fatigue theory, when we are subjected to chronic, intense stress, such as that described above, the adrenal gland becomes dysfunctional resulting in symptoms such as those listed below:

– constant, extreme tiredness

– an impaired ability to concentrate

– difficulty in getting out of bed in the morning

However, it is important to note that, at the time of writing, there exists insufficient evidence to establish Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome as a formally recognized disorder in the world of mainstream medicine.

Conclusion:

If  ‘adrenalin fatigue syndrome’ is not, in fact, a real condition, being diagnosed with it by an alternative therapist might detract from the real issue which could be, for example, depressionchronic fatigue syndrome, heart failure, diabetes, poor diet, poor quality sleep or anemia, all of which conditions may produce symptoms of extreme and chronic fatigue.

 

Resources:

Adrenal Fatigue Treatment | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Overcome Fatigue And Lethargy Self-Hypnosis Download 

 

 

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

How to Cope with Difficult Memories, Part One.

intrusive_memories

https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/2013/04/20/exciting-early-research-findings-on-the-medication-propranolol-a-beta-blocker-effectiveness-of-treating-symptoms-of-trauma/

In a previous post, I wrote about traumatic memories and talked about how psychologists have divided them into two types:

1) Flashbacks
2) Intrusive memories

Such memories can be very painful and emotionally distressing, and, according to Ehlers et al. (2010), three main factors need to be considered when aiming to eliminate, or, at least, reduce the negative impact of, these kinds of memory. They identified the three factors as follows :

  1. Becoming aware of what is triggering the memories
  2. Understanding how the individual is interpreting the memories
  3. Identifying and understanding behavioral and cognitive responses to the memories

With this in mind, let’s look at strategies which we can implement to help manage our problem memories:

1) Flashbacks: strategies which are helpful in managing them:

There are three main ways which can help us to achieve this:

a) PLANNED AVOIDANCE
b) ‘GROUNDING’ TECHNIQUES (which act as DISTRACTORS)
c) THOROUGH REVIEW OF THE FLASHBACK (this technique is connected to the psychological technique known as DESENSITISATION – by repeatedly exposing oneself to the feared object, or, in this case, memory, gradually weakens its negative psychological impact)

intrusive_memories

PLANNED AVOIDANCE: this technique involves avoiding TRIGGERS that, by experience, we know trigger our traumatic memories. This can provide valuable ‘breathing space’ until we feel ready to try to process and make sense of our memories, usually with the help of a psychotherapist. In order to use this technique, it is necessary, of course, to, first, spend some time thinking about what our personal triggers are.

GROUNDING TECHNIQUES: this technique is based upon DISTRACTION; the rationale behind it is that it is impossible to focus on two different things at the same time. So, the idea of the technique is to strongly focus on something neutral, or, better still, something pleasant – the brain, when we do this, will be unable to focus on the memory which was giving rise to distress and emotional pain.

It does not really matter what we choose to focus on in order to distract us – it might even be, say, the chair in which we sit: what is its colour, its shape, its texture and feel to the touch, the material from which it is made…etc…etc..? I know this sounds rather silly, but, if we concentrate on it like this for a while, almost as if we were carrying out a forensic examination (think Poirot or Sherlock Holmes), it can act as a powerful, temporary distractor when we feel, potentially, we could be overwhelmed by our thoughts and memories.

We can implement the grounding technique by using what are known as ‘GROUNDING OBJECTS’ – this term refers to physical objects (ideally, easily transportable, so, a full sized model of, say, Stompy the Elephant, for instance, might not be such a great idea). But, seriously, it could be something as simple as a shell from the sea-side – it can really be anything, just so long as it evokes a feeling of safety and comfort. When feeling distressed, the object can be held and looked at with the intense focus referred to above in the description of the grounding technique. Also, as Proust helpfully pointed out, aromas can be very evocative – something relaxing such as lavender could be used.

As well as using grounding objects, we can also use what are known as ‘GROUNDING IMAGES’. This involves thinking of a place in which we feel safe, secure and comforted. It is a good idea to make the image as intense and detailed as possible (although people’s ability to visualize varies considerably – I’m hopeless at visualizing). If you are able to visualize it in such a way as to allow you to mentally interact with it (e.g. imagine walking around in the location you are imagining) so much the better. To get to the safe imaginary place in your mind, it is also useful to have what is known as a ‘LINKING IMAGE’; again, as this is an imaginary way of linking (getting) to the ‘location’ it can be anything; for example, when feeling distressed, you could imagine yourself ‘floating away’ to your ‘safe place’. Once mentally ‘located’ in the safe place, it is again helpful to imagine then ‘place’ as intensely as possible, using our old friend the GROUNDING TECHNIQUE, so that it almost feels you are really there, where NOTHING CAN HARM YOU.

It is also possible to employ the assistance of what are referred to as “GROUNDING PHRASES‘. These can be very simple, such as “I am strong enough to deal with this, I always get through it’, or, even more simply, ‘I’m OK’. We can try to bring these phrases to mind and repeat them to ourselves when we are feeling distressed.

There is even a technique known as ‘GROUNDING POSITIONS’. This, very simply, refers to altering our body’s position to produce a psychological benefit; for some, this might be standing up straight with shoulders back to produce a feeling of greater confidence; for others it might be curling up in bed in embryo position to produce a feeling of greater safety and security. Such techniques, whilst, possibly, sounding vaguely silly, can be surprisingly effective.

I will continue looking at how we can help ourselves cope with difficult memories in part TWO, starting with ‘c’ above: a THOROUGH REVIEW OF FLASHBACKS.

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

How Trauma Can Seriously Adversely Affect The Nervous System

how trauma can adversely affect the nervous system

Peter Levine, an expert on the effects of trauma on the body, states that as a result of severe and prolonged trauma, the functioning of our nervous systems can become seriously disrupted. More specifically, traumatized individuals can suffer from dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system.

What Is The Autonomic Nervous System?

The autonomic nervous system operates below the level of conscious awareness (i.e. it functions involuntarily) and consists of two sub-systems : the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

What Are The Sympathetic And Parasympathetic Sub-Systems?

The Sympathetic Sub-System :

This sub-system of the autonomic nervous system is ‘switched on’ when we are faced with threat/danger/emergencies in order to mobilize extra energy that the body may require for fight/flight.

The Parasympathetic Sub-System :

This sub-system of the autonomic nervous system is ‘switched on’ when we are in a state of relaxation.

How Does The Autonomic Nervous System Become Dysregulated And What Effect Does Such Dysregulation Have On The Individual?

Trauma can cause the autonomic nervous system to become dysregulated in two main ways :

  1. The sympathetic sub-system can become ‘stuck’ / ‘locked on’

  2. The parasympathetic sub-system can become ‘stuck’ / ‘locked on’

A traumatized individual, whose traumatic experiences remain unprocessed, may become ‘stuck’ / ‘locked into’ one of the above two extremes or may oscillate back and forth between the them ; their is a loss of homeostasis (i.e. healthy balance between the two systems). In the absence of effective therapy, such dysregulation can persist for months, or, as in my own case, for years. I briefly outline the effects of these two types of dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system below :

trauma adverse effect on nervous system

Above : Effects of the activation of each of the two sub-systems on heart rate. Other effects of the two sub-systems shown below :

EFFECTS OF THE SYMPATHETIC SUB-SYSTEM BEING ‘LOCKED ON’ :

  • increased heart rate

  • fear

  • anxiety

  • panic

  • hypervigilance

  • insomnia

  • mania

  • anger / rage / hostility

  • chronic pain

  • emotional flooding

  • digestion inhibited

  • adrenal glands secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine

  • bronchioles are dilated

EFFECTS OF THE PARASYMPATHETIC SUB-SYSTEM BEING ‘LOCKED ON’ :

NB. The normal function of the parasympathetic sub-system is to facilitate rest and recovery after the sympathetic sub-system has been activated and the danger has passed – however, severe trauma can lead to the body ‘shutting down’ too much leading to symptoms such as those shown above.

THERAPY :

A therapy that has been specifically designed for individuals who have experienced trauma leading to dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (as described above) is called SOMATIC EXPERIENCING THERAPY.

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

Hypervigilance And Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD).

hypervigilance

hypervigilance and complex posttraumatic stress disorder

If we have grown up in a chronically stressful and traumatic environment in which we often experienced anxiety, trepidation, stress and fear we are at high risk of developing a fundamental, core belief (on a conscious and/or unconscious level) that the world is a dangerous place and that we need to be constantly on ‘red-alert’ and ‘on-guard’ in order to protect ourselves from sustaining further psychological injury.

In other words, we GENERALIZE our perception that our childhood environment was a dangerous place (because of the emotional and/or physical harm done to us there) into a perception that everywhere else/the world in general poses an on-going threat to us.

As a result, we may develop a symptom known as HYPERVIGILANCE.

HYPERVIGILANCE is a main symptom of complex PTSD (complex PTSD is a serious psychological disorder strongly associated with childhood trauma which you can read more about by reading my post entitled : Childhood Trauma : Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (With Questionnaire).

hypervigilance

HOW DOES HYPERVIGILANCE MANIFEST ITSELF?

Individuals suffering from hypervigilance may :

  • constantly analyze the behavior (including body language, facial expressions, intonation etc) of those around them in an attempt to determine if they pose a threat (and, frequently, they may perceive a threat to exist when, in reality, it does not)
  • be in a constant state of anxiety, irritation and agitation
  • have an exaggerated startle response to loud, unexpected noises
  • experience excessive concern regarding how they are viewed by others
  • be excessively suspicious of others / expect others to betray them ; this can give rise to paranoid-like states
  • perceive danger everywhere even though this is not objectively justified
  • easily be provoked into aggression (as a means of defending themselves against perceived threats from others ; in other words, such aggressive outbursts are a (primarily unconsciously motivated) DEFENSE MECHANISM.
  • PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS (including elevated heart rate, hyperventilation, trembling and sweating)
  • have false perceptions that others dislike them, are plotting against them or mean them harm
  • see minor set-backs as major disasters (this is a cognitive distortion sometimes referred to as CATASTROPHIZING.
  • frequently experience fear and panic when, objectively speaking, it is not justified
  • experience obsessive worry and rumination that is intrusive and hard to control
  • suffer from sleep problems (including very frequent waking and nightmares)
  • feel constantly exhausted (due to both sleep problems and the sheer debilitating effects of being in a constant state of anxiety)
  • social anxiety / impaired relationships / social isolation

Therapies For The Treatment Of Hypervigilance :

Therapies that may ameliorate symptoms of hypervigilance include :

Some medications, such as beta blockers, may sometimes also be appropriate, but, it is, of course, always necessary to consult a suitably qualified professional before embarking upon such treatment.

 

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here or on above image for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

Neurocounseling And Its Relevance To Treating Complex-PTSD

neurocounselling

The term neurocounseling refers to a form of therapies that seek to take advantage of the relatively recent neuroscientific discovery that the human brain has far more NEUROPLASTICITY than was previously believed to be the case.

 

What Is Neuroplasticity?

The brain’s quality of neuroplasticity can be defined as its capacity to be physically changed, not only during childhood, but over the whole life-span ; it is only relatively recently that the extent to which the adult brain can be physically altered (both in terms of its structure and its pattern of neuro-pathways) has been discovered.

 

Why Is The Brain’s Neuroplasticity, And Therefore Neurocounseling, Relevant To The Treatment Of Complex-PTSD Resulting From Childhood Trauma?

 

Neurocounseling and the phenomenon of neuroplasticity have important implications for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and   complex-PTSD as sufferers of both types often have incurred damage to certain brain regions as a result of their traumatic experiences.

These brain injuries can include a shrunken hippocampus ( the hippocampus is a brain region involved in the processing of memories, including differentiation between past and present memories); increased activity in the amygadala ( a region of the brain involved in the processing of emotions and that is intimately related to the fear response); and a shrunken ventromedial prefrontal cortex (this region of the brain processes negative emotions that occur in response to exposure to specific stimuli).

 

Neurocounseling :

Neurocounseling is founded upon the premise that that symptoms of psychiatric conditions (both psychological and behavioral) are underpinned by maladaptive, neurological structures and functions and that these neurological structures and functions can be beneficial altered due to the quality of the brain known as neuroplasticity. It combines neuroscience with counseling techniques and, in this way, the individual receiving treatment is helped to learn new skills and new ways of thinking in an attempt to help correct the maladaptive physical development of the brain that has occurred in response to the person’s traumatic past experiences. Examples of neurocounseling techniques include :

  • incorporating biofeedback into the treatment plan ; this can help to treat emotional dysregulation – emotional dysregulation is a major symptom of PTSD and complex-PTSD and is linked to damage to the amygdala (see above)
  • incorporating neurofeedback into the treatment plan
  • mindfulness meditation training (one study found that this can alter the actual physical structure of the brain in just eight weeks)

Additionally, studies have shown that interpersonal psychotherapy and compassion focused therapy can lead to beneficial alterations to the brain.

Furthermore, research shows that neurocounseling can also be successfully employed to treat a range of addiction issues (including prevention of relapse and recovery management), sleep difficulties, ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome and problems relating to aggression (all of which, potentially, can be linked to childhood trauma).

As understanding of the relationship between the way in which the physical brain operates and symptoms of psychological problems increases, it should be possible, in the future, to be apply neurocounseling more effectively to an expanding range of behavioral and psychological difficulties that have their roots in maladaptive brain biochemistry and physiology.

eBook :

Click here or on image above for further details about above eBook which is available on Amazon for instant download.

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

Overcoming Feelings Of Shame With Counseling

overcome feelings of shame

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that those of us who have experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma often experience irrational, deep feelings of shame as adults which can severely disrupt our lives (for much more on this, see the section of this site entitled : ‘Self-Hatred And Shame).

Because living with profound feelings of shame is so psychologically painful and impinges so seriously upon our quality of life, it is worth considering undergoing counseling to help overcome the problem.

One important counseling technique employed to help individuals diminish their irrational, but insidious, sense of deep-rooted shame is to help them build shame resilience.

Overcoming Feelings Of Shame By Building Shame Resilience :

According to the American  Psychological Association (2014), there are several important factors that help a person to overcome their feelings of shame which include the following :

  • self-awareness
  • reaching out and connecting to others
  • access to care and support
  • paying attention to own needs
  • setting healthy boundaries
  • self-confidence
  • having realistic expectations and goals
  • cultivating feelings of empathy and compassion (including, most importantly, self-compassion)

.overcoming shame

Now let’s now look at the above list of factors in a little more detail :

SELF-AWARENESS :  recognizing early life experiences that implanted deep feelings of shame into our psyches (e.g. internalizing our parents’ negative view of us / view of us as ‘bad’ whilst we were growing up) ; becoming aware of dysfunctional thought processes and irrational beliefs that help maintain feelings of shame ; identifying situations / events which trigger feelings of shame and recognizing and acknowledging defenses we employ against shame.

REACHING OUT AND CONNECTING WITH OTHERS : talking to others one trusts (such as a counselor) about one’s feelings of shame and realizing that shame is a universal emotion that, when NOT ‘toxic’, serves a vital evolutionary purpose that everyone experiences to one degree or another.

This, in turn, is likely to help one access care and support which itself can then help one to become more mindful of one’s own needs.

Relationships connected to our care and support need to be founded upon healthy boundaries to reduce the likelihood of such relationships generating further feelings of shame within ourselves.

CONFIDENCE : when the above factors are combined with increased self-confidence one can start to modify one’s expectations about oneself and others in such a way that such expectations become more realistic which, in turn, facilitates the development of realistic expectations of oneself and the setting of appropriate and obtainable goals for oneself.

CULTIVATING FEELINGS OF EMPATHY AND COMPASSION : not judging others or oneself ; seeing things from the perspective of others ; talking to others about their feelings and about our own feelings (including being open about our own feelings of shame and letting go of our defenses / ‘removing the mask’ we use to hide our shame); developing self-empathy (i.e. compassionately  and non-judgmentally accepting and understanding our own shame related experiences / behaviors and treating ourselves in the same way we would treat someone we deeply cared about) ; accepting, non-judgmentally, our human weaknesses, frailties, faults and failures / letting go of ‘perfectionism’ and ’embracing’ our non-perfect selves (to do this we need to understand that we have been shaped by our early life experiences over which, at the time, we could exert little or no control.

Because developing compassion for others and for ourselves is so important to the process of overcoming feelings of toxic shame, it is unsurprising to learn that compassion focused therapy can be a very effective means of facilitating such a process.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

Possible Adverse Physical Effects of CPTSD

childhood_trauma_questionnaire

Unfortunately, as well as psychological effects, if we have developed complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) as a result of our childhood experiences (click here to read my article on the difference between PTSD and CPTSD), the condition can also give rise to adverse physical effects (i.e. bodily/somatic effects).

The main reason for this is that, as sufferers of CPTSD, we tend to be chronically locked into a state of distressing hyper-arousal (which psychologists often refer to as the fight/flight state – click here to read my article on this).

Essentially, this means that our SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM becomes CHRONICALLY OVER-ACTIVATED, which, in turn, can lead to harmful bodily processes resulting in, for example :

– over-production of ADRENALINE (a hormone that is produced by the body when we perceive ourselves to be in danger, preparing us for ‘fight or flight’)

– disrupted sleep (which can have a deleterious effect on our physical health).

– stomach disorders (due to a tightened digestive tract)

– excessive muscle tension

– shallow/rapid breathing (causing us to take in too much CO2 (carbon dioxide)  and not enough O (oxygen) – this can cause panic attacks

– a general inability to relax leading to unhealthy ‘self-medication’ such as excessive drinking, smoking, over-eating, use of narcotics

images

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

There are various strategies we can use to help manage this problem, including :

– stretching exercises

– yoga

– massage

– mindfulness meditation

– self-hypnosis for relaxation

(See ‘RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS’ in the MAIN MENU for mindfulness and self-hypnosis products, or click here).

The above therapies are likely to be more effective if combined with other therapies that address the root of the problem (i.e. adverse childhood experiences). In relation to this, the following may be considered :

– COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT) – click here to read my article on this

– DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (DBT) – click here to read my article on this

– EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITISATION AND REPROCESSING THERAPY (EMDR) – click here to read my article on this

RESOURCES :

HELP FOR PTSD – ROYAL COLLEGE OF PSYCHIATRY

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

Top