Ten Ways To Build Resilience

resilience

Different people respond in different ways to trauma. One of the reasons for this is that some people are more resilient to its adverse effects than others and even manage to grow and develop as a person in positive ways (a phenomenon known as posttraumatic growth) that would not have occurred had they not experienced the traumatic event/s.

However, resilience is not something that a person either has or does not have, rather, it is something that we can build and develop. According to the American Psychological Association there are TEN MAIN WAYS WE CAN INCREASE OUR RESILIENCE and these are as follows :

 

  1. Develop social connections: e.g. with supportive family members, friends, community support groups (in general, the more social/emotional support we have, the more psychologically resilient we are likely to be. Research has also found that working as a volunteer and helping others is another good strategy for resilience-building.
  2. If changes have occurred which are irreversible, accept that this is just part of what life involves and direct energy towards things that can be positively changed.
  3. Take decisive action: when one has suffered trauma : it is easy to fall into the trap of endlessly ruminating upon what has gone wrong and feel helpless; it is necessary to avoid this, and, instead, take decisive action to change things for the better (see my previously published article on childhood trauma and depression which includes information on LEARNED HELPLESSNESS AND BEHAVIORAL ACTIVATION).
  4. Try to keep an optimistic outlook – rather than negatively ruminate, attempt to visualize solutions / how you would like the future to turn out.
  5. Try to maintain perspective by seeing things in the context of the ‘bigger picture’ / taking a long-term view.
  6. Self-care: Treat yourself with compassion, do things you enjoy (or used to enjoy), exercise, eat well and generally look after your needs and feelings (especially by avoiding stress as far as possible.
  7. Consider if the trauma may, in some respects, help develop you as a person; there may be opportunities for posttraumatic growth – for example, some trauma survivors report improved relationships, increased inner strength and coping ability, spiritual growth, a greater sense of self-worth (knowing they can survive great difficulties, for example) and increased empathy for the suffering of others as a result of their adverse experiences.
  8. Focus upon maintaining a positive self-view, especially in relation to your problem-solving abilities.
  9. Try to set goals each day that help you to move forward, however small, so that at the end of the day you can know you have done at least one positive thing.
  10. Avoid ‘catastrophizing’ (seeing crises as insurmountable problems) – cognitive behavioural therapy can help with this, as well as with other so-called ‘thinking errors’).

RESOURCES :

Develop Powerful Resilience | Self Hypnosis Downloads

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

 

 

Childhood Rejection Leading To Possessive Behavior In Adult Relationships

 

possessiveness

If we were rejected when we were children by parents / primary carers this can have a profound effect upon our adult, intimate relationships, causing them to be ruined by a perpetual, intense fear of losing our partner and re-experiencing the intolerable emotional pain that was generated by our experience of rejection and abandonment when young. This deeply entrenched insecurity can then, in turn, lead us to behave in ways driven by feelings of JEALOUSY and POSSESSIVENESS.

However, it is important to point out that many individuals who are prone to jealous and possessive behaviours in relation to how they interact with their partners (or those they wish to be their partners) are not consciously aware that these (invariably self-defeating) behaviours are related to their adverse childhood experiences. In other words, their jealousy and possessiveness are driven, largely, by unconscious forces.

SIGNS OF POSSESSIVENESS TOWARDS A PARTNER OR PERSON ONE WISHES TO BE ONE’S PARTNER :

Signs that an individual is possessive include the following :

  • believing life is meaningless and futile without the person
  • believing the other person is the only one who can make one happy
  • making an excessive number of calls to the person (or texts / social media contacts etc.)
  • sending the other person gifts, despite this person having made it clear that s/he has no wish to receive them
  • finding it very hard to stop thinking about the other person, possibly to the degree that it adversely affects sleep, work performance and eating behaviour
  • believing oneself to be a victim if the other does not agree to fulfil one’s needs
  • believing one’s love of the other to be so powerful that it will eventually ‘win the other over’, despite, objectively speaking, clear signs to the contrary
  • turning up at the other person’s home, place of work etc. without invitation
  • spending a lot of time in a state of tortured and agitated hope/expectation that the other will make contact via phone/text / social media etc. whilst simultaneously dreading s/he won’t
  • spending a lot of time concerned about where the other person is, what s/he is doing and who s/he is with etc., possibly including checking up that the other isn’t lying about these things or spying on the other person to check the veracity of his/her claims and generally treating him/her as a perpetual ‘suspect’
  • trying to dominate the other person and failing to respect their personal boundaries.
  • becoming angry when the other person tries to do something (e.g. see own friends) that doesn’t involve one
  • trying to prevent the other from seeing his/her family / personal friends so that s/he becomes isolated and therefore easier to control and dominate.

HOW DOES POSSESSIVENESS DIFFER FROM HEALTHY AFFECTION / LOVE?

Essentially, possessiveness involves not trusting the other person and denying him/her space, freedom and independence in direct contrast to what is necessary to maintain a healthily loving and affectionate relationship; also, possessiveness is essentially selfish, concentrating on the needs of the one being possessive as opposed to the needs of the partner / desired partner.

Whilst the recipient of healthy affection/love is helped to feel safe and secure, the recipient of possessive behaviour is made to feel smothered, oppressed, anxious and uncomfortable, or, in more extreme cases, fearful.

OVERCOMING A POSSESSIVE MENTALITY :

There are several things we can do to reduce possessive attitudes and behaviours; these include :

  1. Maintain own independence – having one’s own life, independent of partner’s, is often preferable to ‘living in one another’s pocket’ and being together 24/7, not least because it can prevent the relationship from stagnating and keep a couple interesting to each other.
  2. Don’t allow past experiences to make self overly cynical about present relationships or to destroy the ability to trust.
  3. Remember that being ‘needy’, ‘clingy,’ suspicious and anxiously insecure around one’s partner is frequently counterproductive.
  4. Don’t unreasonably curtail partner’s freedom (e.g. by stopping them having own friends and social life if this is desired).
  5. Work on improving self-worth and self-esteem if worrying about a partner leaving one is based on feelings of ‘not being good enough,’ especially as such negative beliefs about oneself can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (because this is often the root of the problem, more detail about this is provided below).
  6. Allow partner to maintain own identity, as opposed to trying to mould him/her into an ‘ideal’ to suit own needs.
  7. Resist urges to neurotically ‘spy’ on a partner which may serve only to maintain an irrationally suspicious/paranoid mindset (not to mention freak out the spied upon).
  8. Try to discover the primary source of possessive behaviour and then address it. For example, if the root of the problem lies in having been betrayed, rejected or abandoned by a parent / primary carer in childhood, consider seeking therapy (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy to help correct self-defeating ‘thinking errors’). N.B. Numbers 8 and 6 are frequently, closely interconnected.
  9. If we feel we have a problem with a propensity to treat our partner in a possessive way and intend to try to correct it, openly discussing the problem can be a constructive way forward (e.g. by addressing the root cause of the problem – see above), make one’s own and one’s partner’s life less stressful, and encourage him/her to be more understanding of our anxieties and supportive of our planned endeavours to rectify the situation.

MORE ON HOW CHILDHOOD CAN PROFOUNDLY UNDERMINE OUR SELF-IMAGE AND ADVERSELY AFFECT OUR ADULT RELATIONSHIPS :

Our ability to love and our ability to express love as an adult is very substantially learned in childhood by observing our parents / primary carers, and, as I have already alluded to above, if, as children, such role models abused us, neglected us, or rejected us, we may have (both consciously and unconsciously) internalized their negative attitudes towards us and, as a consequence, developed a profound, core belief that we are essentially unlovable, inadequate and ‘bad.’

This, frequently, highly irrational belief, in turn, can pervade and poison our adult relationships as our deep insecurities can make us believe that it is only a matter of time before our partner realizes what a hopeless, worthless creature we are and leave us for good. This prospect terrifies us, as, in our minds, this would ‘confirm’ our unlovability, ‘hopelessness’ ‘badness’ and ‘worthlessness,’ re-triggering the adverse emotional effects of our mistreatment in childhood.

Therefore, we develop a frame of mind which perceives preventing our partner from leaving us as indispensable to our very psychological survival and as crucial to maintaining our tenuous grip on any positive elements of our self-image that our relationship with the partner has allowed us to tentatively develop. This, in turn, makes us liable to overcompensate for our self-perceived ‘inadequacies’ by practising the kind of dysfunctional, self-defeating, possessive behaviours described above.

Therefore, in order to create healthily loving and affectionate bonds with others in our adult lives, it is necessary for us to develop a self-image which is NOT determined by our unfortunate, early-life experiences.

Improving one’s self-image is best started by, first of all, accepting the kind of person we are at present. However, if we (at present) view ourselves as a ‘bad’ person we need to consider whether this view has been distorted by our internalization of how our parents / primary carers behaved towards us during our childhood. And if, after consideration, we still view ourselves as a ‘bad’ person, we need to change this way of thinking about ourselves and, instead, tell ourselves we may have done things of which we are not proud, and which we regret, in the past, but that these things don’t define who we are now or who we can be tomorrow and in the future.

So, if we have been possessive in the past, this does not mean we will be a possessive person from now on, and, to make progress, it is necessary to accept our past mistakes without getting caught up in feelings of shame because such feelings will serve only to hinder our psychological recovery and make us less able to help ourselves.

We also need to understand that it is most likely to be how we feel about ourselves that makes us behave possessively, rather than having much to do with our partner. Indeed, our dysfunctional behaviour is frequently driven by our negative thinking about ourselves. Examples of these negative thoughts include :

‘I am not good enough for my partner and s/he will leave me the second s/he finds someone better,’ or, ‘My partner’s bound to leave me for someone with more money.’

Finally, as I alluded to above, cognitive behavioural therapy can help to correct our self-defeating thought processes. So, too, can hypnotherapy, cognitive hypnotherapy and counselling/marriage counselling or other forms of psychotherapy.

  •  

RESOURCES :

Develop a Positive Self Image | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Overcome Jealousy With Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Stop Snooping on Your Partner | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Get Over Your Partner’s Sexual History | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Betrayal By Parents : Long-term Effects.

Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)

The Long-Term Effects of Parental Rejection

Abandonment Issues, Fear Of Rejection And Therapies

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

 

 

The Effect Of The Body Language Of The Parents On The Child

In this article, I will look at how body language is relevant to the topic of childhood trauma in two particular ways :

  1. The effect of the body language of the parents upon the child.
  2. How the experience of chronic childhood trauma can negatively impact upon the child’s body language.

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

  1. The Effect Of The Body Language Of The Parents Upon The Child :

The majority of communication between human beings occurs not through language and the words people use but, instead, via NON-VERBAL / BODY LANGUAGE. This includes :

  • facial expressions (including micro-expressions which are extremely fleeting signs of emotions that the individual tries to hide)
  • intonation
  • posture
  • autonomic arousal
  • movement
  • gestures
  • muscular tension

In other words, when someone speaks to us, we interpret the information that they are conveying to us not just upon the meaning of the words they use, but also with recourse (both consciously and unconsciously) to the non-verbal / body language indicators and signals listed above.

Another way to explain this is to say that the actual words used to represent the text, whereas the non-verbal / body language represents the sub-text (which is often a much more profound level of communication through which the speaker may – often inadvertently – reveal his / her true feelings).

For example, when I was a child, my father generally spoke to me in a formal, polite, superficial way which barely concealed his deeper feelings towards me of disdain, disapproval and irritation; indeed, on some occasions, he almost seemed to ooze disgust merely as a result of having the misfortune to be in the same room as me.

Such a scenario can, of course, be extremely confusing and upsetting for the child. If, for example, the child is very sensitive and detects such inconsistencies between the parent’s words and his / her (i.e. the parent’s) non-verbal / body language and draws attention to the discrepancy, the parent may well (even more confusingly, perhaps, in an angry and irritated tone) deny that any such contradiction between the ‘text’ and the ‘sub-text’ exists.

This, in turn, can place the child in a no-win situation regarding his / her (i.e. the child’s) interactions with his / her parent because :

If s/he interacts with the parent according to the ‘text’, this will be undermined by the ‘sub-text’. However, if s/he interacts with the parent according to the ‘sub-text’, this will be hampered by the ‘text.’

Indeed, if this form of dysfunctional communication becomes chronic so that the child grows up receiving mixed messages, this can result in him/her being perpetually trapped in a ‘DOUBLE-BIND, leaving him/her in a state whereby s/he starts to question his / her very sense of reality.

Some theorists are of the view that such upbringings significantly increase the child’s risk of developing schizophrenia in later life. (It is particularly confusing for the child if s/he only perceives the parent’s negative ‘sub-texts’ on an unconscious level, as this will lead him/her to distrust and resent the parent / primary carer without being aware as to why this is).

2) How childhood experiences can negatively impact upon the child’s body language :

A child who is brought up in a dysfunctional way by his / her parents can be affected on a physiological level, and this may manifest itself in the child’s habitual body language.

For example, a child who is made to feel by his/her parents that s/he is never good enough is a disappointment and continually falls short of their expectations may develop a mindset whereby s/he feels compelled continuously to strive to live up to his/her parents’ exacting, always out of reach, standards, and this mental attitude may then give rise to a permanent type of body language, affecting movement and posture, which reflects a deeply pervasive muscular tension; this is sometimes referred to as the ‘BRACE RESPONSE’ essential features of which include tightened and tensed up muscles in the neck, shoulders, face and jaw.

Likewise, a child who is constantly undermined by his/her parents and made to feel inadequate and lacking in confidence may develop a habitual type of body language that belies inner feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘COLLAPSE RESPONSE,’ the hallmarks of which include rounded shoulders, sighing, looking down at the floor and failing to meet the eyes of others and retracted chest.

Children who have grown up in a threatening environment may develop ‘defensive’ body language, sometimes referred to as the ‘ARMOUR RESPONSE’ ; such individuals may be unconsciously driven to become obese as a form of self-protection or they may become obsessed with body-building.

Children with rapid, shallow breathing and who are prone to hyperventilating  (caused by chronic feelings of panic, anxiety and vulnerability) may develop body language that is sometimes referred to as the ‘STARTLE RESPONSE,’ signs of which include a slight frame, quick, darting movements and a wide-eyed expression.

Such body language, as described in the examples above, and reflected in the child’s habitual postural and movement patterns can reinforce the child’s negative self-perception, making it more likely that his/her dysfunctional beliefs relating to the self will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is because just as how we feel about ourselves affects our body language (i.e. how we move, our posture etc.) so, too, does our body language affect how we feel, and what we believe, about ourselves – in short, it is a two-way street.

Implications For Therapy :

It is now increasingly recognised that one vital route to treating the effects of trauma is through therapies which focus on the body; such treatments are known as SOMATIC PSYCHOTHERAPY.

Concerning this, recent research conducted by Cuddy et al. has shown that certain ‘power poses’ (e.g. standing with hands-on-hips or sitting down while leaning back in the chair with outstretched arms) have a significant, positive effect upon the body’s regulation of stress hormones. The same research also showed that sitting in a cramped body posture (i.e. hunched up with arms and legs crossed) had the reverse effect.

Many suffering from the adverse effects of trauma also responds well to yoga.

YOU MAY ALSO WISH TO READ MY RELATED ARTICLE: WHY COMPLEX PTSD SUFFERERS MAY AVOID EYE CONTACT.

RESOURCE :

IMPROVE POSTURE: SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

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

 

Two Main Ways Narcissistic Parents May Use Their Children.

We have seen from other articles that I have previously published on this site that narcissistic parents tend to see their children as possessions and as extensions of themselves, as opposed to individuals in their own right (this can lead to the child growing up to develop serious identity problems).

They also lack empathy for their child (and for other people in general), tend to transgress his / her (i.e. the child’s) personal boundaries and view his / her (i.e. the child’s) sole purpose in life as being to serve their (i.e. the narcissistic parents’) needs.

Two main ways in which narcissistic parents tend to use and exploit their child is to treat him/her (i.e. the child) as both a source of emotional support and an emotional punch bag.

Being Used As A Punch Bag :

Narcissistic parents tend to be unhappy, unfulfilled, frustrated, thin-skinned and hypersensitive to criticism and disapproval (real or imagined). This makes them very prone to feelings of anger and resentment and they are liable to displace and redirect such feelings onto their child in the form of aggression (verbal, physical or both), thus, in effect, using the child as a punching bag on which to vent their vitriol.

But this is not the only reason why narcissistic parents may use their child as a punching bag – it also serves to keep the child ‘in his / her place’ and also to ensure that his / her self-esteem and confidence remain resolutely low, thus making him/her easier to control and manipulate.

This parental betrayal of the child may also be amplified further by the fact that such parents, too, may also rely on the child to provide him/her (i.e. the narcissistic parent) with constant emotional support, resulting in the child becoming not only the parent’s emotional punch bag but, also, his / her (i.e. the parent’s) emotional caretaker (sometimes referred to as ‘parenting’ the child).

The Narcissistic Parent’s Binary View Of The World :

The behaviour of the narcissistic parent described above, oscillating between using the child for emotional support and using him/her as an emotional ‘punch bag’ is elucidated in part by the fact that narcissists tend to view the world in a binary fashion, by which is meant in terms of ‘all good’ or ‘all bad,’ or ‘black and white,’ rather than in a more nuanced manner which also acknowledges the shades of grey in between. In line with this, then, narcissistic parents tend to oscillate between, at times, demonizing their child whilst, at other times, idealizing him /her.

It is extremely hard to correct this hurtful behaviour in the narcissistic parents as they tend to be incapable of empathy and love – not only for people in general but for their own children; indeed, in the case of narcissistic mothers, they seem to lack the normal maternal extinct to nurture the child.

It is for this reason that some adult children sever connections with their narcissistic parent altogether. Others, however, do not take such drastic action but, instead, attempt to reduce the dysfunctionality of the relationship by learning to incorporate appropriate personal boundaries into it.

Narcissistic Parents’ Use Of The Complimentary Moral Defense(Opens in a new browser tab)

Narcissistic Parents’ Use Of The Complimentary Moral Defense(Opens in a new browser tab)

Childhood Trauma: The ‘Silent Treatment’.(Opens in a new browser tab)

Healthy Narcissism Versus Unhealthy Narcissism (Kohut’s Theory).(Opens in a new browser tab)

Controlling And Sociopathic Parents(Opens in a new browser tab)

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

Arrested Development Due To Childhood Trauma

 

Early life trauma can interfere with, or arrest, the development of the self.

The normal development of self involves the following stages.

 

  1. Approximately 6 months: the capacity for self-observation develops
  2. Approximately 12 months: the capacity for symbolic thinking becomes well established as does a ‘sense of self’
  3. Approximately 7 to 11 years: the capacity for concrete operational thinking becomes established, as does an intense emotional life. Also, at this stage, the child becomes increasingly concerned about his / her interaction with his / her peers.
  4. Adolescence: the capacity for concrete operational thinking continues to develop as does the ability to negotiate increasingly complex and nuanced social interactions
  5. Early Adulthood: concerns turn to intimacy and family.
  6. Mid-Life: concerns extend to wider society.
  7. Later Life: world view/understanding deepens; metaphysical concerns may become increasingly profound.

However, those who have experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma FAIL TO DEVELOP A STRONG SENSE OF SELF / SELF-IDENTITY, especially if they developed, because of their upbringing, an ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT STYLE (Main et al., 2002). An anxious attachment style can develop when an emotionally unstable parent (particularly a parent prone to explosive outbursts of rage) causes their child to have to be hyper-alert / hyper-vigilant regarding this parent’s unpredictably changing moods as a form of self-preservation (my own mother’s emotions fluctuated wildly which had an effect on me that made me able to sense how she was feeling from the minutest change in her expression, intonation or body language, and, to this day, I am able instantly to pick up on the most subtle of people’s changes in mood via tacit signs to which others may be oblivious).

Sadly, too, children brought up by such parents are unconsciously indoctrinated into developing the core belief that their own, personal concerns, worries, anxieties and needs are, at best, secondary to those of their emotionally unstable parent. Whilst, on the surface, the child / young person may appear to be ‘coping’ with such impossibly onerous responsibilities, there is often an extremely heavy emotional price to be paid in later life. 

THE THREE MAIN WAYS IN WHICH CHILDHOOD TRAUMA CAN IMPAIR THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF :

There are three main ways in which childhood trauma can impair the development of self; these are as follows :

  1. No strong sense of self is developed; instead, a ‘false self’ is created that tends to take its cues about how to behave from the expectations of others, so lacks autonomy, authenticity and consistency.
  2. A less weak sense of self than the above type, but still a very fragile sense of self which is kept hidden due to a sense of shame and of being judged and rejected.
  3. This third type of self develops as a result of an emotionally over-involved parent / primary caretaker. The self is undeveloped as the individual has grown up to ‘learn’ (on an unconscious level) that s/he must be hypervigilant to the parent’s / primary caretaker’s needs (and, by extension, as s/he gets older, to the needs of others – such individuals may become ‘chronic caretakers’ of others whilst remaining neglectful of his / her own needs and lacking in assertiveness and in a sense of personal boundaries.

Arrested Development : Are Adult BPD Sufferers Eternal 13-Year-Olds?

New research suggests that those suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD), a condition strongly associated with childhood trauma,  may have ceased to develop emotionally at around the age of thirteen years due to the occurrence of severe trauma around this critical period in their psychological development.

In other words, they become emotionally developmentally arrested: puer aeternus (eternal children). Far from being a desirable state, it can make their adult lives all but impossible.

And their consequent behaviour during adulthood, as a result of having BPD, is not like that of a well-balanced and well-adjusted thirteen-year-old, but that of a challenging and difficult one.

So, according to this new research, those suffering from BPD can be regarded as being ‘stuck’ in the early adolescent phase of personality and emotional development. Because of this, their emotions remain labile, unstable and turbulent.

In particular, due to this arrested development of the personality, research suggests such individuals will :

– be hypersensitive to rejection

– have poor self-control (eg impulsivity/recklessness/diminished concern for the negative consequences of behaviour)

– have an excessive need for instant gratification

Therapies which may help individuals experiencing the kinds of psychological symptoms that I have referred to above may benefit, in particular, from two specific types of psychotherapy – these are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT).

Resource:

 

CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS | SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

 

eBook :

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

How Childhood Trauma Harms The Brain’s Insula

WHAT IS THE BRAIN’S INSULA?

The insula is a small region of the brain’s cerebral cortex (see diagram below). Its precise function is not fully understood but it is hypothesized to play a significant role in :

  • generating our conscious self-awareness of our emotions.
  • interoceptive processing (this refers to the degree to which we are paying attention to the sensory information generated by our bodies).
  • how the above 2 functions interact to generate our perception of the present moment.
  • pain
  • love
  • addiction

 

STUDY ON HOW CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ADVERSELY AFFECTS THE INSULA :

A study conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine involved 59 participants who were aged between 9- years-old and 17-years-old.

These 59 participants comprised 2 groups :

GROUP 1 (The Traumatized Group): This group comprised 30 young people (16 males and 14 females).

Of these 30 participants, 5 had been exposed to one traumatic stressor in childhood, whilst the other 25 had been exposed to two or more traumatic stressors or to ongoing/chronic traumatic stress during childhood.

All 30 participants of this group had exhibited symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

GROUP 2 : (The Non-Traumatized Group): This group was the ‘control’ group and comprised the remaining 29 participants.

None of the 29 participants in this group exhibited symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

WHAT BRAIN SCANS REVEALED ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS IN EACH OF THE TWO GROUPS :

The brains of all 59 participants were scanned using a technique known as structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI).

RESULTS :

In the NON-TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 2) there was found to be NO DIFFERENCE in the structure of the insulae when the males were compared to the females.

HOWEVER :

In the TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 1) there WAS FOUND TO BE A DIFFERENCE in the structure of the insulae when the males were compared to the females. The difference was as follows :

a) Boys in the TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 1) had insulae of a GREATER VOLUME AND SURFACE AREA than the boys in the NON-TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 2).

b) Girls in the TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 1) had insulae of a LESSER VOLUME AND SURFACE AREA than the girls in the NON-TRAUMATIZED GROUP (GROUP 2).

WHAT CAN WE CONCLUDE FROM THESE FINDINGS?

We are able to draw two main inferences based upon the above observations; these are :

a) the experience of significant childhood trauma adversely affects the structural development of the insula.

b) the way in which the experience of significant childhood trauma adversely affects the structural development of the insula. differs between boys and girls.

IMPLICATIONS FOR TREATMENT OF PTSD :

The above findings imply that because the effects of traumatic stress on the brain appear to differ between males and females, the type of treatment provided for individuals with PTSD needs to take into account their sex.

 

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

How Mental And Physical Suffering Generated By Childhood Trauma Are Intrinsically Interlinked.

 

 

 

Perhaps the best-known study on the effects of childhood trauma on the individual is the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study conducted by Felitti and Robert Anda in the 1990s. The study involved a survey of 17,337 volunteers (approximately half of whom were female) to ascertain whether there was a link between the experience of childhood trauma and the development, in later life, of emotional, behavioural and physical problems.

In summary, the study found that (on average) the greater the individual’s experience of childhood trauma, the more likely, on average, s/he was to develop the emotional, behavioural and physical problems in later life that I referred to above.

THE BRAIN-BODY CONNECTION :

It is now known that these mental and physical problems experienced in later life by individuals who have suffered significant and ongoing childhood trauma are intrinsically interlinked due to the intimate relationship between the brain and the body. This intimate relationship is illustrated by the recent research study described below :

Recent research conducted at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that (a hitherto undiscovered) ‘brain-body pathway’ exists linking the brain,  via the lymphatic vessels, to the body’s immune system (prior to this discovery, it was assumed that the brain was isolated from the body’s immune system). This newly discovered pathway transports immune cells around the body and helps to detoxify it.

A central effect on children of suffering significant and protracted childhood trauma is that the ongoing, severe stress that they are forced to endure leads to the production of excessive quantities of damaging and inflammatory chemicals (Bierhaus et al., 2003).

It is now known that because of the existence of this newly discovered ‘brain-body pathway’, these harmful chemicals are distributed throughout the entire human biological system, thus adversely affecting both mind and body and, accordingly, leading to both mental (e.g. anxiety and depression) and physical problems (e.g. high blood pressure and heart disease).

Indeed, research shows that those who have experienced severe and protracted childhood trauma are, on average, likely to die significantly earlier than individuals who were fortunate enough not to live through such early life traumatic experiences.

REFERENCES:

Bierhaus A, Wolf J, Andrassy M, et al. A mechanism converting psychosocial stress into mononuclear cell activation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003;100(4):1920-1925. doi:10.1073/pnas.0438019100

 “The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study”. cdc.gov. Atlanta, Georgia: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. May 2014. Archived from the original on 27 December 2015.

 

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

 

How Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Early Signs Of Psychotic Illness

 

Although there is now a vast amount of research that has been conducted on the link between childhood trauma and the later development of non-psychotic disorders, the amount of research that has been conducted on the link between childhood trauma and the later development of psychotic conditions has been rather less plentiful; however, increasingly, researchers are focusing on this, so far, less studied link and in this article, I will review some of what is currently known or theorized about the association.

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND PSYCHOSIS:

‘The psychiatric profession is about to experience an earthquake that will shake its intellectual foundations…there is tectonic, plate-shifting evidence'[for the environmental basis of psychosis]’

-Oliver James (leading UK psychologist). Comment in relation to the now overwhelming evidence that psychosis is strongly related to childhood trauma and the need to stop over-focusing on biological causes.

There is now extremely strong research evidence showing the link between childhood trauma and the affected individual’s likelihood of developing PSYCHOTIC ILLNESS in later life.

It is, of course, already well-established that there is a powerful link between childhood trauma and psychiatric illness which include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, borderline personality disorder, dissociation and suicidal ideation. Now, however, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is also a strong link with psychotic conditions such as BIPOLAR DEPRESSION and SCHIZOPHRENIA.

An ever-increasing body of  evidence is now demonstrating the very high prevalence of experiences of severe childhood trauma in psychiatric patients who are suffering from psychotic illnesses

Indeed, many leading psychologists are arguing that researchers have neglected the importance of childhood experiences in relation to psychotic illness in the past. Here, then, I present some recent research which helps to redress the balance:

STUDIES:

– Read et al. reviewed 51 previous studies on causes of psychotic illness and found that 69% of female psychotic patients and 59% of male psychotic patients had suffered severe childhood trauma. It was also pointed out by the researchers that these figures, although already extremely high, may be UNDERESTIMATES due to the fact that experiences of child abuse are well known to be under-reported.

– Bebbington et al. : these researchers, examining data generated from 8500 individuals, found that those suffering from psychosis were approx. 15 times more likely than the mentally well to have suffered severe childhood trauma.

– A Dutch study of 4000 patients found that those who had suffered severe childhood trauma were approx. 11 times more likely to have developed psychotic conditions in later life.

– A Californian study found that those who had suffered severe childhood trauma were 5 times more likely to have gone on to experience HALLUCINATIONS in later life.

HOW IS CHILDHOOD TRAUMA THOUGHT TO LEAD TO PSYCHOSIS?

– COGNITIVE THEORY: Due to adverse childhood experiences, the individual develops what is called a NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD of beliefs; these are:

a negative view of self
– a negative view of others
– a negative view of the world in general

More specifically, beliefs such as the following are likely to develop:


I am vulnerable
– others cannot be trusted
– the world is dangerous

Such beliefs can become so ingrained and severe that they eventually manifest themselves in the guise of psychotic symptoms e.g PARANOIA.

– EFFECT OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ON THE BRAIN: Research is showing that extreme stress in childhood can adversely affect the physical development of vital brain regions responsible for emotional control (e.g the AMYGDALA) which can lead to extreme emotional dysregulation (INABILITY TO CONTROL STRONG EMOTIONS) and concomitant over-sensitivity and emotional over-reactivity. If the problem becomes sufficiently intense psychotic conditions may result.

IMPLICATIONS:

It is thought a new, over-arching theory of the causes of psychosis (known in scientific circles as a PARADIGM SHIFT) is likely take root in the field of psychiatric research – namely one that emphasizes the enormous importance of adverse childhood experiences.

It is argued that patients who present with psychotic symptoms should ROUTINELY undergo DETAILED ASSESSMENTS relating to their childhood experiences and that there should be a much greater emphasis upon the importance of psychological therapy (as opposed to drug therapy- so popular up until now- based upon theories of the biological origins of psychotic conditions).

EARLY SIGNS OF PSYCHOSIS:

Usually, a person does not suddenly become psychotic. Instead, the onset of psychosis is often a gradual process and sometimes individuals may start to show possible signs of incipient psychosis in their teens.

So what are the early warning signs? I provide a list based on the most current research in this area below. However, it is important to realize these symptoms are NOT specific to psychosis, they may also be due to numerous other conditions or set of personal psychosis. Anyone worried they or someone else may be psychotic or may be developing psychosis should seek an expert opinion and NOT attempt an amateur diagnosis based on the symptoms that follow.

These signs may be split into six categories as follows:

1) Cognitive symptoms

2) Neurotic symptoms

3) Changes in mood

4) Changes in volition

5) Behavioural symptoms

6) Physical symptoms

Let’s look at each of these six categories below:

Cognitive Symptoms:

– problems with concentration/attention/mental focus

– frequent daydreaming/ retreating into fantasy worlds

– thought blocking (a sudden lapse into silence during conversation due to the mind ‘going blank’. This most frequently occurs when the individual is asked about something that is, consciously or unconsciously, psychologically disturbing to him/her. It is a psychological defence mechanism and form of repression.)

– reduced ability to think in abstract terms

Neurotic Symptoms:

– restlessness / agitation

– anger

– irritability

Changes in Mood:

– guilt

– suicidal ideation

– depression

– mood swings

– anhedonia (an inability to derive pleasure from people, events or circumstances – a feeling of emptiness, flatness and numbness)

Change in Volition:

– loss of drive

– loss of interest in events, activities and people that used to interest one

– feelings of apathy and fatigue and a general lack of energy

Behavioural Symptoms:

– social withdrawal

– drop in standard of school/college work

– increase in impulsivity

– increasingly odd/strange behaviour

– aggression

– destructiveness

Physical Symptoms:

– weight loss

– poor appetite

– sleep problems

MAIN TYPES OF PSYCHOTIC DELUSION: 

Psychotic delusions can occur in two conditions linked to childhood trauma : 

A) DEPRESSION WITH PSYCHOTIC FEATURES 

B) SCHIZOPHRENIA

WHAT IS A ‘PSYCHOTIC DELUSION?’

A PSYCHOTIC DELUSION results from a THOUGHT DISORDER that gives rise to BLATANTLY FALSE BELIEFS. Whilst the belief is clearly and obviously false, the person who holds it has an UNSHAKEABLE BELIEF that the belief is true, even in the face of utterly overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Classification of delusions:

Delusions can be classified as follows:

They can be:

A) Bizarre or non-bizarre

and:

B) Mood-congruent or mood- incongruent

I define these classifications below:

BIZARRE – extremely strange and odd beliefs that are CLEARLY IMPOSSIBLE. For example, a belief that the birds’ singing is really Morse code and they are communicating with each other in such code in order to form a plot to take over the world.

NON- BIZARRE – the belief held is still clearly wrong but, theoretically, not totally impossible. For example, a belief that the government has placed listening devices in every room of one’s house.

MOOD – CONGRUENT – the delusion is in line with the mood the person manifests as a result of his/her condition. For example, a depressed individual who believes that aliens have removed the part of his/her brain the used to give rise to the experience of pleasure. Or, a person who is manic may believe s/he has supernatural powers

MOOD – INCONGRUENT – the delusion is not obviously in line with the individual’s prevailing mood  (eg. a newsreader on the TV is talking about him/her. These are sometimes referred to as ‘mood-neutral’ delusions

Within these classification groups, delusions can also be of a specific type. I list these types below:

   – Delusions of jealousy: an all-consuming obsession that one’s partner is being unfaithful when there is no evidence this is the case and there is no objective reason for suspicion.

   – Delusions of nihilism: the belief that oneself, other people or the world do not really exist

   – Delusions of grandeur: a belief one is a person of massive importance such as Jesus, Emperor of the World etc. Or the belief one has made a great achievement (that the world refuses to recognise) such as a belief one has written plays vastly superior to those of Shakespeare when, in reality, they are barely literate.

– Delusions of control: a belief that one is having one’s thoughts and behaviour controlled by an external force e.g. by aliens

– Delusions of reference: a clearly false belief that people are talking about one or making reference to one when they are not e.g. a belief that the newsreader on the radio is always referring to one in a or a coded or indirect manner

– Delusions of guilt: a false belief one is responsible for some terrible event (such as a belief one is personally responsible for all the starving people in the world

Erotomania: the belief a famous person or person of high status (normally a person the sufferer of the delusion has never met) is deeply and passionately in love with one.

– Delusions of mind-reading: the belief that others are reading one’s mind

– Delusions of persecution: the belief that others are conspiring against one ( e.g trying to poison or drug one)

– Religious delusions: Delusions with a religious theme e.g .that one is a human incarnation of God

– Somatic delusions: these are delusions about one’s body ( e.g. that ants are crawling under one’s skin)

 

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

 

 

 

How Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Depression And Unhappiness As Adults.

depression symptoms treatmentA study of 238 young people between the ages of 15 and 18 years conducted at Cambridge University, U.K., focused on investigating how GENES AND ENVIRONMENT INTERACT and in what ways this interaction increases or decreases an individual’s chances of being. diagnosed with depression in later life.

In the study, the teenagers were put into six different groups; the group they were placed in was determined by two factors :

1) Whether or not they had experienced significant childhood trauma  (e.g. exposure to family arguments, stress and other trauma) prior to the age of 6 years

2) Their particular type of genetic variation in relation to a specific gene involved in the production of serotonin in the brain (serotonin is a neurotransmitter – a sort of chemical messenger which helps cells in the brain communicate with one another – and affects our moods and emotional state).The teenagers all had one of the following 3 types of genetic variation:

a) SS (two short versions of gene)

b) SL (one short and one long version of gene)

c) LL (two long versions of gene)

RESULTS OF STUDY

Those who had been exposed to trauma before the age of 6 years were more likely to develop depression later on BUT ONLY IF THEY ALSO HAD A GENETIC VULNERABILITY (genetic vulnerability, the study found, was due to having the SS variation or SL variation of the gene, represented above by categories ‘a’ and ‘b’).

Specifically, it was found that exposure to discord between parents and/or neglect led to the individual :

i) having a high level of emotional sensitivity

ii) having greater difficulty processing their emotions

iii) having a tendency to respond especially badly to criticism

iv) being more affected by the emotional tone of other people’s voices.

According to the study, these four factors, in turn, make it more likely that the individual will later be diagnosed with depression.

CONCLUSION DRAWN FROM STUDY

Having both the SS or SL variation of the gene AND experiencing early trauma is associated with a higher probability of being diagnosed with depression later on in life.

HOWEVER: having the LL variation of the gene and experiencing early trauma is NOT associated with a higher probability of being diagnosed with depression later on.

THEREFORE: having the SS or SL variation of the gene makes the individual MORE VULNERABLE TO THE EFFECTS OF EARLY TRAUMA, thus making it more likely that the s/he will eventually be diagnosed with depression, whereas, HAVING THE LL VARIATION OF THE GENE SEEMS TO PROTECT THE INDIVIDUAL FROM THE EFFECTS OF EARLY TRAUMA.

It may be inferred, then, that neither early trauma alone,  nor genetic vulnerability alone, are sufficient to make it more likely the individual will be diagnosed with depression. It seems, instead, it is how the relevant genes and early life experiences INTERACT that determines the likelihood that a particular individual will develop depression.

N.B. It should be noted that research such as that described above is at a relatively early stage and more studies need to be carried out in order to clarify, build upon and refine these findings.

How Genes And Childhood Trauma Interact :

child trauma and genes interaction

Starting with the top row of the diagram we can see that a person’s genes and childhood environment interact to produce the person’s phenotype (a phenotype refers to the characteristics a person develops as a result of the interaction between his/her genes and environment). The phenotype is also affected (as we can see on the second row) by the degree of stress the person experiences in childhood, but, also, by the amount of social/emotional supports/he receives.

For example, high stress and low support would clearly be more likely to lead to high vulnerability (see the third row) to psychopathologies such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse (also shown on the third row) and physiopathology such as poor immunity, problems with metabolism and cardiovascular disease (this, too, is represented on the third row).

The combination of factors shown on the diagram then determines how well or badly the individual is able to cope with life in general (represented on the diagram by ‘long-term maladaptation/adaption’ on the fourth and final row).

MORE ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS ON DNA :

Recent studies have shown that childhood trauma can actually change the structure of DNA in the person who has suffered it and consequently alter how these genes work (it has been known for some time that how genes express themselves is influenced by their interaction with the environment).

Animal studies support this finding: in rats, it has been shown that QUALITY OF MATERNAL CARE HAS A LARGE EFFECT ON GENES RESPONSIBLE FOR THE STRESS RESPONSE IN OFFSPRING:

POOR MATERNAL CARE = ADVERSE EFFECT ON GENES OF OFFSPRING = HIGH SUSCEPTIBILITY TO STRESS IN OFFSPRING.

Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence that the psychological abuse of children has BIOLOGICAL effects. Research suggests that the effects of abuse on the child’s DNA lower their resistance to stress. This effect can persist throughout life and increases the suicide risk of the individual.

It is thought that trauma/abuse in early childhood (before the age of six) can have a particularly damaging effect on the DNA which controls the individual’s stress response.

(For those that are interested, environment affects DNA (and thus how it expresses itself) by punctuating it with what are technically known as EPIGENETIC MARKERS. It follows from this that the function of DNA is not permanently fixed from birth, but can be altered by its interaction with the environment).

 

The good news is, however, that the adverse effects on DNA caused by childhood trauma can be reversed in adult life by appropriate interventions. Key to these is the replacement of the traumatic environment with one which is supportive, loving, stable, safe and relatively stress-free. This is because just as traumatic environments can leave harmful epigenetic marks, good environments, over time, can reverse this effect.

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, GENES AND DEPRESSION :

Just as trauma can affect genes, pre-existing genes can affect the impact trauma is likely to have on us; it is, to this extent, a two-way street then. It has already been stated in previous posts how exposure to trauma in childhood can lead to psychological problems such as clinical depression; studies now show that the risk becomes even greater if the sufferer of childhood trauma has a particular genetic make-up making him or her more vulnerable to the effects of stress:

So: children who are genetically predisposed to being particularly vulnerable to stress will typically be more adversely affected by childhood trauma than those children who do not have a genetic vulnerability. THIS HELPS TO EXPLAIN WHY TWO CHILDREN WHO SUFFER SIMILAR TRAUMA MAY BE AFFECTED QUITE DIFFERENTLY FROM ONE ANOTHER.

Further study has shown that the children with the particular genetic variation are MORE SENSITIVE TO THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND THEM (they process emotional information differently) than children without the variation. The genes involved are responsible for the production of SEROTONIN (a chemical affecting mood, also known as a neurotransmitter) in the brain.

DISCORD BETWEEN PARENTS and NEGLECT (again, especially if the child is under six) have specifically been linked to the child developing HIGH EMOTIONAL SENSITIVITY and greater susceptibility to stress. Again, if the child has the genetic variation making him or her particularly vulnerable, the adverse effects of the discord or neglect will be increased by such vulnerability.

The research producing such findings as illustrated above is still in a relatively early stage and future research is likely to help clarify the complex interactions between our genes and how childhood trauma affects us.

Childhood Trauma Can Affect Our Genes In Such A Way That Our Ability To Cope With Stress Is Greatly Diminished :

A study led by Seth Pollak (University of Wisconsin) suggests that abuse can adversely affect children at a cellular level, including the turning off or on of particular genes (this phenomenon is called EPIGENETICS – the modification of genes by the environment).

The study involved examining the DNA of children who had been identified (by Child Protection Services) as having been abused. Blood samples were taken from each of the children in order to enable this analysis.

It was found that, in each of the children, the same, specific gene (NR3C1) had been damaged. When this gene is working properly, it helps the child to manage stress (i.e. to calm down in a timely fashion after having been upset). It does this, when healthy, by preventing too much cortisol (a major stress hormone) from building up in the body.

However, in the abused children, the damage to this gene means that, under stress, too much cortisol DOES build up in their body. The effect is that the children are unable to calm themselves in the way non-abused children are able to.

This damage to the gene can result, therefore, in the child being in a constant state of hypervigilance (i.e. perpetually tense and in a state of ‘red-alert’). As a result, the child is likely to perceive threats where objectively speaking, they do not exist, and frequently become preemptively aggressive and very easily enraged.

Additionally, such children are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, to find any kind of significant change difficult to cope with, and, later in life, to develop physical problems such as diabetes 2 and heart disease.

Stressed Rat Experiment

Studies of rodents have found that rat pups that are abused in early life also incur damage to the same (NR3C1) gene that, when operating correctly, helps them regulate stress (the same as it does in humans, as described above).

The good news, though, is that it has been found that when these rats are removed from their abusive environments and returned to nurturing mothers, the damage to the NR3C1 gene is reversed.

By extrapolation, this suggests the same reversal of damage may be possible in humans. Unfortunately, however, the necessary research to establish whether or not this is the case has not yet (at the time of writing) been carried out.

Childhood Trauma, Life Events And Depression :

A recent research study, carried out by Wiersma et. al, focused on possible causes of chronic depression (chronic depression is long-lasting depression which has been continuous for two years or more – 20% of those with major depression suffer from this chronic form of it.

When major depression is also chronic, it is particularly serious; this is because those individuals who are chronically depressed are more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to commit suicide than those who suffer from episodic depression) found that the GREATEST RISK FACTOR LINKED TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF LATER ADULT CHRONIC DEPRESSION WAS CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.

 

The study ran over a time period of 8 years and involved 1230 participants (two-thirds of whom were female). Amongst other factors, the study sought to determine the link between adult chronic depression and:

a) Childhood Trauma e.g. physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse

b) Childhood Life Experiences e.g. parental loss, parental divorce, parental separation

RESULTS:

–   those who had experienced childhood trauma (physical/emotional/sexual abuse) were significantly more likely to suffer from chronic depression compared to those who had not experienced childhood trauma

however :

– Childhood Life Experiences which, according to self-reports from the participants, had NOT involved significant trauma, did NOT significantly increase the likelihood of the later development of adult chronic depression.

OTHER RESULTS FROM THE STUDY :

–  the more frequent the experiences of childhood trauma were, the greater was the risk that the individual would go on to develop adult chronic depression

– those who had suffered most severely from childhood trauma were 3 times more likely to go on to develop adult chronic depression compared to those who had not suffered significant trauma.  Furthermore, they were found to be at significantly increased risk of developing comorbid psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety. Finally, too, it was found that, on average, the age of onset of their depressive condition was earlier.

CONCLUSIONS :

– these findings are consistent with previous research findings

– it can be inferred from the results that IT IS NOT THE LIFE|EVENTS, PER SE, WHICH INCREASE THE CHANCES OF THE LATER DEVELOPMENT OF ADULT CHRONIC DEPRESSION; RATHER, IT IS THE QUALITY OF THE CHILD’S HOME ENVIRONMENT WHICH IS CRUCIAL.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE TREATMENT OF DEPRESSION :

We are able to infer from the above findings that it is quite possible that :

a) depression associated with childhood trauma

and

b) depression NOT associated with childhood trauma

may react differently to particular types of treatment.

For example, studies extending on the one described above suggest that depression associated with childhood trauma is more likely to respond well to psychotherapy rather than psychopharmacology (treatment with drugs). Therefore, clinicians need to be aware of whether their depressed patients experienced childhood trauma, in order that a more informed decision about appropriate treatment may be taken.

Can Facing Up To Our Childhood Trauma Help Alleviate Our Depression?

Alice Miller (1923 – 2010),  the world-renowned psychologist and expert on the damage that can be done to individuals during their childhood, and its implications for their adult lives, states, unequivocally, that, if we are suffering from depression linked to our childhood, traumatic experiences, it is imperative that we start to understand, and to process mentally, the harm that was done to us when we were children.

Miller states that one reason we may not accept and acknowledge our childhood suffering and the responsibility our parents have for having inflicted this, or for having failed to protect us from it, is that we may still be idealising our parents. She goes on to say that it is necessary for us to overcome this psychological defence mechanism and attempt to recall, as fully as possible (in a therapeutically safe environment) how we were badly treated as children and how this made us feel at the time.

Only by getting in touch with these feelings, Miller explains, and then by acknowledging the psychological suffering our parents caused us when we were young and helpless, and, furthermore, by not being afraid to healthily express our pent up feelings of anger and rage, can we finally, perhaps after decades, free ourselves from our depressive state.

Putting it simply, Miller is of the view that by denying we were ill-treated, out of misguided loyalty to our parents, and by continuing to repress the rage that this treatment caused, we perpetuate our psychological illness. We must, then, according to Miller, unblock our original feelings.

In order to help us to get back in touch with these repressed feelings, we should ask ourselves if our parents would treat us now as they did then. If the answer to this question is ‘no’, Miller explains, then it begs the question: ‘were they taking advantage of our helplessness, vulnerability and dependency to behave as they did, at the time, with impunity?

 As well as getting in touch with our repressed rage, Miller counsels us, we should also try to reconnect with the fear and deep sadness we felt as children, as well as with our childhood sense of helplessness and isolation. Then, by processing these authentic, original feelings, cathartically and under the supervision and with the support of a suitably qualified and experienced psychotherapist, can we recover our mental health and equilibrium.

NB. Those who share Miller’s views should only undertake such a process under the care and supervision of a properly qualified expert in the field.

Childhood Trauma, Depression And Learned Helplessness :

If we suffered a traumatic childhood in which we felt powerless to change our situation for the better, we may have become conditioned to believe that there is no point in trying to improve our situation in life as any such attempt will inevitably be doomed to failure. Such a state of mind, one of the hallmarks of clinical depression, has been termed ‘learned helplessness’ by psychologists. If we are suffering from learned helplessness, we will lack the motivation to create positive change even when it is clearly possible to do so from an objective perspective.

The following experiment, involving dogs, helps to illustrate precisely what psychologists mean by the condition of learned helplessness. It is a controversial experiment which is ethically questionable and I do not think I would feel comfortable carrying out such a research activity myself. However, here are the findings :

PHASE 1 OF EXPERIMENT :

The experiment, part of a research study by Martin Seligman, was carried out in the 1960s and involved two sets of dogs. Both sets of dogs were given electric shocks; however :

– one group of dogs could stop the pain by learning to press a lever

– the other group of dogs could not escape the pain whatever they did

PHASE 2 OF EXPERIMENT :

After this unpleasant experience, BOTH groups of dogs were placed in the shuttle box with two sides separated by a short barrier. Again, electric shocks were applied through the floor in the cage. This time, however, IT WAS POSSIBLE FOR BOTH SETS OF DOGS TO ESCAPE THE PAIN by jumping over the short barrier to the other (safe) side of the box.

 

RESULTS :

– the first group of dogs (who had control in the first phase of the experiment by being able to press the lever to stop the shocks) learned to avoid the pain by jumping the barrier in phase 2.

HOWEVER :

– the second set of dogs (who had no control over the electric shocks in the first phase of the experiment) failed to avoid the punishment (they did not learn they could do so by jumping the barrier) in phase 2.

It is thought, in the same way, that if as children we have been in traumatic situations over extended time periods that we were unable to escape, as adults we might become, like the second group of dogs in the experiment, despondent, depressed and unable to try to help ourselves.

However, also like the second set of dogs in the experiment, we may falsely believe we can’t help ourselves (due to our past experiences) when, in fact, we can – it can be our depressed and helpless frame of mind, formed in our childhoods, that creates the illusion that there is no way out for us when, in fact, there is.

Behavioural Activation :

One of the hallmarks of serious, clinical depression is a reduced ability to perform everyday tasks and activities. Again, in my own case, I was often confined to my bed for much of the day, stopped washing, rarely shaved and stopped brushing my teeth.

I know, therefore, that when very ill with depression, even basic tasks can feel impossible to undertake – indeed, even contemplating having to carry them out can, when one is so ill, create severe anxiety and distress. For those who have not experienced clinical depression, this is almost impossible to imagine or comprehend; such lack of empathy leaves one feeling devastatingly alone and terrifyingly emotionally imprisoned, compounding the problem.

Sadly, this loss of ability to carry out everyday tasks and activities tends to perpetuate and even intensify one’s depressive state, thus creating a vicious cycle.

 

The psychologist Lewiston has carried out research showing how, by reactivating the behaviours we used to carry out before severe depressive illness struck, we can alleviate our depressive symptoms, or, indeed, rid ourselves of the condition entirely.

Lewiston suggests changing our behaviours may be more effective in treating depression even than changing our thinking style (as occurs in cognitive therapy). In other words, he postulates that:

 

Behaviour Therapy (changing the way we behave) may be a more effective way of treating depression than: Cognitive Therapy (changing the way we think)

 

In order to test this hypothesis, Lewiston carried out the following research study:

– 200 hundred hospital outpatients suffering from clinical depression were recruited into the study.

– these 200 individuals were then randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups

– these four treatment groups were as follows :

1) individuals were treated with anti-depressants

2) individuals were treated with a placebo

3) individuals were treated with cognitive therapy (to change their thinking styles)

4) individuals were treated with behavioural therapy (to change how they behaved each day)

Results of the above research study :

It was found that those in the behaviour therapy group, on average :

– gained more benefit than those in the cognitive therapy group and placebo group

– gained a benefit equal to the benefit those treated with antidepressants derived

Other studies have produced similar results.

In relation to this study, Lewiston devised a therapy known as ‘behaviour activation.’

What Is Behaviour Activation Therapy?

In basic terms, this therapy involves the depressed person :

a) listing how his/her illness has changed his/her behaviour. For example :

– stopped socializing

– stopped exercising

– spend far more time in bed

– stopped doing housework

– reduced self-catering

b) Then, in relation to the list, set goals s/he would ideally achieve. For example :

– socialize as much as before the illness struck

– go to the gym for an hour, every other day

– limit self to eight hours a day in bed

– keep the house reasonably clean

– care for self in the same way as prior to becoming ill

Once these goals have been identified, it is necessary to undertake behaviours that help one achieve them.

Now, clearly, achieving all these goals cannot happen immediately!

Therefore, it is usually necessary to take small steps. For example, if trying to attain the goal of going to the gym, for an hour, every other day, one may start off by going to the gym for twenty minutes once per week, then very gradually increase this rate.

The importance of adjusting our behaviour positively and increasing our activity levels to help improve our mood seems hard to overstate. Even by starting with tiny steps, a powerfully therapeutic virtuous cycle may be set in motion.

RESOURCE:

  • OVERCOME LEARNED HELPLESSNESS: SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

 

https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/all-articles/why-are-girls-more-likely-to-report-suffering-depression-than-boys/
https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/complex-ptsd-ptsd/early-life-trauma-can-reprogram-dna/
https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/all-articles/psychotic-depression-schizophrenia-and-childhood-trauma-sub-types/
https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/all-articles/depression-anger-towards-parents-turned-inward/
https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/physical-illness/beliefs-instilled-in-early-life-change-our-biology-and-gene-expression/
https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/all-articles/childhood-depression-risk-factors-and-why-it-is-underdiagnosed/
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

.

 

Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)

 

We have already seen, in other posts that I have published on this site, that significant and protracted childhood trauma can put the individual who suffers it at higher risk of developing various psychiatric problems later on in life, including obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

In this particular article, however, I will concentrate upon a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) called relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD); in those afflicted by this psychological condition, the individual’s obsessive-compulsiveness is centred around a relationship with another person (this relationship may be current or in the past).

What Are The Symptoms Of Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)?

The person suffering from ROCD experiences chronic, distressing, intrusive thoughts, images and urges that are not wanted and that interfere with the individual’s day-to-day functioning. Often, too, these obsessive thoughts/images/urges contravene the individual’s conscious beliefs, values and moral principles.

When particular urges/images/thoughts arise, the individual may feel compelled and driven to carry out certain behaviours/actions in an (irrational) attempt to prevent these urges/images/thoughts from leading to some dreaded consequences and to reduce anxiety.

Obsessions connected to relationships that the ROCD sufferer may experience :

  • whether they really love their partner or not / whether or not they are ‘right’ to love their partner
  • whether their partner really loves them or not (e.g. the individual with ROCD may constantly seek reassurances, their partner’s approval etc.) / whether their partner is ‘right’ to love them
  • whether or not they are in the ‘right’ relationship
  • whether their partner is having an affair / being unfaithful
  • intense anxiety about ending a relationship
  • intense focus upon the partner’s faults (as opposed to concentrating on the good in him/her)
  • constantly thinking (despite the relationship being good) they could be missing out on the opportunity of finding someone better
  • constantly fearing they’re not good enough for their partner and it is only a matter of time before s/he realizes this

 

Possible causes of ROCD :

Various factors may combine and interact with one another to cause ROBT; these include :

Cognitive – dysfunctional styles of thinking.

Biological – there may be a genetic component. Also, there may be chemical, structural and/or functional abnormalities in the brain.

Psychodynamic – fear of abandonment stemming from childhood or from low self-esteem stemming from childhood trauma. 

 

Possible Treatment For Relationship OCD :

These include :

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy
  • exposure response prevention therapy
  • anxiety management techniques

 

RESOURCES :

10 Steps to Overcome Insecurity in Relationships | Self Hypnosis Downloads

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

 

What Is Privileged Abandonment And How Can It Affect The Child?

 

Before we focus more specifically on privileged abandonment, let’s look at what is meant by the term ‘childhood abandonment’ and why it might occur more generally and at the potential effects of such abandonment upon the individual.

What Is Child Abandonment?

Child abandonment can take two main forms :

  1. Literal, physical abandonment (e.g. a mother leaving her baby on a stranger’s doorstep or another place where the baby will be found by a member of the public with the intention that there is no further contact between the mother and her offspring).
  2. Extreme neglect and emotional abandonment over a protracted period of time

Reasons Why A Parent Might Abandon His / Her Child :

  • the parent has a severe mental illness
  • the parent is living in extreme poverty
  • the parent has a substance abuse problem
  • the parent is homeless
  • the parent is a single mother living in a society that severely stigmatizes single mothers
  • the parent is forced to involuntarily abandon their child because they (i.e. the parent) is sent to prison or deported
  • the parent discovers that the child is not his / her BIOLOGICAL offspring
  • extreme conflict between the child and the parent (most likely to occur when the child is an adolescent) causing the parent to ‘disown’ the child
  • the child identifies as LGBT+ 
  • parental divorce

What Are The Adverse Effects Of Being Abandoned As A Child?

The possible repercussions for the abandoned child are :

Irrational feelings of guilt relating to having been rejected

Complex posttraumatic stress disorder (Complex PTSD)

Abandonment issues

Separation anxiety

Attachment disorder (e.g. reactive attachment disorder and disorganized attachment disorder)

Dysfunctional adult relationships

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

‘Clingy’ dependency

Privileged Abandonment? Emotional Effects Of Boarding School On The Child

Whilst attending a boarding school is frequently regarded as a privilege by many in society, research by Duffell highlights the fact that the child’s experience of undergoing such schooling can all too often also involve inducing in him/her profound feelings of abandonment and neglect.

Indeed, Duffell, who has worked with many ex- boarding school pupils who have been adversely psychologically affected by their experience, refers to the concept of ‘privileged abandonment.’

In particular, Duffell highlights the fact that, very often, no matter how emotionally painful the child finds it to be separated from his/her parents, s/he is inhibited from showing such emotion due to the fear of being mocked, ridiculed and bullied by his/her peers as a result.

Usually, too, the child learns that s/he is prevented from reporting any bullying or abuse s/he may suffer whilst at school due to a prevailing culture secrecy and denial as well as fear of potential consequences.

Fear Of Appearing Ungrateful :

Because, as alluded to above, so many in society regard those who attend boarding school as ‘privileged’, or, even, ‘spoiled’, this makes it more difficult still for the child at boarding school to complain about feeling abandoned and frightened for fear of giving an impression of ingratitude; this may well especially be the case if the parents manipulate the child by emphasizing the sacrifices they have been compelled to make in order to pay for his/her education.

Denial :

As adults, many individuals may enter a state of denial about the adverse psychological effects their time at boarding school had on them, pushing the emotional torment it caused them at the time out of their conscious minds and below the level of awareness; this may explain why it is not uncommon for those who suffered considerably as a result of their schooling to send their own children to boarding schools where they may undergo similar experiences of suffering.

Duffell and other researchers suggest that the adverse effects on the individual of attending boarding school may include him/her :

  • developing a disdain for displays of emotion and vulnerability both from others and from him/herself
  • developing a rigid, over-emphasized sense of importance in relation to self-reliance and not being dependent upon others
  • developing a ‘durable’, but ‘brittle’ and ‘defensive’,  personality
  • lack of emotional development due to the necessity, whilst growing up at boarding school. to repress feelings of emotional dependency
  • lack of trust in relationships in adulthood
  • fear of abandonment in adulthood
  • shame about feeling/showing signs of vulnerability/dependence, including within intimate, adult relationships, leading to problems within such relationships.

REFRAMING THE BOARDING SCHOOL EXPERIENCE FROM THE POTENTIALLY TRAUMATIZED CHILD’S VIEWPOINT:

According to Schaverian, author of Boarding School Syndrome, The Psychological Trauma Of The ‘Privileged’ Child, we can reframe common elements of the boarding school experience to more accurately reflect how they may be perceived by the vulnerable, sensitive and potentially traumatized child’s point of view:

HOMESICKNESS:

This may be reframed as feelings similar to bereavement and mourning as a result of the loss of important attachment figures (e.g. mother and/or father).

INSTITUTIONALIZATION:

Schaverian suggests that institutionalization may feel more like captivity to some children. and that strict regime, timetables and rules severely restrict the child’s liberty to make his/her own day-to-day decisions.

INTIMACY:

School rules may misrepresent, falsely characterize and distort loving friendships and intense, emotional attachments between pupils. Also, early institutionalization may disturb incipient appetites in relation to food, sexuality and intimate relationships.

ENFORCED SEPARATION FROM HOME:

This may instil in the child a sense of having been sent into exile. Also, may lead to the development of two quite distinct selves: the ‘boarding school self’ and the ‘home self.’

SOMATIC:

Enforced absence from home may mean the child is deprived of appropriate, physical, affectionate interactions with family (e.g. hugs) for a significant part of their childhoods which may lead to disturbances in emotional development.

 

RESOURCE :

Overcome Fear Of Abandonment: Self Hypnosis Downloads

 

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REFERENCES:

Boarding School Survivors. Therapeutic Help For Survivors Of Boarding. https://www.boardingschoolsurvivors.co.uk/for-therapists/.

Nick Duffell, Thurstine Basset: Trauma, Abandonment And Privilege: A Guide to Therapeutic Work with Boarding School Survivors. Routledge. Paperback, 2016(ISBN: 9781138788718)

Schaverian, J., Boarding Scool Syndrome, THe Psychological Trauma Of The ‘Privileged’ Child,

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

Active And Passive Emotional Abuse

 

 

Emotional abuse of children (sometimes referred to as psychological abuse) by their parents / primary caregivers can be divided into two types :

  1. PASSIVE EMOTIONAL ABUSE
  2. ACTIVE EMOTIONAL ABUSE

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

PASSIVE EMOTIONAL ABUSE :

Passive emotional abuse tends to be less obvious and more subtle than active emotional abuse and may, therefore, operate ‘below the radar’ and be difficult to precisely identify; however, its insidious nature can have a devastating effect upon the child’s emotional development. Specific types of passive emotional abuse, as proposed by Barlow, et al., (2010), are shown below :

DEVELOPMENTALLY INAPPROPRIATE INTERACTION WITH THE CHILD :

This can involve expecting the child to do things that s.he is not emotionally equipped to carry out. It can also involve the parent talking about, or doing things, in the presence of the child which s/he (i.e. the child) is not emotionally mature enough to deal with.

EMOTIONAL UNAVAILABILITY :

This refers to the parent / primary carer being very emotionally detached, distant and cold towards the child, displaying no love or affection.

NEGATIVE ATTITUDES :

This includes the parent not offering the child praise or encouragement and conveying the attitude that they have a low opinion of the child or that the child is ‘bad’ leading the child to internalize such negative views.

NOT TREATING THE CHILD AS AN INDIVIDUAL :

This can happen when a parent ‘prenotifies’ their child, treats the child, in emotional terms, as a ‘surrogate partner’ or exploits their child as an ’emotional caretaker’. All involve the parent exploiting the child to fulfil his/her own emotional needs while ignoring the child’s emotional needs.

 

 

ACTIVE EMOTIONAL ABUSE :

 

According to Barlow et al., 2010 and Cawson et al., 2000, active emotional abuse may involve :

  • terrorising: this can involve threatening and intimidating behaviour by the parent towards the child including severe verbal threats, excessive teasing,  threatening to throw the child out of the family home,  publicly ridiculing the child, threatening to abandon the child, physically abusing other members of the family in front of (or within heating range of) the child, extreme, unpredictable responses to the child’s behaviour (this is nor an exhaustive list).
  • rejecting 
  • isolating: the parent may isolate the child physically, socially or emotionally to increase his/her (i.e. the parent’s) level of control over him/her  (i.e. the child). This reduces the child’s ability to compare his/her situation to that of others and to get help. The parent may increase the child’s level of disorientation by also using the technique of ‘gaslighting.’
  • corrupting/exploiting: this involves the parent encouraging the child to behave in antisocial and self-destructive ways thereby reducing his/her ability to socially integrate in an acceptable way

 

REFERENCES:

Barlow, Jane & Schrader-MacMillan, Anita. (2010). Safeguarding Children from Emotional Abuse: What Works?

Cawson, Pat & May-Chahal, Corinne & Brooker, Sue & Kelly, Graham. (2000). Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: a Study of the Prevalence of Abuse and Neglect.

 

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

Traumatic Memory : Flashbacks, Fragments, Nightmares And Repression

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

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

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

  • FLASHBACKS
  • INTRUSIVE MEMORIES
  • NIGHTMARES

1) FLASHBACKS

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

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

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

2) INTRUSIVE MEMORIES

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

3) NIGHTMARES

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

HOW RELIABLE ARE MEMORIES OF TRAUMATIC EVENTS?

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

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

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

REPRESSION :

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

TRAUMA, MEMORY AND THE BRAIN:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– fragmented

– ‘foggy’ / ‘blurry’

– distorted

– inaccessible to conscious awareness

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

– flashbacks

– nightmares

– obsessive rumination about the traumatic event

TRAUMA AND NON-DECLARATIVE MEMORY :

Our long-term memory can be divided into :

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

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

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

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

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

TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES ARE FREQUENTLY STORED AS NON-DECLARATIVE MEMORIES :

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

THE FRAGMENTARY NATURE OF INCOMPLETELY PROCESSED TRAUMATIC MEMORIES :

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

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

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

– emotions (e.g. extreme anger or fear)

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

WHY WE FIND IT HARD TO ARTICULATE OUR TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES :

Because the memory of our trauma has not been properly processed at the linguistic level we are likely to find ourselves unable to articulate our traumatic experiences in any coherent manner.

TRIGGERS :

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

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

How to Cope with Difficult Memories :

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PLANNED AVOIDANCE:

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

GROUNDING TECHNIQUES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOROUGH REVIEW OF THE FLASHBACK :

This technique is connected to the psychological technique known as DESENSITISATION – by repeatedly exposing oneself to the feared object, or, in this case, memory, gradually weakens its negative psychological impact.

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

 

Steps To Healing From Childhood Trauma As An Adult

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Research shows those who suffer childhood trauma CAN and DO recover.

Making significant changes in life can be a very daunting prospect, but those who do it in order to aid their own recovery from childhood trauma very often find the hard work most rewarding.

Some people find making the necessary changes difficult, whereas others find it enjoyable.

THE DECISION TO CHANGE

Change does not occur instantly. Psychologists have identified the following stages building up to change:

1) not even thinking about it.
2) thinking about it.
3) planning it.
4) starting to do it.
5) maintaining the effort to continue doing it.

THE RECOVERY PROCESS :

Each individual’s progress in recovery is unique, but, generally, the more support the trauma survivor has, the quicker the recovery is likely to occur.

Often recovery from childhood trauma is not a steady progression upwards – there are usually ups and downs (e.g two steps forward…one step back…two steps forward etc) but the OVERALL TREND is upwards (if you imagine recovery being represented on the vertical axis of a graph and time by the horizontal). Therefore, it is important not to become disheartened by set-backs along the recovery path. These are normal.

Sometimes, one can even feel one at first is getting worse (usually if traumas, long dormant, are being processed by the mind in a detailed manner for the first time). However, once the trauma has been properly consciously reprocessed, although this is often painful, it enables the trauma survivor to work through what happened and to form a new, far more positive, understanding of himself or herself.

Once the trauma has been reworked (i.e understanding what happened and how it has affected the survivor’s development) he or she can start to develop a more positive and compassionate view of him/herself (for example, realizing that the abuse was not their fault can relieve strong feelings of guilt and self-criticism).

Once the reworking phase has been passed through, improvement tends to become more consistent and more rapid.

STEPS TO RECOVERY

It is important to remember that, no matter how severe our particular experiences of childhood trauma were, people can, and do, recover from such experiences if they undergo an appropriate form of therapy; cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT for example, is now well established by research findings to be a very effective treatment.

In analysing the recovery process from childhood trauma, it is possible to break it down into seven stages; I present these stages below :

RECOVERY STAGES :

1) The first very important thing to do is to stop seeing ourselves as abnormal because of the effect our childhood trauma has had on us, but, instead, to see our symptoms/resultant behaviours as A NORMAL REACTION TO ABNORMAL EVENTS/EXPERIENCES.

It is very important to realize that it is highly probable that other people would have been affected in a very similar way to how we ourselves have been affected had they suffered the same adverse experiences that we did.

Coming to such a realization is, I think, important if we wish to keep up our self-esteem.

The kinds of symptoms and behaviours that childhood trauma can lead to are examined in detail in my book ‘The Devastating Effects Of Childhood Trauma’ – see below.

2) A very therapeutic effect can often be achieved by opening up about our traumatic experiences and how we feel they have affected us by talking to others we trust about such matters.

3) If at all possible, it is important that, during the recovery process, we are in an environment in which we feel safe and secure, and which is as stress – free as possible.

4) It is also extremely important that we try to resume normal everyday activities and interpersonal relationships as soon as possible, even if this requires some effort at first. Indeed, the research suggests a recovery is very difficult if we do not re-establish human relationships. Also, we need to try to build some structure into our daily lives, as this provides a foundation of stability.

5) We need to accept that we may need much more rest than the average person – this is because the brain needs time to recover. In relation to this, getting the correct nutrients and sufficient sleep (I needed far more than 8 hours during my recovery) is also very important.

6) We also need to realize that while our experience of trauma entailed a great deal of suffering, many people not only recover from childhood trauma but develop as a human being in extremely positive ways as a result of it; this phenomenon is known as posttraumatic growth.

7) Therapy should be seriously considered as there are now many studies which provide extremely solid evidence that therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be highly effective. There are many other therapies and self-help strategies, too; I examine these in my book ‘Therapies For The Effects Of Childhood Trauma’ (see below).

LET GO OF THE PAST 

The following six strategies can help us to let go of the past and move on with our lives more effectively :

1) VALIDATION :

According to Horowitz, if our past childhood trauma and the pain it has caused is, subsequently, invalidated (e.g. denied, ignored, dismissed, minimized, mocked etc.) by those who have harmed us, the psychological harm done to us is amplified. This makes it harder to move forward in our lives.

However, if this is the case, it can be helpful to seek and obtain validation from significant others, such as a therapist who is trained to work with childhood trauma survivors, or from what Alice Miller (1923-2010) referred to as an ‘enlightened witness.’ Miller defined an ‘enlightened witness’ as a compassionate and empathetic person who helps the childhood trauma survivor ‘recognize the injustices [s/he] suffered and give vent to {his/her] feelings.’

2) EXPRESSION OF PAIN :

This pain we have been caused does not necessarily need to be expressed directly to those responsible; for example, we may describe our experiences and feelings in a journal, or, as Franz Kafka did, write a letter to the person/s responsible (in the case of Kafka, the letter was to his abusive and narcissistic father) without actually sending it (instead, his biographer informs us that he gave it to his mother to give to his father – he was too frightened to approach his father directly – but she never did, possibly because she believed it wouldn’t do any good).

Talking about our traumatic childhood experiences can, however, be very difficult; you can read about why this is in my previously published article entitled: Why It’s So Difficult To Talk About Our Experiences Of Extreme Childhood  Trauma.

Sadly, too, some doctors may be reluctant to discuss our childhood trauma with us for reasons that I outline in my previously published article entitled: Why Don’t Doctors Ask About Childhood Trauma?

3) CONSCIOUS DECISION : 

Because we might have been ruminating, perhaps obsessively, on the trauma and injustice contained in our past, the process of turning things over and over in our minds may have become almost automatic. It is, therefore, necessary to make a firm, conscious decision to embark upon the journey of letting go. In connection with this, you may wish to read my previously published post: Mindfulness Meditation: An Escape Route Away From Obsessive, Negative Ruminations.’

4) ADOPT BENEFICIAL TIME PERSPECTIVE :

According to TIME PERSPECTIVE THERAPY (developed by Zimbardo, Sword and Sword, 2013), we should use the past to our advantage (such as learning from previous mistakes and focusing on good things that happened rather than dwelling on the bad) ; develop the ability to live in the present and enjoy it, but not in such a heedless and hedonistic way that it endangers our future; and, also, adopt an optimistic view of the future and plan for it (by setting achievable goals). To read more about TIME PERSPECTIVE THEORY, click here.

5) CULTIVATION OF COMPASSION :

Compassion-Focused Therapy can effectively help people move on from their traumatic childhood experiences. It was initially developed in the early part of this century by Paul Gilbert and can be particularly effective in helping those suffering from feelings of shame resulting from their traumatic experiences.

Specifically, CFT can help with :

  • alleviating feelings of being ‘worthless,” inadequate’, ‘ a bad person etc
  • alleviating negative emotions such as self-disgust and anxiety
  • reducing concern about what others think of one
  • reducing feelings of anger towards those who have mistreated us
  • reducing levels of arousal and hypervigilance

6) REFRAME :

Many people do not realize the damage that their childhood has done to them and may take a sanitized view of it due to what they are taught to believe by those who harmed them or by society more generally (in connection with this, you may be interested in Alice Miller’s classic book entitled: ‘Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal Of The Child.’

By reframing the past, with the help of a psychotherapist, we can start to obtain a genuine insight into what really happened to us which, in turn, empowers us and makes us less of a slave to the unconscious forces that may be ruining our lives.

 Resources 

Unloved As A Child | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Let Go Of The Past | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Let Go Of Shame | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Overcome a Troubled Childhood | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Somatic Experiencing Therapy : Healing The Dysfunctional Nervous System

Neuroplasticity : 3 Ways Brain Can Physically Recover From Trauma

Posttraumatic Growth – How Trauma Can Positively Transform Us

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

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

 

What Are The Differences Between The Traumatized And Normal Brain?

 

Severe and protracted childhood trauma can physically damage the brain’s development, adversely affecting both its structure and functionality, which, in turn, can contribute to the development of very serious psychiatric conditions such as complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

In this article, I will focus in on the main ways in which the brains of individuals suffering from PTSD / Complex PTSD may differ from ‘normal’, non-traumatized brains.

According to the various neuroimaging studies, the brain areas that differ most markedly between these two groups are as follows :

  • the hippocampus
  • the amygdala
  • the prefrontal cortex 

Let’s consider each of these three brain regions in turn :

THE HIPPOCAMPUS :

The hippocampus is part of the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is intimately involved in how our memory functions, our motivation and how we experience emotions such as fear and anger.

It is theorized that it can be damaged by excess cortisol being released into the body in those who suffer severe chronic stress (cortisol is a hormone released into the body under conditions of extreme stress and perceived threat to help mobilize the body and prepare it for ‘fight or flight.’)

Indeed, studies have also shown that the size of the hippocampus is smaller in those suffering from PTSD (however, it should be borne in mind that one cannot categorically infer that this reduction in size has been caused by prolonged exposure to extreme stress – it could be that some people are born with a smaller hippocampus which, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to the adverse effects of stress. Indeed, some research has been carried out that lends this alternative view some weight).

Damage done to the hippocampus by trauma can result in :

  • extreme and persistent fearfulness
  • problems recalling the traumatic event/s or parts of the traumatic event/s
  • constantly intruding, unwanted, distressing and vivid memories of the traumatic event/s
  • susceptibility to extreme fear responses in relation to ‘triggers’ (i.e. anything that reminds the traumatized individual of the traumatic event/s on either a conscious or unconscious level)

THE AMYGDALA :

The amygdala is a small part of the brain and its function is to immediately assess whether incoming sensory information (i.e. all the information we take in by sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell) IS A THREAT OR NOT.

So, for example, the amygdala is responsible for making you jump if you hear a sudden, unexpected, loud bang. It operates below the level of our conscious awareness so the responses it gives rise to (like making us jump) are NOT UNDER OUR CONSCIOUS CONTROL.

It works at lightning speed on a ‘better safe than sorry’ basis, so, using the ‘loud, unexpected noise’ example, the sound of the bang will make us jump whether it is the result of dangerous gunfire or a harmless firework.

It is only after this initial, automatic, immediate response (which has evolved in order to be of optimum survival value) that the brain further processes the information to assess whether the noise REALLY DID REPRESENT A THREAT OR NOT.

Because of the amygdala’s function, it is also sometimes referred to as the brain’s FEAR CENTER.

The effect of chronic, severe trauma on the amygdala is that it eventually becomes over-reactive, or, as it is sometimes described, ‘stuck on red alert’, so that we become hypervigilant and may become terrified by people, events, situations etc. that, objectively speaking, pose no threat whatsoever and would not, in the least, cause anxiety in a non-traumatized person. In essence, we start to ‘see threat everywhere’ and may live in a constant state of, at best, apprehension and trepidation.

OTHER EFFECTS OF AN OVERACTIVATED AMYGDALA AND CONSEQUENTLY LIVING IN A STATE OF CONSTANT FEAR :

When we are living in a constant state of fear due to an overactivated amygdala we are essentially locked into the fight/flight survival mode. As such, we become completely focused upon ourselves and selfish, (but it is not a willed, conscious, decision; it is our brain’s way of increasing the chances that we will survive). 

This can also result in a much-diminished sense of empathy for others (altruistic and other positive behaviours towards others like forgiveness, generosity and consideration are far more likely to occur when a person feels safe, secure, content and have most of their own needs fulfilled; in relation to this, one need only consider the difference in most people’s behaviour when things are going well compared to when they are going badly).

It should also be noted that the amygdala cannot stay hyperactivated indefinitely which means those suffering from PTSD, at times when the amygdala becomes ‘exhausted’ by its relentless, frenetic activity, will move out of the fight/flight state and move into the ‘freeze’, or dissociated state.

THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX : 

In PTSD sufferers, the prefrontal cortex becomes UNDERACTIVATED.

The prefrontal cortex is often described as the THINKING CENTER of the brain and studies involving both humans (including functional imaging studies) and animals suggest that chronic and severe trauma impairs its functioning. 

It is theorized that the resulting dysfunction of this brain area impairs its ability to appropriately inhibit the fear-generating amygdala, thus allowing it (i.e. the amygdala) to ‘run riot’, as it were.

Severely traumatized individuals may also experience increased blood flow to the right prefrontal lobe which, in turn, can intensify feelings of sadness and aggression.

 

Damage done to the brain as a consequence of severe and protracted trauma can result in various cognitive, emotional and behavioural problems in adulthood.

However, thanks to a quality in the brain known as neuroplasticity, that it is now known that, under certain conditions, the brain has the potential to recover from the damage it incurred during early life.

For example, if our brain was affected in such a way when we were young that, as adults, we are extremely anxious and hypersensitive to stress, mindfulness meditation has been shown by much research to have the potential to greatly alleviate this problem.

In order for positive changes to take place in the brain that are long-lasting, it is necessary to alter the structure of the brain on a neuronal level; seven major elements that are of great importance to achieving this are as follows :

REPAIRING THE BRAIN: THE SEVEN KEY ELEMENTS :

  1. NOVELTY– the brain must receive new information and stimuli in order to change itself (e.g. by using repeated self-hypnosis).
  2. REPETITION– the brain must be repeatedly exposed to this new information to enable it to start making, strengthening and consolidating new neural connections.
  3. ATTENTION– it is necessary to pay good attention to the new information/stimuli for the new, beneficial neural connections to occur (paying attention stimulates the production of acetylcholine in the brain which aids the development of these new neural connections)
  4. DIET– in particular, Omega 3 helps the development of new neural connections (Omega 3 can be bought as a supplement).
  5. AEROBIC EXERCISE– research suggests that this form of exercise helps the brain to positively regenerate itself
  6. RELATIONSHIPS forming close bonds with others (and, importantly, relating well to ourselves) has also been shown to lead to beneficial brain development
  7. SLEEP – it is important to get sufficient sleep (research suggests that the brain most actively ‘repairs’ itself during sleep.)

 

 

My eBook How Childhood Trauma Can Damage The Physical Development Of The Brain now available for instant download from Amazon.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)