Childhood Trauma : Defense Mechanisms Resulting from Stress.

 

 

I

 

In our response to stress resulting from our childhood trauma and other factors we often develop psychological DEFENSE MECHANISMS in an attempt to protect ourselves (though, very often, we are not consciously aware that many behaviours/defence mechanisms we have developed in order to try to reduce the adverse effects of stress (though not all, eg CONVERSION – see below).

Often, however, the behaviours we develop which serve as these defence mechanisms to protect ourselves against stress are, at best, unhelpful, and, at worst, extremely damaging. I list and give a brief description of the main defence mechanisms that may develop below:

 

1) COMPENSATION: this behaviour occurs to offset a weakness or failing in ourselves eg someone who has very low self-esteem becoming a workaholic in an attempt to gain social status.

2) CONVERSION: anxieties can be CONVERTED into physical symptoms eg racing heart, sweating, high blood pressure, psychosomatic illnesses.

3) DENIAL: this defence mechanism is well known and the term has entered into the realms of popular vocabulary. It refers to a situation in which someone will not acknowledge something is wrong (eg after being told by a doctor one has only 3 months to live).

4) DISPLACEMENT: this is when we transfer the emotions we feel caused by one person onto somebody else who has nothing to do with how we’re feeling eg a man badly treated by his boss at work coming home and taking his anger and frustration out on his children.

5) DISSOCIATION: this is when we avoid examining how our behaviours relate to our beliefs by avoiding looking, too closely, at this relationship eg seeing ourselves as caring and compassionate but doing little or nothing to help others

6) FIXATION: this is when we have behaviours which stay fixed at an earlier stage of development and are therefore not appropriate to the life stage the individual is at eg a middle-aged remaining highly emotionally dependent upon his parents

7) IDENTIFICATION: this is when we behave, dress etc in a way which duplicates the way the person we are modelling ourselves on would behave and dress etc (this can occur on both conscious and unconscious levels and is not considered abnormal in young people).

8) INTROJECTION: this is when we turn our feelings towards others onto ourselves. Freud, for example, believed someone who is clinically depressed has, unconsciously, turned his/her anger with another/others onto himself and is, therefore, in effect, punishing him/herself with his/her depressive feelings in a way he/she unconsciously wishes to inflict upon others.

9) INVERSION: this is where we REPRESS a desire which we are uncomfortable having and act in a way which expresses the opposite eg a repressed homosexual who acts in an obsessively homophobic manner. This often occurs on an unconscious level.

10) PROJECTION: this is really the opposite of introjection (see above). It is where we constantly see faults in others which we, ourselves, are ashamed of and feel guilty about having eg constantly pointing out selfishness in others when we ourselves are ashamed of our own selfishness. Again, this can occur on an unconscious level.

11) RATIONALIZATION: this is when we, in effect, deceive ourselves and tell ourselves that something we have, in fact, done due to bad motives we have really done for socially acceptable reasons eg a man who divorces his wife and leaves his young family may tell himself it’s in the best interests of everyone, when, really, deep down, he is doing it purely in his own interest

12) REGRESSION: this is when we go back to behaving in a way that is no longer appropriate and would usually only occur at a much younger age eg a middle-aged man having a child-like tantrum.

13) REPRESSION: this is when we, unconsciously, bury feelings and attitudes which are unacceptable to us, and contrary to our moral beliefs, deep in the mind away from conscious access eg an illicit sexual attraction. When we consciously bury feelings that we are not comfortable with (often referred to in popular language as ‘putting something to the back of our mind’) it is called SUPPRESSION.

14) RESISTANCE: this is where there is a barrier between what we have repressed/banished into the unconscious mind. In other words, what we have repressed is not allowed conscious access. Freud believed this process meant the psychological tension produced by keeping the feeling, memory etc repressed can’t be resolved and so perpetuates the emotional pain that the individual is feeling.

15) SUBLIMATION: this is where the energy associated with feelings that are unacceptable to us (usually sexual, according to Freud) and buried in the unconscious mind is channelled into something else that is socially acceptable. Unlike many of the other defence mechanisms that I have described, this can be very positive, and, even, Freud thought, produce great art.

16) TRANSFERENCE: this is where feelings and emotions we have about a particular individual are transferred onto somebody else who was not the original cause of them. For example, an individual in therapy who transfers the feelings of hatred he feels towards his mother onto the therapist.

17) WITHDRAWAL: this is when we just cut off from a stressful situation, give up, lose interest and become apathetic eg a man who stops trying to make conversation with his wife or take any interest in her after the relationship has been very difficult for a long period of time and he can no longer cope with it

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

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

 

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) : Latest Research Leads To New List Of Main Symptoms

 

 

Main Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms :

Recent research has led to an expansion of the description of the main borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms. Following the development of the Sheldern Western Assessment Procedure 200 (an assessment tool which includes 200 questions that aid in the diagnosis of BPD) experts, based on up-to-date research, have now developed a much more detailed and comprehensive list of symptoms of BPD than used to be the case.

The list is published in a book by Patrick Kelly and Francis Mondimore -called Borderline Personality DisorderNew Reasons For Hope – who are experts in the field of BPD. I reproduce the list of symptoms in full below:

FULL OF PAINFUL AND UNCOMFORTABLE EMOTIONS: unhappiness, depression, despondency, anxiety, anger, hostility.

INABILITY TO REGULATE EMOTIONS: emotions change rapidly and unpredictably; emotions tend to spiral out of control leading to extremes in feelings of anxiety, sadness, rage, excitement; inability to self-soothe when distressed so requires the involvement of others; tends to catastrophize and see problems as unsolvable disasters; tends to become irrational when emotions stirred up which can lead to a drop in the normal level of functioning; tends to act impulsively without regard for the consequences

BECOMES EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED TO OTHERS QUICKLY AND INTENSELY: develops feelings and expectations of others not warranted by history or context of the relationship; expects to be abandoned by those s/he is emotionally close to; feels misunderstood, mistreated and victimized; simultaneously needy and rejecting of others (craves intimacy and caring but tends to reject it when it is offered); interpersonal relationships unstable, chaotic and rapidly changing.

DAMAGED SENSE OF SELF: lacks stable self-image; attitudes, values, goals and feelings about self may be unstable and changing; feels inadequate, inferior and like a failure; feels empty; feels helpless, powerless and at mercy of outside forces; feels like an outsider who does not belong; overly needy and dependent; needs excessive reassurance and approval.

 

eBook :

Above eBook now available for immediate download on Amazon. CLICK HERE.

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

Childhood Trauma Leading to Excessive Need for Approval.

 

If we did not receive approval from those close to us in childhood we may grow up to have an excessive need for it from others later in life as a kind of compensation and in order to raise our shattered self-esteem. This can make us vulnerable and excessively anxious to make everybody like us and admire us. Of course, this is impossible to achieve.

It is just not possible to interact fully in society without sometimes experiencing disapproval and rejection. Very often, such rejection and disapproval do not mean that there is anything particularly wrong with us.

Indeed, it could be much more to do with failings in the other person, obvious examples are prejudice, discrimination, biased and irrational thinking or misdirection of emotions which were not originally generated by us (for example, ‘displacement’: the psychological term for when somebody takes something out on us which was not our fault; or ‘projection’ : the psychological term for constantly ‘seeing’ in other people the things we don’t like about ourselves and may have repressed).

Frequently, too, a person’s behaviour towards us might be due to distorted beliefs stemming from psychological wounds that have been inflicted upon them in the past (for example,  a woman who distrusts men because her husband used to beat her).

When we are (inevitably) sometimes rejected, a useful exercise is to calmly think about why we have been responded to in a negative manner and analyze if it really was something to do with us or to do with something else not really connected to us.

For example, perhaps the person who behaved in a negative way towards us was over-tired or under a great amount of stress. In such a case, the disapproval is likely to be ephemeral, in any event, and something we do not need to dwell upon or take personally.

Obviously, when someone rejects us it does not mean that we are of no value. Even if we have done something wrong, one action or set of actions does not define us as a person (either in the present or in the future). To become defined in such a way would be absurdly limiting and simplistic. Human beings are, after all, complex creatures (hence expressions like: ‘he’s the sum of his contradictions’).

Individuals who have an excessive need for approval often feel that it is imperative that EVERYBODY approves of them. I repeat, this is impossible, and, in my view, undesirable (often, history has shown us, the most enlightened and edifying views can meet with vicious opposition). We do not need the approval of everyone we meet in order to live a happy and meaningful life. Also, other people’s views of us should not be given equal weight (for example,  most of us would value the view someone we respected had of us more than the view a stranger had).

It is also important to point out that we can sometimes feel hurt and upset if someone criticizes us in a manner which we do not feel is warranted; to avoid falling into such a trap we need to remind ourselves that we need not let our mood be affected adversely by something negative someone says about us if we know it not to be true.

Finally, it is worth saying how it might be helpful to react when someone disapproves of us when we HAVE done something we regret. A constructive response might be as follows:

a) we can learn from the criticism

b) just because we know we have done something wrong, it is illogical to overgeneralize from this and view ourselves as a wholly bad person

c) accept that we feel temporarily uncomfortable but to keep in mind, too, that this feeling will pass and that we are not necessarily being totally written off as a person by the individual we have upset, let alone by everybody else forevermore!

 

RESOURCE:

STOP SEEKING APPROVAL: SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

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

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) : Further Treatment Options.

Individuals suffering from psychiatric conditions such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) find there are a vast array of therapies on offer purporting to be able to effectively treat them. The choice can seem overwhelming and confusing.

In the case of BPD, however, although many different therapists may claim that the particular therapy that they offer is beneficial, research shows that there are only a few which result in significant improvement.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one example of effective treatment, but, as I have dealt with that in several of my other posts (just enter ‘CBT’ into this site’s search facility if you are interested in reading any of them) so will not discuss it further here. Instead, in this post, I will look at the following 4 evidence-based therapies for individuals suffering from the condition of BPD. These are:

1) DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOUR THERAPY (DBT)

2) MENTALIZATION BASED THERAPY (MBT)

3) TRANSFERENCE-FOCUSED PSYCHOTHERAPY (TFP)

4) SCHEMA THERAPY

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOUR THERAPY 

this was the first therapy specifically designed to treat BPD. Research into its effectiveness have yielded encouraging result: it reduces the risk of the individual who undergoes it from attempting or committing suicide, and, further, after a year of being treated with DBT many show a significant improvement in their condition (although, despite this improvement, they may still feel substantial emotional distress; due to this fact, it is clear treatment programs lasting significantly longer than a year need to be implemented and assessed).

What does DBT involve? The therapy uses a combination of psychotherapy and group therapy. The group therapy helps the individual recognise that his/her intense emotions often get out of control, in a destructive way, and teaches techniques related to how these emotions may be regulated (controlled) by the individual who suffers them.

DBT is strongly influenced by Buddhist philosophy, and, drawing from it, encourages the individual to accept his/her distress (see my post entitled ‘Why Fighting Anxiety can Make It Worse’ for more on why such an approach is effective); it also encourages the individual being treated to meditate to calm down the inner emotional storms that may often rage within them.

In conclusion, it is worth saying that although much research suggests that DBT is very effective for treating BPD, because it is complex, and uses techniques from several other therapies, it is difficult for researchers to know exactly which elements of the therapy are the effective ones. More research is necessary to answer that question.

2) MENTALIZATION BASED THERAPY 

MBT, like DBT, was designed specifically to treat borderline personality disorder. MBT is largely based upon the idea that the core reason why individuals develop BPD is that they EXPERIENCE PROBLEMS EARLY IN LIFE IN CONNECTION WITH HOW THEY BONDED, AND RELATED TO, THEIR PRIMARY CAREGIVERS, which, in turn, leads to them experiencing further DIFFICULTIES WITH FORMING AND MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS IN LATER LIFE. MBT seeks to help the individual suffering from BPD empathize with others, ‘put themselves in their shoes’, and develop awareness and understanding in relation to how their volatile emotional outbursts affect others (people with BPD tend to have an impaired ability to do this if they do not seek out treatment).

So far research into the effectiveness of MBT has been encouraging. It has been found to:

– reduce hospitalizations

– reduce suicidal behaviours

– improve day-to-day functioning

3) TRANSFERENCE-FOCUSED PSYCHOTHERAPY (TFP) 

this type of therapy is based upon the theory that individuals who suffer from BPD often have severe difficulties with their perception of interactions with others. Following on from this observation, the theory also assumes that the BPD sufferer will tend, too, to misinterpret his/her relationship with the therapist. In order to try to correct these chronic misperceptions and misinterpretations relating to the individual’s personal interactions, the therapist helps the individual gain awareness of what is going wrong with his/her interpersonal interactions and teach him/her strategies and techniques which help to correct the problem. Research into the effectiveness of TFP continues.

4) SCHEMA THERAPY 

SCHEMAS are deeply embedded CORE BELIEFS ABOUT ONESELF, OTHERS and THE WORLD IN GENERAL; these deeply held beliefs are LAID DOWN IN CHILDHOOD. The therapy aims to change the BPD sufferer’s NEGATIVE, MALADAPTIVE and UNHELPFUL SCHEMAS into more POSITIVE, ADAPTIVE and HELPFUL ONES.

Early research into the effectiveness of this type of therapy suggests that it can significantly improve quality of life and reduce BPD symptoms. Whilst these findings are encouraging, it is necessary to carry out further research into the therapy’s effectiveness.

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

The Gifted Child : Possible Traumatic Consequences

 

It is certainly not true for every gifted child, but some are at increased risk of ADJUSTMENT PROBLEMS and consequently, of unhappiness. Problems, research shows, may develop in connection with the following:

extreme sensitivity
– alienation
– uneven development
– perfectionism
– role conflict
– inappropriate environments
– adult expectations
– self-definition

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

INTENSE SENSITIVITY:

Because highly the gifted child has a high level of internal responses they are often INTENSELY SENSITIVE. Whilst this can certainly have its advantages, it can also EXACERBATE THE NORMAL PROBLEMS OF GROWING UP. For instance, the child’s intelligence may lead him/her to be unusually sensitive to social cues and may, for example, pick up on subtle signals leading him/her to sense rejection where it may not have been intended.

His/her sensitivity may lead him/her to respond strongly to what other children of the same age may well regard as trivial and unimportant; the other children may then ridicule and deride the child for what they perceive as his/her over-reactions. The child may then go on to form the view that there is something wrong with him/her and start to increasingly believe he/she are odd, leading to self-consciousness, low self-esteem and low social confidence. Importantly, also, the child may well pick up on society’s hypocrisy and social injustice very early on in his/her life, leading to feelings of cynicism and despair far earlier than others are likely to develop such feelings.

ALIENATION:

The child’s high intelligence and gifts may result in him/her relating to other children the same age as him/her in a manner more like that of an adult than that of a child. This can lead to problems with social integration. If he/she is not accepted by the other children this may lead him/her to socially withdraw. In turn, this can hinder the development of social skills which can then lead to the child being labelled as ‘odd’ or ‘weird’. If the gifted child then INTERNALIZES such labels (ie. the labels lead to the child believing he/she is as the labels describe him/her), social isolation and eccentricity may result.

UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT:

Whilst the gifted child’s intelligence is very high, his/her emotional development is likely to be at a normal level. However, adults may (unreasonably) expect the child to have high emotional maturity because of his/her high level of intellectual development. When the child then has the normal emotional tantrums that most children of his/her age have, he/she may be WRONGLY LABELLED AS HAVING A BEHAVIORAL PROBLEM.

PERFECTIONISM:

The high praise the gifted child will inevitably receive from school teachers etc. can lead to the child setting him/herself excessively high standards. He/she may become a perfectionist and perceive he/she has failed even when, objectively speaking, he/she has actually performed exceedingly well, and, therefore, when he/she gets the objectively accurate feedback, he/she may come to start distrusting it.

ROLE CONFLICT:

If the highly gifted child is male, he may well be in a school in which the prevailing culture means it is the boys who are ‘macho’ and good at sport etc. who obtain the approval and admiration of their peers. If the gifted child happens, for example, to be more interested in intellectual pursuits, such as poetry or chess, this can lead to ridicule and bullying.

INAPPROPRIATE ENVIRONMENTS:

The highly intelligent and gifted child will often find that the school year group he/she is in is not challenging enough and the pace of the learning is unsuitable. This can lead to frustration, withdrawal and behaviour problems.

ADULT EXPECTATIONS:

The gifted child may find him/herself pushed very hard by his/her parents and by the teachers of every subject he/she is taking. In the reverse situation to the one described above, here the child finds he/she is unable to satisfy all these demands and is unable to put in the extra effort expected in relation to such a large array of subjects. This can result in the child’s OWN SPECIAL AREA OF INTEREST being overlooked; indeed, it may well be better if the child focuses the extra effort mostly in just his/her favoured area.

SELF-DEFINITION:

The very gifted and intelligent child will tend to have an INTENSELY ANALYTICAL approach to life; this can result in early, highly critical self-analysis. When coupled with his/her perfectionism and the unreasonable expectations of adults, this can lead to identity problems.

 

Why Gifted Children May Be Mistakenly Believed To Have A Diagnosable Condition

Certain characteristics of gifted children can be misinterpreted as signs of a diagnosable condition; this can sometimes lead them to be misdiagnosed with, for example:

– Asperger’s syndrome

– Oppositional defiance disorder

– Bipolar disorder

– ADD

– ADHD

– Obsessive-compulsive disorder

– Narcissistic personality disorder

Examples of specific behaviours/qualities that some gifted children may display,  certain constellations of which might lead them to be referred to psychiatric services and, possibly, following such a referral, being given a mistaken psychiatric label, are listed below :

– high intelligence but low common sense

– high sensitivity

– intense emotional outbursts

– displays of extreme frustration when obstacles stand in the way of the child obtaining his/her goals

– very disorganized

– easily distracted

– difficulties relating to peers, prefers to be alone or with adults

– very sensitive to noise and to bright light

– does not need very much sleep

– prone to very intense and vivid dreams

– prone to nightmares/night terrors

– self-absorbed

– self-obsessed

– poor social skills

– always asking questions

– often lost in daydreams

– prone to defiance/challenging and arguing against rules and authority

– antisocial attitude

– prone to outbursts of intense anger

– obsession with the concept of ‘fairness’

– early preoccupation with ethical/moral/philosophical/existential/metaphysical concerns

N.B.Of course, despite the possibility of mistaken diagnoses being given to gifted children, it is important to keep in mind that some gifted children do have diagnosable conditions such as those mentioned at the start of this article.

RELATED ARTICLE: Childhood Fame: The Downside.

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

‘Fighting’ Anxiety can Worsen It: Why Acceptance Works Better.

What Happens When We Try To ‘Fight’ Anxiety?

Trying to fight anxiety, research suggests (and, certainly, my own experience of anxiety would tend to confirm this) can actually AGGRAVATE the problem and lead to greater feelings of distress. Stating the shatteringly obvious, none of us wants to experience the feelings an anxiety condition brings; however, difficult as it may sound at first, DEVELOPING AN ATTITUDE OF ACCEPTANCE TOWARDS IT, rather than entering an exhausting mental battle with it, has been reported by many to be a superior strategy for coping with anxiety.

The psychologist Beck, to whom I have made several references already in this blog (he was one of the founders of the very helpful therapy called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or CBT, for people suffering from conditions such as depression and anxiety – see my posts on CBT) devised the acronym A.W.A.R.E for ease of remembering the key strategies for coping. Let’s take a look at what the acronym A.W.A.R.E stands for:

A Accept the anxiety (it sounds hard, I know, but so is constantly struggling to fight it):

The benefits of adopting this approach are that it may help to reduce the PHYSIOLOGICAL symptoms commonly associated with anxiety (e.g. accelerated heart rate, increased muscle tension, hyperventilation, sweating -or ‘cold sweats’- trembling, dry mouth etc). It may, too, help with PSYCHOLOGICAL symptoms (people report that an attitude of acceptance towards their anxiety makes them feel less distressed). A kind of motto which has come to attach itself to the acceptance approach to anxiety is: ‘if you are not WILLING to have it, you WILL’ (see what they’ve done there!)

W Watch your anxiety:

It is suggested that rather than get too ‘caught up’ in anxiety, together with all the distressing negative thoughts and fears it produces, too, instead, just observe it in a DETACHED and NON-JUDGMENTAL manner; this involves trying to adopt a kind of NEUTRAL MENTAL ATTITUDE towards it – in other words, neither liking it nor seeing the experience of anxiety as a terrible, unsolvable catastrophe (again, I realize, of course, that intense anxiety is very painful, so this, too, may sound difficult at first). People report that when they adopt this DETACHED, NEUTRAL view of their feelings of anxiety they start to lose their, hitherto, tenacious grip on their lives.

A Act with your anxiety:

Severe anxiety can leave us feeling as if we are incapable of functioning on even a basic level. It is important to remember, however, as I have repeated at, no doubt, tedious length throughout this blog, that just because we believe something it does not logically follow that the belief must be true. Indeed, when my anxiety was at its worst, I did not feel able or even believe I could shave or brush my teeth etc…etc… Many people report, however, that if they take the first (often, extremely challenging) step to try to carry on with normal activities, despite the feeling of anxiety which may accompany this, they can, after all, accomplish that which they originally believed they couldn’t. Success then tends to build upon success: completion of the first activity increases the self-belief and the confidence to go on to the second activity, the completion of which provides further self-belief and confidence…and so on…and so on…

In order to make this easier, it may be necessary to slow down the pace at which, in different circumstances, we would otherwise carry out the particular tasks that we set ourselves.

R Repeat the steps:

This just means that by repeating the ACCEPTING ANXIETY, WATCHING OUR ANXIETY (in a detached and neutral manner) and ACTING (despite the feelings of anxiety which may accompany such action) CYCLE, the anxiety may be slowly eroded away.

E Expect the best (even if it does not come naturally) :

When we are depressed and anxious we, almost invariably, expect the worst. This is overwhelmingly likely to perpetuate the condition. However, just as expecting the worst can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so, too, can expecting the best. If like me, you are not a natural optimist, the concept of expecting the best may go against the grain. However, research shows that optimistic people are more likely to achieve their goals than those of us who do not appear to have been blessed with quite such a sunny disposition. It is worth adopting the strategy on, at least, an experimental basis. It is also useful to keep in mind that even if the best does not occur, we will still have the inner-strength necessary to cope.

OVERCOME FEAR AND ANXIETY – SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

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

Trauma: How Cognitive Processing Therapy Can Help.

 

It is always important to treat post-traumatic stress and this is particularly the case in relation to childhood trauma. This is because it is during childhood that we form our core beliefs about ourselves, others and the world in general. Childhood trauma can severely distort these beliefs in a highly destructive manner. Without treatment, these damaging views and beliefs can endure for a life-time, blighting the entire life of the affected individual, even ruining it.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a particular type of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and there is now much evidence from research studies that it can prove highly effective in the treatment of the effects of trauma:

Frequently, individuals who have suffered childhood trauma find themselves in a perpetual and distressing struggle with painful memories. Thoughts about these often become circular and overwhelming, never reaching a resolution. The person experiencing them can feel more and more conflicted as time goes on if effective treatment is not sought. Indeed, many who seek therapy do so because they find they have become ‘stuck’ or ‘caught up’ in their painful thoughts, memories and feelings and they feel unable to properly integrate or make sense of these.

CPT helps people to understand what they went through, how it affected them, and how it has affected, in a negative and distorted way, their view of themselves, others and the world in general (psychologists refer to such thinking as a ‘negative cognitive triad’, one of the key symptoms of clinical depression).

CPT aims to help individuals rectify this negative cognitive triad and gain AUTHORITY over their trauma-related memories and feelings, or, to put it another way, CPT helps people to be IN CONTROL OF THEIR MEMORIES AND RELATED FEELINGS, rather than the other way around.

Many individuals who have experienced childhood trauma, also, very frequently, find themselves ‘living in the past’: continually brooding on what happened, why it happened and how it has adversely affected their lives; such ruminations may become obsessive. CPT helps break this pattern of thinking: one of the key elements of CPT is to help people CREATE A BOUNDARY BETWEEN THE PAST AND THE PRESENT so that the individual can free himself to finally live in the ‘now’ rather than the ‘then’.

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

The Use of Hypnosis to Treat Trauma.

The most up-to-date definition of hypnosis is: ‘A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterised by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.‘ (Elkins, 2015).

Research has shown that hypnosis can be of benefit for individuals suffering from trauma-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hypnosis is not used in isolation to treat such conditions but in conjunction with other therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy.

Research studies have demonstrated that the use of hypnosis as part of the therapy for trauma-based conditions can be particularly effective in:

– reducing the intensity and frequency of intrusive, distressing thoughts and nightmares
– decreasing avoidance behaviours (ie avoidance of situations which remind the individual under treatment of the original trauma)
– reducing the intensity and frequency of the mental re-experiencing the trauma
– reducing anxiety, hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal that the trauma has caused
– helping the individual to psychologically INTEGRATE the memory of trauma in a way which reduces symptoms of dissociation (I have written a post on dissociation which some of you may like to look at)
– helping the individual to develop more adaptive coping strategies

On top of the above benefits, the use of hypnosis has been shown to be very likely to improve the therapeutic relationship between the individual undergoing treatment and the therapist.

However, it is not recommended that hypnosis be used to ‘recover buried memories of trauma’ as this has been shown to be unreliable and it is also likely that the use of hypnosis for this purpose can create FALSE MEMORIES in the person being treated.

Some individuals have been significantly helped by the use of hypnosis as part of their therapy for trauma-related conditions such as PTSD in as little as just a few sessions. As one would expect, however, the more complex the trauma-related condition is, the longer that effective treatment for it is likely to take.

Hypnosis And ‘Buried Memories :

A central tenet of psychodynamic theory is that some traumatic memories are so painful that they are buried (repressed) in the unconscious (automatically rather than deliberately) denying us direct access to them (though it has been theorized indirect access may be available through dreams and other phenomena).

One theory is that these buried memories need to be brought into full consciousness via the psychotherapeutic process and properly ‘worked through’ in order to alleviate the psychological symptoms associated with their hitherto repression.

It is frequently believed, including by therapists, that ‘buried traumatic memories’ can be accessed by hypnosis. But can they? What does the research tell us?

In one study, 70% of first-year psychology students agreed with the statement that hypnosis can help to access repressed memories. More worryingly, 84% of psychologists were also found to believe the same thing. It comes as little surprise, then, that many therapists use hypnosis in an attempt to help their clients recover ‘repressed traumatic memories’. Indeed, the therapy, known as ‘hypnoanalysis’, was developed on the theory that ‘repressed traumatic memories’ could be accessed by hypnosis to cure the patient of his/her psychological ailment.

Surveys of the general public indicate that many of them, too, believe in the power of hypnosis to aid memory recall.

Whilst some contemporary researchers still hold to the belief that hypnosis aids recall, the majority now believe this is NOT the case. On the contrary, hypnosis has generally been found to IMPAIR and DISTORT recall (eg. Lynnet, 2001).

Furthermore, studies reveal that hypnosis can CREATE FALSE MEMORIES (see my post on memory repression for more detail on the question of the reality of the concept of buried memories) which, due to the insidious influence of the therapist, the patient can become very confident are real.

This is of particular concern if the hypnosis has been used to try to help an eye-witness or crime victim recall ‘forgotten details’ of the crime and this evidence is then presented before a court of law. Indeed, as the problem becomes increasingly recognized, such ‘hypnotically recovered evidence’ is becoming increasingly unlikely to be admissible.

Some therapists use hypnosis to age-regress their adult clients (i.e. take them back ‘mentally’ to their childhoods) in an attempt to help them recall important events that occurred in their childhood which may be connected to their current psychological state. However, here, too, research suggests (e.g. Nash, 1987) such attempts are of no real value.

CONCLUSION:

Hypnosis does not appear to be useful for retrieving ‘buried memories’ and can, in fact, be utterly counter-productive by creating FALSE or DISTORTED memories.

How Hypnosis CAN Help Those Who Have

Suffered From Childhood Trauma :

 

However, hypnosis can help with many psychological conditions that those who have suffered childhood trauma may suffer from and I outline examples some of these below :

ANXIETY :

If we suffered significant and protracted trauma during our childhoods, we are far more likely than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable and secure upbringing (all else being equal) to develop severe anxiety and associated conditions in adulthood.

We feel anxiety when we perceive a threat (and the threat may be real or imagined).

Our perception of being under threat causes stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, to be released into the brain.

The release of these stress hormones into the body can result in distressing physical sensations; these differ depending upon the particular individual concerned and include the following (to list just a few examples):

– headaches

– stomach aches

– dry mouth

– trembling

– heart palpitations

– sweating

– feeling faint/dizziness

– hyperventilation

Vicious Cycle:

These physical symptoms of stress form part of a vicious cycle; this vicious cycle is caused by the various aspects of stress feeding off one another as I describe below:

1) Anxious thoughts lead to the production of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol

2) These stress hormones produce physical symptoms in the body which exacerbate anxious thoughts

3) These further anxious thoughts then cause yet more stress hormones to flood the brain…and, thus, the vicious cycle continues

How Do You Break This Vicious Cycle?

In order to break this vicious cycle, a component of it needs to be broken so that the elements it is made up of can no longer feed off one another. Using hypnosis for anxiety therapy can do this in different ways, for example:

– the excessive production of stress hormones flooding the brain can be halted using self-hypnosis techniques such as calming imagery/visualisation.

OR:

– anxious thoughts can be reduced under hypnosis. This can be achieved in many ways, two of which I describe below:

Example of  techniques used in hypnosis to reduce anxiety  :

  1. The ‘Compassionate Friend’ Technique.

To simplify: under hypnosis, the individual is given the post-hypnotic suggestion that when s/he has negative, anxiety-producing thoughts s/he will be able to imagine what an ideal compassionate friend would say in response to them in order to comfort and reassure, so it becomes rather like having a tiny personal counsellor taking up residence in one’s head!

        2.  Hypnotic distancing :

This technique can help to diminish the intensity of the impact our traumatic experiences have on us by use of a visualization technique that involves us imagining viewing these experiences through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.

And, finally, many readers will already be aware that mindfulness meditation is often an extremely effective way of coping with stress and anxiety, though requires practice.

FLASHBACKS :

Hypnotic suggestion and hypnotic visualization techniques can also help us to deal with disturbing flashbacks connected to our traumatic experiences. For example, the therapist might induce the hypnotic state in the client and then suggest to him/her that s/he is watching his / her traumatic experiences on a CD and to then stop and eject the CD so that the screen goes blank.

Once this visualization is achieved, the next step is for him /her to visualize locking away the CD in a safe. Once this has been accomplished, the therapist suggests to the client (who is still in a state of hypnosis) that the sare will only be opened again at the next therapy session and that, in that session, the CD will only be able to play the amount of material and content that the client is able to cope with on the day.

VICTIMHOOD :

Hypnotic visualization can also be used to decrease one’s sense of victimhood and increase one’s sense of mastery. For instance, after hypnotic induction, the hypnotherapist may suggest to the client that s/he visualizes him/herself as a strong, resilient person who refuses to allow others to spoil his / her life anymore.’

 

DEPRESSION :

We have seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma are at increased risk of developing depression (as well as many other psychiatric conditions) in adulthood than those who had relatively happy and stable childhoods (all else being equal).

One method that can help to reduce feelings of depression, especially when used in conjunction with other therapies such as pharmacology and psychotherapy, is self-hypnosis.

One of the main prevailing theories of the cause of depression is that it arises due to imbalances in certain brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters), in particular serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.

What Is The Function Of These Brain Chemicals?

 – Serotonin is thought to be involved with appetite, digestion, social behaviour, sexual desire, sexual function, sleep, memory and mood.

 – Norepinephrine is thought to be involved with the body’s fight or flight’ response.

 – Dopamine is thought to play a very important role in internal reward-motivated behaviour (e.g. the pleasurable feelings generated by sex or a large gambling win).

In order to attempt to correct this chemical imbalance, and thus alleviate depressive symptoms, medications are frequently prescribed. Unfortunately, however, not everyone finds them effective.

 

Hypnosis For Depression :

Another way to alter the brain’s chemical balance in those suffering from depression, research has shown, is by self-suggestion, as used in self-hypnosis, and by altering a person’s level of expectancy regarding their recovery (which plays a major role, of course, in the placebo effect); both of these phenomena have their foundations in the well-known phenomenon of the mind-body connection.

Indeed, self-hypnosis for depression (utilizing self-suggestion) combined with cognitive-behavioural therapy and/or drug therapy may be a particularly effective way of alleviating depressive symptoms.

A meta-analysis of hypnosis for the treatment of depression (Shih et al.) found that it significantly reduced depressive symptoms and concluded that it was ‘ a viable non-pharmacological intervention for depression.

Commonly, too, depression co-exists alongside anxiety, and numerous studies (e.g. see Hammond) suggest hypnosis and self-hypnosis are often particularly effective for treating anxiety-related conditions such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

Depression can also be exacerbated by loneliness or due to poor relationships with significant others (an illustrative example of this is that, on average, married people are significantly less likely (some research suggests up to 70% less likely) to suffer from depression compared with their non-married counterparts; here, again, self-hypnosis can be of use in order to assist us to improve our interpersonal relationships by, for example, helping to repair our disrupted unconscious processes, allowing us to be more able to give and receive love/affection, making us less withdrawn, and reducing tendencies to judge ourselves and others in an overly negative manner.

 

 

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) :

According to the psychologist, Spiegel, self-hypnosis can be a useful tool to help individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) overcome problems associated with the troubling symptom of disturbing, intrusive memories of the original trauma.

Spiegel states that self-hypnosis may be particularly useful because certain qualities of the hypnotic experience have much in common with qualities of the experience of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), examples of which include :

– a feeling of reliving the traumatic event

– feelings of dissociation (detachment from reality)

– hypersensitivity to stimuli

– a disconnection between cognitive and emotional experience

Spiegel argues that this similarity between hypnotic phenomena and the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) make sufferers of this most serious and disturbing disorder more hypnotizable than the average member of any given randomly selected population.

It follows from this that those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be particularly likely to be helped by the utilization of hypnotic techniques and procedures, particularly ‘coupling access to dissociative traumatic memories with positive restructuring of those memories’ (Spiegel et al., 1990). By this statement, Spiegel is suggesting that hypnosis could help bring traumatic memories more fully into conscious awareness and alter the way in which they are stored in memory by associating / pairing / linking them with feelings of safety (such as the feeling of being safe and protected in the therapist’s consulting room) rather than, as had previously been the case, high levels of distress.

In this way, Spiegel suggests, when these previously disturbing memories are recalled in the future because they are now associated/paired/linked with feelings of safety, they cease to induce distress.

In effect, then, the traumatic memories have become positively recontextualized and deprived of their previous power to induce feelings of fear, anxiety and terror.

 

 

WHY PTSD SUFFERERS MAY BE MORE HYPNOTIZABLE THAN THE AVERAGE PERSON :

Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder display an array of distressing symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, hypervigilance and hypersensitivity to stress.

Fortunately, however, research has found that those who suffer from PTSD tend to be more hypnotizable than the average person (this is thought to be because they can vividly imagine things which is an important component that helps to make an individual able to respond to hypnotherapy positively.

Many PTSD sufferers, therefore, can potentially be helped by practising self-hypnosis.

 

What Is The Evidence That Hypnotherapy Can Effectively Reduce Symptoms Of PTSD?

There is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that those with PTSD can be helped by taking advantage of hypnotherapy. I briefly examine some of this evidence below:

1) Bryant et al. carried out a research study that showed the more vividly PTSD sufferers experienced flashbacks and nightmares, the more hypnotizable they tended to be.

2) Brom et al. ran an experiment in which PTSD sufferers were split into three groups :

Group 1 received psychodynamic psychotherapy

Group 2 received were treated using systematic desensitization techniques

Group 3 received hypnotherapy

Results :

Whilst all three groups responded equally well, group 3, comprising individuals who underwent hypnotherapy, required the fewest treatment sessions.

Other Research:

Forbes et al. found hypnotherapy to be an effective means of reducing nightmares and flashbacks in PTSD sufferers.

Krakow et al. carried out research showing that children who had experienced early life trauma were able to use imagery under hypnosis which reduced their nightmares and intrusive thoughts, as well as reducing their levels of emotional arousal and improving their quality of sleep.

Furthermore, there is good evidence that hypnotherapy can substantially help those suffering from mental health issues linked to PTSD such as depression and anxiety.

    https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/complex-ptsd-ptsd/recovery-of-repressed-or-buried-memories-of-abuse/
     
    David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

     

    Controversies: Alarming Study – How Psychiatrists can Get It Wrong.

     

    We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that those who have suffered severe and ongoing childhood trauma and have then, as adults, gone on to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may be better served, in many cases, by being diagnosed with complex PTSD instead (in relation to this, you may wish to read my article: Traumatized As A Child And Wrongly Diagnosed With BPD?)

    Psychiatrists, after all, are far from infallible and diagnosing psychiatric conditions can be a very inexact science. Perhaps one of the most famous (or notorious) experiments illustrating these concerns was carried out by David Roenhan and I summarize it and its implications below: 

    A research study (Rosenhan, 1973) that I remember very clearly from University when I was studying for my first degree in Psychology demonstrates just how disturbingly wrong psychiatrists’ diagnoses can sometimes be. It is a notorious study which was led by the psychologist Dr David Rosenhan.

    In the experiment that he conducted, a group of eight academic researchers presented themselves at various psychiatric hospitals located in different areas across the USA. None of the researchers had ever been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition.

    Each of these researchers reported to whichever psychiatrist happened to be in charge and responsible for new admissions on the particular day of their arrival and informed him that he was hearing a voice in his head which said the word ‘thud’. This was not true – it was just a fabricated symptom. However, this was the SOLE and ONLY way that the researchers misled the psychiatrists; they did not make up any other false symptoms or lie about their mental health in any other way whatsoever; from the point, they reported the false symptom onward, they behaved normally.

    How did the psychiatrists respond? All eight, in each of the eight different hospitals, admitted each of the eight researchers into their care. Furthermore, each of the eight researchers (or pseudo-patients, as they could be called) were diagnosed with a severe psychiatric condition. All, too, were prescribed extremely potent anti-psychotic medication (which can have serious side-effects, it should not be overlooked). It is worth repeating here: this occurred despite the fact that all of the eight researchers acted entirely normally except for reporting hearing a voice in their head saying the word ‘thud’.

    And the error was not swiftly corrected. Quite the contrary, in fact. Most of the researchers were detained in the psychiatric ward to which they had been admitted for several weeks. Some were detained for over eight weeks, at great expense. Try as they might, the researchers were simply unable to convince the doctors that they were, in fact, sane. Their attempts to do so were interpreted as denial or lack of insight into their own condition.

    When the researchers finally explained they were simply there to conduct an experiment, matters were made even worse. They were seen as delusional and their claims were dismissed. In the eyes of the psychiatrists, their ‘illnesses’ now looked even worse than originally thought.

    Eventually, in order to secure their release from detention, they found the only way to accomplish this was to go along with the psychiatrists’ notions that they were extremely mentally ill and then gradually ‘get better’.

    But the farce does not end there. A media storm was created and one of the hospitals, shamed by events, was determined to prove that they could not be so easily hoodwinked a second time by the duplicitous Dr Rosenhan. To this end, they laid down a challenge. They told Dr Rosenhan to send more fake patients to their hospital and confidently declared that, this time, they would be able to identify the impostors.

    About four weeks later the hospital triumphantly announced it had identified over 40 fake patients. There turned out to be one problem, however: Dr Rosenhan had not sent a single one. We can only imagine the embarrassment those who ran the hospital must have felt.

    The experiment, now notorious, created a sensation and led to a major crisis in psychiatry, including a complete re-evaluation of the reliability (or otherwise) of psychiatric diagnoses. Whilst changes were made as a result of Dr Rosenhan’s study, the controversy surrounding the reliability, and, indeed, validity, of psychiatric diagnoses remains today.

    REFERENCE:

    Rosenhan, David (19 January 1973). “On being sane in insane places”. Science179 (4070): 250–258. Bibcode:1973Sci…179..250R. doi:10.1126/science.179.4070.250. PMID 4683124.

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

    Childhood Trauma: Its Link to Adult Anxiety.

     

     

    Anxious personality types often result from childhood trauma. Research has shown that there are 7 major factors which influence the way our personalities develop. These are:

    – the way in which we are disciplined in childhood
    – our place within the family e.g. birth order/sex
    – the kinds of role model we had as children e.g. parents
    – the belief system of the family we grew up in
    – our genes/biochemical makeup
    – the social and cultural influences we experienced as children
    – the particular PERSONAL MEANING that we attach to each of the above

    There are many ways that the above factors can interact to produce a personality dominated by anxiety in adulthood. Below are some experiences, directly related to the above factors, which can contribute towards us developing an anxiety disorder in adulthood:

    1) AN ANXIOUS PARENT OR ROLE MODEL: one way in which children are programmed to learn by evolution and develop their personalities is by a process referred to by psychologists as MODELLING (copying the behaviour of role models, either consciously or unconsciously). It follows that a role model who frequently displays intense anxiety is likely to lead to the child adopting a similar manner of behaving and responding.

    2) RIGID BELIEF/RULE SYSTEMS: if the child’s role models (especially parents) have a rigid belief system, perhaps deriving from their culture or religion, the child may develop inflexible and ‘black and white’ thinking styles which can frequently become a source of anxiety in later life.

    Additionally, if a child lives in a highly chaotic environment, due, for example, to parental mental illness or substance abuse, s/he may learn to develop a rigid set of rules to give him/herself some sense of security and stability. Again, carrying such rigid rules into adult life can often lead to high levels of anxiety.

    3) CHILD ABUSE: abuse, during childhood, too, frequently leads to the abused child developing problems related to anxiety in adult life. The types of abuse which may occur include physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect (physical and/or emotional), and cruel and unusual punishment.

    4) ANXIETY RELATED TO SEPARATION AND LOSS: a child may be separated from a parent or carer for extended periods of time, due, for example, to the following events:

    – a parent/carer going into hospital for a long time
    – divorce
    – death

    If the child DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHY the parent/carer has become absent, this can be especially anxiety-inducing.

    A more subtle, but, equally damaging, form of separation a child may experience is if the parent/carer is PHYSICALLY PRESENT BUT IGNORES/FAILS TO INTERACT MEANINGFULLY with the child.

    5) REVERSAL OF PARENT-CHILD ROLES: for a significant part of my childhood, starting at around the age of 11 years, this was the situation that I found myself in. Essentially, I became my mother’s personal counsellor, permanently, it seemed, on-call ( I’m surprised she didn’t provide me with a pager). Indeed, at this stage in my childhood, she began to refer to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist.’ A child may also find him/herself having to adopt a parental role for many other reasons; for example, parental substance abuse, parental absence etc. When the child, by necessity, in order to survive, takes on responsibilities with which s/he is not old enough to cope, this can lead to a number of anxiety-linked personality traits; these may include: ‘black and white’ thinking, suppression of feelings, unrealistically high levels of self-expectation, and a deep need to have control.

    Reversal of parent-child roles is sometimes referred to as PARENTIFICATION.

    Other childhood experiences which may lead to an anxious personality type in adulthood I list below:

    – highly critical parents/carer
    – overprotective parents/carer
    – parental/carer pressures placed on the child to suppress/deny his/her own feelings.

    CONCLUSION:

    We learn, then, certain ways of coping and behaving when faced with difficult childhood experiences; the problem is, however, that carrying these ways of coping and behaving into adulthood is often unhelpful; this is because, as adults, we are frequently presented with an environment to deal with which is very different from the environment we needed to deal with as children – we, therefore, need to adapt our behavioural responses to the new environment, in order to function in it effectively.

    THE POSITIVE NEWS is that, as adults, it is possible to MODIFY OUR PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS (which previously led to anxiety) and to learn new, more appropriate, ways of thinking and behaving, adaptive to the new, adult environment into which we are inevitably plunged. One therapy which research has shown can be particularly effective in treating anxiety which has its roots in childhood is called COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT).

     

    RESOURCE : 

    13+ Anxiety Treatment Hypnosis Audios

     

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

     

    Psychodynamic And Psychoanalytic Therapy: Treating The Root Cause Of Related Symptoms.

     

    I had been perplexed for a very long time, given the emotional symptoms I was experiencing, which, it had always been obvious to me, were in large part related to my childhood experiences, why I had never been offered therapy, by the NHS, which could specifically address this issue. In fact, the professionals I had seen, including GPs and psychiatrists, rarely, if ever, asked me about my childhood, nor did they seek, in any way that I could ascertain, to link my symptoms to it. I can only assume that therapy addressing emotional problems which are linked to childhood experiences are deemed to be too expensive; perhaps it relates to where you happen to live, as different regions have different budgeting priorities. I know, though, that such therapies are available.

    MEDICAL MODEL :

    It is a common problem. In the UK, mental illness is almost invariably addressed using the MEDICAL MODEL (ie drugs are used to alter brain biochemistry). Some studies have shown, however, that anti-depressants work no better than PLACEBOS. We must ask, then, if, in many cases, treating mental illness with drugs is simply inappropriate? Would it not be better, in a lot of cases, to address the root cause of the symptoms -childhood trauma and/or other relevant life experiences?

    PSYCHODYNAMIC AND PSYCHOANALYTIC PSYCHOTHERAPY:

    These therapies seek to address the root causes of adult psychological difficulties. Many of my posts have already discussed the fact that childhood trauma, very often, lessens (often, through physiological effects on the brain) the individual’s ability to cope with stress in adult life. Here is a recap of symptoms childhood trauma can lead to:

    alcohol/drug misuse
    – dissociative disorders 
    – self-harm (eg cutting self with a sharp instrument, burning self with cigarette ends
    – suicide attempts, suicide
    – eating disorders
    – acute depression
    – extreme anxiety
    – post-traumatic stress disorder 
    – obsessive-compulsive disorder

     

    Clearly, such difficulties can cause the individual severe distress, so it is important to investigate ALL the possible treatment options.

    Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic psychotherapy aims, as I have already said, to address the root cause of distressing psychological symptoms: they are based upon the idea that we all SUPPRESS (ie bury deep down in the mind) feelings that, if they were allowed full access to consciousness, would OVERWHELM us with ANXIETY and EMOTIONAL PAIN. However, this requires psychological effort, and, in order to keep them suppressed, we must employ DEFENSE MECHANISMS (these may be employed both on conscious and unconscious levels). Examples of such defence mechanisms are PROJECTION and REACTION FORMATION:

    – PROJECTION: this refers to how we EXTERNALIZE things we dislike about OURSELVES. For example, someone who is (needlessly) ashamed of being homosexual may go around calling everybody else ‘gay’ (using the word in a pejorative sense, of course)

    – REACTION FORMATION: here, the individual feels the need to constantly proclaim s/he is not what, deep down, perhaps unconsciously, s/he feels s/he actually is. For example, someone who suppresses their aggressive instincts may feel the need to constantly proclaim how peace-loving they are and how incapable of inflicting physical harm on others. In Shakespeare’s play, HAMLET, Iago seems to be aware of this psychological concept of reaction formation when he states, heavy with insinuation: ‘Methinks she protests too much’. Indeed, many of Freud’s ideas were anticipated in Shakespeare’s works.

    There are other defence mechanisms which would take up too much space to go into here, but they all involve CUTTING OURSELVES OFF FROM OUR TRUE FEELINGS or trying to banish them in other ways, due to real, or perceived societal and cultural demands.

    It is thought that the MORE PAINFUL AND DIFFICULT KEEPING THE FEELINGS SUPPRESSED IS, THE MORE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFORT THE MECHANISM OF SUPPRESSION TAKES UP, and, therefore, THE MORE INTENSE THE REPERCUSSIONS, OR COSTS, IN TERMS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS, ARE (see list above for examples of these symptoms).

    Psychotherapy aims to get us in touch with the feelings we are suppressing and work through them; some types of psychotherapy aim to bring what is buried in the unconscious into conscious awareness to enable such a process.

    TYPES OF THERAPIES AVAILABLE:

    1) SHORT-TERM PSYCHODYNAMIC PSYCHOTHERAPY: this usually consists of about 20 sessions spread over 20 weeks.

    2) PSYCHOANALYTIC PSYCHOTHERAPY: this can consist of 2 or 3 sessions per week. There is no time limit – as many sessions are provided as required.

    3) PSYCHOANALYSIS: this can comprise up to 5 sessions per week. Again, there is no time limit and as many sessions are provided as required.

    By working through suppressed feelings (such as anger or fear) with the therapist, the rationale is that the past gradually loses its grip on the present, and, thus, its power to cause continued suffering.

    DOES IT WORK?

    Certainly, if considering such therapy, great care is needed when selecting a suitable therapist (e.g. checking their training, success rate, recommendations etc.) as it is possible the treatment can do more harm than good if not properly implemented.

    The psychologist, Hans Eysenck, argued that patients who underwent psychoanalysis recovered from their psychological difficulties no better than untreated controls. HOWEVER, there is, in fact, plenty of research which SUPPORTS its effectiveness; for example Roth et al (1996) and, also, Holmes et al (1995).

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

    Childhood Trauma: Identity Problems and How to Tackle Them.

     

    One outcome of childhood trauma can frequently be that the person who has suffered it is prone to develop IDENTITY PROBLEMS.

    A person’s identity represents their attempt to pin down the essential elements he sees (rather than what others see) that make the individual who s/he is. One’s identity develops over time.

    Our identity can be helpful to our psychological health (if we see ourselves in largely positive terms) or unhelpful to it (if we see ourselves in largely negative terms). People, especially if suffering from depression, lacking in confidence etc, extremely often view themselves FAR MORE NEGATIVELY THAN WOULD BE OBJECTIVELY WARRANTED; whereas many others (not suffering from mental illness, in many cases) may see themselves in far too glowing terms (this ‘over self-congratulatory’ view adopted by many is thought to have developed to confer evolutionary advantages on those who have it, appearing confident to potential mates, for example, provided, I suppose, it is not absurdly exaggerated).

    Aspects of our lives which can affect our identities include:

    • our values
    • our physical appearance
    • our mental/physical health
    • our education
    • our achievements
    • our work (Freud attributed especial importance to this, as he did to sexual fulfilment, the thwarting of which, he proposed, could lead to extreme neurosis)
    • our relationships
    • our age
    • our financial situation
    • our perception of our social status 

    The identity which emerges from such factors is strongly related to our self-esteem and self-confidence.

    IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT:

    This begins very early in our lives. Ages 4 years to 6 years are thought to be a critical time; TRAUMA during this period is LINKED to the DEVELOPMENT OF IDENTITY PROBLEMS IN LATER LIFE. From the ages of about 6 years to 12 years, the child normally develops the skills necessary to MANAGE EMOTIONS, a skill strongly linked to identity (for example, ‘cool’ versus ‘volatile’); indeed, if TRAUMA INTERFERES WITH THIS PROCESS AN EXTREMELY TEMPESTUOUS ADOLESCENCE CAN FOLLOW).

    In ‘normal’ development, adolescents may experiment with various identities and this process gradually leads to the stage in which there is a sense of the identity becoming crystallized. Again, however, individuals affected by trauma will often find this period exceptionally stressful and find that NO CLEAR SENSE OF THEIR OWN IDENTITY EMERGES; THEIR SENSE OF THEIR OWN IDENTITY CAN BE CONFUSED AND THEY MAY FEEL THAT THEY ‘DON’T KNOW WHO THEY REALLY ARE’.

    CONFUSED IDENTITY IN ADULTHOOD AS A RESULT OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA:

    By adulthood, then, those who have experienced childhood trauma will often find that their identity is UNSTABLE and FRAGILE; this will often mean that their attitudes, values and sense of who they are are all prone to wildly fluctuation; these changes are frequently dramatic (for example, oscillating between feeling deep love and deep hatred towards the same person; or, sometimes, perhaps, feeling exceptionally important only to shift without warning or obvious trigger into a feeling of despair, self-loathing and worthlessness).

    Individuals suffering from identity disturbance may :

    • have an unstable self-image that frequently oscillates between two extremes and an inconsistent view of self over time
    • become obsessed with their appearance, even to the extent that they develop conditions such as body dysmorphic disorder and anorexia nervosa.
    • lose touch with reality (dissociation)
    • experience feelings of derealization and/or depersonalization
    • attempt to develop an unrealistic, idealized self (e.g. trying to adopt the image of a famous movie star) only to feel empty and deficient when this inevitably fails
    • act as ‘social chameleons‘ (find that, because of their weak and uncertain sense of their own identity, they mimic the behaviours, values and attitudes of those they happen to be associating with at any given time
    • live by inconsistent standards and principals
    • have an inconsistent view of the world and their place in it

    IDENTITY PROBLEMS AND BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD):

    Identity problems in adulthood are often a symptom of BPD. BPD frequently occurs as a result of childhood trauma. 

    In the case of IDENTITY DISTURBANCE ASSOCIATED WITH BPD, some psychologists break identity disorder associated with BPD into four categories; these are as follows :

    1. ROLE ABSORPTION
    2. PAINFUL INCOHERENCE
    3. INCONSISTENCY
    4. LACK OF COMMITMENT

    Let’s look at each of these four categories in a little more detail :

    1. ROLE ABSORPTION :

    This involves individuals with an intrinsically weak sense of their own identity desperately attempting to create one by defining themselves through a particular role or cause. This may involve adopting a different name and radically altering their world view, values and belief system. Such individuals are vulnerable to being lured into cults whereby they may completely subjugate any sense of their own identity and, instead, overlay it with the identity into which the cult leader inculcates and indoctrinates them. Such individuals are obviously at high risk of being exploited by unscrupulous others.

    2. PAINFUL INCOHERENCE :

    Those who fall into this category constantly experience a distressing sense of emptiness.

    3. INCONSISTENCY :

    Individuals in this category are prone to changing their values, attitudes and opinions according to the people they happen to be associating with at any given time and, because of this, are sometimes referred to as ‘social chameleons’, as referred to above.

    4. LACK OF COMMITMENT :

    Lack of commitment can manifest itself in relation to many important areas of life including education (e.g. frequently changing courses but never completing any); career (frequently changing jobs); geographic location (frequently moving home); relationships (e.g. inability to maintain relationships with friends/partners/spouses); interests/hobbies.

    DEVELOPING A MORE CONSISTENT AND STRONGER SENSE OF ONE’S IDENTITY:

    How can people with identity problems make their sense of identity stronger? One possible place to start this process, which needs to be gradually worked on over time, is for the individual suffering from the crisis in identity to consider the things which are of most importance to him/her in life; identities are largely formed based on these considerations. Priorities in life which people choose to concentrate on, and, which, therefore, contribute to making up their identities include:

    • friendships
    • relationships
    • family
    • academic interests
    • career
    • creativity (for example, painting, writing, acting)
    • hobbies
    • choice of entertainment (for example, musical taste, taste in film, cinema, theatre, favourite kinds of books etc.)
    • material possessions
    • spirituality, religion, atheism, agnosticism
    • charity work (for example, for homeless, rehabilitation of ex-prisoners, environment, hospice, Amnesty International)
    • physical appearance
    • financial situation
    • This is not, of course, an exhaustive list and there may well be other areas that can be added, depending on preferences.

    A starting point might be to pick out 3 or 4 areas of interest (this, in itself, reflects identity, and, therefore, can be seen as providing foundational pieces of the jig-saw yet to emerge, as it were) and to concentrate on these at first (other elements can be added later; merely starting the process may lead to other ideas emerging at a later time).

    For each of the factors selected, it can then prove of use to set some goals relating to how these areas may be incorporated, or, more fully incorporated, into one’s life (these goals need to be quite specific and achievable; there is little point starting with such challenging goals that they may prove impossible to meet and thus damage morale).

    Here are some examples:

    • because academic achievement is important to me, I will enrol in a night-school class (investigate and specify appropriate course) and complete the course.
    • because family and/or friends are important to me I will attend an anger management course.
    • because creativity is important to me I will set aside two hours a week to write poetry or a novel.
    • because my mental health is important to me I will seek out appropriate counselling and complete the sessions recommended (provided the therapy proves of potential value, of course).

    The more the individual is able to incorporate and develop areas such as those listed above, which reflect his true values, interests and priorities, the more AUTHENTIC and REWARDING the person’s life is likely to be; the more, too, will the individual’s true and stable sense of self continue to evolve.

    RESOURCE

    Overcome Identity Problems | Self Hypnosis Downloads. CLICK HERE.

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

     

    Childhood Trauma: Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

     

     

    Individuals who have suffered severe childhood trauma may, as a result of it, later suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or similar condition. Some professionals advocate a relatively new technique which aims to address this; it is known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

    WHAT IS EMDR?

    The therapist administering EMDR will first examine the issues related to the individual’s psychological difficulties and, also, help him/her develop strategies to aid in relaxation and deal with stress. After this, the therapist encourages the individual to recall particular traumas, whilst, simultaneously, manipulating his/her eye movements by instructing him/her to follow the movements the therapist is making with a pen, or similar object, in front of the individual’s face). The theory is that this will facilitate the individual to effectively reprocess his/her traumatic experiences, thus alleviating psychological distress.

    THIS SOUNDS A LITTLE ODD; WHAT IS THE RATIONALE BEHIND EMDR AND HOW, EXACTLY, IS IT THOUGHT TO WORK?

    My first reaction to hearing about this particular therapy was that it sounded somewhat strange. However, the rationale behind EMDR is that disturbing memories from childhood need to be PROPERLY PROCESSED by the brain in order to alleviate symptoms associated with having experienced childhood trauma (eg PTSD, as already mentioned); this is because the view is taken that it is the UNRESOLVED TRAUMA that is the cause of the psychiatric difficulties the individual who presents him/herself for treatment is suffering. Those professionals who recommend the therapy believe that the EYE MOVEMENTS INDUCED BY THE THERAPIST IN THE INDIVIDUAL BEING TREATED LEAD TO NEUROLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN WHICH AID IN THE EFFECTIVE REPROCESSING OF THE TRAUMATIC MEMORY, and, in this way, ameliorates psychological problems from which the individual had been suffering.

    WHAT ARE THE STAGES INVOLVED IN EMDR THERAPY?

    These are briefly outlined below:

    1) The first stage is the identification of the specific memory/memories which underlie the trauma.

    2) Next, the individual is asked to identify particular negative beliefs he/she links to the memory (e.g. ‘I am worthless’)

    3) Then, the individual being treated is asked to replace the negative belief with a positive belief (e.g .’ I am strong enough to recover’ or ‘I am a person of value with potential to have a bright future’ etc)

    4) In the fourth stage, the therapist moves a pen (or similar object) in various, predetermined motions in front of the individual’s face and he/she is instructed to follow the movements with his/her eyes (e.g repeatedly left and right). Whilst this is going on, the therapist instructs the individual to simply, non-judgmentally observe his/her own thoughts, letting them come and go freely and without trying to influence them in any way – just to accept them, in other words, and let them happen.

    5) This procedure is repeated several times.

    Each time the process is undertaken, the therapist asks the individual being treated to rate how much distress he/she feels – this continues until his/her self-reported level of distress becomes very low. Similarly, each time the process is undertaken, the individual is asked to report how strongly he/she now feels he/she believes in the positive idea given in stage 3 (see examples provided above); therapy is only concluded once the level of reported belief becomes very high.

    N.B. The therapy is actually more involved than this, so the above should only be taken as a brief outline. There are, too, different variations of the procedure outlined above which can be employed within the EMDR range of therapies available.

     

    EMDR CAN HELP UNBLOCK TRAUMATIC INFORMATION HELD IN THE BRAIN AND HELP US TO HEALTHILY INTEGRATE IT INTO OUR LIFE STORY AS A WHOLE :

    When we suffer severe trauma we are not able to fully mentally process what it is that has happened to us and the trauma becomes mentally entrenched – in other words, what happened to us becomes locked or ‘stuck’ in our memory network. The effect of this may include us experiencing various symptoms such as irrational beliefs, painful emotions, anxiety and fears, flashbacks, nightmares and phobias. It may well also cause blocked energy and greatly reduce our self-efficacy.

    When we experience events that trigger memories of the trauma, images, sounds, physical sensations and beliefs which echo the original experience of the trauma cause our perception of current events to be distorted.

    EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can unblock this traumatic information and thus allow us to healthily mentally integrate it with our other life experiences and our life story as a whole.

    Trauma can occur in the form of SHOCK TRAUMA and DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA. Shock trauma consists of a sudden threat which is overwhelming and/or life-threatening – it occurs as a single episode such as a violent attack, rape or a natural disaster. Developmental trauma, on the other hand, refers to a series of events which occur over a period of time. These events GRADUALLY ALTER THE PERSON’S NEUROLOGICAL SYSTEM to the point that it REMAINS IN THE TRAUMATIC STATE. This, in turn, can cause an interruption in the child’s long-term psychological growth. Experiences which can lead to developmental trauma include abandonment by a parent, long term separation from a parent, an unsafe environment, an unstable environment, neglect, serious illness, physical and/or sexual abuse or betrayal by a caregiver.

    The effects of developmental trauma include damaging the child’s sense of self. self-esteem, self-definition and self-confidence. Also, the child’s sense of safety and security in the world will be seriously undermined. This makes it far more likely that the individual will experience further trauma in life as an adult as his/her sense of fear and helplessness remain unresolved.

    EMDR works by allowing the locked or ‘stuck’ traumatic information to be properly, mentally processed. This leads to the disturbing information becoming psychologically resolved and integrated.

    HOW DOES EMDR ACTUALLY WORK?

    EMDR is based on the idea that it is our memories which form the basis of our PERCEPTIONS, ATTITUDES and BEHAVIOURS. Because, as we have already established, traumatic memories fail to be properly processed they lead to these perceptions, attitudes and behaviours becoming DISTORTED and DYSFUNCTIONAL. In effect, the trauma is too large and too complex to be properly processed so it remains ‘STUCK’ and DYSFUNCTIONALLY STORED. This often leads to MALADAPTIVE ATTEMPTS TO PROCESS AND RESOLVE THE INFORMATION CONNECTED TO THE TRAUMA SUCH AS FLASHBACKS AND NIGHTMARES (Sharpio, 2001).

    When this problem occurs it is EMDR which is being increasingly turned to allow effective processing and mental healing to occur. I will look in more detail at what EMDR involves in later posts.

    WHAT DO EVALUATION STUDIES OF EMDR THERAPY SUGGEST ABOUT ITS EFFECTIVENESS?

    A recent meta-analysis of evidence (ie an overview of a large number of particular, individual studies of EMDR) supported the claim that it is effective, as have other meta-analyses. However, some researchers have suggested that it is not the EYE MOVEMENT PART of the therapy which is of benefit, but only the act of repeatedly recalling traumatic memories which is the effective component (based on the idea that these repeated mental exposures, under close supervision and in a supportive and safe environment, of the traumatic memories alone facilitate their therapeutic reprocessing).

    In response to this criticism, its exponents (and there are many professionals who are), regard the EYE MOVEMENT COMPONENT of the therapy as ESSENTIAL in giving rise to the NECESSARY NEUROLOGICAL CHANGES which allow the EFFECTIVE REPROCESSING OF THE TRAUMA; these proponents also emphasize that the therapy only requires short exposures to the traumatic memory/memories, thus giving it an advantage over therapies which utilize far more protracted exposures.

    Research into EMDR is ongoing.

     

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

    Childhood Trauma: The Five Main Personality Disorders.

     

    Because childhood trauma has frequently been linked to the later development of borderline personality disorder (BPD), I have devoted a whole category of this blog to the analysis of that particular condition (see CATEGORIES section). However, as childhood trauma can also contribute to other personality disorders (for example, see the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Disorders Study), I have decided it might be of help to outline the symptoms of those I have not yet covered.

    THE FIVE MAIN PERSONALITY DISORDERS ARE AS FOLLOWS:

    – PARANOID
    – SCHIZOTYPAL
    – ANTISOCIAL
    – NARCISSISTIC
    – BORDERLINE

    I elaborate on these below; first, however, it is worth pointing out that it is estimated 14% of the population suffer from one of the personality disorders. Let’s look at them now:

    1) PARANOID PERSONALITY DISORDER: it is thought that as many as one in twenty people could suffer from this disorder. Individuals who suffer from it find it very hard to trust others and view the world in general with suspicion. Some important features of the condition suffered by individuals include:

    – a feeling others relentlessly victimize them
    – a feeling of being unacceptable to society
    – an expectation others will betray them / being on the lookout (perhaps obsessively) for signs of such betrayal
    – feelings of intense jealousy (particularly in relation to partner)
    – a marked tendency to hold onto resentments against others
    – a marked tendency to be excessively critical of others

    Often, such individuals will not seek professional help as they will frequently have a deep distrust of therapists and may, too, lack insight into their condition. Whilst environmental factors are at play in the development of this disorder, genes are also believed to have a significant role.

    2) SCHIZOTYPAL PERSONALITY DISORDER: About 2% of the population are thought to suffer from this. Those affected suffer social anxiety, lack social skills and avoid close relationships. Also, they frequently have strange ideas and bizarre ways of behaving. Key features of this condition suffered by individuals include:

    – bizarre fantasies and superstitions (e.g belief in telepathy)

    – ‘ideas of reference’: this is the belief that events related to the sufferer when, in reality, they do not. For example, a sufferer might believe that a newspaper headline refers to him/her or that a TV news item is about him/her.

    ‘poverty of speech’: this refers to speech which is vague, confused and difficult to follow or make sense of (over-use of inappropriate and odd metaphors is not unusual).

    – paranoia (see above)

    – beliefs that parts of their body (e.g an arm) are being controlled by outside or supernatural forces

    With this disorder, too, genetics are thought to play a significant role. It is linked to schizophrenia, a more serious condition, but does not necessarily lead to full-blown symptoms of this.

    3) ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER: About 2% of the population is thought to suffer from this condition; it is much more common amongst males. It is also believed that up to 80% of the prison population, at any one time, comprises individuals with this condition. Individuals with the disorder lack empathy, feel little or no remorse (ie lack what is commonly referred to as a conscience), care little about the generally accepted rules of society and can frequently be violent. However, not all are violent and many can function, even excel, in society by capitalizing on personality traits such as ruthlessness, manipulativeness, and, not infrequently, a superficial charm, to become, for example, successful politicians or CEOs. Key features of the disorder include:

    – frequent lying
    – lack of feelings of guilt
    – aggression
    – irresponsible behaviours
    – indifference to the suffering of others/lack of compassion
    – irritability and hostility
    – frequent impulsivity

    Individuals with the disorder very frequently crave power and this ‘power lust’ will usually take precedence over forming long-term, meaningful relationships.

    4) NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER: Some have speculated that this disorder is becoming more common in what is sometimes referred to as the current ‘ME-GENERATION’ or ‘X-FACTOR GENERATION’ (I never watch it. Honestly). At present, however, it is estimated that about 1% of the population suffer from it. Individuals who are affected by it tend to be what many might term ‘attention-seekers’. They will also tend to have a grandiose self-image, believing that they are somehow entitled to special treatment. Their enormous self-regard and sense of self-importance can lead to them behaving in a very arrogant and off-hand manner. Key features of the condition include:

    – self-absorption/self-obsessiveness
    – a sense of great specialness
    – a grandiose self-view
    – a lack of empathy for others
    – frequent feelings of great envy or jealousy
    – a predisposition towards the exploitation of others
    – intense competitiveness

    These individuals may, too, greatly overestimate their own talents, perhaps expecting to become an enormous success, rich and famous (X-FACTOR comes to mind again here, for some reason). Rather than engaging with others on a ‘normal’ emotional level, they may uniformly see others, essentially, as merely providing them with an audience.

    5) BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (click here)

     

    OTHER FACTORS THAT MAY CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF PERSONALITY DISORDER:

    As well as the experience of significant and protracted childhood trauma, various other factors may increase the individual’s risk of developing a personality disorder; I briefly examine these below:

    GENETICS:

    Some individuals may inherit genes that predispose them to experience higher than average levels of fear, anxiety and aggression – such individuals may, therefore, be at increased risk of developing certain personality disorders.

    PARENTAL VERBAL ABUSE:

    Research suggests verbal abuse by parents may increase the risk of a person developing a personality disorder. 

    HIGH LEVELS OF SENSITIVITY:

    There is some evidence to suggest that highly sensitive people may be at increased risk of developing a personality disorder – such individuals may be highly reactive to sensory information such as light, sound and touch.

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

    Childhood Trauma: Its Relationship to Psychopathy.

     

    The term ‘psychopath’ is often used by the tabloid press. In fact, the diagnosis of ‘psychopath’ is no longer given – instead, the term ‘anti-social personality disorder’ is generally used.

    When the word ‘psychopath’ is employed by the press, it tends to be used for its ‘sensational’ value to refer to a cold-blooded killer who may (or may not) have a diagnosis of mental illness.

    It is very important to point out, however, that it is extremely rare for a person who is suffering from mental illness to commit a murder; someone suffering from very acute paranoid schizophrenia may have a delusional belief that others are a great danger to him/her (this might involve, say, terrifying hallucinations) and kill in response to that – I repeat, though, such events are very rare indeed: mentally ill people are far more likely to be a threat to themselves than to others (e.g. through self-harming, substance abuse or suicidal behaviours).

    The word psychopath actually derives from Greek:

    psych = mind

    pathos = suffering

    Someone who is a ‘psychopath’ (i.e. has been diagnosed with an anti-social personality disorder) needs to fulfil the following criteria:

    – inability to feel guilt or remorse
    – lack of empathy
    – shallow emotions
    – inability to learn from experience in relation to dysfunctional behaviour

    Often, psychopaths will possess considerable charisma, intelligence and charm; however, they will also be dishonest, manipulative and bullying, prepared to employ violence in order to achieve their aims.

    According to Professor Stephen Scott of the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London, signs that a child may be at risk of developing psychopathy as an adult include:

    • lack of emotion
    • callousness
    • inability to experience feelings of guilt
    • superficial charm
    • a very ‘short fuse’ and explosive temper
    • intense fascination with inanimate objects such as certain technological devices
    • are not deterred from behaving in anti-social ways by punishment (may display indifference to being punished)
    • impaired activity of the amygdala (a part of the brain that processes emotions and is known to be susceptible to damage as a result of severe and protracted childhood trauma) leading to a lack of emotional response to events/occurrences (such as the suffering of others) that non-psychopaths would find emotionally disturbing and upsetting. This idea is supported by post-mortem studies:

    Post-mortem studies have revealed that they frequently have underdeveloped regions of the brain responsible for the governing of emotions (including the amygdala, as highlighted by Professor Scott); IT APPEARS THAT THE SEVERE MALTREATMENT THAT THEY RECEIVED AS CHILDREN IS THE UNDERLYING CAUSE OF THE PHYSICAL UNDERDEVELOPMENT OF THESE VITAL BRAIN REGIONS. It is thought that these brain abnormalities lead not only to a blunting of the individual’s emotions but also to a propensity in the individual to SEEK OUT RISK, DANGER and similar STIMULATION (including violence).

    Damage To Prefrontal Cortex:

    The healthy development of a region of the brain called the PREFRONTAL CORTEX depends, to a large degree, upon the child experiencing warm, loving, affectionate relationships as he grows up. Being deprived of this can potentially damage the development of this brain region(essentially, without these positive relationships, the brain does not produce enough OPIATES which are needed for the proper development of the particular brain area).

    The prefrontal cortex is responsible for self-control, empathy and the regulation of strong emotions such as anger.

    As ‘psychopaths’ reach middle-age, fewer and fewer of them remain at large in society due to the fact that by this time they are normally incarcerated or dead from causes such as suicide, drug overdose or violent incidents (possibly by provoking a ‘fellow psychopath’ to murder them). However, it has also been suggested that some possess the skills necessary to integrate themselves into society (mainly by having decision-making skills which enable this and operating in a context suited to their abilities, for example where cold judgment and ruthlessness are an advantage) and become very, even exceptionally, successful; perhaps it comes as little surprise, then, that they are thought to tend to be statistically over-represented in, for example, politics and in CEO roles.

    WHAT KINDS OF CHILDHOODS HAVE ADULT ‘PSYCHOPATHS’ HAD?

    Research shows that ‘psychopaths’ tend to be a product of ENVIRONMENT rather than nature – i.e. they are MADE rather than born. They also tend to have suffered horrendous childhoods either at the hands of their own parent/s or those who were supposed to have been caring for them – perhaps suffering extreme violence or neglect.

    IS THE PSYCHOPATHY TREATABLE?

    Whilst there are those who consider the condition to be untreatable, many others, who are professionally involved in its study, are more optimistic. Indeed, some treatment communities have been set up to help those affected by the condition take responsibility for their actions and face up to the harm they have caused. Research is ongoing in order to assess to what degree intervention by mental health services can be effective.

     

    When Ten Year Olds Turn Killers – The Case of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson

    The case of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson is well known, so it is not necessary to go into details about it here. Suffice it to say, they were both, at the age of ten, found guilty of the profoundly disturbing crime of abducting and murdering the two-year-old James Bulger.

    Surprisingly, there seems to have been little media interest in examining the early life experiences of either of the two boys who were prosecuted for the crime, so, in this article, I will look at the environments in which they grew up in order to establish if it is possible to find some clues as to what caused their deeply aberrant behaviour.

    Clearly, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson had profoundly intense pent-up anger which they displaced, in a most shocking way, onto the toddler, James Bulger, whom they abducted. But from where did this anger originate? In order to answer this question, it seems common sense to look at their respective home backgrounds.

    Robert Thompson had six siblings and it has been written that both he and they were neglected. Furthermore, Thompson’s father left the family home when the young boy was just five years old; and this, it seemed, exacerbated his mother’s drinking problem. At one point, too, she attempted to commit suicide.

    On top of this, Thompson’s father was violent, and, before he left his family, had frequently behaved in a threatening and intimidating way towards his son (Robert), and had also physically punished him on regular occasions.

    It appears that due to this extremely stressful environment, all the children in the family became disturbed, taking out their anguish on one another – they would, for example, threaten one another with knives.

    Indeed, the family was so disrupted, chaotic and unhappy that one child asked to be taken into care. When he later had to come back to the family home, such was his distress that he attempted suicide.

    One point, in particular, I think, goes to show the extreme extent to which Robert’s mother neglected him: she was rarely with him to provide emotional support on the many days that it was necessary for him to attend court.

    Jon Venable’s family, too, was deeply unhappy and unstable – indeed, this state of affairs had led his parents to divorce. His mother, it seems, was something of a narcissist and was, apparently, far more concerned about her love-life (she had a constant stream of boyfriends) than she was with looking after Jon. She also suffered from mental health problems (predominantly depression) and, like the mother of Robert, had attempted to commit suicide.

    Venables was frightened of his mother as she could behave menacingly towards him – he would, for example, take refuge by hiding underneath chairs. More worrying still, he would cut himself with knives.

    Together, Venables and Thompson would be absent from school without permission. They would shop-lift and become involved in violent incidents. They had also displayed cruelty towards animals – shooting pigeons with air rifles and tying rabbits to railway lines so that they were run over by the trains. Such cruelty towards animals is known to be one of the risk factors which predict the development of anti-social personality disorder (sometimes referred to as psychopathy) in adult life. 

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