Childhood Trauma And ‘Shattered Assumptions’ Theory

One of the major effects of childhood trauma, especially if it has led us, as adults, to develop conditions such as borderline personality disorder or complex posttraumatic stress disorder, is that it can radically alter our most fundamental and core beliefs about how the world and our lives operate.

In this way, prolonged and significant childhood trauma can transform the core belief that the world is generally a safe place for us to inhabit into the opposite core belief that ‘the world is a dangerous and threatening place and I must be constantly on guard and hypervigilant.’

This idea is reflected in Professor Janoff-Bulman’s (University of Massachusetts Amherst) ‘SHATTERED ASSUMPTIONS’ THEORY (1992) which proposes (amongst other things) that the experience of trauma can eradicate the optimistic view that, as long as we do the right things in life, everything will be O.K. In other words, our (pre-trauma) assumption that we are safe in the world is shattered.


When our fundamental assumptions about the world are shattered in this way, it is necessary, according to Janoff-Bulman, for us to rebuild our internal, mental representation of the world and it has been proposed that two therapies that can help us to achieve this are: cognitive processing therapy and exposure therapy.

Such therapies can help us to ‘cognitively restructure’ our view of our traumatic experience, ourselves, and the world in general. This ‘cognitive restructuring’ process may entail, at first, attempting to make sense of the traumatizing events we have lived through; initially, this may give rise to automatic thoughts relating to our trauma that we find intrusive and distressing.

However, later on in the process, such negative ruminations can transform into more positive thoughts and feelings, such as finding meaning in what has happened to us, learning to accept our view of the world might have changed, and coming to a mental accommodation with this fact, and, ultimately, acquiring greater wisdom and personal/spiritual growth, also known as POST TRAUMATIC GROWTH.

SEE ALSO: A Shattered Sense Of Self Due To Childhood Trauma



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