Tag Archives: Effect Of Childhood Trauma On Brain

Childhood Trauma May Damage Prefrontal Cortex : How To Help Reverse Such Damage.

how to reverse damage to prefrontal cortex

Childhood Trauma May Damage Development Of Certain Brain Structures, Including Prefrontal Cortex :

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that severe and chronic psychological and emotional trauma in early life may adversely affect the physical development of various structures in the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. In individuals who have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) following childhood trauma, such impairment to the brain is thought to be particularly likely.

What Is The Prefrontal Cortex And What Is Its Function?

The prefrontal cortex is a brain region located in the front of the skull (see diagram below) and its main functions include :

  • complex planning and decision making
  • self-control in the context of social behavior
  • setting and achieving goals
  • impulse control

reverse damage to prefrontal cortex

ABOVE : Position of frontal cortex in the brain

Evidence For Damage To The Prefrontal Cortex In Individuals Diagnosed With BPD:

MRI Studies : have shown that individuals with BPD have reduced volume in the brain’s frontal lobe and left orbitofrontal cortex (although further studies are required in order to ascertain if this link is causal).

fMRI Studies : have shown that BPD sufferers experience abnormal activation in the brain’s inferolateral prefrontal cortex in response to stimuli that generate negative emotions as well as unusually elevated levels of activation of the orbitofrontal cortex during the recollection of traumatic memories

Other Brain Imaging Studies : have suggested that BPD sufferers have an abnormally low density of neurons and abnormal neuronal function in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as well as abnormally low blood flow to the ventrolateral right prefrontal cortex.

(More research needs to be conducted in order to shed further light upon the nature of the link between childhood trauma, BPD and impaired physiological development of the prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, there exists evidence to suggest that severe an chronic childhood trauma can adversely affect the development of other brain regions including the amygdala and the hippocampus).

Potential Adverse Effects Of Damage To The Prefrontal Cortex :

If a person incurs physiological damage to the development of their prefrontal cortex as a result of severe and protracted childhood trauma, it follows that the functions of the prefrontal cortex may be commensurately impaired, including the functions listed above (i.e. complex planning and decision making; self-control in social situations; setting and achieving goals; and impulse control).

Reversing The Damage :

We can employ various methods that mat help to reverse such damage and I list some of the main ones below :

RESOURCES :

eBook :

childhood trauma damages brain ebook

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

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

 

How The Brain Can Change And Recover From Harm.

 

Whilst the basic structure of the brain is formed by early childhood, this physical structure changes throughout life as a result of our experiences and learning.

A well known example of this is relates to a study of London taxi drivers (who undergo years of extensive training to learn their way around the London streets) ; it was found, through the use of brain scans, that as a result of this training the part of their brain that deals with spatial awareness actually increased in size.

This ability of the brain to physically change throughout life is due to a quality it possesses called neuroplasticity.

The main phases of brain development and change can be divided into 3 stages. I briefly describe each of these below:

1) The Precritical Phase:

This occurs during early childhood. During this phase, the brain’s neurons (nerve cells) are formed, as are the connections between them.

These neurons communicate with each other by the process of electro-chemical signalling.

The brain consists of about 100 billion (100,000,000,000) neurons and each of these neurons may be connected up to 10,000 other neurons.

Mind-bogglingly, this means that our neurons communicate with one another via a network of about 1,000 trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) connections (known as synaptic connections).

2) The second phase relates to the changes that occur to the brain after childhood as a result of our learning and the experiences (eg. see example of London taxi drivers above).

3) Later life : If the brain does not receive adequate stimulation, its processing ability may be adversely affected, as may memory. However, brain training exercises can help to prevent such deterioration.

BRAIN DAMAGE REVERSIBILITY:

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We have seen, in other articles that I have published on this site, that severe childhood trauma can harm the way in which the brain develops.

However, such harm to the brain is frequently reversible, at least in part. Two ways in which the brain is able to repair itself are:

– by developing new connections between neurons

– redirecting specific brain functions to alternative brain regions.

Furthermore, studies now reveal that, in certain situations, the brain is actually capable of developing new neurons.

APPLICATIONS TO ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION:

Meditation, visualisation and repeated hypnosis/self-hypnosis that enhances relaxation has been found to alter the brain in a beneficial manner. These changes help to dampen down negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and anger; also, they help both the brain and the body to heal themselves.

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

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

 

 

 

 

More on How Trauma and Stress can Affect the Child’s Developing Brain.

structural -abnormalities- in- brains-of-trauma-survivors

 

Our brains developed over millions of years of evolution. Different parts of the modern human brain evolved at different periods of this enormous time span.

The most primitive part of the modern brain, which evolved first, is known, rather unflatteringly, as the REPTILIAN brain. This part of our brain is ‘in charge’ of BASIC SURVIVAL PROCESSES such as the physiological aspects of the well-known FIGHT/FLIGHT RESPONSE such as heart rate (click here to read my article entitled : ‘ Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn.’

In contrast, the part of our brain which developed most recently (the NEOCORTEX) is involved with HIGHER LEVEL PROCESSING such as complex learning, talking and forming relationships with others.

Children who experience CHRONIC and SEVERE TRAUMA as they are growing up automatically UTILIZE THE MORE PRIMITIVE PART OF THE BRAIN FAR MORE THAN NORMAL as they are driven by the adverse environment that they inhabit to FOCUS ON SURVIVAL

This comes at the expense of the development of the regions of the brain concerned with higher level mental functioning – indeed, this part of the brain can become SIGNIFICANTLY UNDER-UTILIZED, thus IMPAIRING ITS DEVELOPMENT. This can lead to the child:

– developing a brain which is smaller than normal

– developing less neural connection in the parts of the brain involved with higher level mental processing.

In short, then, the primitive part of the brain becomes OVER-EXERCISED, whilst the part of the brain which has most recently evolved becomes UNDER-EXERCISED.

impaired-brain-development-in-children

The three regions of the brain shown above evolved at different times in our evolutionary history – the most primitive part is called the REPTILLIAN BRAIN and controls our basic survival mechanisms. The most recently evolved part is the NEOCORTEX which is involved in higher level mental processes such as abstract thought.

 

EFFECTS OF PRIMITIVE PART BRAIN BEING ‘OVER-EXERCISED’.

 

This results in the child becoming HYPER-SENSITIVE to the ADVERSE EFFECTS OF STRESS.

Because of this, such a child is far less able to deal with stress (ie s/he has a far lower stress- tolerance threshold) than children who have been fortunate enough to grow up in a more benign environment (all else being equal).

In other words, children who have grown up in traumatic environments MAY EXPERIENCE SEVERE PHYSIOLOGICAL STRESS RESPONSES TO RELATIVELY MINOR TRIGGERS/PROVOCATIONS.

Such dramatic responses are especially likely if the triggering event reminds the child, however tangentally, of the original experience of trauma.

Children suffering from such a condition may:

– have great difficulty concentrating/focussing their attention

– experience high levels of restlessness and agitation

– have high levels of anxiety

– behave aggressively/violently when under stress

– bully others (often, subconsciously, to gain a sense of control in a world in which they feel essentially powerless).

 

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS (PTSD) IN CHILDREN:

If the child develops PTSD as a result of his/her traumatic experiences his/her body will develop a chronic tendency to OVER-PRODUCE STRESS HORMONES (eg cortisol) on a day-to-day basis which may INTERFERE WITH HIS/HER ABILITY TO LEARN.

 

OTHER SYMPTOMS OF PTSD IN CHILDHOOD:

– dissociation (‘zoning out’) – click here to read my article on this

– arrested development (eg suddenly stops talking)

– nightmares/night terrors

– frequent waking during the night

– violent play (eg acting out violent scenarios with toys)

– frequent drawing/painting of extremely violent scenes

– bed wetting

– somatic complaints (eg stomach aches, headaches etc)

– anxiety/depression

– general behavioural problems

– problem drinking/drug use

 

THE GOOD NEWS:

However, the positive news is that, because of an innate quality of the brain called NEUROPLASTICITY (click here to read my article on this), it is able to repair and ‘rewire’ itself, thus reversing the damage done in childhood. The following experiences may help this to happen:

– physical activity

– the development of new skills

– relaxation and avoidance of stress

– healthy, pleasurable experiences

– the development of warm, emotionally fulfilling relationships

– enjoyable social activity

On the other hand, the following are likely to hinder recovery:

– continued exposure to stress

– substance misuse

(Click here to read more about this).

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

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