Recovery From Childhood Psychological Trauma

Below is a list of useful links to help recover from childhood trauma, including for those who have developed BPD or complex-PTSD.

Behavioral Tech: A Linehan Institute Training Company.

Here you can learn about scientifically validated treatments for complex and severe mental illnesses.

NCTSN The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) provides children and families who experience or witness traumatic events access to services and works to increase the standard of care offered by such services.

ISTSS International Society For Traumatic Stress Studies.

This organization promotes the advancement and exchange of knowledge about traumatic stress including the consequences of experiencing trauma, treating these consequences, and prevention of traumatic events.

NAPAC The National Association For People Abused In Childhood.

Offers support to survivors of child abuse, as well as to their friends and families.

MIND (Complex PTSD)

One of the U.K.’s leading mental health charities explains PTSD and complex PTSD, including possible causes and ways to obtain support and treatment.

NHS (Borderline Personality Disorder)

Information from U.K.’s National Health Service about borderline personality disorder (BPD) including possible causes and treatments.

besselvanderkolk.net (Leading Trauma Expert)

Bessel van der Kolk is one of the world’s top experts on the effects of trauma on children and adults and, according to his website, he has a special interest in the physiological effects of trauma and the importance of stabilizing these effects in treatment as well as of increasing executive function and of increasing individuals’ feelings of alertness and of living in the ‘here and now.’ Specific treatments of interest to Bessel van der Kolk include EMDR, yoga, and neurofeedback.

Alice Miller (Expert On Child Abuse And Mistreatment)

Alice Miller (!923-2010) was a leading world expert on the effects of maltreatment on children and was the author of 13 books translated into 30 languages.

Official Website Of R.D. Laing

The official website of R.D. Laing refers to him as a ‘controversial figure‘ and ‘hero to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s’ as well as a ‘pioneering humanitarian whose works displayed an authentic existential understanding of psychosis.’

traumahealing.org (Somatic Experiencing)

Somatic Experiencing is a therapy developed by Dr. Peter Levine which focuses on the body in its approach to healing the adverse effects of trauma and aims to alleviate the condition of those who are ‘stuck’ in the ‘fight/flight/freeze/fawn’ response and to reduce or eliminate associated symptoms.

MN Trauma Project

The main aim of this project is to increase public awareness of the effects of trauma.

The Blue Knot Foundation

This organization is committed to empowering recovery and increasing the resilience of those affected by complex trauma.

Australian BPD Foundation Limited

Support and advocate services for those suffering from BPD who live in Australia.

  1. ADVERTISEMENT

Largest network of licensed therapists

Personalized counselor-matching

Texts, calls, or video chats available

$60 to $90 per week

 

Below is a list of useful links to help recover from childhood trauma, including for those who have developed BPD or complex-PTSD.

Behavioral Tech: A Linehan Institute Training Company.

Here you can learn about scientifically validated treatments for complex and severe mental illnesses.

NCTSN The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) provides children and families who experience or witness traumatic events access to services and works to increase the standard of care offered by such services.

ISTSS International Society For Traumatic Stress Studies.

This organization promotes the advancement and exchange of knowledge about traumatic stress including the consequences of experiencing trauma, treating these consequences, and prevention of traumatic events.

NAPAC The National Association For People Abused In Childhood.

Offers support to survivors of child abuse, as well as to their friends and families.

MIND (Complex PTSD)

One of the U.K.’s leading mental health charities explains PTSD and complex PTSD, including possible causes and ways to obtain support and treatment.

NHS (Borderline Personality Disorder)

Information from U.K.’s National Health Service about borderline personality disorder (BPD) including possible causes and treatments.

besselvanderkolk.net (Leading Trauma Expert)

Bessel van der Kolk is one of the world’s top experts on the effects of trauma on children and adults and, according to his website, he has a special interest in the physiological effects of trauma and the importance of stabilizing these effects in treatment as well as of increasing executive function and of increasing individuals’ feelings of alertness and of living in the ‘here and now.’ Specific treatments of interest to Bessel van der Kolk include EMDR, yoga, and neurofeedback.

Alice Miller (Expert On Child Abuse And Mistreatment)

Alice Miller (!923-2010) was a leading world expert on the effects of maltreatment on children and was the author of 13 books translated into 30 languages.

Official Website Of R.D. Laing

The official website of R.D. Laing refers to him as a ‘controversial figure‘ and ‘hero to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s’ as well as a ‘pioneering humanitarian whose works displayed an authentic existential understanding of psychosis.’

traumahealing.org (Somatic Experiencing)

Somatic Experiencing is a therapy developed by Dr. Peter Levine which focuses on the body in its approach to healing the adverse effects of trauma and aims to alleviate the condition of those who are ‘stuck’ in the ‘fight/flight/freeze/fawn’ response and to reduce or eliminate associated symptoms.

MN Trauma Project

The main aim of this project is to increase public awareness of the effects of trauma.

The Blue Knot Foundation

This organization is committed to empowering recovery and increasing the resilience of those affected by complex trauma.

Australian BPD Foundation Limited

Support and advocate services for those suffering from BPD who live in Australia.

  1. ADVERTISEMENT

Largest network of licensed therapists

Personalized counselor-matching

Texts, calls, or video chats available

$60 to $90 per week

 

WHAT IS CHILD PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA?

 

Psychological trauma occurs in response to an overwhelming event/s that an individual lacks the internal and external coping mechanisms to mentally deal with; this can lead to a very protracted period (months, years, or, even, a lifetime) of distress and impaired emotional, cognitive and behavioral functioning.

A person suffering from severe psychological trauma will incur negative effects on the brain, e.g. an increase in the level of stress-related neurotransmitters (neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow neurons, or brain cells, to communicate with each other) and negative hormonal changes (e.g. an increase in the production of adrenalin).

Also, due to the fact that the effects of the trauma are so overwhelming for the susceptible individual, the brain’s natural ‘stress-reversal brake system’ fails to work.

The experience of severe psychological trauma can, in this way, be seen as a PSYCHOBIOLOGICAL event resulting in activation of the sensory nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, and the central nervous system (the latter refers to the brain and the spinal cord).

INTERPERSONAL TRAUMA VERSUS TRAUMA RELATED TO NATURAL DISASTERS:

The trauma response is different when it is of interpersonal origin – i.e. when a person (the perpetrator) hurts an innocent individual (the victim) – from what it is when the trauma response occurs as a reaction to a natural disaster (e.g. an earthquake or flood).

The former results in COMPLEX-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) whereas the latter results in ‘ordinary’ PTSD (click here to read my article about the difference between complex PTSD and ‘ordinary’ PTSD).

THE UNIQUE EFFECT OF TRAUMA ON YOUNG VICTIMS:

Because the child has very limited defenses against traumatic events (e.g. undeveloped problem-solving skills, meager emotional and physical resources, and, often, a poor social support system) s/he is especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of such events.

Furthermore, s/he will usually have no ‘place of safety to take refuge in and will, therefore, to all intents and purposes, be ‘trapped’ in the highly stressful home environment.

Whilst Social Services can intervene, often the child does not want this as it can disrupt the family and lead to the child being taken away from the family home. There is also the stigma to be considered and, unfortunately, in some cases, the extreme parental anger resulting from having been reported.

WHY INTERPERSONAL (PARENT/CARETAKER AGAINST CHILD) TRAUMA IS ESPECIALLY DAMAGING:

Being traumatized by the very person who is supposed to be caring, protecting, and nurturing the child results, in many cases, in that child undergoing massive psychological trauma.

The development of a SAFE ATTACHMENT between the parent/caretaker and child is of FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE to the child’s emotional and psychological development and to his/her chances of growing up as a well-adjusted individual.

If such a safe attachment fails to form, the results can be catastrophic, leading to :

– identity problems

– lack of personal autonomy

– inability to control emotions

– self-hatred 

– negative view of others

– inability to form/maintain relationships (particularly intimate relationships)

– pervasive and profound feelings of insecurity

– a feeling of being disempowered/dependent upon others

– deep and enduring feelings of irrational guilt and shame

– an inability to calm self in times of stress (sometimes referred to as an inability to ‘self-soothe’)

– reduced empathy for the feelings of others

– concentration and memory problems

– feelings of being generally inept

– chronic somatic (physical) problems (eg headaches, stomach problems such as IBS)

AMBIVALENCE:

Suffering trauma caused by a parent/’caretaker’ is made even more painful and confusing because, often, the young person will feel ambivalent towards this parent/’caretaker’. To put it another way, there might exist a ‘love-hate’ relationship in which the child has conflicting and ambiguous feelings towards the adult.

Because of this, the child may lie to protect the adult or rationalize the adult’s behavior (e.g. by irrationally and falsely believing that s/he ‘deserves’ to be the victim of the adult’s behavior because s/he is ‘bad’; this can occur because it can be psychologically preferable for the young person to see him/herself as ‘bad’ than to mentally cope with the idea that it is, in fact, the parent who is bad).

12 EXAMPLES OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA

 

Below I list, and briefly describe, twelve traumatic experiences that may befall us in childhood (although they are in no particular order):

1) The death of a person to whom the child has a strong emotional bond, especially a parent.

2) Divorce of parents, especially when the divorce is acrimonious.

3) Abuse (which may be emotional, sexual, physical, or a combination of these).

4) Natural disasters (particularly those that make the child feel intensely helpless and vulnerable, expose the child to the threat of, or actual, severe danger or harm, or are life-threatening).

5) Violence: this may include witnessing a parent being physically assaulted (domestic violence), exposure to gun violence, war, gang violence, and physical bullying.

6) Moving: this may be traumatic as it may entail the child having to change schools, leave old friends behind, make new friends (especially difficult for shy children, children who lack confidence, and children with low self-esteem), adjust to a new location (and, possibly, even to a new culture), change schools, etc. The stress of these changes is exacerbated by the fact that, usually, the child has no control over the move and may not have any say in the matter whatsoever, even if it will severely disrupt his/her life.

7) Medical Crisis: such as serious illness, major surgery, or an extended stay in hospital

8) Related to the above is the trauma caused by having a serious accident, especially one that is life-threatening or leads to the child experiencing a protracted period of significant pain

9) Adoption: may involve the child having to adjust to new primary caregivers, a new location, loss of relationship with previous caregivers, loss of old friends, and exposure to many other stressors.

10) Neglect: this may involve physical neglect and/or emotional neglect.

11) Growing up in poverty.

12) Growing up with a mentally ill parent.

WHY ARE CHILDREN PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA?

Children’s brains, because they are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of trauma. Often, however, the full, devastating impact does not become apparent until years after the traumatic experience which sometimes gives the illusion that children are resilient.

WHAT FACTORS MAKE A CHILD LESS VULNERABLE TO THE EFFECTS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA?

The most important factor that decreases a child’s vulnerability to adverse effects of trauma is to have a stable, emotionally supportive relationship with at least one primary caregiver (ideally a parent).

According to the researcher Edith Grotberg, an expert in the field of child resilience, children can derive strength to help them cope with trauma and adversity from three key sources; these are:

1) SOCIAL AND INTERPERSONAL SUPPORTS

2) INNER STRENGTHS

3) INTERPERSONAL AND PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS

Let’s briefly examine each of these in turn :

social and interpersonal supports include having :

  • people around who are utterly trustworthy and love the child unconditionally
  • people around who set the child a good example of how to behave
  • people around that give the child boundaries to keep him/her safe
  • people around who teach the child self-reliance and autonomy
  • people around who are protective and nurturing towards the child

inner strengths include:

  • consideration for others
  • a likable personality
  • self-respect
  • a sense of personal responsibility
  • an optimistic disposition

interpersonal and problem-solving skills include:

  • self-control/ability to control dangerous impulses
  • willingness to discuss fears/problems/worries with others
  • access to people who can help us solve problems
  • ability to work out solutions to problems

     

 

A FAMOUS STUDY SHOWS THE POTENTIAL EXTREMELY SEVERE NEGATIVE IMPACT OF CHILDHOOD ADVERSE EXPERIENCES (ACEs) ON BOTH MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH.

 

 

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is a frequently cited research study conducted by the American health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1995 and 1997.

Essentially, this study demonstrated that the more traumatic our childhood was, the more risk we are at of developing adult illnesses, both PHYSICAL and MENTAL.

Specifically, the study found that the more CHILDHOOD ADVERSE EXPERIENCES (ACEs) we suffered as children, the greater our risk of developing adult illnesses.

The study focused on the following childhood adverse experiences:

– physical abuse

– emotional abuse

– sexual abuse

– witnessing the mother being abused by the father

– loss/abandonment/rejection by a parent (including due to separation and divorce)

– living with a parent suffering from a pathological addiction

– living with a clinically depressed mother

– living with a mother who suffers from another significant mental illness

 

It has been found that such adverse experiences during our childhood can lead to highly damaging effects that may be extremely detrimental to our adult health. I list the main ones below:

– harmful effects on the physical development of our brain leading to architectural brain abnormalities 

– detrimental effects on the brain’s functionality

N.B: However, the good news is that, as I explain in my book, How Childhood Trauma Can Physically Damage The Brain (And How Such Damage Can Be Reversed), such damage can be reversible.

– adverse effects upon how our genes express themselves (genes do not express themselves in a vacuum; their expression is affected by the environment in which they exist)

– damaging effects on the operation of our stress hormones (e.g. cortisol). This can lead us to become acutely reactive to the negative effects of stress in our adult lives resulting in a proclivity for us to react with great volatility and violence (in some cases, literally) in response to such stress (even stress that others may easily be capable of taking in their stride.

– an increased risk of serious physical diseases such as heart disease

SEE ALSO: How Childhood Trauma Can Reduce Life Expectancy By 19 Years.

Other Types Of Trauma:

I have already listed, above, the types of trauma that the ACE Study focused upon. However, continued research is demonstrating that other traumatic childhood experiences, too, can impinge detrimentally upon both our physical and mental adult health; these include the following:

– growing up in severe poverty

– growing up in environments in which there is little stimulation

– parental neglect (including emotional neglect)

– growing up in a violent environment

– growing up in an environment in which gang culture predominates

– being bullied at school

THE POTENTIAL EFFECTS OF ACEs ON THE BRAIN:

ACEs take place during the critical and sensitive developmental period of the person’s childhood (especially during the first three years of life and during puberty and early adolescence), coupled with their effects on the person’s genetic expression (how our genes express themselves depends upon how they interact with our experiences/environment – this is known as epigenetics) can adversely affect brain development on a number of levels (see below):

ACEs Can Adversely Affect Brain Development On A Number Of Levels :

  • ELECTRICAL
  • CHEMICAL
  • CELLULAR MASS

In turn, these adverse effects, taken together, can damage the brain on both a STRUCTURAL and FUNCTIONAL level.

BRAIN CHANGES BECOME ‘HARDWIRED’ FOR SURVIVAL:

These brain changes then become hardwired in the brain’s biology as the behaviors that these brain changes are associated with are, on a fundamental level, adaptive and ‘intended’ to help the child survive his/her traumatic environment.

For example, certain brain changes caused by the child’s traumatic experiences may predispose the child to hypervigilance and explosive outbursts of rage and anger, both of which are adaptations that enhance survival chances in a dangerous, threatening, and hostile environment. Indeed, children who grow up in traumatically threatening environments are at significantly increased risk of developing OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANCE DISORDER (ODD).

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACEs) AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PSYCHIATRIC, PHYSICAL, AND ‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS :

The original ACE study found that overall and on average, the greater the number of ACEs an individual had experienced during childhood, the more likely s/he was to suffer from the following problems later in life :

PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS:

PHYSICAL PROBLEMS :

‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS:

 

 

RECOVERY FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: HARTMAN’S 3 CRUCIAL STAGES:

 

The psychologist and expert on trauma, Judith Herman, has identified three key stages that it is necessary for those who suffered childhood trauma and subsequently developed complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to pass through on our mutual, yet unique, journies to recovery. I have summarized these three stages below:

Herman’s Three Stages Of Recovery:

STAGE ONE:

This stage involves focusing on the symptoms that many suffer as a result of childhood trauma, including :

– difficulty controlling/regulating emotions

– aggression/anger/hostility 

– alcohol/drug addiction 

– behavioral addictions (internet porn, anonymous sex, gambling, etc)

– re-enacting abusive patterns of behavior

– problematic eating behaviors 

– dissociation 

– self-harm

– emotional numbing

– feelings of being unsafe/in danger

– self-neglect/lack of self-care

– depression

– panic attacks

– feelings of powerlessness

– feelings of shame/guilt

– deep distrust of others

It is necessary to identify the symptoms one may have and then set treatment goals and learn about ways one will be able to reach those goals.

It is also highly necessary, in this first stage, for the individual to establish a sense of safety and security.

In this first stage, too, inner strengths which may well have been neglected in the past are developed.

It should also be noted that stage one does NOT focus on discussing and attempting to process painful memories. However, this rule is not set in stone and such memories may be addressed if doing so facilitates creating a sense of safety and/or greater stability and/or good self-care.

Finally, stage one may also include going on medications, if appropriate (for example, anti-depressants), psychotherapy (usually the most appropriate form of therapy is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This type of therapy is particularly useful if the person is suffering from extreme difficulties controlling/regulating emotions or is experiencing acute difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

Once a sense of safety, stability, good self-care, and the ability to adequately regulate emotions has been achieved, it is possible to move on to stage two.

STAGE TWO :

Judith Herman called this stage of recovery remembrance and mourning.

During this stage, painful memories are reviewed and discussed with the aim of reducing their emotional intensity and revising their perceived implications for the person’s future life and sense of self-identity. There are many techniques that may be used to process and make less painful memories of trauma. At the time of writing, perhaps, the most popular one is known as eye movement desensitization and restructuring.

Also, during this stage, the therapist encourages the person to grieve for the losses s/he has suffered due to a traumatic childhood (for example, many who have suffered severe childhood trauma feel, in a very real sense, that their childhood was stolen from them.

This stage is also a time to start coming to terms with the active harm the trauma has done (e.g. perhaps the pain of the emotional trauma has led to alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm, etc).

STAGE THREE :

Once stage two has been successfully completed, the person can start trying to get on with a ‘normal life, involving re-forming relationships with others/reconnecting with people, and resuming meaningful activities.

CONCLUSION :

This is not the only model of recovery from trauma in existence but is certainly one of the better-known ones. I will look at other models of recovery in later articles.

Recovery is thought to be very difficult if a person stays socially isolated and does not re-connect with others.

  1. ADVERTISEMENT

Largest network of licensed therapists

Personalized counselor-matching

Texts, calls, or video chats available

$60 to $90 per week

 

Below is a list of useful links to help recover from childhood trauma, including for those who have developed BPD or complex-PTSD.

Behavioral Tech: A Linehan Institute Training Company.

Here you can learn about scientifically validated treatments for complex and severe mental illnesses.

NCTSN The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) provides children and families who experience or witness traumatic events access to services and works to increase the standard of care offered by such services.

ISTSS International Society For Traumatic Stress Studies.

This organization promotes the advancement and exchange of knowledge about traumatic stress including the consequences of experiencing trauma, treating these consequences, and prevention of traumatic events.

NAPAC The National Association For People Abused In Childhood.

Offers support to survivors of child abuse, as well as to their friends and families.

MIND (Complex PTSD)

One of the U.K.’s leading mental health charities explains PTSD and complex PTSD, including possible causes and ways to obtain support and treatment.

NHS (Borderline Personality Disorder)

Information from U.K.’s National Health Service about borderline personality disorder (BPD) including possible causes and treatments.

besselvanderkolk.net (Leading Trauma Expert)

Bessel van der Kolk is one of the world’s top experts on the effects of trauma on children and adults and, according to his website, he has a special interest in the physiological effects of trauma and the importance of stabilizing these effects in treatment as well as of increasing executive function and of increasing individuals’ feelings of alertness and of living in the ‘here and now.’ Specific treatments of interest to Bessel van der Kolk include EMDR, yoga, and neurofeedback.

Alice Miller (Expert On Child Abuse And Mistreatment)

Alice Miller (!923-2010) was a leading world expert on the effects of maltreatment on children and was the author of 13 books translated into 30 languages.

Official Website Of R.D. Laing

The official website of R.D. Laing refers to him as a ‘controversial figure‘ and ‘hero to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s’ as well as a ‘pioneering humanitarian whose works displayed an authentic existential understanding of psychosis.’

traumahealing.org (Somatic Experiencing)

Somatic Experiencing is a therapy developed by Dr. Peter Levine which focuses on the body in its approach to healing the adverse effects of trauma and aims to alleviate the condition of those who are ‘stuck’ in the ‘fight/flight/freeze/fawn’ response and to reduce or eliminate associated symptoms.

MN Trauma Project

The main aim of this project is to increase public awareness of the effects of trauma.

The Blue Knot Foundation

This organization is committed to empowering recovery and increasing the resilience of those affected by complex trauma.

Australian BPD Foundation Limited

Support and advocate services for those suffering from BPD who live in Australia.

  1. ADVERTISEMENT

Largest network of licensed therapists

Personalized counselor-matching

Texts, calls, or video chats available

$60 to $90 per week

 

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