Tag Archives: Effects Of Childhood Trauma.

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).

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

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).

Four Very Common Reactions To Childhood Trauma

 

Research has shown that there are four main characteristics that children who have suffered significant childhood trauma very frequently display. These are:

1) Repetitive Behaviours

2) Repeated Memories

3) Specific Trauma Related Fears

4) A Profoundly Altered View Of Other People, The Future, And Life In General

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Children who have experienced significant trauma frequently act out their trauma in repetitive and obsessive ‘play’. I place the word ‘play’ in inverted commas as it is devoid of any ‘fun’ element; it is also often referred to by psychologists as ‘post-traumatic play.’

The reason for this ‘play’ is believed to be an unconscious attempt to mentally process and emotionally master the trauma that they experienced.

Usually the child is not consciously aware that s/he is repeatedly acting out the traumatic experience through the post-traumatic play. This is made clear by the fact that the child may repeatedly carry out the ‘play’ activity that relates to the original trauma even if s/he has no verbal memory of the traumatic event/s themselves.

Post-traumatic_play

 

Above : Post-traumatic Play.

2) Repeated memories of the trauma are vivid, intrusive and distressing. Usually, they are visual, but may also be aural (relating to hearing), tactile (relating to touch) or, even, (if relevant), olfactory (relating to smell).

Such intrusive memories are particularly likely to occur just before the child falls asleep. However, they may also occur in other contexts, such as at school in the classroom, leading often to dissociative states.

Repeated memories may also take the form of nightmares. Often such nightmares will represent the trauma in a highly disguised form.

3) Specific fears relating directly to the traumatic experience also usually occur. To take a simple example, if a child is seriously injured by being knocked down by a motorbike s/he may come to fear the sound of motorbikes revving their engines.

Also, however, children frequently develop more general fears after a significantly traumatic experience. For example, they may develop fears of the dark, being alone or of strangers etc.

4) Children who have suffered significant trauma often develop an extremely restricted view of their own future and become devoid of ambitions, hopes and dreams; they also often assume their lives to come will be filled with yet further traumatic experiences.

They also frequently develop a lack of basic trust in others and develop feelings of helplessness and a general lack of autonomy (Erickson).

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

 

Factors that Influence the Severity of Effects of Child Abuse

childhood trauma

The degree to which a person who suffers abuse during childhood is damaged by the experience will depend upon a number of different factors.

Those who research such factors have split them into two groups :

1) RISK FACTORS – these are factors connected to the abuse that are likely to increase the emotional damage it causes

2) PROTECTIVE FACTORS – these are factors that are likely to reduce the emotional damage the abuse causes

THE FACTORS INFLUENCING THE SEVERITY OF EFFECTS OF ABUSE :

– if the child confides in somebody about the abuse, the response of that person is of great importance : if the child is made to feel shame over what has happened, or his/her complaint is minimized or not taken seriously, the damage done by the abuse is likely to be very significantly increased. If, on the other hand, the child’s complaint is taken seriously and s/he is offered emotional support and understanding, the effects of the abuse are likely to be reduced.

– the effects of abuse will tend to be increased if the abuser has a particularly close relationship with the child. This includes parents, step-parents or other primary carers in a position of trust and responsible for the welfare of the child.

– the age of the child is also of importance ; in general terms, the younger the child is when the abuse is occurring, the more psychological damage the child is likely to incur.

– another highly relevant factor concerns the duration of the abuse – the longer it went on, the more harmful its effects are likely to be

– the severity of the abuse is also clearly relevant ; the greater the severity, the greater the psychological distress caused,

– the form that the abuse takes is another vital consideration eg physical, sexual, emotional or neglect? Recent research is starting to indicate that emotional neglect may be particularly damaging, due, of course, to the child’s fundamental need to be shown warmth, affection and love. Being deprived of these things can have particularly serious consequences.

– finally, it is very important to consider the relationships the child has with people other than the abuser. If the child has good emotional support from people outside the family (eg friends, teachers etc) and/or has some family members who express love and affection towards him/her (eg grandparents, siblings), this can make the child more resilient and protect him/her from the worst effects of the abuse.

CONCLUSION :

Each case, however, is unique and the above factors interact in highly complex ways which cannot be precisely measured ; therefore, it is difficult to predict with any degree of accuracy how specific individuals will be affected by their traumatic experiences. Each case needs to be evaluated on its own particular merits.

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

Types of Abuse and Their Effects : An Infographic

effects of child abuse

effects of childhood trauma

The infographic below illustrates different types of child abuse together with some of the effects of such abuse :

 

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

what is child abuse

effects of child abuse

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

The Five Main Routes Through Which Childhood Trauma Harms Us-Part 1.

It has already been established in previous articles on this site that childhood trauma can affect us ;

– psychologically

neurologically

– biologically

It has further been described that the damage done by the experience of childhood trauma may manifest itself in a variety of ways; these include :

– our ability to emotionally regulate (ie our ability to control our emotions)

– extreme anxiety

– high degree of impulsiveness (acting without thinking through the consequences, implications and ramifications)

– sleep disturbance including insomnia, nightmares/night-terrors and, sometimes, an excessive need to sleep

severe depression

personality disorders

(NB the above list is by no means exclusive)

In this article, I want to look at the various routes through which the experience of childhood trauma adversely impacts on us; these have been identified as the following :

– emotional

– behavioural

– cognitive

– social

– biological

1) THE EMOTIONAL ROUTE : If, as a child, we were unable to rely upon our primary caregiver to console and soothe us when we were under psychological duress, research strongly indicates that we become incapable of effectively dealing with stress as adults (assuming there has been no therapeutic intervention). We lack the ability to self-soothe and therefore find we are highly reactive and sensitive to stress as adults, to the degree that it may engulf and overwhelm us. The extreme emotional problems that we may find ourselves having to deal with as adults (often, most unsuccessfully) have been documented by various researchers (e.g Van Der Horst et al., 2008).

It has also been demonstrated (e.g Bowlby, 1988) that a failure to establish a healthy emotional bond with the primary caregiver as children often leads to us experiencing significant difficulties with forming and maintaining relationships in our adult life. Indeed, we may find that our adult relationships are full of conflict and disruption (Henderson, 2006).

Bowlby’s extensive research on the vital importance of our experience of early relationships with caregivers to how we form (or fail to form) relationships as adults has clearly indicated that we INTERNALIZE OUR EARLY RELATIONSHIPS;  it is this psychological process that affects how we relate to others later on in life. In other words, the DYSFUNCTIONAL ATTACHMENT STYLE we had with our primary caregiver in childhood repeats itself in the relationships we form in adulthood. In essence, OUR ADULT RELATIONSHIPS WILL TEND TO MIRROR OUR EARLY, PROBLEMATIC RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR PRIMARY CAREGIVER.

Bowlby described three types of dysfunctional attachment style (i.e ways of relating to others) we may develop as adults due to our adverse early experiences; these are :

a) AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT

b) AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT

c) DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

a) AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT – If we develop this dysfunctional attachment style as adults it is likely that the parenting we received was inconsistent and emotionally negligent – often, the parent’s emotional responsiveness to the child has been intermittent at best; the result of this tends to be that the child will intensely cling to the parent on the rare occasion s/he is available in order to attempt to compensate for when s/he is not and to, as it were, ‘make the most of it.’

In adulthood, as a consequence of the above, the individual may become extremely ‘clingy’, obsessive and dependent in connection to relationships. S/he may, too, become excessively angry and/or upset in response to perceived rejection.

b) AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT – If, as children, the parenting we received was hostile, rejecting and cold, we may learn not to approach others for emotional support for fear of meeting with more painful rejection. As adults, we may become obsessively self-reliant, dislike intimacy and view others as hostile and essentially unreliable. Underlying this, there may well be feelings of anxiety, depression and general emotional distress which we dare not confide in others about and attempt to keep hidden (e.g Alexander and Anderson, 1994).

c) DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT – Generally, this dysfunctional attachment style has been found to have its origin in the early experience in which the child is frightened of interactions with the primary caregiver. However, no matter how afraid of the primary caregiver the child might be, s/he must, by necessity, interact with him/her and, for psychological protection, develops coping strategies to do so; a prime example of such a coping mechanism is dissociation (click here to read my article on dissociation).

Following such childhood experiences, s/he may grow up to be an adult who views him/herself (erroneously) as irredeemiably bad and (also erroneously) as responsible for the trauma s/he experienced as a child. As an adult, too, as a result of the traumatic childhood, social adjustment is frequently impaired and feelings of depression and distress are likely to predominate.

THE BEHAVIOURAL ROUTE : Our adverse childhood experiences (eg rejection, betrayal, abuse) often lead us to develop counter-productive coping mechanisms to attempt to deal with our distress in adult life; in turn, these dysfunctional coping mechanisms are likely to adversely impact on our physical health; examples include :

smoking

excessive drinking

– illicit drug use

over-eating

high risk sexual activity (ie unprotected, promiscuous sex)

self-harm

Essentially, we adopt these behaviours in order to psychologically dissociate from our all too painful reality (click here to read my post on dissociation).

Unfortunately, in addition to the fact that these behaviours can lead to physical illness, our reliance upon them also PREVENTS US FROM LEARNING MORE EFFECTIVE COPING STRATEGIES.

3 THE COGNITIVE ROUTE : The term ‘cognitive’ relates to how we think about things; for example, the attitudes and beliefs which, in large part, determine our day-to-day behaviour. As I have written about fairly extensively in other posts, the experience of childhood trauma often results in us developing a cognitive negative bias towards ;

– ourselves

– other people

– the world in general

This three-way despairing outlook has been termed ‘THE NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD’ and is one of the main hallmarks of clinical depression. We tend, for example, to (completely erroneously) blame ourselves for the trauma that we suffered and this prevents us from developing good self-esteem or a cohesive and positive self-identity (eg Kralik, 2005).

If, as children, we were in a more or less perpetual state of stress, it is likely that we frequently experienced the ‘fight/flight response’ as a reaction to frightening stimuli. If this occurred frequently enough, and over a long enough period, such a response may well have become DEEPLY INGRAINED INTO OUR PERSONALITY – we become conditioned to respond in this way (beyond our conscious control) whenever we feel threatened.

Therefore, as an adult, we may, for example, frequently react with extreme anger which seems, to an objective observer, as both excessive and inappropriate. However, such rage occurs because the (even very small) threats we experience in adulthood remind us (usually on an unconscious level) of the threats we experienced as children – thus the response which was conditioned into us over long years of suffering in childhood is triggered.

THE SOCIAL ROUTE : We have seen in previous posts how childhood trauma can lead us to experience extreme difficulties in relation to our personal relationships in adult life (eg – click here). As a result, we may, as adults, find we have little social support – in turn, a lack of social support and close personal relationships has been shown (eg Draper et al., 2007) to be associated with poor physical and mental health. Indeed, Tucker (1999) carried out research showing that our social environment is more important in relation to our mental health than our physical environment.

5 THE BIOLOGICAL ROUTE : Chronic stress in childhood can adversely affect our neurological development, and, therefore, we are more likely to develop neuropsychiatric conditions as adults (click here to read a previous post I wrote on this).

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

The Vicious Cycle of Adult Problems Stemming from Childhood Trauma

childhood trauma

‘WE NEED TO SEE THE SYMPTOMS WE HAVE AS A RESULT OF OUR CHILDHOOD TRAUMA LESS AS THE RESULT OF SOME CHARACTER FLAW, AND MORE AS THE RESULT OF HAVING SUFFERED EXTREME AND PAINFUL EXPERIENCES WHEN WE WERE LEAST ABLE TO COPE WITH THEM. BY CONSIDERING THE IDEA THAT OUR SYMPTOMS COULD BE SEEN AS NORMAL REACTIONS TO ABNORMAL AND TRAUMATIC EVENTS IN CHILDHOOD, IT IS POSSIBLE TO USHER IN THE IDEA OF CHANGE.’

– CHARTED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND EXPERT ON EFFECTS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.

People who have suffered childhood trauma frequently go on to develop multiple problems in adult life which tend to build up over the long-term. A range of difficulties like the ones given in the fictional scenario below would not be untypical:

Losing interest in school and unable to concentrate resulting in leaving at age 15 ; becoming disruptive and difficult leading to home-life problems, so leaving home at 16 ; this could then lead to homelessness or insecure housing (eg sleeping on friends’ sofas) ; depression and unsettled life style and lack of direction could then lead to abuse of drugs and alcohol ; unable to hold down job for long (eg due to having problems getting on with authority figures (stemming from problems with relationship in childhood with parent/s) and inability to accept criticism (eg becoming angry and aggressive when criticized, this, again, stemming from earlier relationship with parent/s, perhaps because they were physically abusive leading to a an intense need to ‘stand up for self’ and protect self).

The above example of how life can unravel as a result of childhood trauma, a whole string of problems feeding in to one another and compounding one another, are likely, too, to be underpinned by feelings of LOW SELF-ESTEEM, EMOTIONAL INSTABILITY and EMOTIONAL SCARS, A POOR SENSE OF OWN IDENTITY, AN INABILITY TO TRUST AND ‘PUT DOWN ROOTS’ – all these factors, also, stemming from the problematic childhood.

imagesCAEH7Z1BimagesCA24B8VY

STOPPING THE VICIOUS CIRCLE : The key to BREAKING OUT OF THE VICIOUS CYCLE IS TO BECOME AWARE AND RECOGNIZE THAT OUR PROBLEMS IN ADULT LIFE HAVE THEIR ROOTS IN OUR DISTURBED CHILDHOOD. By doing this, we can begin to understand that our unhelpful behaviours are rooted in our disturbed childhood and start to discard them. By understanding the enormous, destructive impact the past has – up until now – had upon our life, we can begin to loosen the past’s invidious grip on us.

We need to understand that our traumatic childhood experiences have affected how we THINK, FEEL and BEHAVE as adults. Apart from all the potential effects I have already described, our disturbed childhood is likely, too, to have had a VERY ADVERSE IMPACT UPON THE RELATIONSHIPS WE HAVE HAD, SO FAR, IN ADULTHOOD, perhaps due to feelings of FEAR, SHAME, FRUSTRATION, MOOD DISORDERS, ANXIETY and DEPRESSION. Again, these symptoms will almost certainly have their roots in our adverse childhood experiences.

LEARNING NEW WAYS OF COPING : Because our childhood experiences, the effects of which then become compounded by the adult experiences we have which stem from these childhood experiences, we are likely to have suffered EXTREME EMOTIONAL DISTRESS in our adult life, at worst leading to such horrors as compulsive self-harm and suicide attempts. Due to such intolerable distress, we are likely to have turned, in desperation, to any WAYS OF COPING possible. Often, these will have been unhelpful in the long-term and will have made matters yet worse. The coping mechanisms may have included alcohol abuse, drug abuse, withdrawal from society etc. These coping mechanisms may have become habits which we find difficult to change. We may, too, have become so enmeshed in the damaging life-style we now find ourselves in, it is difficult to step back and reassess why we are suffering our futile, negative, repeating pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Often, the only viable option will be to seek therapy and start the process of stepping back, understanding how our lives have become as they have, stop blaming ourselves and feeling bad about ourselves, and, gradually, seek new and more positive ways of approaching life.

We may have come to see the personal characteristics we have displayed up until now (our anxiety, our depression, our bleak outlook, our problematic relationships etc, etc) as just ‘who we are.’ This, though, is a mistake which will only perpetuate matters. We need to detach these SYMPTOMS of our traumatic childhood from our TRUE IDENTITY. We may need to realize we are not ‘bad’ even though are childhood experiences and the symptoms they have caused may have made us (FALSELY) believe that we were ‘bad’.

CONCLUSION : AN IMPORTANT NOTE OF CAUTION:

Those who played a part in causing the childhood trauma (parents, step-parents, siblings etc) will often ENTER A STATE OF DENIAL to PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM THEIR OWN GUILT. It will often suit them to regard you as ‘innately bad’, and to regard this ‘badness’ as having nothing whatsoever to do with their treatment of you. Freud, of course, would regard this as a flagrant example of the psychological defense mechanism known as PROJECTION. I am inclined to concur.

eBook :

 

Above eBook available now on Amazon for instant download.  CLICK HERE FOR FURTHER DETAILS.

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

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