Childhood Trauma : Long-Term Effects and Symptoms

childhood_trauma_questionnaire

Although I have written at length about the effects of childhood trauma on our adult life, I thought, in this post, I would simply list these in order to provide an easy reference point to these main symptoms.

You can read my articles about the specific symptoms, and how they relate to childhood  trauma, by clicking where it says ‘click here’ after the specific symptom in which you are interested.

THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS AND SYMPTOMS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA :

As we have already seen, childhood trauma may be caused by emotional, sexual or physical abuse. If we have experienced it, it can cause us to develop the following symptoms in our adult life :

-poor sense of own identity (click here)

-low self-esteem (click here)

-low confidence

-inability to control our emotions (click here)

-loneliness and social isolation

-perfectionism

-unrealistic guilt (click here)

-anxiety (click here)

-failure syndrome (a feeling that any success we have is undeserved – instead, it is seen as a fluke and there is constant dread that one’s ‘true ineptitude’ (as the individual sees it) will be exposed at any minute

-violent mood swings

-crisis orientation (an intense need to deal with the crises of others)

-depression (click here)

-unresolved anger (click here)

-unresolved resentment

-sexual acting out (click here)

-eating disorders (click here)

-addictions (click here)

-hypochondria

-panic attacks

-phobias

-chronic fatigue syndrome (click here)

-migraine headaches

-codependency (click here)

-inability to form/maintain relationships (click here)

-excessive compliance

-excessive passivity

-borderline personality disorder (BPD) click here

-post traumatic stress disorder/complex post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD?CPTSD) click here

-transference of needs (if we were not loved and shown affection as children we may, in our adult lives, substitute other things for them such as alcohol, drugs, sex and food).

 

Suffering significant childhood trauma is so damaging because it outlives, sometimes by decades (without appropriate therapeutic intervention), the actual period for which the trauma was directly experienced. However, there are effective treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (click here to read my article on this).

For self-help, a place to start is to use the techniques of MINDFULNESS MEDITATION (click here), SELF-HYPNOSIS, or a combination of both. In relation to this, I particularly recommend  (I have used their products to my own benefit) HypnosisDownloads.com, who provide self-hypnosis MP3s/CDs to help with the treatment of many of the above problems (just type the relevant problem into their search engine).

To visit their site, please click on the banner below. Alternatively, see my ‘RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS’ page by clicking on this item in the main menu, where I provide product reviews.

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

 

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Addressing Effects Of Childhood Trauma With Dialectical Behavior Therapy : PART 1.

dialectic behavioral therapy(DBT)

DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY (DBT) has been found to be particularly effective in treating those who, in part due to their childhood experiences, have gone on to develop BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD).

Five skills are central to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT); these are as follows:

1) CORE MINDFULNESS
2) TAKING THE’MIDDLE PATH’
3) DISTRESS tolerances
4) EMOTIONAL REGULATION
5) INTERPERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS

dialectic behavioral therapy

In this introductory post, I will concentrate upon 1 and 2 above. I will go on to examine 3, 4 an5 above in PART 2. So let’s start by looking at 1:

1) CORE MINDFULNESS: DBT describes the mind as having 3 components (these are concepts, not actual distinct physical part of the brain, obviously). The 3 components are:

a) the reasonable mind
b) the emotional mind
c) the wise mind

Let’s examine each of these in turn:

a) the reasonable mind: this can be summed up, according to DBT, as the part of the brain which acts according to reason, logic and rationality

b) the emotional mind: according to DBT, this is the part of the brain which operates on the basis of our feelings (when the ‘heart controls the head’)

c) the wise mind: ideally, according to DBT, we should allow this part of the brain to guide us; it is A BALANCE BETWEEN 1 and 2 above, when the reasonable and emotional brain are operating in effective HARMONY.

If we are able to operate in ‘wise mind mode’, this will mean we can maintain control and prevent ourselves from becoming a victim of our own intense emotions. In order to see the importance of this, we need only consider times in our lives when our behaviour has been dominated by our emotions and the negative effects this may have led to. Indeed, not learning to control emotions can leave our lives in ruins, not least due to the frequent self-destructive effects of our emotional outbursts.

2) TAKING THE MIDDLE PATH: This is a metaphor for avoiding the trap of constantly seeing issues in terms of BLACK AND WHITE (eg all good/all bad and a marked tendency to perpetually think IN TERMS OF EXTREMES). DBT stresses the importance of teaching ourselves to FOCUS MORE ON THE GREY AREAS and to try to take A BROADER RANGE OF PERSPECTIVES when considering issues, to think more FLEXIBLY and to THINK LESS IN ABSOLUTE TERMS.

Taking the middle path, according to DBT, also involves BOTH VALIDATING OUR OWN THOUGHTS/FEELINGS AND THOSE OF OTHERS. Even if others don’t understand, DBT stresses that we need to comfort ourselves when distressed by reminding ourselves that how we are feeling is real and makes sense under the current circumstances we find ourselves in. We can remind ourselves, too, that no matter what others may think, NOBODY UNDERSTANDS US AS WELL AS WE UNDERSTAND OURSELVES (others can’t understand what it is ‘to be in our heads’; we should not be ashamed of how we feel). By applying this compassion and understanding to ourselves, as part of ‘taking the middle path’ it seems fair that we should extend similar understanding to others – we can accept what they feel, as non-judgmentally as possible, irrespective of whether we approve or not.

My next post (PART 2) will look at the other 3 key skills DBT teaches us (3,4 and 5 above) namely: DISTRESS TOLERANCE, EMOTIONAL REGULATION and INTERPERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS.

RESOURCE :

control your emotionsCONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS PACK – click here for further information.

 

DBT TRAINING MANUAL :

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

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A Closer Examination of The Effects of Childhood Trauma. Part One..

It has been stated in several of the posts which I have already published on this site that our childhood experiences have an incalcuably large effect on how we develop later on in life, and, in particular, the quality (or lack, thereof) of the relationship we had with our parents. Research has informed us that the effects of early, adverse experience may permeate and poison major areas of the affected individual’s life later on in life.

I’d like to start by recapping the major areas of a person’s life that the experience of childhood trauma may affect; these effects can last for many, many years, and, if effective treatment is not assiduously sought and implemented, even a whole life-time :

1 – the individual’s ability to regulate (control) emotions
2 – the individual’s capacity to form lasting relationships and integrate/interact in an appropriate manner socially.
3- the individual’s behaviour
4- the individuals cognitive ability (thinking skills) and achievements related to this
5- the individual’s physical health

In PART ONE of this post, I will look only at numbers 1 and 2 above. Numbers 3,4 and 5 will be examined in PART TWO, to be published shortly.

Let’s examine each of these in turn:

1) THE INDIVIDUAL’S EMOTIONAL HEALTH – Effects of childhood trauma can, and frequently do, lead to the individual developing a perpetual and pervasive sense of unease, fearfulness and anxiety in later life. Often, in an attempt to reduce these distressing feelings, the individual may WITHDRAW FROM INTERACTING WITH OTHERS. In earlier childhood, such anxiety may have expressed itself through self-harm such as hair pulling or creating lesions (sometimes with a knife) to the flesh.

If early stress in life has been protracted in nature, sleep disruption (eg constant waking, vivid, intense nightmaers etc) may frequently develop.

If some of the trauma in childhood was of a particularly intense nature, it may also lead to ‘flashbacks’ in later life, together with the types of nightmares mentioned above.

In later life, too, the individual who has experienced childhood trauma may develop a constantly ‘flat’ mood, devoid of excitement or joy; indeed, the ability of the brain (this need NOT be permanent) to feel positive or pleasant emotions may be completely lost (psychologists term this type of joyless, ‘flat’ emotional state, in which the brain loses its ability to create positive feelings, ANHEDONIA). A mental state such as this will also, often, be accompanied by intense feelings of (usually irrational) GUILT.

However, some may be emotionally affected in a different way : as a result of having suffered childhood trauma the affected individual’s emotions may become HIGHLY VOLATILE and UNPREDICTABLE. The individual may become very quick to anger. and, also, as a result, s/he may develop a reputation as someone who is EMOTIONALLY UNSTABLE and prone to EXTREME EMOTIONAL OVER-REACTIONS. The term ‘over-sensitive’ may also be freely banded, in relation to the suffering and hurt individual, by incomprehending and bemused others, and they are likely, sadly, to ‘wash their hands’ of the individual, preferring not to invest time attempting to get to the root of things and offer help and support.

As the individual who has experienced childhood trauma gets older, CHRONIC FEELINGS OF INTENSE EMOTIONAL DISTRESS MAY DEVELOP. Relentless anxiety, which will, invariably, be a significant component of such distress, may, too, lead to a state of constant exhaustion and dibilitating fatigue. This, in turn, may well lead to DEPRESSION; the depression may, itself, then lead to alcoholism or misuse of other mood altering substances.

Finally, as a result of severe childhood trauma, DISSOCIATIVE (see my post on DISSOCIATION) symptoms may appear; when dissociative symptoms do develop, research suggests that such symptoms are linked to EXCESSIVE ANGER and LOW SELF-ESTEEM.

2) THE INDIVIDUAL’S CAPACITY TO FORM LASTING RELATIONSHIPS AND INTEGRATE/INTERACT APPROPRIATELY SOCIALLY – Different individuals will be affected later in life, with respect to their social functioning, in different ways. These include:

– becoming very withdrawn (tragically, this may lead to them being perceived as sullen, morose and unlikeable, which is then likely to lead on to SOCIAL REJECTION , and, even, perhaps, total OSTRACISISM).

– becoming ‘difficult’ (frequently, this also has damaging knock-on effects, such as conflict with others, and, thus, as above, social rejection)

– becoming easily angry at other people to ‘push them away’ (often this will operate on an unconscious level) : the individual may have been so denigrated by others in childhood that s/he has been made to feel worthless and ashamed (having INTERNALIZED THE VIEW OF HIM/HER THOSE CLOSE TO HIM/HER HAVE TAKEN – as a result, very often, of PROJECTING THEIR OWN GUILT onto him/her (who may well have been turned into A CONVENIENT FAMILY SCAPEGOAT, deflecting the need for other family members to examine their own consciences).

– in adulthood, too, sexual promiscuity may also develop, possibly (and, again, unconsciously) in a (futile) attempt to gain attention and love.

I hope you have found this post of interest. I look forward to seeing you again for Part Two, to be published imminently! Please click on the FOLLOW icon if you would like immediate notification of all future post publications. Or you may wish to leave a comment, to which I’ll reply a.s.a.p.

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

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Why We Worry.

 

why we worry

Other posts in this category have already dealt with how early life experience of trauma can contribute to us becoming anxious adults, and, also, that the type of negative thinking (cognitive) style we may have developed as a result of the early trauma can perpetuate symptoms of depression and anxiety. But what are the other causes of excessive worrying and what are the other ways of dealing with the problem? It is to this question I now turn:

CAUSES OF ANXIETY/EXCESSIVE WORRY:

1) OUR GENETIC INHERITANCE: It seems we can inherit a predisposition towards anxiety genetically. This means, for example, if we have a parent who is very anxious, all else being equal, we are more likely to become anxious ourselves due to our genetic inheritance. (Also, of course, if we have a very anxious parent, we are more likely to develop anxious responses due to ‘learned behaviour’ – ie modelling our behavioural reponses on those of the anxious parent). However, the key word here is ‘predisposition’; in other words, having an anxious parent will not guarantee that we, ourselves, will become anxious adults, but, rather, we will be more vulnerable to this happening if other factors also affect us in life (such as those detailed below):

2) LATER LIFE EXPERIENCES: If we have suffered the experience of early life trauma, the damage done by this can be compounded (made worse) by going on to experience yet further trauma in later life. It is particularly unfortunate, then, that early life trauma can in itself create problems for us in later life, thus increasing the probability that further trauma will strike (which is one reason, amongst many others, why early therapeutic intervention is crucial for those affected by childhood trauma).

3) DRUGS: It is not just a side-effect of many illicit drugs which can create anxiety conditions; some prescribed drugs, too, can cause anxiety as a side effect. It is, of course, always important to ask doctors about possible unwanted effects of the medications they may prescribe.

4) INTERNAL CONFLICTS: Sometimes we behave in ways which CONFLICT with our own ideals and values, or the ideals and values we have INTERNALISED from our upbringing and culture (even if we have only internalized them on an unconscious level). Freud believed we all have such internal conflicts, a price he thought was paid for living in a ‘civilized’ society, in which we are compelled to repress many natural human instincts (for those who are interested, you may wish to investigate further Freud’s view of how the ‘Id’ (the name he gave to our instinctual self/basic impulses) and the ‘Superego’ (the name he gave to our conscience/moral selves, which develops due to learning from parents, teachers, society, culture etc) may be constantly ‘at war’ with each other.

Therapists who place emphasis on the link between INTERNAL CONFLICTS and ANXIETY tend to recommend what is known as PSYCHODYNAMIC PSYCHOTHERAPY.

5) NEUROLOGICAL FACTORS: This refers to how the brain we possess is physically set up or ‘wired’ Some of us are, it seems, ‘wired’ in such a way that our ‘internal alarm systems’ are highly sensitive. I have discussed in other posts how the brain’s physical ‘wiring’ can be affected by the experience of early trauma.

 

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

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How to Cope with Difficult Memories, Part One.

In a previous post, I wrote about traumatic memories and talked about how psychologists have divided them into two types:

1) Flashbacks
2) Intrusive memories

Such memories can be very painful and emotionally distressing. 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 upon 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 (eg 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.

I will continue looking at how we can help ourselves cope with difficult memories in part TWO, starting with ‘c’ above: a THOROUGH REVIEW OF FLASHBACKS.

Please leave a comment if you would like to – I will, of course, reply as soon as I can. New posts are added to this blog at least twice per week. Please follow this blog if you would like instant notification of every new post.

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

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The Use of Hypnosis to Treat Trauma.

childhood_trauma_effects

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

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

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

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

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

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

childhood_ trauma _workbook

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

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Childhood Trauma: How The Child’s View Of Their Own ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuated.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

Do You Ever Ask Yourself The Question : Am I A Bad Person?

When a child is continually mistreated, s/he will inevitably conclude that s/he must be innately bad. This is because s/he has a need (at an unconscious level) to preserve the illusion that her/his parents are good; this can only be achieved by taking the view that the mistreatment is deserved.

The child develops a fixed pattern of self-blame, and a belief that their mistreatment is due to their ‘own faults’. As the parent/s continue to mistreat the child, perhaps taking out their own stresses and frustrations on her/him, the child’s negative self-view becomes continually reinforced. Indeed, the child may become the FAMILY SCAPEGOAT, blamed for all the family’s problems.

 

The child will often become full of anger, rage and aggression towards the parent/s and may not have developed sufficient articulacy to resolve the conflict verbally. A vicious circle then develops: each time the child rages against the parent/s, the child blames her/himself for the rage and the self-view of being ‘innately bad’ is further deepened.

This negative self-view may be made worse if one of the child’s unconscious coping mechanisms is to take out (technically known as DISPLACEMENT) her/his anger with the parent/s on others who may be less feared but do not deserve it (particularly disturbed children will sometimes take out their rage against their parent/s by tormenting animals; if the parent finds out that the child is doing this, it will be taken as further ‘evidence’ of the child’s ‘badness’ ,rather than as a major symptom of extreme psychological distress, as, in fact,it should be).

The more the child is badly treated, the more s/he will believe s/he is bringing the treatment on her/himself (at least at an unconscious level), confirming the child’s FALSE self-view of being innately ‘bad’, even ‘evil’ (especially if the parent/s are religious).

What is happening is that the child is identifying with the abusive parent/s, believing, wrongly, that the ‘badness’ in the parent/s actually resides within themselves. This has the effect of actually preserving the relationship and attachment with the parent (the internal thought process might be something like: ‘it is not my parent who is bad, it is me. I am being treated in this way because I deserve it.’ This thought process may well be, as I have said, unconscious).

Eventually the child will come to completely INTERNALIZE the belief that s/he is ‘bad’ and the false belief will come to fundamentally underpin the child’s self-view, creating a sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.

Often, even when mental health experts intervene and explain to the child it is not her/his fault that they have been ill-treated and that they are, in fact, in no way to blame, the child’s negative self-view can be so profoundly entrenched that it is extremely difficult to erase.

In such cases, a lot of therapeutic work is required in order to reprogram the child’s self-view so that it more accurately reflects reality. Without proper treatment, a deep sense of guilt and shame (which is, in reality, completely unwarranted) may persist over a lifetime with catostrophic results.

Any individual affected in such a way would be extremely well advised to seek psychotherapy and other professional advice as even very deep rooted negative self-views as a result of childhood trauma can be very effectively treated.

RESOURCES :

Overcoming A Troubled Childhood (MP3) – CLICK HERE

Stop Self Hatred Today (MP3) – CLICK HERE

 

E-books :

40b15208-decf-40fb-aa7b-16365c5dd61e4c0da47c-a1c7-4fc1-873f-f4b6931f3b3b

Above eBooks now available on Amazon for instant download. $4.99 each. (Other titles available).CLICK HERE.

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

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Childhood Trauma : Kurt Cobain’s Childhood

Kurt Cobain's childhood

I was a big fan of Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) and his band, Nirvana. I therefore remember where I was when I first heard news of his death – it came on the TV in the gym I was in at the time (in an uninspiring town called Watford just north of London, UK, as you ask). I had three things in common with him.

I was born in the same year as he was (1967) and, also like him, had developed a considerable degree of both emotional and behavioural instability (despite doing, somehow, an MSc at the time). Thirdly, we had both experienced significant childhood trauma. (Actually, his parents divorced when he was seven years old, whilst mine had divorced when I was eight years old, so that’s very nearly four things in common. I was not, however, to the best of my recollection, an international grunge rock superstar.)

Like many sensitive children, it was obvious from an early age that Kurt Cobain was very creative. Also, like an increasingly large number of young people these days ( and it is certainly argued in some quarters that this ‘condition’ is over-diagnosed) he was labelled ‘HYPERACTIVE’ – now usually described as having ADHD (‘ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER’) and prescribed the drug called RETALIN (paradoxically, retalin is a derivative of amphetamine which, itself, more usually has a stimulant effect).

Due to his extreme sensitivity, Kurt Cobain experienced great distress and emotional trauma as a result of his parents’ divorce. When this shattering event occurred, he was just seven years old. It is recorded that he reported feeling unloved and deeply insecure after the divorce took place.

On top of all this, his life was made chaotic and disorganized by frequent moves to different geographical locations during which period he stayed with various different sets of relatives; this pattern of constant transience meant relationships he tried to form became disrupted and truncated.

Like many young people suffering from emotional distress, Kurt Cobain learned to mentally ‘escape’ – in his case by losing himself in his music and developing his enormous musical talent.

The psychological symptoms of his tortured emotional state started to manifest themselves in the form of INSOMNIA and a chronic stomach complaint which may well have been PSYCHOSOMATIC in origin ( the word ‘psychosomatic’ refers to the mechanism whereby mental stress causes physical problems – in other words, the mind’s effect upon the body).

In order to try to cope with his feelings of intense pain (both mental and physical) he started to ‘self-medicate’ with narcotics. (Psychologists would describe this as ADOPTING A MALADAPTIVE COPING MECHANISM IN ORDER TO DISSOCIATE FROM INTOLERABLE PAIN; see my post entitled: CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD) AND DISSOCIATION in order to learn more about the phenomenon of dissociation acting as a psychological defense mechanism.)

When his band, Nirvana, became an international sensation, the effects of fame (as many famous people discover too late) caused him further severe stress. He was not comfortable around the media and found the attention, in general, overwhelming and intrusive. He became deeply, clinically depressed, complained that he derived no pleasure whatsoever from performing in front of thousands of adoring fans, and, eventually, attempted suicide in March 1994. He entered a coma and was hospitalized.

Very soon after this, he entered a drug rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles in an attempt to address his drug addiction. Within two days, however, he fled the hospital, and, overwhelmed by feelings of despair and utter hopelessness, committed suicide in his home by first injecting himself with a massive overdose of heroin and then shooting himself in the head using a shotgun.

It is a very sad fact that many talented and creative people seem to be more prone than average to extreme mental turmoil. Kurt Cobain was one such person, and, this, tragically, led to a vastly talented, perceptive and sensitive human being’s life coming to a far too premature end.

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

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How Childhood Trauma Can Reduce Life Expectancy By 19 Years.

 

childhood trauma's effect on life expectancy

This article aims to briefly explain how childhood trauma can reduce life expectancy by 19 years but, also, why this need not be the case.

Childhood trauma clearly puts the child who experiences it under great stress; the more protracted and intense the traumas, and the more traumas the child suffers, all else being equal, the more stress is inflicted upon the child.

A recent study has shown that an especially traumatic childhood (in which the child experiences several types of trauma) may reduce life expectancy by about 19 years (from approximately 79 years for those who experienced no significant trauma, to about 60 years for those who experienced many significant traumas).

In the study, the traumas experienced included the following:

– witnessing domestic violence
– emotional/verbal abuse
– physical abuse
– parental alcohol/drug misuse
– parental imprisonment
– parental separation/divorce

childhood trauma reduces life expectancy

SPECIFIC DETAILS OF THE STUDY:

– those who had suffered 6 or more traumas, on average, lost about 19 years of life (dying, on average, at about 60 years, rather than at about 79 years, as was the average age of death of those who had suffered no significant trauma).

– those who had suffered 3 to 5 traumatic events lost, on average, 5.5 years of life, dying, on average, at 73.5 years.

-those who had suffered 2 traumatic events lost, on average, about 3 years of life, dying, on average, at about 76 years.

POSSIBLE REASONS FOR THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND LOWER LIFE EXPECTANCY:

One theory is that childhood trauma can lead to CELL DAMAGE (specifically, inflammation and premature aging of the cells). It is also thought that exposure to high and sustained stress in childhood can also DAMAGE DNA strands; this, in turn, can lead to increased risk of disease and premature death.

Furthermore, extreme stress in childhood (which makes it far more likely the child will go on to have a stressful adult life) leads to greater production in the body of ADRENALINE (a neurotransmitter which prepares the body for ‘fight or flight’) and also of CORTISOL (a stress hormone); these biochemical effects increase the individual’s likelihood of developing disease.

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA LEADING TO HARMFUL ADULT BEHAVIOURS:

Because individuals who suffer childhood trauma tend to have much more stressful adult lives, as adults they are more likely to utilize coping strategies which are, in the long-term, damaging (these are known as MALADAPTIVE COPING STRATEGIES). They include:

– smoking
drinking alcohol to excess
– illicit drug use
– ‘comfort eating’ of junk food

All of these behaviours, linked to childhood trauma, can dramatically reduce life expectancy.

WHY NOT TO PANIC:

Although the study shows that there is an association (or correlation) between childhood trauma and lower life expectancy, this does NOT mean that childhood trauma directly and inevitably leads to losing years of life.

Rather, the link is indirect: childhood trauma tends to lead to more stress and harmful behaviours (as already outlined) and it is these which can lower life expectancy, NOT the childhood trauma in and of itself taken in isolation.

The good news that follows from this is that we are able to address our stress and harmful behaviours (such as excessive drinking, overeating etc) either through self-help or with the aid of professional therapy; therefore, the childhood trauma we experienced need NOT lead to a shorter life.

If you would like to view an infographic which illustrates the relationship between childhood trauma and heart disease in later life please click here.

 

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CPTSD ebook.  borderline personality disorder ebook

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

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Childhood Trauma: The Link with Future Gambling.

Research suggests that childhood trauma increases the likelihood of future addictions, including gambling. This gambling may become pathological. The types of childhood trauma that were experienced in pathological gamblers include violence, sexual abuse and loss. For instance, Jacobs (2008) conducted research demonstrating that childhood trauma greatly increased the risk of addictions in later life.

It has been hypothesized that gambling helps the individual cope with their childhood trauma through the psychological process known as DISSOCIATION (whilst intensely involved with gambling the individual ‘goes into another world’, blissfully disconnecting, for a time, from painful reality).

Pathological gambling is closely connected to impulse and control disorders; indeed, such disorders frequently express themselves in conditions linked to childhood trauma (such as borderline personality disorder).Pathological gambling may involve:

– an overwhelming preoccupation with gambling
– lying to others to cover up the extent of the gambling
– a failure to stop gambling even when the individual strongly wants to do so

The profile of the pathological gambler is often a complicated one as the individual often suffers from an array of other psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety (Abbot et al., 1999).

Studies estimate that about 2% (although the figure varies somewhat from study to study) of the U.S. population suffers from pathological gambling.

Factors other than childhood trauma which make an individual more at risk of developing pathological gambling inclue:

– being male
– being young
– having other mental health problems

Polusny et al (1995) suggested that addictive behaviours help the individual avoid both the memories of their childhood trauma together with the deeply painful feelings and emotions associated with it. Therefore, because activities such as gambling reduce the emotional distress connected with childhood trauma, the individual is driven to repeat the gambling experience again and again, due to the reward it provides of reducing psychological pain (this is technically known as negative reinforcement). It is my contention that, on some level, the benefits of reducing psychological pain must outweigh the financial losses; as losses can be enormous this gives some indication of the level of psychological pain the individual is in and the strength of the internal drive to reduce it. Of course, this can only be helpful in short-term bursts and, overall, it goes without saying that the individual’s pain and suffering are compounded.

THE GENERAL THEORY OF ADDICTION:

This model proposes that there is an underlying biological state (ie an abnormal resting arousal state) together with a psychological state which is painful for the individual (for example, by creating a feeling of unbearable anxiety) often caused by childhood trauma to which activities such as gambling provide an ‘escape route’ (temporarily). The individual becomes addicted to this short-term relief (although often he will not realize this is the fundamental reason he continues to gamble, the drive frequently being unconscious).

Addictions which alleviate extreme stress in this manner are known as MALADAPTIVE COPING STRATEGIES; they are, essentially, learned defences against UNRESOLVED TRAUMA-RELATED ANXIETY (Henry, 1996).

Studies have revealed that up to 80% of pathological gamblers have suffered extreme childhood trauma. Further studies suggest that the more severe and protracted the trauma, the higher the risk is that the individual will develop pathological gambling behaviour and the YOUNGER the individual will be when he starts to use gambling as a coping strategy. Indeed, I myself started playing fruit machines at the age of twelve (many places weren’t strict about the age of the person playing them in the late 1970s) and I can remember quite distinctly the pleasant relief it gave to my already depressed and anxious emotional state.

TREATMENT IMPLICATIONS:

It seems likely, then, that childhood trauma which remains unresolved is likely to elevate the risk of pathological gambling in individuals. When treating pathological gamblers, therefore, it is important to assess the degree of trauma the individual might have suffered and to consider appropriate psychological interventions which could be implemented to help the individual resolve the trauma. It is the psychological pain which underlies the compulsion to gamble which it is necessary to address.

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

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery