EFFECT OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ON BRAIN Archives - Childhood Trauma Recovery

Category Archives: Effect Of Childhood Trauma On Brain

Articles about how severe and protracted childhood trauma can detrimentally interfere with the development of various regions of the brain, particularly the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, and the implications of such damage with regard to cognition, emotion and behavior, including emotional dysregulation, impaired judgment and diminished ability to make rational decisions.

Neurofeedback And Reducing Activity In Brain’s Fear Circuitry.

It is becoming increasingly recognized that overactivity in the brain’s fear circuitry may be of fundamental relevance to not only complex-PTSD and PTSD, but to many other psychiatric disorders as well and it clearly follows, therefore, that damping down the over-intensity of neuronal firing in this part of the brain may be key to effective therapy for the treatment of a whole array mental health issues. In relation to this, there is mounting excitement about how NEUROFEEDBACK can benefit many individuals who suffer from acute psychological distress.

According to Mobbs, the brain consists of two areas involved in how we experience fear as shown below :

  • the reactive-fear circuit
  • the cognitive-fear circuit

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

THE REACTIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :

This circuit deals with threats that are IMMEDIATE and require an instant reaction (namely, activation of the ‘fight or flight’ response) ; it involves the interconnection between two areas of the brain as shown below :

  • the periaqueductal gray
  • midcingulate cortex

THE COGNITIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :

This circuit deals with threats that DO NOT require an immediate response, allowing us time to consciously consider the risk they pose to us and how we should respond to them ; this circuit involves connections between the following brain areas :

THE SEE-SAW METAPHOR :

Mobbs asserts that the relationship between these two brain regions can be compared to the two ends of a see-saw ; in other words, as one goes up, the other comes down, which means :

  • The more activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes.

And the reverse is also true, so :

  • The more activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes.

Relevance To Those Who Have Suffered Childhood Trauma :

As we have seen from many other articles that I have already published on this site, if we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma we are at increased risk of developing various disorders as adults (such as comples PTSD and borderline personality disorder) which are underpinned by having oversensitive and overactive fear-response circuitry and, correspondingly, underactive cognitive-response circuitry.

What Is Neurofeedback ?

Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain and neuro-counsellors can provide their patients with such feedback simply by using special, computer software.

The neurofeedback the patients receive allow them to become aware of their brain function frequencies and how these relate to different emotional states.

How Does Neurofeedback Help Adults Suffering From The Effects Of Childhood Trauma?

Armed with this information, and by continuing to learn from the neurofeedback their brains provide them with (via the software mentioned above), the patients can then, gradually, be trained to exercise control over their brain wave activity (for example, by soothing it with visualization techniques, breathing exercises or calming thoughts etc). With enough training, the patients’ dysregulated brains can be helped to heal and to become less fear-driven.

This results in the reactive-fear circuit become less sensitive and active which, in turn, provides the cognitive-fear circuit, as it were, ‘more room to manoeuvre.’ In this way, irrational feelings of fear that were originally being driven by the (unthinking and automatic) reactive-fear circuit can now be more soberly and rationally considered by the (reflective and thinking) cognitive-fear circuit and, therefore, more easily be dismissed as unwarranted, made impotent and deprived of their power to cause us anguish.

It should also be noted, however, that whilst a lot of excitement has been generated around this method of treatment, it is still early days and more research is needed to determine the extent of its effectiveness and to which disorders its application is best suited.

Beat Fear and Anxiety Pack | Self Hypnosis Downloads

eBooks :

Above eBooks now available for immediate download from Amazon. Click here for further information.

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

Reducing Anxiety By Calming The Amygdala

We have seen from other articles published on this site that severe and protracted childhood trauma, resulting in the child being frequently subjected to extreme stress, can damage the development of the part of the brain known as the amygdala, which is intimately involved in generating feelings of fear and anxiety.

Indeed, in individuals who have experienced such serious childhood trauma that they have gone on to develop complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), the amygdala has been found to be overactive ; this can result in the affected person feeling constantly ‘on edge. hypervigilant, fearful, and, as it were, stuck on ‘red-alert’ / in a state of ‘fight or flight,’ with accompanying unpleasant bodily sensations such as a racing heart, rapid and shallow breathing (sometimes referred to as ‘hyperventilation), tense muscles, an unsettled stomach and nausea. Indeed, it is these very bodily symptoms that feed back to the brain leading to the perception of being afraid.

ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND THE AMYGDALA :

An overactive amygdala is not only associated with complex PTSD ; it has also been found to be associated with depressive and (as one, of course, would expect) anxiety disorders (e.g. Dannlowski et al., 2007).

THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX AND CALMING THE AMYGDALA :

Fortunately, another part of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex (which is involved in planning complex cognitive behavior, rational, logical and abstract thought, speech, decision making, reappraisal of situations, active generative visualization and moderating social behavior) can be harnessed to inhibit the overactivity of the amygdala, thus calming it to allow symptoms of anxiety to dissipate and dissolve away.

PREFRONTAL CORTEX DEPRIVED OF OXYGEN WHEN WE’RE IN FIGHT / FLIGHT MODE :

If we suffer from PTSD or complex-PTSD we are prone to experience extreme fear and anxiety when it is not, objectively speaking, warranted. And, when we become fearful we can become locked into the fight / flight state, causing our body’s oxygen to be diverted to our muscles (particularly in out arms and legs) so that we may fight or flee more effectively. However, this reduces the amount of oxygen available to the prefrontal cortex which, in turn, means that we are limited in our ability to think rationally so that we are unable to reassure ourselves that the danger we perceive is not objectively justified, and, therefore, we are also unable to inhibit our amygdala’s overactivity.

MAKING SURE THE PREFONTAL CORTEX RECEIVES SUFFICIENT OXYGEN TO FUNCTION OPTIMALLY :

In this fearful state, we need to control our breathing so that sufficient oxygen can reach the prefrontal cortex to allow it to function optimally ; we can achieve this by breathing in a relaxed and slow manner, and, when exhaling, breath out slowly from the stomach so that the diaphragm moves upwards to increase the pressure on the lungs and heart to expel air. This type of breathing beneficially affects the part of the brain stem known as the medulla which, in turn, sends signals along the vagus nerve, leading to increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and decreased activity of the sympathetic nervous system : in combination, this produces feelings of relaxation and ameliorates feelings of stress and anxiety.

VISUALIZATION : THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX AND VISUALIZATION :

To calm the amygdala further, we can also take advantage of the prefrontal cortex’s ability to visualization (see above) and undertake sessions of relaxing, guided imagery either with a therapist or using self-hypnosis.

RESOURCES :

Improve Visualization | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Learn Deep Breathing Relaxation Techniques Rapidly | Self Hypnosis Downloads

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

New eBook On Childhood Trauma And The Brain.

My new eBook, available for immediate download, was published in January 2019. See below for details or click here (United Kingdom) or here (United States) to view on Amazon.

Book Description :

Sadly, severe childhood trauma can actually physically affect brain development which can adversely affect how we feel and behave for years, or decades afterwards. Fortunately, however, due to the brain’s ability to continue to physically alter itself during our adult lives (due to a phenomenon known as ‘neuroplasticity’) it is possible for the brain to recover.
This book (2nd Edition, Revised and Expanded 2019) examines how childhood trauma can harm our brain, together with how this harm can be undone.
CONTENTS :
PART 1 :
BRAIN REGIONS THAT MIGHT BE DAMAGED BY CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.
1) Introduction
2) The Prefrontal Cortex
3) Three Key Components Of The Limbic System
a) The Amygdala
b) The Hippocampus
c) The Thalamus
4) Other Limbic Regions
5) The Insula
6) Right Hemisphere
7) The Brain-Body Connection
8) Brain inflammation
PART 2 :
TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES THAT MAY CAUSE PHYSICAL DAMAGE TO THE DEVELOPING BRAIN.
9) Lack Of Emotional Security
10) Poverty
11) Constant Humiliation
12) Domestic Violence
13) Anger
14) Emotional Neglect
15) Guilt
16) Lack Of Love
PART 3 :
EFFECTS OF DAMAGE DONE TO THE BRAIN CAUSED BY CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.
17) Risk Taking And Decision Making
18) Memory
19) Control Of Emotions
20) Inability To Articulate Severely Traumatic Experiences
21) Eye Contact
22) Risk Of Developing Complex PTSD
23) Risk Of Developing Narcissistic Personality Disorder
24) Risk Of Developing Borderline Personality Disorder
25) Constant Fearfulness
26) Structural Dissociation
PART 4 :
REPAIRING THE BRAIN.
27) Self-Directed Neuroplasticity
28) Seven Key Elements That Aid Brain Repair
29) Repairing The Amygdala
30) Repairing The Prefrontal Cortex
31) Raising Endorphin Levels
32) Raising Serotonin Levels
33) Raising Oxytocin Levels
34) Meditation And The Electrical Brain
35) Unlocking And Rewiring The Brain
36) Dialectical Behavior Therapy
37) Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)
38) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
39) Treatment For Depression
40) Right Brain Therapy
41) Trauma Informed Yoga
APPENDICES
APPENDIX 1 : Childhood Trauma And Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
APPENDIX 2 : Childhood Trauma And Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD).
APPENDIX 3 : Dissociation.
APPENDIX 4 : Childhood Trauma And Psychosis.
APPENDIX 5 : Childhood Trauma And Avoidant Personality Disorder.
APPENDIX 6 : The Fight / Flight Response.
APPENDIX 7 : Anhedonia
APPENDIX 8 : Childhood Trauma And Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
APPENDIX 9 : Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy And My Experience Of It.

Click here (United Kingdom) or here (United States) to view on Amazon.

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).

Borderline Personality Disorder And The Brain

 

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

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

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

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

  • DAMAGE DONE TO THE PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRAIN:

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

  • AMYGDALA
  • HIPPOCAMPUS
  • ORBITOFRONTAK CORTEX

 

Let’s look at each in turn:

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

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

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

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

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

Types Of Dysfunctional Upbringing That May Damage These Brain Regions :

These include :

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

What About The Role Of Genes?

There is NOT a gene for BPD.

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

 

Are Those With BPD Manipulative?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RETURN TO BPD AND CHILDHOOD TRAUMA MAIN ARTICLE

 eBook :

Above eBook now available for instant download from Amazon. Click here for further details (other titles available).

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

 

The Importance Of Limbic Resonance In Early Life

One way of describing the brain is to represent it as comprising three parts which developed at different times during our evolutionary history :

  • The reptilian brain (this is the most primitive part of the brain) : this part of the brain is involved in basic functions such as breathing and heart rate.
  • The limbic system (sometimes referred to as the mammalian brain) : this part of the brain is involved with emotions.
  • The neocortex (this is the most recently evolved part of our brains) : this part of the brain is involved in higher level mental processing.

This three part model of the brain is often referred to as the triune brain and is depicted in the image below.

 

The concept of limbic resonance relates to, as the term suggests, the brain’s limbic system (sometimes referred to as the brain’s emotional centre).

What Is Limbic Resonance?

The concept of limbic resonance was first introduced in the book entitled  A General Theory Of Love and, in simple terms, refers to the idea that emotions are contagious and that, therefore, the emotions of others have a powerful effect upon our own inner state.

Due to our capacity for emotional resonance, our own internal, emotional state does not exist as an independent entity, but, instead, is dependent upon the emotional states of others, particularly those to whom we are very close. For example, if someone around us is anxious and fearful, we sense this and it may have an adverse effect upon our own inner state ; in other words, the negative emotions of others can ‘infect’ us (and, likewise, the positive emotions of those around us (such as warmth, compassion and love) can ‘nourish’ us.

Limbic Resonance And Babyhood :

Limbic resonance is of crucial importance in relation to how we relate to our primary carer (usually the mother) when we are babies / infants.

Limbic resonance is normally achieved between baby and mother via deep eye contact; However, if the process goes wrong and  our mother is consistently,  poorly attuned to us at this early stage of our lives, failing to attend to our basic needs, our brain’s chemical composition and its limbic system’s ability to interact with the reptilian brain and neocortex (see above) in a manner conducive to emotional health and well-being (referred to as ‘limbic regulation’) may be seriously disrupted leading to impaired development of the personality as well as emotional difficulties in later life.

LIMBIC REVISION

If, when we were very young, the poor quality of our relationship with our mother meant that she was unable to satisfactorily attune to us and to provide consistent, attentive, warm, loving care, the authors of A General Theory Of Love, (Lewis, Amini and Lannon) suggest that the resultant psychological problems we are at risk of developing  may be effectively treated with the use of a therapy known as LIMBIC REVISION.

 

RESEARCH THAT HELPS US TO UNDERSTAND THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF LIMBIC RESONANCE IN EARLY LIFE :

In relation to this, you may wish to read my previously published article :

The book referred to in the above article, A GENERAL THEORY OF LOVE,‘ can be purchased from Amazon (see below):


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

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