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Why Complex PTSD Sufferers May Avoid Eye Contact

A study by Lanius  et al. was conducted to cast light upon why many with individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including those suffering from complex-PTSD, often find it excruciatingly uncomfortable every time the rules of social etiquette compel them to make eye to eye contact with another human being (I, myself once attempted to circumvent this problem by deliberately buying a pair of glasses with lenses that were by far the wrong strength for me so that, whilst, to whomever it was I was required, as the law of social norms decrees, to make eye contact, I appeared to be doing so in the conventionally stipulated manner,  in fact, all that my eyes were actually meeting with was a comfortingly, non-threatening blur).

Returning to Lanius’ et al.’s experiment :

The experiment consisted of two groups :

1) Survivors of chronic trauma

2) ‘Normal’ controls

What Did The Experiment Involve?

Participants from both of the above groups were subjected to brain scans whilst a making eye to eye contact with a video character in such a way as to mimic real life face to face  contact.

What Were The Results Of The Experiment?

In the case of the ‘normal’ controls (i.e. those who had NOT suffered significant trauma), the simulated eye to eye contact with the video character caused the are of the brain known as the PREFRONTAL CORTEX to become ACTIVATED.

HOWEVER:

In the case of the chronic trauma survivors, the same simulated eye contact with the video character did NOT cause activation of the PREFRONTAL CORTEX. Instead, the scans revealed that, in response to the simulated eye contact, the part of the chronic trauma survivors’ brains that WAS ACTIVATED was a very primitive part (located deep inside the emotional brain) known as the PERIAQUEDUCTAL GRAY.

 

 

INTERPRETATION OF THESE RESULTS :

The prefrontal cortex helps us judge and assess a person when we make eye contact, so we can determine whether their intentions seem good or ill.

However, the periaqueductal gray  region is associated with SELF-PROTECTIVE RESPONSES such as hypervigilance, submission and cowering.

Therefore, we can infer that those with PTSD / complex PTSD may find it hard to make eye contact because their brains have been adversely affected, as a result of their traumatic experiences, in such a way that, when they make eye contact with another person, the ‘appraisal’ stage of the interaction (normally carried out by the prefrontal cortex) is missed out and, instead, their brains, due to activation of the periqueductal region, cause an intensely fearful response.

This constitutes yet another example of how severe and protracted childhood trauma can damage the physical development of the brain.

 

Link : Lanius et al’s study.

 

eBook :

 

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

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

Effects Of Childhood Trauma

effects of childhood trauma

The effects of childhood trauma can be devastating and, in the absence of effective therapy, can last well into adulthood or even for an entire lifetime.

This website contains over 850  articles, all written by psychologist, writer and educator, David Hosier, BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE), himself a survivor of childhood trauma, on the effects of childhood trauma and closely related topics.

The most well known study on the effects of childhood trauma is called The ACE Study /Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

The main findings of this extremely important study were as follows :

Those who experience significant childhood trauma are at increased risk of:

  • And, if you explore this website, you will discover that the above list is far from exhaustive when enumerating the myriad effects of childhood trauma.

What Types Of Childhood Trauma Did The Study Focus Upon?

The study focused upon the following types of childhood trauma :

  • Abuse (emotional, sexual or physical)
  • Living in a household within which a family member who was an alcoholic or drug addict
  • Living in a household within which the mother was physically abused
  • Parental divorce/separation
  • Neglect (emotional or physical)
  • Living in a household in which a family member went to prison
  • Living in a household within which a family member suffered from mental illness

NB The study found that the more of these adverse childhood experiences the child suffered, and the more intense and long lasting they were, the greater the child’s risk of developing the problems listed above.

This website takes the ACE study as its starting point and, if you choose to explore it, you can find a wealth of information about :


RESOURCES :

UNLOVED AS A CHILD? | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS  : CLICK HERE

LET GO OF THE PAST | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS : CLICK HERE


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

Hartman’s 12 Stages Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

12-steps_ptsd_diagram

Hartmans twelve stages

I have written extensively on this site about how severe and chronic childhood trauma can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adulthood (see the PTSD section on the main menu). This is also sometimes referred to as complex post-traumatic stress syndrome (CPTSD). In order to understand the theoretical difference between PTSD and CPTSD, click here.

In connection with PTSD, the writer and researcher, Hartman, has proposed a model of how the terrible mental illness can progress over time, involving the afflicted individual going through 12 painful steps.

 

The 12 Steps Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

 

  1. Acute anxiety

  2. Depression

  3. Resentment

  4. Anger

  5. Fear

  6. Anxiety

  7. Feelings of worthlessness

  8. Shame

  9. Guilt

  10. Confusion

  11. Pain

  12. Activating events / Triggers

PTSD Treatment:

The NHS provides excellent information about treatment options for PTSD and this can be found by clicking here.

Information For Therapists:

A downloadable course that trains practitioners to treat PTSD  (using the Rewind Technique) can be found by clicking here.

eBooks:

brain damage caused by childhood trauma         PTSD

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

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

Why can Effects of Childhood Trauma be Delayed?

childhood_trauma_delayed_effects

Delayed onset post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ,which can occur as a result of a severely disrupted childhood, is defined by the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) as PTSD which develops at least six months after the traumatic event/s; however, PTSD can take much longer than this to manifest itself.

One reason why PTSD may not become apparent immediately is that the individual who has been affected by  trauma is able, for a period of time, to employ coping mechanisms (either consciously or unconsciously) which keep the condition at bay. During this period, some of the effects of the traumatic experience/s lie dormant.However, due to the experiencing of  further triggers (stress-inducing reminders of the original trauma), the person’s neurobiological processes (already harmed by the original trauma) may be further adversely affected until a ‘tipping point’ is reached and the s/he meets the criteria for being diagnosed with the disorder.

In other words, there is an interaction between the original damage caused by the trauma and exposure to further stressors later on in life. It follows from this that the more severe the original trauma, and the more severe the stressors life throws at the individual subsequently, the greater is the his/her accumulated risk of developing PTSD. Indeed, this is borne out by the research.

ORIGINAL TRAUMA LEADS TO GREATER VULNERABILITY TO EFFECTS OF FURTHER STRESS :

The original trauma, then, makes the individual more susceptible to being affected adversely by further life stressors. In neurological terms, this is thought to be because the original trauma can damage an area of the brain known as the amygdala; damage to this region makes a person’s fear/anxiety response to stressors much more intense than is normally the case (click here to read my article on how the effects of childhood trauma can physically harm the brain).

The more the individual affected by the original trauma subsequently experiences stressful triggers (see above) which cause him/her to relive it, the more damaged, and hypersensitive to the effects of further stress, the amydala (see above) becomes. Eventually, the amygdala’s response to perceived threat and danger (there does not have to be any real threat or danger ; indeed, one of the hallmarks of PTSD is that it causes the sufferer to see threat everywhere, where it does not, in fact, exist)  become so exaggerated that the individual finds him/herself living in what amounts to a state of almost constant terror (indeed, I myself was in just such a state for more time than I care to recall).

VICIOUS CYCLE:

As the individual starts to perceive, irrationally, threat everywhere, the range of triggers (see above) s/he experiences grows ever wider; this, in turn, yet further sensitizes the amygdala and reinforces the individual’s stress response. Thus, a vicious cycle develops.

CRITICAL PERIOD OF BRAIN VULNERABILITY :

I will finish with a quote from the psychologist Shalev, which I think speaks for itself and requires no further elucidation from me :

‘Following trauma there is a critical period of brain plasticity during which serious neuronal changes may occur in those who go on to develop PTSD.’

NB. To learn more about BRAIN PLASTICITY, and how we can take advantage of the phenomenon to aid our own recoveries,  click here to read my article).

 

 

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

Narcissistic Personality Disorder : Its Link To Childhood Trauma

obsessive love disorder

This article examines the link between narcissistic disorder and childhood trauma. Several of my articles have already looked in some detail at the link between childhood trauma and the subsequent risk of developing a personality disorder (or disorders) if appropriate psychotherapeutic intervention is not sought.

narcissistic personaliy

Narcissus from Greek Mythology

Whilst precise mechanisms underlying the link between childhood trauma and subsequent development of a personality disorder are still being researched, it is a statistical fact that the experience of childhood trauma and personality disorder are very frequently indeed seen to be ‘co-morbid’ (this is a psychological term used to mean existing in the same patient – i.e. if the patient has a personality disorder, he/she very probably also experienced severe childhood trauma).

Suffering from a personality disorder has a profoundly damaging impact on a person’s life if it is left untreated. People who suffer from personality disorders tend to have very rigid, inflexible and damaging (both to themselves and others) ways of managing vital areas of their lives such as work, relationships and even leisure time which, naturally, causes a whole host problems.

NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER :

A good place to start is to look at how the DSM-IV (a diagnostic manual used by psychologists and psychiatrists) defines narcissistic personality disorder. Here’s the definition :

‘a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy’

Other features of narcissistic personality disorder are :

– a grandiose sense of self-importance
– expectations of being treated as special
– extremely fragile sense of underlying self-esteem

The psychologist Masterson (1981) expanded upon the definition to include two particular types of narcissist:

1) the manifest narcissist
2) the ‘closet’ narcissist

Let’s look at both of these :

1) the manifest narcissist : similar to the description provided in DSM-IV (above)

2) the ‘closet’ narcissist : the person suffering from this disorder tends to present him/herself as timid, shy, inhibited and ineffective but reveals in therapy elaborate fantasies of a grandiose self

Narcissistic personality disorder is thought to be due to ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. In therapy s/he will tend to seek the admiration s/he craves from the therapist, and, if the therapist is skilled and experienced, s/he will often uncover an array of psychological defense mechanisms which the patient uses to protect him/herself from unbearable emotional pain. These can include :

1) IDEALIZATION : this is often the primary defense whereby the individual IDEALIZES HIS/HER RELATIONSHIPS at first, elevating both self and other, in terms of status and specialness, to (illusionary) high levels

) DEVALUATION : this refers to the individual discounting and regarding as worthless anyone who undermines his/her grandiose vision of him/herself

3) DETACHMENT : this is linked to DEVALUATION (above) and refers to the individual’s propensity to sever links with anyone who threatens to undermine his/her exalted view of him/herself

4) ACTING OUT : this refers to performing extreme behaviours to express thoughts, feelings and emotions the person feels incapable of otherwise expressing

5) SPLITTING : this refers to the cutting off from consciousness the part of themselves that holds the emotional pain to prevent it from becoming integrated into consciousness, as, for this to occur, would be psychologically overwhelming

6) PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION : this is when the person (unconsciously) projects onto another (imagines the other to possess) parts of their own ego and then expects the other to become identified with whatever has been projected

7) DENIAL : in its simple form this just means not accepting certain unpleasant parts of reality to protect the ego

8) AVOIDANCE : also sometimes referred to as ‘escape coping’ – making efforts to evade dealing with particular stressors

9) PROJECTION : this defense mechanism involves attributing to others one’s own unwanted or socially/culturally unacceptable emotions, attributes or thoughts

In essence, the individual with narcissistic personality disorder lives in a world where everything is viewed in extremes of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Underneath the defense mechanisms, there invariably lies an extremely FRAGILE SENSE OF SELF-ESTEEM. Therefore, the individual really feels EXTREMELY VULNERABLE and tends to have an overwhelming need to PROTECT HIM/HERSELF FROM ANY THREAT TO HIS/HER EXTREMELY PRECARIOUS SELF-IMAGE. The person with the disorder has a disturbance of the basic structure of the self.

THE THERAPEUTIC APPROACH TO TREATING NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER :

Research suggests that one of the main keys to psychotherapeutic intervention is an acknowledgement of the person’s pain, their overwhelming sense of their own vulnerability and their consequent desperate need to protect themselves from further psychological suffering. The therapist needs to reassure them that their defenses have been identified as self-protective, and, as such, are understandable.

RESOURCE :


DEALING WITH NARCISSISTIC BEHAVIOR | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS


emotional-abuse-ebook

 

 

Above eBook by David Hosier MSc now available as eBook on Amazon at $4.99. CLICK HERE TO FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

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

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