Parentification: A Closer Look at The Harmful Effects.

I have already touched upon the topic of ‘parentification’ articles but, in this one, wish to examine its possible harmful effects a little more closely.

First, let’s quickly recap what is meant by the term.

What Is Parentification?

Parentification refers to when a role reversal occurs between a parent and a child. To elaborate: the child is used by the parent to fulfil their own needs which, inevitably, leads to the child’s own needs at best becoming secondary to those of the parent or pretty much neglected altogether. Specific needs of the child that may be sacrificed, according to the researcher Chase, include the need for attention, the need for care and the need for guidance.

Such needs are neglected and the child is forced or coerced into taking on responsibilities with which s/he is not equipped to cope psychologically.

THE TWO TYPES OF PARENTICATION: EMOTIONAL AND INSTRUMENTAL

Parentification can be of two specific types (though they may occur simultaneously. These are:

a) Emotional

b) Instrumental

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

Emotional Parentification: this is the most psychologically damaging of the two types. It occurs when the child is coerced into meeting the emotional needs of the parent. For example, my own mother, when I was as young as ten or eleven years old, would talk (seemingly endlessly) to me about her own myriad personal worries and concerns yet display no interest in my own life at all. I became her confidant and personal counsellor (but without being in a position to charge fee) and she would discuss with me the intimate details of her relationships with the succession of men she dated and brought home. My father had abandoned us when I was eight years old so my mother had no husband with whom to talk about her infinite set of worries. Indeed, such a situation is far from uncommon in households in which the child becomes parentified.

If there is more than one child in the family, the one who is chosen to be emotionally parentified is often the most sensitive, compassionate and vulnerable one. This was certainly true in our household. Typically, I’d be counselling my mother whilst my brother was upstairs in his bedroom listening to music or out with friends.

Effects of emotional parentification: such parentification of the child represents unequivocal emotional abuse. The child’s innate concern for the parent and desire to please her is indisputably exploited. My own mother would positively reinforce my caring and compassionate behaviour towards her by referring to me as her ‘little psychiatrist’. To what degree this represented cynical manipulation of me by her I suppose I will never know.

Because emotional parentification involves a violation of personal boundaries it has also been referred to by experts in the field as covert incest, emotional incest and psychic incest.

As adults, those of us who were emotionally parentified as children are more likely than others to develop significant problems relating to others, including friends and partners. This is because we never learned from our parent how to develop healthy emotional bonds with others. The psychologist Bowlby found evidence that we are also more likely than others to develop what he called ‘anxious attachments’ (this can involve us being ‘clingy’ and constantly in fear we will be abandoned by those for whom we care).

Emotional parentification is thought to be especially damaging when the massive responsibility the child is taking on goes unacknowledged or is minimised and the child receives no support for what s/he is doing.

A second effect of having been emotionally parentified as a child is that we may become adults who are predisposed to outbursts of extreme anger and rage, especially in situations which trigger, consciously or unconsciously, memories of having been abused in childhood.

Instrumental parentification : here, the child is forced to take on physical responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, washing, caring for younger siblings etc. It goes way beyond ordinary expectations for the child to occasionally help out with small tasks.

Whilst very far indeed from a desirable state of affairs, such parentification tends not to have the devastating psychological impact that emotional parentification can have.

eBook :

 

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

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

 

Depression: Why Fighting Depressive Feelings can Worsen Them.

 

Childhood trauma, especially if this involved the experience of being abandoned and rejected (either literally, emotionally or both) can make us especially prone to developing serious forms of depression in our adult lives.

To make matters worse still, if we were emotionally uncared for as children, too, it very often follows that we have, through no fault of our own, failed to develop the abilities of ‘self-soothing’ and ‘self-nurturing’ which could have potentially ameliorated our depressive condition; this fact obviously intensifies the psychological pain our depression inflicts upon us and increases its tenacity and longevity.

As we are impotent to soothe ourselves emotionally, we may have found unhealthy ways of reducing (however temporarily and, ultimately, self-destructively and self- defeatingly) our suffering by excessively making use of alcohol and/or drugs.

Because we were emotionally uncared for as children, we have failed to absorb or learn ways of caring for ourselves as adults – indeed, we are bereft of a self-compassionate inner voice.

In a sense, just as we were emotionally abandoned as children, we have learned only, as adults, how to ’emotionally abandon ourselves’, whereas, of course, what we needed to learn was the precise opposite of this.

Without emotional support as children, our depressive state is very likely to have made us feel frightened (we were in need of emotional rescue but there were no rescuers) and ashamed (Why can’t I be a normal kid? There’s something badly wrong with me and everybody knows it.)

 

Now, as adults, when we are depressed, we are likely to re-experience these feelings of fear and shame. Again, we feel ashamed of being depressed and fearful about how it isolates us from others; such feelings will be exacerbated if the culture in which we find ourselves immersed, or a subset of it with which we interact, regard depression as a sign of weakness (which it most certainly is not – indeed, coping with depression calls for great bravery).

Due to the dynamics of our society, men are likely to feel more ashamed of being depressed than are women.

How Feelings of Depression can Serve an Important Purpose.

But we need not be ashamed of our depression. Indeed, mild to moderate depression can serve a very useful purpose and therefore be considered both functional and adaptive (as opposed to dysfunctional and non-adaptive).

Examples of ‘Helpful’ Depression:

Our depression may spur us, for example, into examining our lives more closely in order to attempt to ascertain why we feel unfulfilled, empty etc. It may be that:

  • we are in a poor relationship.
  • we do not find meaning in our work.
  • our values are distorted (e.g. attributing greater importance to materialistic gain than to fulfilling human relationships).
  • we need to slow down, rest and reduce the number of mental burdens we impose upon ourselves.

So we see that some degree of depression can serve a valuable purpose and is a natural by-product of our evolution and we need not be ashamed of it. If we find we ARE ashamed of it, it is useful for us to realise that we are doing no other than to add an extra and utterly unnecessary layer to our already considerable mental anguish. In effect, we become depressed about the fact that we are depressed, a kind of, if you will, meta-depression.

So it is frequently not the actual feelings of depression (i.e. how it affects our emotional and somatic experience) but, far more often, it is the automatic negative thinking that invariably goes with them, such as :

  • I am unlovable
  • I am a complete and utter failure
  • Everyone hates me
  • Such thinking serves only to intensify our feelings of shame.

We need, if we can, to reduce our tendency to get caught up in such thinking (generally cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective way of combating negative thinking), but to, instead,  accept, even focus, on how our depression makes us viscerally feel. Counter-intuitively, this can actually REDUCE the negative impact depression has on our emotional state.

An effective technique that helps us to focus on and accept, non-judgmentally, our immediate feelings and experience as opposed to getting caught in thinking and analysis is called mindfulness.

SEE ALL ARTICLES ON DEPRESSION BY VISITING DEPRESSION  ARCHIVES

Childhood Trauma and Major Depressive Disorder.

Childhood Depression: Risk Factors And Why It Is Underdiagnosed.

How We Develop A Depressive Thinking Style As Children : The 3P Theory.

Childhood Trauma and Depression – Somatic Symptoms

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

 

Alice Miller: The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Later Violent Behaviour

World renowned expert in child psychology, Alice Miller, drew strong attention to the fact that emotional and psychological abuse could have just as dramatically adverse effect on a person’s life as other forms of abuse.

She was also of the view that most individuals’ mental health conditions were as a result of being treated abusively by their parents/primary caregivers.

She also believed that people developed addiction problems and/or turned to crime due to having experienced significant parental abuse.

Emotional and psychological abuse is sometimes blatant and obvious; however, often it is subtle, insidious, hard to precisely identify or pin down. For example, much of human communication is conducted through non-verbal means such as tone of voice and intonation, facial expression and body language. The power of nonverbal communication should not be underestimated; its effects can be psychologically devastating.

 

Indeed, I recall, more vividly than I would wish to, how, not yet a teenager, I would return home from school and, as I approached the front door, would sometimes catch the eye of my mother standing at the kitchen window doing the washing up. The look she would give me I can only describe as a mixture of hostility, contempt and disgust. When I rang the doorbell she would open it only ajar an inch and beat a hasty retreat, her back to me as I entered the house to be met with stony silence and seething, palpable resentment.

Another reason why emotional and psychological abuse can be hard to identify is that the child (or, indeed, the adult reflecting upon his/her childhood) may, as a means of psychological, unconscious self-defence, be in a state of denial in regarding the abuse s/he suffered. Such a state of denial may persist well into adulthood or even for a lifetime.

This situation is tragic as the individual who is in denial may have experienced severe emotional and behavioural problems throughout his/her whole life, but, not knowing the true cause, was unable to effectively deal with his/her difficulties.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that many psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and therapists are themselves parents and may, therefore, be reluctant to support the idea that parents are almost always the cause of their offsprings’ psychological condition as they would then have to blame themselves for any psychiatric problems their own children had.

Controversially, Miller was against the idea of adult children forgiving their parents. She felt this would lead to the repressed anger the individual felt towards his parent/s being DISPLACED onto SCAPEGOATS. This repressed anger may be acted out in the form of physical violence.

Indeed, she went so far as to suggest that Adolf Hitler displaced the rage he felt towards his abusive father onto Jews, homosexuals, the mentally ill and other victims of the Holocaust; and that many wars started due to world leaders displacing their own rage, acquired during their own childhoods, onto the enemy.

REFERENCES:

Miller, A., The Body Never Lies – The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005.

Miller, A., For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence. Hunter Hannum (Translator)

eBook:

 

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here to view.


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

 

Panic Attacks and The ‘Suffocation Alarm System.’

I have already written extensively about the connection between the experience of childhood trauma and the consequential development of anxiety disorders later in life.

One type of anxiety disorder that can be particularly incapacitating is called PANIC DISORDER.

Panic disorder gives rise to both psychological and physical symptoms.

Psychological symptoms include fear, terror and, very frighteningly, sometimes the overwhelming (false) conviction that one is about to die.

Physical symptoms include a rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, feeling faint or dizzy, and, OF PARTICULAR RELEVANCE to this article: HYPERVENTILATION.

 

WHAT IS HYPERVENTILATION?

It is also sometimes referred to as PSYCHOGENIC DYSPNOEA or BEHAVIORAL BREATHLESSNESS.

In essence, it involves rapid and shallow breathing, alterations in levels of CO2 in the bloodstream and having a sense of ‘not being able to get enough air’, breathlessness and suffocation.

 

HOW DOES THE BRAIN RESPOND TO SUCH SYMPTOMS?

In response to altered levels of CO2 in the blood, feelings of breathlessness and suffocation, it has been hypothesised that a kind of ‘SUFFOCATION ALARM SYSTEM’ is triggered, the brain having been, to all intents and purposes, tricked into believing it is currently involved in a life or death situation.

The researcher, Cohen, has carried out research that suggests this ‘suffocation alarm system’ is located in the part of the brain known as the AMYGDALA and that, in those who suffer the type of panic disorder which I have described, this system is OVER-SENSITIVE.

 

Position of the AMYGDALA in the brain – it is likely to be dysfunctional in many individuals who suffer from panic disorder

 

Indeed, it is well established that the development of the AMYGDALA can be seriously adversely affected by individuals who have suffered severe childhood trauma.

Also, Cohen’s research indicates that the inheritance of a particular gene (ASICIa, for those who are interested) may predispose individuals to develop these problems.

 

HOW CAN THE CONDITION BE TREATED?

– understanding the physiological reasons why one experiences the feelings of dread and fear that accompany panic attacks can, in itself, be a comfort. Once these are fully understood, the person who suffers from panic attacks can come to the realisation that having them does not mean s/he is ‘going to die’ (to read my article about fear of death, click here) or is ‘going completely and irrevocably insane’ (another common false belief of those in the grip of a severe panic attack).

– relaxation techniques such as hypnotherapy and mindfulness

– cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

– medication (if considering this treatment option it is essential to consult with a suitably qualified and experienced health professional).

N.B. It is important to rule out any possible physical causes which may underlie hyperventilation by consulting an appropriate medical professional.

RELATED ARTICLES: You may wish to read three of my previously  published articles :

 

RESOURCES:

 

OVERCOME PANIC ATTACKS | SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

 

 

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

 

Hadephobia – The Irrational Fear of Hell Usually Stems From Childhood.

 

HADEPHOBIA, also known as stygiophobia, is the intense, chronic, irrational fear of ‘hell’ and that one may be ‘sent there.’ It is serious enough to disrupt day to day functioning and significantly reduce the quality of life.

Typically, the person suffering from this will have a pervasive dread of ‘suffering eternal torture in hell’, and may have intrusive internal, mental visualizations of being condemned to such a fate.

Often, too, the person may fear ‘ beings’ who, according to some legends, ‘inhabit hell’ such as ‘demons’ and ‘Satan’.

As we know, the irrational belief stems largely from religious fundamentalist belief systems which the person suffering from the phobia may have been INDOCTRINATED with as a child by parents who may have been controlling and used the idea of ‘hell’ to dissuade him/her (the child) from behaving in ways of which they disapproved in the same way that many churches do and other dogmatic sectors of society who wish to censor and impose their will on others through fear-mongering and coercion. Scientists who see religion as harmful, such as Professor Richard Dawkins, regard such indoctrination as a clear cut case of child abuse. (In order to read more about this, see subsection ‘How Religion Can Be Used As A Weapon, below).

It is also very commonly found that a person suffering from hadephobia has experienced some severe trauma in life. The phobia can be so severe that the individual often feels ‘paralyzed’ by anxiety in a way that makes normal day to day functioning impossible. At times s/he may experience terror leading to full-blown panic attacks involving hyperventilation, sweating, dizziness, racing heartbeat, trembling and even fainting.

One dysfunctional coping strategy that the person may employ in a desperate attempt to allay his/her terrible fears is to become extremely pious and obsessively to try to avoid doing ( or even thinking) anything that could possibly be construed as a ‘sin’. Clearly an impossible task for anybody.

TREATMENTS :

The highly distressing nature of this phobia is obvious and the first port of call is normally one’s GP (in the UK) or primary doctor.

After discussion, the person may then be referred to an appropriate mental health professional in order to try to identify any possible underlying, psychological causes and/or to determine what course of therapeutic intervention may be most suitable. Possibilities include :

– cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

– exposure therapy

– hypnotherapy

– desensitisation therapy

– antianxiety medication where severe distress is being experienced

How Religion Can Be Used As A Weapon:

When I was thirteen, shortly after my disturbed and deeply unstable mother had thrown me out of the house and I was grudgingly received into the house (I won’t dignify it by calling it home) of my father and his new wife (my step-mother,) I became, as might be expected, and which I may conceivably expect to be forgiven for, a rather argumentative and defiant child (although, interestingly, only at home – never at school). I remember ( indeed, the memory is seared into my brain), that I was arguing with my step-mother in the kitchen and she suddenly fixed me with a violent stare and started to shout (loudly and with a kind of demented aggression) at me in ‘tongues’. I do not know if she deliberately faked it or whether it was merely a symptom of religious psychosis. I do know, however, that, as a naive thirteen-year-old, it profoundly disturbed my sense of self. Was I not just bad, but evil?  And not just evil, but so evil that God had just taken the trouble to let me know, in no uncertain terms, personally (rather than, say, the serial killer that had been on the front page of the paper that day?).

Emotional abuse by parents, or, indeed, if I may be so bold as to suggest, by step-parents, has such a destructive effect not least because of the disparity in power between them and the child. The more authority and power that the emotional abuser has, the more damaging the effects of that emotional abuse are likely to be.

Those who use religion to abuse others employ the tactic of augmenting their power, authority and control BY PRESENTING THEMSELVES AS HAVING DIVINE AUTHORITY. They have the breathtaking arrogance to position themselves as god’s spokesperson. They will, too, of course, carefully select passages from religious texts like the bible to bully, control and coerce others, robbing them of their individuality and authenticity – even their independence of thought. The victim of this abuse can find that they are left feeling bad, worthless, guilty and ashamed.

They may even spend their childhoods, and, later, much of their adulthood, preoccupied that they are destined for eternal torture in hell.

Hell Anxiety Scale (HXS) And Death Anxiety:

Research using the  Hell Anxiety Scale (HXS) suggests that fear of going to hell is positively correlated with death anxiety, the belief in free will as opposed to determinism.

Resource :

Overcome Fear of Death | Self Hypnosis Downloads – CLICK HERE.

 

Fear of Death Stemming from Childhood Trauma

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

 

Fear of Death Stemming from Childhood Trauma

fear_of_death

The fear of death is common but can be particularly acute if one has experienced certain kinds of childhood trauma. The acute fear of death (which can be obsessional and greatly impair day-to-day functioning) is also known by two other names :

– NECROPHOBIA (which derives from the Greek language – ‘NECROS’ = DEATH)

– THANTOPHOBIA (named after the mythological character ‘THANTOS’ who was said to personify death)

The condition is more common in women than it is in men.

WHAT KINDS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA CAN LEAD TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN ACUTE FEAR OF DEATH?

These include the following:

– serious illness (of self or others) in the family in which we grew up

– death of a family member whilst we were growing up

– death of a close friend/contemporary whilst we were growing up

– indoctrination by religious groups that we would go to ‘Hell’ if we behaved immorally (fear of ‘Hell’ has a separate name: ‘HADEPHOBIA’).

and, indirectly, the acute fear of death may be related to:

– having developed a general anxiety condition as a result of childhood trauma 

– having developed a depressive disorder as a result of childhood trauma

– having developed a psychotic condition as a result of childhood trauma 

– being prone to panic attacks as a result of childhood trauma (one of the hallmarks of the panic attack is the fear that one is about to die)

– faulty thinking processes caused by childhood trauma (e.g. always expecting something terrible to happen – this is sometimes referred to as ‘catastrophizing’)

– having developed obsessional compulsive disorder as a result of childhood trauma 

 

 

SPECIFIC FEARS WHICH MAY ACCOMPANY ACUTE FEAR OF DEATH :

These include:

– TAPHEPHOBIA : this is the fear of being buried alive and subsequently waking up underground in one’s coffin. In the Victorian era, some were so concerned about this that they would have a contraption fitted to their coffin which would enable them to ring a bell located on the ground immediately above where they had been buried should such an emergency occur!

– the actual physical process of dying, eg pain/distress etc. (Fortunately, morphine administration can greatly reduce suffering, both mental and physical, at the end of our lives)

– going to Hell (an irrational fear caused by religious indoctrination – see above)

– concern that the people one loves/dependants will not be able to cope after one’s death

– fear that one will die prematurely before achieving one’s ambitions

 

TREATMENTS :

Many people who suffer from an acute fear of death obsessively carry out what are known as ‘safety behaviours‘ (e.g. always checking the internet about one’s symptoms when mildly ill due to fear that they have a terminal disease; always checking their temperature/blood pressure/heart rate etc). Research shows that such behaviour, far from alleviating distress, actually intensifies it.

 

  • MINDFULNESS :

One of the main things therapists encourage patients with an acute fear of death to do is to try to develop the skill of living in the present (this is easier said than done). An increasingly popular way to do this is to train in the discipline known as MINDFULNESS.

 

  • CBT :

Another effective treatment is called COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY (CBT) which can help to resolve faulty thinking processes (see above).

 

  • HYPNOSIS :

Hypnosis for death anxiety, too, has helped many people overcome this fear so that they are able to think about death without feeling alarmed and even to gain positive benefit from occasional consideration of their own mortality. Hypnosis can be especially effective as it operates more on the subconscious mind (as opposed to the conscious mind) to a greater extent than other therapies, thus increasing the probability that positive changes will be long-lasting.

 

My own personal view, for what it’s worth, is that it is irrational to fear something we will not be conscious of, and it will be no different to what we experienced, or, rather, what we did not experience before we were born.

RESOURCE:

 

HYPNOSIS FOR DEATH ANXIETY – SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS. CLICK HERE FOR FURTHER DETAILS

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

Change Your ‘False Self’ To ‘True Self’ With Inner Child Healing

The psychologist and writer, Whitfield, defines our ‘INNER CHILD’ as: ‘the ultimately alive, energetic, receptive, creative and fulfilled’ part of our psyche. Other psychologists have also written about this aspect of ourselves; for example, the psychotherapist and writer, Alice Miller, refers to it as our ‘true self‘ and others have referred to it as our ‘child within‘ and our ‘real self’.

If we have suffered serious trauma during our childhoods it is likely that this part of us became severely suppressed, and that, in its place, we develop a FALSE SELF. This can result in us viewing the world from the perspective of a ‘victim’, developing a highly anxious personality, anhedonia, a pervasive and distressing sense of emptiness and of life being utterly devoid of meaning, and, very often too, profound confusion as to our own identity.

The reason we have repressed our ‘inner child’ and allowed it to be replaced by this false self is likely to be that our true, authentic self was not accepted or nurtured as we grew up – possibly we were perpetually criticized or, as in my own case, rejected outright.

Now, as adults, we have learned to keep this ‘inner child’ ‘under wraps’ and hidden away. We fear that if we allow it to display itself it will be rejected or hurt, as it was by our parents/primary carers in our early years.

Many people who have been hurt in such a way perhaps never reveal their true selves, or only extremely rarely. How much do we really know of other people’s inner mental lives, even those we suppose ourselves to know very well indeed? And how much do others really know of us?

Sigmund Freud regarded our FALSE SELF as having been created by the relentless demands of the super-ego and the ego. The result of this is that we become highly self-critical, self-blaming and prone to deep feelings of shame. Also, because we are dominated by the ego, we are liable to act in a way which makes us appear strong and in control in front of others, whilst, deep down, we are actually feeling extremely weak and vulnerable.

A further negative outcome of us being dominated by our ego and super-ego is that it leads us to behave in a fake, phoney and contrived way – we are forced to wear a social mask in the hope that it will allow us to function in a socially successful way, or, at least, in a socially acceptable one.

It is a bit like one giant conspiracy – everybody behaving as someone they are, in reality, resolutely not.

OUR BASIC NEEDS :

Whitfield (see above) suggests that our ‘inner child’ becomes hidden away as many of our basic needs have never been met (or have been inadequately met). Drawing on other psychologists (e.g. Maslow, Miller, Weil and Glasser) , Whitfield lists our BASIC NEEDS as follows:

– safety and survival

– physical contact with others (affection)

– attention

– guidance from those more experienced

– being listened to and taken seriously

– being accepted by others and allowed to participate in activities with others

– being respected/admired

– having a feeling of belonging and of being loved

– having our ‘authentic selves’ accepted and appreciated

– having our feelings taken seriously/validated

– having the freedom to be our true selves

– having emotional support from others

– having loyalty from others, especially significant others, parents etc

– a sense of accomplishment/achievement

– a sense of mastery and control

– having the freedom to be creative

– sexuality

– unconditional love from parents/primary care-givers.

In order to heal our inner child, we need to acknowledge and get back in touch with, these needs and re-parent ourselves in a compassionate way; this is best achieved with the support of a psychotherapist.

RESOURCE:

Discover The Real You

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

 

False Core Beliefs : Their Childhood Roots

 

By the time we are adults, most of us have developed entrenched, deeply rooted, fundamental beliefs about ourselves. Psychologists refer to these as our CORE BELIEFS. Once established, they can prove very difficult to change without the aid of therapeutic interventions (such as cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT).

A traumatic childhood, especially one that involved us being rejected and unloved by our parents, will very frequently have a very adverse effect on these CORE BELIEFS. However, precisely how our self-concept is warped and distorted by our problematic childhood experiences will depend upon the unique aspects of those experiences (as well as other factors such as our genetic inheritance, our temperament and the support we received (or failed to receive) from others to help us to cope with our childhood difficulties.

Examples of the kind of false core beliefs our traumatic childhood experiences could have led us to form are as follows:

  • OTHERS WILL ABANDON ME – this belief may develop if one/both parents abandoned us during our childhoods, for example,
  • I AM NOT WORTH OTHERS CARING ABOUT – this belief may develop if our parent/s focused far more on their own needs than our own, for example, I MUST BE SELF-SACRIFICING – this belief may develop if our parent/s ‘parentified’ us, for example
  • I MUST SUBJUGATE MYSELF TO OTHERS – this belief may develop if our own views and needs were dismissed as unimportant by our parent/s, for example,
  • I AM A SOCIAL PARIAH, UNFIT TO ASSOCIATE WITH OTHERS – this belief may develop if we grew up feeling our childhood experiences set us apart from our contemporaries or if we were in some way ‘forced to grow up’ too early so that we developed difficulties relating to those of our own age during childhood (perhaps we were so anxious and pre-occupied we couldn’t behave in a care-free way join in the ‘fun’).
  • I AM INTRINSICALLY UNLOVABLE – this belief may have developed if we were unloved, or PERCEIVED OURSELVES TO BE UNLOVED, by our parent/s, for example,
  • I AM VULNERABLE AND IN CONSTANT DANGER – such a belief can develop if we spent a lot of our childhood feeling anxious, under stress, apprehensive or in fear, for example,
  • I MUST ALWAYS KEEP TO THE HIGHEST OF STANDARDS – such a belief may develop if our parents only CONDITIONAL LOVED/ACCEPTED us
  • I AM SPECIALLY ENTITLED – this belief may develop if we feel (probably on an unconscious level) that society, in general, should compensate us for our childhood suffering or because we are so overwhelmed by our emotional pain that we can’t help but to focus almost exclusively upon our own needs (rather as we would, say if we were on fire).

HOW DO THESE FALSE CORE BELIEFS AFFECT US?

Unfortunately, such deeply instilled core beliefs are liable to become self-fulfilling prophecies. As already stated, they are resilient to change and this state of affairs is seriously aggravated by the fact that, once such beliefs have become deeply ingrained, our view of the world is so coloured that we misinterpret, or ‘over-interpret’, what is going on around us, specifically: We selectively attend to, and absorb, information which supports, or, seems to us to support, our negative view of ourselves, while, at the same time, ignoring or discounting anything that contradicts our negative self-view.

In so doing, we are likely, often, to grossly overestimate the significance of the information that seems to confirm our negative self-view, or simply completely to misinterpret information (eg by thinking/believing: ‘he just yawned because I’m boring’, whereas, in fact, he yawned because he had not slept for twenty-four hours).

CHALLENGING NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

When we have negative thoughts, it is important to ask ourselves: ‘What is the evidence to support this negative thought/belief?’

OFTEN, WE WILL FIND THERE IS VERY LITTLE OR AT LEAST NOT THE COMPELLING EVIDENCE WE’D ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED. It is important for us to get into the habit of challenging negative thoughts in this way because very often the negative thoughts come to us automatically (due to entrenched negative thinking patterns caused in large part by our traumatic childhoods) without us analyzing them and examining them to see if they are actually valid. So, to repeat, we need to try to get into the habit of CHALLENGING OUR NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND ASKING OURSELVES IF THERE REALLY IS PROPER EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THEM.

A SUGGESTED EXERCISE FOR CHALLENGING NEGATIVE THOUGHTS :

1) Think of two or three negative thoughts that you have experienced lately.

2) Ask yourself what evidence you have to support them.

3) Ask yourself how strong this evidence actually is.

4) Now think of evidence AGAINST THE NEGATIVE THOUGHT. Step 4 above is very important. This is because when we are depressed and have negative thoughts we tend to focus on the (often flimsy) evidence which supports them BUT IGNORE ALL THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THEM (in other words, we give ourselves an ‘unfair hearing’ and, in effect, are prejudiced against ourselves).

This is sometimes referred to as CONFIRMATION BIAS. Challenging our negative thoughts and FINDING EVIDENCE TO REFUTE THEM is a very important part of CBT. It is, therefore, worth us putting in the effort to search hard for evidence which weakens or invalidates our automatic negative thoughts/beliefs.

ALTERNATIVE THOUGHTS:

When we have successfully challenged our negative thoughts and found, by reviewing the evidence, reason not to hold them anymore, it is useful to replace them by MORE REALISTIC APPROPRIATE THOUGHTS.

One way to get into the habit of this is to spend a little time occasionally writing down our automatic negative thoughts. Then, for each thought, we can write beside it:

1) Evidence in support of the negative thought.

2) Evidence against the negative thought.

3) In the light of the analysis carried out above in steps 1 and 2, replace it with a more realistic, valid and positive thought.

Here is an example:

Negative Thought: I failed my exam which means I’m stupid and will never get the job I wanted or any other.

1) Evidence in support of negative thought: ‘after a lot of revision, I still didn’t pass.’

2) Evidence against negative thought: ‘I only failed by a couple of percents and was affected by my nerves – failing one exam does not make me stupid’.

3) Alternative, more valid, realistic and positive thought: ‘I can retake the exam and still get the job. Even if I don’t get my first choice of job, that does not mean there won’t be other jobs I can get, and they may turn out to be better.’

Getting into the habit of occasionally writing down negative thoughts, challenging them, and coming up with more positive alternative thoughts will help to ‘reprogram’ the brain not to just passively accept the automatic negative thoughts which come to us without subjecting them to scrutiny and challenging their validity.

RESOURCES:

Ten Steps To Overcoming Negative Thinking | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Learn To Accept Love | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Overcome Perfectionism | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Build Solid Self-Esteem | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Overcome fear and anxiety | Self Hypnosis Downloads

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

Possible Childhood Characteristics of Future Serial Killers

 

Research has demonstrated that many serial killers have much in common when it comes to their childhood experiences. Below, I provide a list of the common characteristics they may sometimes share. It goes without saying, however, that people with many or even all of these characteristics will not invariably grow-up to be serial killers! Furthermore, some serial killers will have shown few or none of the traits presented below during their childhoods.

As can be easily inferred, those who showed many of the characteristics presented below are also more likely to have developed an anti-social personality disorder as adults when compared to individuals who demonstrated none of the characteristics.

1) EMOTIONAL ABUSE –

The vast majority of those who go on to become serial killers have suffered childhood abuse; most commonly, the type of abuse that they have suffered is EMOTIONAL ABUSE or NEGLECT (about half have suffered one, the other, or both according to the available research).

Any discipline that they received as children tended to be unpredictable, arbitrary and unreasonable, usually involving the child being humiliated and degraded.

Emotional neglect impairs the child’s ability to develop empathy (lack of empathy is one of the main hallmarks of psychopathy).

2) FANTASIES –

Because the child lacks control in his own life and may be the victim of severe abuse, he will often have a propensity to escape into a world of fantasy – the fantasies will frequently revolve around the themes of CONTROL and VIOLENCE.

3) CRUELTY TO ANIMALS –

Again, many individuals who have become serial killers ‘graduated’ from tormenting and torturing animals.

4) HEAD INJURIES –

A disproportionate number of serial killers suffered one or more head injuries as children. It is thought, in particular, that damage to the LIMBIC BRAIN, HYPOTHALAMUS, TEMPORAL LOBES and PREFRONTAL CORTEX is linked to the development of violent behaviour. The first three areas are involved with aggression, emotion and motivation whereas the fourth (the pre-frontal cortex) is involved with planning and judgment.

5) VOYEURISM AND FETISHISM –

This kind of behaviour may have developed fairly young; the individual may, for example, have started off his ‘career’ as a ‘peeping tom’.

6) BEDWETTING –

If this goes on over the age of about 5 years, the child may feel humiliated because of it, especially if teased about it by, for example, older siblings or cruel parents.

7) DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS –

Often, the adult serial killer began to have problems with relationships early on in life. Unable to form or maintain relationships, he is much more likely than normal to have become a ‘loner’ in adult life.

8) ALCOHOL/SUBSTANCE ABUSE –

Nearly three-quarters of serial killers grew up in homes in which other family members had problems with alcohol and/or narcotics

OTHER CHARACTERISTICS OF SERIAL KILLERS’ CHILDHOODS :

exposure to alcohol in the womb

– low self-esteem

– poor social functioning

– academic failure

– witnessing violence within the family

– a failure to complete high school

– arson

– victim of bullying

– an early display of anti-social tendencies

– a fascination with weapons

– dismissive of/does not acknowledge the rights of others

– early displays of unusually high levels of violence and aggression

 

BURGESS’S MOTIVATIONAL MODEL

 

The criminologist Burgess carried out a study of sexually motivated serial killers in 1986. In this study, he was able to develop a theory relating to the kinds of childhood such individuals typically experience. I summarize his main findings below:

Burgess suggested that four main categories of childhood experiences contributed to the individuals in the study becoming serial killers. These were:

1 – they grew up in an ineffective social environment

2 – they experienced negative formative events during their childhoods

3 – they developed destructive behaviours

– the breakdown of interpersonal relationships

– they developed certain critical personality traits during their childhoods

Let’s look at these in a little more detail:

1– INEFFECTIVE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT :

Burgess” study (1986) found that those who went on to become serial killers showed a pattern of failing to bond in a healthy way to their primary caregivers, as well as a failure to bond with others in general.

Also, as children, the future serial killers’ negative behaviours very frequently remained completely unaddressed by their primary caregivers.

2 – TRAUMATIC FORMATIVE EVENTS :

It was also found in the study that, as children, the future serial killers experienced far more trauma than the ‘average’ child. These trauma s included :

– severe illness

– divorce of parents

– abandonment/rejection by parent/s

– death of parent/primary caregiver

– abuse by a parent/primary caregiver (physical, sexual, emotional, or a combination of these)

It was also found that the negative effects of the above traumas were compounded by the fact that the children in the study tended to have NO SOCIAL SUPPORT SYSTEM (e.g. friends and wider family) and NO OTHER PROTECTIVE FACTORS IN THEIR LIVES (e.g. a skill or ability which raised their self-esteem).

In part as a result of the above, Burgess found that the children tended to become :

– depressed

– despairing

– suffered overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and helplessness

3 – DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOURS :

In the group studied by Burgess, these destructive behaviours included :

– setting fires

– cruelty to animals

– destroying property

– burglary

– assault

– sadism

4 – BREAKDOWN OF INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS :

As the children got older, their problematic relationships with their primary caregivers tended to deteriorate further.

Many of the children, too, experienced continued EMOTIONAL NEGLECT.

Furthermore, the children were found to LACK POSITIVE ROLE MODELS and had nobody in their lives who might encourage them to act in a pro-social way.

5 – NEGATIVE PERSONALITY TRAITS :

The way in which the future serial killers were brought up tended to lend itself to the children developing negative personality traits and emotions; in Burgess’ study these were found to include :

– prone to anger, hostility and aggression

– prone to criminal and deviant behaviour

– sense of entitlement

– criminal/deviant behaviour

– rebelliousness

– a sense of having been rejected by society

– the cynical and negative view of self, others and of the world in general (sometimes referred to as a NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD).

– social isolation

– lack of confidence, particularly in connection to forming relationships

– chronic/pathological lying

– the tendency to retreat into a world of fantasy (see below)

THE ROLE OF A FANTASY LIFE :

Importantly, Burgess’ study found that the young people had a marked tendency to retreat into a FANTASY WORLD; this was thought to be in part due to their social isolation.

This retreat into fantasy tended to become deeper as the children grew up.

It is theorized that because these future serial killers lacked control and power in their own lives, they obtained it through the fantasies that they wove in their imaginations. In other words, they used their fantasy lives to compensate them for their inadequacies and shortcomings in the real world.

In interviews it was found that their fantasies tended to revolve around the following :

– dominance

– control

– power

– violence

– mutilation

– torture

– death

– rape

– revenge

Tragically, eventually, fantasy alone could not keep these individuals’ anxiety levels at bay (it is thought such fantasies serve to reduce intolerable anxiety) and they acted them out in lethal fashion.

OTHER RESEARCH INTO THE CHILDHOODS OF SERIAL KILLERS:

Mitchell et al. carried out a research study involving 50 serial killers and identified that 68 per cent had suffered childhood abuse (although the figure could be much higher as some may have concealed their experience of abuse or not have understood how they were abused/been in a state of denial about their childhood abuse).

Another study (Marono and Navarro) looked at whether the type of abuse serial killers had suffered during childhood (physical, sexual, emotional) affected their modus operandi.

After a statistical analysis was performed, it was found that, indeed, type of childhood abuse suffered and modus operandi as an adult serial killer were related.

The study identified 4 typologies of a serial killer. These were as follows:

  1. lust and rape
  2. anger
  3. power
  4. financial gain

Also, the study split childhood abuse into 3 categories. These were as follows:

  1. physical
  2. sexual 
  3. emotional

RESULTS:

The statistical analysis suggested the following links:

Sexual abuse as a child and serial killers that are motivated by:

  • lust and rape
  • anger

Physical abuse as a child and serial killers motivated by:

  • lust and rape

Psychological abuse as a child and serial killers motivated by:

  • lust and rape
  • financial gain

A further study (De Saniago Herroro et al., 2017) a difference between the modus operandi of serial killers who suffered abuse during childhood and serial killers who did not suffer childhood abuse. The findings were as follows.

Serial killers who had suffered childhood abuse: were significantly more likely to sexually assault their victims prior to killing them compared to serial killers who have not suffered childhood abuse.

Vronsky, 2004 stressed the crucial importance of the mother-infant relationship during the infant’s first year of life as if this relationship is dysfunctional and the infant is abused or neglected this can harm the child’s personality development. In fact, Vronsky suggests that signs personality disorder (or, more specifically, of nascent psychopathy) may be observed in children as young as two years old.

Research carried out by Leyton emphasizes the importance of early life relationships with primary carers in relation to how likely a young person is to develop into a serial killer as it demonstrated that those individuals who become serial killers are much more likely to have been adopted compared to their non-serial killing contemporaries.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE INCIPIENT SERIAL KILLER’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS MOTHER:

Moesch found that many serial killers ‘hated women’ and that such sentiments are frequently linked to a dysfunctional mother-child relationship and, in connection with this, Moesch states that mothers of serial killers have been found to be overly controlling and emotionally abusive. Indeed. Moesch found that, from the sample of serial killers that he analyzed, 68 per cent had been brought up in families in which the mother was the dominant figure.

REFERENCES:

BURGESS, A. W., HARTMAN, C. R., RESSLER, R. K., DOUGLAS, J. E., & McCORMACK, A. (1986). Sexual Homicide: A Motivational Model. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1(3), 251–272. https://doi.org/10.1177/088626086001003001

Leyton, 1987. Serial Murder: Modern Scientific Perspectives (with Linda Chafe) (1999)

Mitchell, H., Aamodt, M.G. The incidence of child abuse in serial killers. J Police Crim Psych 20, 40–47 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02806705

Moesch, C. (1977). Review of: I Have Lived in the Monster

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters. New York: Berkley Penguin Group, 2004. pp. 3-95

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

 

Traumatic Grief in Childhood

Traumatic grief in childhood occurs when someone who has an important bond with the child dies and the child experiences severe emotional distress as a result. However, more than this, the child is so traumatized by what has occurred that it s/he is unable to go through the normal grieving process.

In such a case, the child may well suffer the classic symptoms of trauma disorder such as having disturbing and intrusive thoughts about how the person died (especially so if the death was caused suddenly and unexpectedly due to, for example, a violent incident), nightmares and night terrors relating to the death. Indeed, even ‘happy and pleasant’ memories of the individual who died can trigger distressing and upsetting thoughts/images in the child’s mind.

THE NORMAL 5 STAGE PROCESS OF GRIEVING.

This is as follows:

1) An emotional reaction which may include anger and guilt, as well as profound sadness

2) Behavioural changes such as difficulty controlling anger, insomnia and loss of appetite (or excessive comfort eating)

3) Feelings of insecurity and an increase in feelings of dependency upon others

4) Cognitive disturbances (thinking difficulties) such as obsessively thinking about the deceased person and/or obsessive thinking about death and one’s own mortality

5) Changes in perception such as ‘sensing’ the deceased individual’s spirit is still somehow with one

Of course, the above merely represents a general outline of how people tend to react to the death of a person close to them, but there are significant individual differences in relation to these reactions.

Indeed, there is obviously no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve, and different people will, of course, grieve for differing lengths of time.

Factors which are likely to affect how a particular child grieves will include the manner of the death (e.g,.was it violent, expected, unexpected etc), the chronological age of the child and his/her level of emotional development, the amount of emotional support provided for the child, particularly from immediate family and also from friends, school and wider society.

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

Posttraumatic Growth : An Existential Perspective

Do You Feel Constantly Frightened and Under Threat?

 

One of the symptoms we can manifest as adults if we have experienced significant childhood trauma is a feeling of being constantly under threat. Psychologists call this a ‘sense of current threat’ and it is one of the hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It can include having constant intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares; such symptoms remind us of what happened to us during our disturbed childhood and trigger the feelings of fear associated with our original trauma. In this way, we can come to feel trapped in a terrifying past.

Furthermore, it is also not at all improbable that, as a result of our childhood experiences, we have developed what psychologists refer to as a NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD. Essentially, this means our thinking has become distorted in such a way that we can only see ourselves, others and the world in general in extremely negative terms. For example, we may view ourselves as a terrible person beyond redemption, totally without worth and utterly impotent in the face of unmanageable problems; we may view others as threatening, dangerous, exploitative and utterly untrustworthy; we may, too, view the world in general as an extremely dangerous and frightening in a way that adversely affects our day-to-day functioning (e.g. feeling too frightened to leave the house).

Indeed, ‘avoidance behaviour’ is one way many people attempt to cope with their feelings of fear. Such avoidance may involve a) PHYSICAL AVOIDANCE whereby we avoid people and situations that cause us anxiety or b) PSYCHOLOGICAL AVOIDANCE whereby we attempt to mentally ‘cut-off’ from our fears, perhaps, for example, by drinking excessively or by using narcotics.

Whilst such AVOIDANCE STRATEGIES may be helpful to us in the short-term, in the medium and long-term it greatly hinders our recovery by stopping us from CONFRONTING, WORKING THROUGH and RESOLVING our fears.

Furthermore, our short-term avoidance strategy/strategies may themselves harm us – we may, for example, become dangerously dependent upon alcohol, or, if we try to cope by never leaving our flat or house, we may become intensely lonely and socially isolated.

AVOIDANCE AND MEMORY :

We can think of our memory as working rather like a bank – we store our experiences there and every time we remember a particular experience that memory itself becomes stored. This means, when memory is working in the normal way, the original memory becomes ‘updated’ according to what has happened to us since the original memory was stored. For example, let’s say that the first time we tried to swim a length of a swimming pool we were frightened that we might drown. However, because no such harm occurred either then or during later swimming sessions, the original memory is updated in the light of this new information. Consequently, our fear of swimming dramatically reduces.

However, if we have a traumatic experience in childhood, the traumatic memory is stored along with its associated feelings of fear, but, if we avoid reminders of that trauma, the original memory NEVER GETS UPDATED.

For example, let’s say that our experience of childhood trauma left us believing that all people are dangerous and exploitative. As a result, we avoid interacting with people or making friends. By so doing, we deprive ourselves of the chance to learn that not everybody is actively seeking to stab us in the back – the original memory NEVER GETS UPDATED.

Indeed, the same principle applies even when we avoid THINKING about our original trauma.

Paradoxically, then, avoiding things by which we feel threatened actually PERPETUATES the feeling of being constantly threatened.

 

RESOURCES :

60 + Fear And Phobia Hypnosis Sessions | Self Hypnosis Downloads

 

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

Childhood Trauma and Depression – Somatic Symptoms

We know that the experience of significant childhood trauma makes a person more vulnerable to suffering from clinical depression in later life. Whilst depression usually gives rise to both psychological and somatic (i.e. bodily) symptoms, in this article I intend to focus solely on somatic symptoms.

One such symptom of depression is a constant feeling of extreme fatigue; this, at least in part, is linked to the fact that many individuals who suffer from depression have sleep problems. In fact, four out of every five people with depression report suffering from insomnia, whilst a further 15% report a need to sleep excessively. Lack of energy can have a very drastic effect – for example, it can actually significantly slow down how a person moves (walks etc.) on a day-to-day basis; psychologists refer to this as PSYCHOMOTOR RETARDATION.

Furthermore, there is now increasing evidence that those who suffer from depression are also more vulnerable to heart disease (however, the precise reason for this is not yet fully understood).

Osteoporosis, too, is more prevalent amongst those with a history of clinical depression due to the fact that it causes damaging alterations in a person’s bone mass.

Clinical depression can also reduce an individual’s sex drive (i.e. lower libido). Men may experience impotence, often due to an inability to relax during sex. Also, many depressed people feel so emotionally numb that the idea of sex simply loses its appeal.

Many people who are suffering from clinical depression also often report feelings of bodily pain which has no obvious physical cause. For example, people often complain of an oppressive sense of pressure in their head, or pains in their face, neck, chest and stomach.

Indeed, it is thought that about half of people with clinical depression experience physical pain as a result, and, unfortunately, often both they and their doctors do not realize that depression is the underlying problem.

To make matters even more complicated, it is now thought that a large group of individuals with depression show ONLY physical symptoms (sometimes referred to as ‘smiling depression’, as the person does not report feeling especially unhappy), making it even more unlikely that their bodily problems will be attributed to a psychological cause (i.e. to depression).

The physical brain itself, too, can be adversely affected by serious clinical depression – due to the temporary effects of depression on the death and birth of brain cells, some small regions of the brain can actually shrink; also, research suggests that depression causes alterations to the brain’s blood flow in certain regions.

Whilst it used to be thought that physical complaints arising from depression were due to an individual ‘converting’ their emotional symptoms into somatic ones (referred to as ‘somatization‘), the current view is that clinical depression can actually lead to a malfunction of the pain perception pathways (the nerve pathways that are disrupted are thought to involve the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine – the actions of both of these neurotransmitters are known to be disrupted by depression).

It follows, therefore, that the somatic symptoms of depression are likely to be best treated by anti-depressants that act upon the neurotransmitters referred to in the above paragraph.

Somatic Experiencing Therapy : Healing The Dysfunctional Nervous System

Three Types Of Flashback: Visual, Somatic And Emotional

Three Types Of Flashback: Visual, Somatic And Emotional

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

 

 

Overcoming Emotional Numbness : Recognition Of The Root Cause

Inevitably, a sense of loss accompanies the experience of childhood trauma, which, in turn, can manifest itself by leaving us with a constant feeling of EMOTIONAL NUMBNESS.

Whilst highly unpleasant, the feeling of emotional numbness is, essentially, a psychological defence mechanism enabling us to avoid certain feelings that would otherwise attach themselves to events and circumstances which remind us of our trauma. Because such feelings would be overwhelmingly painful, we (subconsciously) ‘shut them down’  and enter a protective state of dissociation.

In this way, we may no longer experience strong feelings in relation to people and events that were important to us before we experienced our trauma.

Indeed, this feeling of emotional numbness can be extremely persistent and long-lasting – so much so, in fact, that we may feel that we have been permanently changed or damaged.

It is not unusual, too, for feelings of grief to accompany this numbness, as well as irrational feelings of shame and guilt.

Often, also, we feel closed off – as if there is a kind of thick sheet of almost opaque glass between us and the rest of the world which cannot be penetrated. We may refuse to talk about our experiences and avoid friends and social situations. In this way, our day-to-day functioning can become significantly impaired.

 

RECOGNITION OF THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM :

Acknowledging that these symptoms are connected to our experience of trauma is the first step on the journey to recovery. When we feel closed off and empty, it is necessary for us to ask ourselves, ‘What is it that I am trying to avoid? What emotion that I am afraid of is my mind trying to protect me from?’

Often, the answer is love, trust and emotional pain. We fear that if we allow ourselves to open ourselves up to the possibility of feeling such things they will overwhelm and destroy us.

Indeed, as a further defence against making ourselves vulnerable, we may have become bitter and cynical.

Other Causes Of Emotional Numbness :

These include :

  1. depression
  2. anxiety
  3. acute stress
  4. posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  5. complex PTSD
  6. medications (especially those taken for anxiety and depression – N.B. Always consult an appropriate professional when considering starting or stopping a course of medication).

Emotional Numbness, Stress And The Limbic System :

The LIMBIC SYSTEM is the part of the brain that is involved with how we experience our emotions and, when we are under severe and prolonged stress, the stress hormones that our body generates, as a result, can overwhelm this system and adversely affect its functioning which, in turn, can have profound implications for our mood and what we feel, including making as feel ’emotionally deadened.’

THE SOLUTION:

The solution will frequently lie in, very gradually, re-exposing ourselves to the possibility of opening ourselves up to such feelings again. It is important, in this regard, to take very small, baby steps and to avoid immediately plunging ourselves into a situation which could potentially trigger intense emotions.

Indeed, if, whilst taking such steps, we begin to feel overwhelmed, it is likely that we are attempting to progress too quickly, or that we may need to acquire professional support to help us to cope with our recovery attempt (recovery itself can be very painful). In this regard, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often effective.

 

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

 

Childhood Trauma Leading to Development of Negative Schema

What Are Schema?

The term ‘schema‘ refers to the fundamental beliefs and feelings we have about ourselves, others, and the world in general – together with how these interact. They are very deep rooted and enduring.

We develop our schema during childhood and if our childhood is traumatic these schema can become extremely negative, dysfunctional and maladaptive.

This is especially likely to occur if :

– our parent is abusive/cruel/constantly highly critical

– our parent is highly punitive, leading us to internalize this negative voice

– our parent abandoned/rejected us

– our parent failed to meet our basic needs, such as to be loved, to be shown affection, to be made to feel safe

– we experienced neglect/deprivation

– our parent ignored us/constantly derided us/treated us with contempt

Once negative schema are formed, they become deeply embedded into our personality structure and very hard to change.

THE EFFECTS OF HAVING DEVELOPED NEGATIVE SCHEMA DUE TO CHILDHOOD TRAUMA :

 

When situations occur in our adult life which remind us (usually unconsciously) of a traumatic experience in our early life, the specific schema which formed due to that traumatic experience can be TRIGGERED (see diagram above), which, in turn, will :

– negatively distort our thinking

– negatively disrupt our emotions

– negatively disrupt our behaviour

– negatively affect how we feel

EXAMPLES OF NEGATIVE SCHEMA :

1) If we were betrayed by our parents as children, we are likely to develop a schema of general mistrust of others

2) If we were constantly criticized/disapproved of/punished as children, we may develop a schema of self- inadequacy

DYSFUNCTIONAL COPING STRATEGIES :

Sometimes, in order to try to deal with negative schema, a person may employ dysfunctional coping strategies. For example, an individual who possesses a schema that causes him to view himself as essentially inadequate may attempt to over-compensate by becoming an obsessive workaholic.

INTERPERSONAL SCHEMA, REPETITION AND RE-ENACTMENT :

Our interpersonal schema are largely dictated by the relationship we had with our parent/s as we grew up. If these relationships were bad, the negative schema we develop as a consequence (eg. that others cannot be relied upon) can sabotage our adult relationships.

One reason for this is that, as was originally pointed out by Sigmund Freud, very often we are UNCONSCIOUSLY COMPELLED to form adult relationships which MIRROR our childhood relationships. For example, a person who was physically abused as a child may be drawn into forming relationships in her adult life with partners who are also likely to physically abuse her. This occurs as a subconscious attempt to gain mastery over the original, traumatic, childhood relationship with the abusive parent.

WHY ARE NEGATIVE SCHEMA SO DIFFICULT TO CHANGE?

The reason for this is that schema are stored in the EMOTIONAL centre of the brain, called the AMYGDALLA.  It follows, therefore, that they are not susceptible to being easily corrected by rational and logical means – in other words, through no fault of the person who holds them, negative schema caused by childhood trauma tend to be irrational in so far as they lead to dysfunction in adult life.

 

What Are Maladaptive Schemas?

If our childhood involves significant and chronic trauma, abuse or neglect, resulting in our core emotional needs going unmet, these schemas can become extremely negative, maladaptive and dysfunctional, leading to myriad severe problems in adult life.

Research conducted by Young et al., (2003) provides empirical evidence for the existence of eighteen maladaptive schemas that may be displayed by individuals who, as a result of their disturbed and emotionally turbulent childhoods, have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) or other personality disorders.

 

Schema Domains :

Young and his colleagues also proposed that these eighteen maladaptive schemas fit into five categories which they called SCHEMA DOMAINS. These five schema domains reflect the basic emotional needs of the individual which went unmet during his/her childhood ; I list each of the five below :

  1. DISCONNECTION AND REJECTION
  2. IMPAIRED AUTONOMY AND PERFORMANCE
  3. IMPAIRED LIMITS
  4. OTHER-DIRECTEDNESS
  5. OVERVIGILANCE AND INHIBITION

maladaptive schemas

The Eighteen Schemas Grouped Within Their Corresponding Schema Domains :

  • DISCONNECTION AND REJECTION (First schema domain) :

Abandonment : The belief that significant others cannot be depended upon to provide support and will, sooner or later, abandon one.

Shame : The belief that one is a bad person, inadequate, deeply flawed in character and inferior to others.

Alienation : The belief one does not fit into society and that one is doomed to be a permanent outcast and social pariah

Emotional deprivation : The belief that one will never receive the emotional support that one requires.

Mistrust : The belief that others will always manipulate, use, take advantage of, mistreat and betray one

  • IMPAIRED AUTONOMY AND PERFORMANCE (Second schema domain) :

Dependence : The belief that one is incompetent and incapable of functioning adequately in life without substantial help and support from others

Vulnerability : The excessive and abiding fear that some disaster or catastrophe is imminent and that one is utterly powerless to prevent it

Undeveloped sense of self : The belief one must be deeply emotionally close (sometimes referred to as ‘enmeshment’) to others at the expense of one’s own sense of an independent identity.

Failure : The belief that one is an utterly inept and ineffectual person who will never be able to achieve any significant goals

  • IMPAIRED LIMITS (Third schema domain) :

Self-control : The belief that one cannot control one’s impulses or tolerate frustration.

Grandiosity and sense of entitlement : The belief that others are inferior to oneself and that one’s own behavior is exempt from being dictated to by societal norms, rules and conventions.

  • OTHER-DIRECTEDNESS (Fourth schema domain) :

Approval Seeking : The belief that one always needs to be approved of, and accepted by, others, at the expense of developing one’s own sense of an independent identity.

Self-sacrifice : The belief that one must meet the needs of others at the expense of meeting one’s own needs.

Subjugation : The belief one must subjugate (suppress) one’s own needs, desires and feelings to avoid the disapproval of others.

  • OVERVIGILANCE AND INHIBITION (Fifth schema domain) :

Extreme self-criticism : The belief that one must achieve exceptionally high (and unrealistic) standards in everything one undertakes (perfectionism) fueled by a fear of criticism or of not being accepted.

Punitiveness : The belief that others should be severely punished for their mistakes.

Emotional inhibition :  The belief one needs to inhibit spontaneous action to an excessive degree in order to avoid negative repercussions such as bringing shame upon oneself, being disapproved of by others or losing control over of one’s impulses.

Negativity : Excessive pessimism involving obsessively focusing on the negative aspects of life whilst ignoring, or greatly minimizing, its positive aspects.

TREATMENT :

SCHEMA THERAPY aims to help the individual suffering from maladaptive schemas such as those described above by :

  • identifying the individual’s maladaptive schemas (caused by his/her unmet emotional needs)
  • to change these maladaptive schemas into more helpful ones
  • to change the individual’s maladaptive life patterns into more helpful ones
  • to improve the individual’s coping styles / coping strategies / life skills

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

 

Controlling Parent : Their Effects On Children

 

Controlling parents inappropriately impose their own will on their child which, when excessive, can deprive him/her of developing his/her own sense of identity and prevent him/her behaving in an authentic manner.

They may also demand an unhealthy display of love, adoration and devotion from their offspring (this may be driven by an unconscious, profound need to compensate themselves for lack of love they were shown by their parents during their own childhoods).

This can result in the parent ‘parentifying‘ their child and feeding off his/her innate affections in an exploitative manner, rather as the leech sucks the blood from its host; the parent-child roles are reversed so that the child is manipulated into becoming his / her parent’s emotional caretaker.

This can lead the child to feel angry, resentful and confused. In extreme circumstances, the controlling parents may see the child’s will as something that needs to be broken. In order to try to achieve this, the parents may use threats to impose his/her will and treat the child’s own wishes and desires with contempt and derision.

 

This places the child in an uncomfortable position as s/he has to choose between:

– placating the parent by surrendering his/her will and individuality

– following his/her own desires at the risk of constantly incurring his/her parent’s anger and disapproval

Many children, in an attempt to resolve this dilemma, may resort to being disingenuous or just plain lying. For example, they may feel compelled to be dishonest about :

– their attitudes

– their activities

– with whom they are associating

In this way, they are forced to hide their true and authentic self from their parent.

GUILT AND SELF-DOUBT:

Because the child knows his/her parent disapproves of his/her true, inner, authentic self, this can lead the child to feel guilty about who s/he really is and riddled with self-doubt about his/her own ability to make appropriate decisions about the paths s/he wishes to take in life. An example of this would be of a teenager who feels the need to hide his/her sexuality due to his/her parent’s homophobic attitudes.

FALSE SELF:

If the young person decides that s/he has no choice but to comply with his/her parent’s endeavours to control his/her attitudes, behaviours and, even, to some extent, thoughts, s/he may develop A FALSE SELF. 

Essentially, this false self has been shaped by the over-controlling parent. In this way, the boundary between the parent’s ‘self’ and the young person’s ‘self’ can become blurred, nebulous and indistinct and can lead to their (the child’s and parent’s) identities becoming ENMESHED.

Other examples of areas of a young person’s life the parent may try to control include what academic subjects the child chooses to study, what career s/he decides to follow, what religion (if any) s/he chooses to follow,or what sports s/he chooses to participate in.

For example, in the film Billy Elliot, the domineering father wants his son to pursue boxing, whilst the boy, Billy, wishes to pursue ballet, thus setting up a major conflict between the two.



ADVERSE EFFECTS OVER CONTROLLING PARENTS MAY HAVE ON THE YOUNG PERSON:

The young person who has been over-controlled by a parent may find, as an adult, that s/he:

– has difficulty making his/her own decisions

– finds it difficult to express his/her own opinions about subjects

– feel constantly judged by others

– is extremely sensitive about the opinion of others

– often finds it easier to lie about him/herself rather than be honest

– possesses aspects of him/herself s/he has never developed/kept hidden from others/suppressed/repressed

– find it hard to think creatively/unconventionally

If the above apply to you in your adult life, it may be that you are still being affected by the behaviour of your controlling parents from when you were a child/teenager. Becoming aware of this is often the first step to positive change.


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