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)

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).

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 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).

Childhood Trauma: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (with Questionnaire).

 

complex post traumatic stress disorder questionnaire

Survivors of extreme trauma often suffer persistent anxiety, phobias, panic, depression, identity and relationship problems. Many times, the set of symptoms the individual presents with are not connected to the original trauma by those providing treatment (as certainly was the case for me in the early years of my treatment, necessitating me to undertake my own extensive research, of which this blog is partly a result) and, of course, treatment will not be forthcoming if the survivor suffers in silence.

Any treatment not linked to the original trauma will tend to be ineffective as THE UNDERLYING TRAUMA IS NOT BEING ADDRESSED. Also, there is a danger that a wrong diagnosis may be given; possibly the diagnosis will be one that may be interpreted, by the individual given it, as perjorative (such as a personality disorder).

ptsd

Individuals who have survived protracted and severe childhood trauma often present with a very complex set of symptoms and have developed, as a result of their unpleasant experiences, deep rooted problems affecting their personality and how they relate to others. The psychologist, Kolb, has noted that the post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms survivors of severe maltreatment in childhood might develop ‘may appear to mimic every personality disorder’ and that ‘severe personality disorganization’ can emerge.

Another psychologist, Lenore Terr, has differentiated between two specific types of trauma: TYPE 1 and TYPE2. TYPE 1 refers to symptoms resulting from a single trauma; TYPE 2 refers to symptoms resulting from protracted and recurring trauma, the hallmarks of which are:

– emotional numbing
– dissociation
– cycling between passivity and explosions of rage

This second type of trauma response has been referred to as COMPLEX POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (COMPLEX PTSD) and more research needs to be conducted on it; however, an initial questionnaire to help in its diagnosis has been developed and I reproduce it below:

COMPLEX PTSD QUESTIONNAIRE

1) A history of, for example, severe childhood trauma

2) Alterations in affect regulation, including
– persistent dysphoria
– chronic suicidal preoccupation
– self-injury
– explosive or extremely inhibited anger (may alternate)
– compulsive or extremely inhibited sexuality (may alternate)

3) Alterations in consciousness, including
– amnesia or hypernesia for traumatic events
– transient dissociative episodes
– depersonalization/derealization
– reliving experiences, either in the form of intrusive post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or in the form of ruminative preoccupation

4) Alterations in self-perception, including
– a sense of helplessness or paralysis of initiative
– shame, guilt and self-blame
– sense of defilement or stigma
– sense of complete difference from others (may include sense of specialness, utter aloneness, belief no other person can understand, or nonhuman identity)

5) Alterations in perceptions of perpetrator, including

– preoccupation with relationship with perpetrator (includes preoccupation with revenge)
– unrealistic attribution of total power to perpetrator (although the perpetrator may have more power than the clinician treating the individual is aware of)
– idealization or paradoxical gratitude
– sense of special or supernatural relationship
– acceptance of belief system or rationalizations of perpetrator

6) Alterations in relations with others, including

– isolation and withdrawal
– disruption in intimate relationships
– repeated search for rescuer (may alternate with isolation and withdrawal)
– persistent distrust
– repeated failures of self-protection

7) Alterations in systems of meaning
– loss of sustaining faith
– sense of hopelessness and despair

Why Is Complex PTSD Becoming More Common?

And the incidence of complex PTSD is increasing. What are the possible reasons for this increase in the prevalence of this very serious psychiatric disorder?

First, it is possible that as the general population and clinicians become more aware of the existence of the disorder and its link to childhood trauma it is becoming increasingly reported and diagnosed. However, there are several other possible explanations and I examine these briefly below :

POSSIBLE REASONS FOR THE INCREASE IN PREVALENCE OF COMPLEX POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (Complex PTSD) :

1) Growing up in unstable environments :

More and more young people are growing up in unstable environments. Increasing rates of divorce and separation means that a higher and higher number of children and adolescents are growing up in single parent households (to read my article about the possible effects of divorce upon the child, click here).

2) Reduction in social support systems :

Research shows that a lack of social support makes individuals much more vulnerable to the adverse effects of stress. And, today, children tend to have less access to others who could provide them with emotional support than has been the case in the past due to, for example :

  • communities that are not as close-knit as in the past
  • less contact with wider family (e.g. aunts, uncles, grandparents) than in the past as wider family members are becoming more geographically dispersed than in past

3) Increase in number of working mothers :

This can lead to infants having inconsistent early care as they me be shuttled around from day-care to nursery care to babysitters and so on possibly leading to a variation in quality of care and less opportunity for the infant to develop his/her bond with the mother

4) Parental preoccupation with their careers :

In a ‘go-getting’ society, in which status and wealth are of fundamental importance to many people, individuals are becoming very driven, even obsessively driven, in connection with their careers, sometimes leading to workaholism; this leaves such persons with less time to interact in any really meaningful way with their offspring or leads to such exhaustion that they simply do not have enough energy left over for such meaningful interactions.

5) Unhelpful effects of media :

Young people are becoming increasingly obsessed with media, such as computer games and so on, which leaves them with less time for psychologically nourishing face-to-face interaction with friends and family.

6) Unhelpful effects of living in  consumer society :

Society has become increasingly obsessed with acquiring consumer goods and the accumulation of these is often linked in people’s minds to their ‘status’ and ‘worth as a human being.‘ Such attitudes may lead young people to develop false values which in turn may aggravate psychological problems.

Anyone who feels their condition may be reflected by the above is urged to seek professional intervention at the earliest opportunity.

Related post :  Complex  PTSD Treatment

RESOURCES :


Above eBook, Childhood Trauma And Its Link To CPTSD, now available on Amazon for immediate download. Click here.

 

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

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).

Childhood Trauma: What Experiments on Causes of Aggression in Rats Tell Us.

high-and -low- functioning-BPD

Effect Of Trauma On Young Rats’ Brains :

A recent Swiss study by Marquez et al. (2013) has looked at the effects of trauma on ‘adolescent’ rats. It was found that those rats who were exposed to trauma (fear and stress inducing stimuli) suffered adverse PHYSICAL EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN (specifically, the PREFRONTAL CORTEX). This, in turn, leads to them displaying significantly more aggressive behavior than non-traumatized rats.

Effect Of Separation From Mothers :

A very similar effect has been found to occur in young rats SEPARATED FROM THEIR MOTHERS.
Furthermore, ‘adolescent’ rats exposed to trauma also develop ANXIETY and DEPRESSION type behaviors. They were found to also have increased activity in the brain region known as the AMYGDALA (which is linked to FEAR and VIOLENCE in humans). Additionally, they developed abnormally high levels of TESTOSTERONE ( a hormone which, in humans, is linked to AGGRESSION and VIOLENCE). Even the rats’ DNA was found to be affected by the trauma (specifically, MAOA genes). These genes act to break down SEROTONIN (a brain chemical, or neurotransmitter) and damage to it leads to too much serotonin being broken down which, in turn, leads to aggressive behaviour.

Comparison With Adult Rats :

However, ADULT RATS exposed to trauma did not undergo the same behavioral changes, so:

THE RESEARCH SUGGESTS IT IS TRAUMA IN EARLY LIFE, RATHER THAN IN ADULTHOOD, WHICH HAS ESPECIALLY DEEP EFFECTS ON THE CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICAL STRUCTURE OF THE BRAIN, THAT LEADS TO A PROPENSITY FOR AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR.

CONCLUSION:

To what degree can we apply these findings to the effects of childhood trauma in HUMANS?

In fact, the findings I’ve outlined above mirror very accurately findings from studies on humans; this suggests that similar physiological processes are going on in both rats and humans as a result of early trauma.

Studies on non-human primates have also given rise to very similar findings.

It is hoped that such research showing that physiological effects of early trauma seem to underlie a development of a greater propensity towards violence and aggression will help lead to drugs being developed that can reverse these physiological effects and therefore reduce levels of aggression in individuals affected by early trauma. With this aim in mind, further human and non-human studies are being conducted.

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

Effects of Childhood Trauma: The Interaction between Nature and Nurture.

TONY SOPRANO: And to think I’m the cause of it.

DR. MALFI: How are you the cause of it?

TONY SOPRANO: It’s in his blood, this miserable fucking existence. My rotten fucking putrid genes have infected my kid’s soul. That’s my gift to my son.

Studies have shown that male children who are severely maltreated are more prone to anti-social and violent behaviour in later life. Is this due to their parents passing on ‘bad’ genes, the child growing up in a ‘bad’ environment, or a combination of the two?

A study by Moffit et al looked at how children’s genes interacted with their environment to produce (or not to produce) later anti-social behaviour.

The study focused upon one particular group of genes known as MAOA genes (MAOA is an abbreviation for the brain chemical MONOAMINE OXIDASE A).

It was found that those with high activity MAOA genes were, in the main, protected from the potential adverse effects of the problematic environment in which they were brought up:

THEIR HIGH ACTIVITY MAOA GENES MADE THEM RESILIENT AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCES WHICH CAN OTHERWISE LEAD TO AN ANTI-SOCIAL PERSONALITY.

The opposite was the case for those who had low activity MAOA genes:

THOSE WITH LOW ACTIVITY MAOA GENES WERE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR PATTERNS IF THEY WERE MALTREATED AS CHILDREN COMPARED TO THOSE WITH HIGH ACTIVITY MAOA GENES.

In the study, those in the second group (low activity MAOA genes) commited four times as many assaults, robberies and rapes.

WHAT CAN BE CONCLUDED FROM THIS?

It seems, therefore, that PARTICULARLY BAD OUTCOMES, IN TERMS OF PROPENSITY TO DEVELOP ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR, are much more likely if the individual in question has had BOTH a ‘bad’ childhood environment AND has inherited ‘bad’ genes (low activity MAOA genes). Indeed, it would appear that the JOINT EFFECT of BOTH is GREATER THAN THE SUM OF THE PARTS of the two factors.

This finding has been confirmed by other studies showing that low activity MOAO genes are connected with the development of anti-social behaviour.

TREATMENT IMPLICATIONS:

These findings have implications for treatment of psychological conditions associated with aggression as there are drugs which alter brain neurochemistry by acting upon monoamine oxidase. However, it should be noted that these drugs are not without risk and cannot always be guaranteed to be helpful. All treatment options require consultations with the relevant medical experts.

If you would like to view an infographic which shows how childhood trauma and genes interact to produce vulnerability to various conditions please click here,

 

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

Types of Relationship Problems The Individual May Experience As A Result Of Childhood Trauma.

 

Childhood Trauma And Adult Relationships :

Early relationships between the parent and child have an enormous impact upon how the child manages relationships throughout later life.

If the child experiences significant difficulties with relating to his/her parents, it often leads to problems with relating to others later on in life.

Secure Attachment :

The developmental psychologist, John Bowlby  proposed that there were, in very broad terms, two types of attachment that the child could form with the parent/s: SECURE ATTACHMENT and INSECURE ATTACHMENT.

Insecure Attachment :

If INSECURE ATTACHMENT develops, due to problems with how the parent relates to the child, the child often goes on to develop relationship problems with others in later life, because, according to Bowlby, s/he is prone to develop maladaptive (counter-productive) ways of relating to others which Bowlby terms MALADAPTIVE ATTACHMENT STYLES.

Bowlby proposed that there were three main types of maladaptive attachment style which the child could develop due to his/her problematic parenting; these are:

1) INSECURE-AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT STYLE
2) INSECURE-AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT STYLE
3) INSECURE-DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT STYLE

1) Insecure-avoidant attachment style:

Children who relate to others in this way may appear withdrawn, and, sometimes, hostile. By keeping their distance from others, they reduce their feelings of anxiety. However, underlying this there tends to be a great vulnerability and need. In adulthood, they are likely to continue to be distrustful of others and to maintain an emotional distance. Again, though, great vulnerability and need tend to underlie this.

Because the individual who develops this attachment style tends to be constantly expecting to be let down and betrayed by the person s/he is relating to, s/he may overcompensate for this feeling of vulnerability by becoming over-controlling, in an attempt to stop the person from ‘getting away’.

Individuals who develop this attachment style often have parents who were unresponsive to the needs of the child, lacked warmth and showed little love. The parents may have rejected the child’s attempts to form a close relationship with them.

childhood_trauma_adult_relationships

2) Insecure-ambivalent attachment style:

With this style, the child oscillates between ‘clinging’ to others and angrily rejecting them – this tends to occur in ways which are largely unpredictable. Their relationships with others tend to be HIGHLY EMOTIONALLY VOLATILE. Also, they tend to be EXTREMELY SENSITIVE TO ANY SIGNS THEY ARE BEING REJECTED (sometimes misinterpreting signals and reading negativity into them when none was intended) and can become extremely angry if they believe that they are being rejected. Underneath this display of anger, however, the individual experiences deep hurt and emotional pain in response to the perceived rejection.

This pattern of relating to others often continues into adulthood. As with insecure-avoidant attachment styles, they may overcompensate for their profound fear of being abandoned by becoming over-controlling.

Individuals who develop this attachment style have often had parents who were unreliable and unpredictable in their manner of relating to the child – sometimes being available and sometimes not.

3) Insecure-disorganized attachment style:

This attachment style develops more rarely and is usually connected to particularly severe trauma during childhood.

Children with this attachment style tend to be HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS of others and EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS about forming relationships.

In adulthood, this tends to lead to profound difficulties with developing any kind of relationship and maintaining it – in any relationship the individual does manage to form, s/he will tend to behave in a highly unpredictable way and be highly vulnerable to sustaining further emotional wounds when they are, all too frequently, rejected for being too ‘difficult.’

A deep seated fear of others often underlies this attachment style which can lead to exploitation.

Individuals who develop this attachment style have often suffered severe abuse and have, also, often been brought up in environments which were extremely CHAOTIC and NEGLECTFUL.

This post is based upon John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory.

To read my post on types of relationship difficulties individuals may experience as a result of childhood trauma, please click here.

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

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.

 

eBooks :

CPTSD ebook.  borderline personality disorder ebook

Above ebooks now available on Amazon for instant download.

Click here for further details.

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

Borderline Personality Disorder: Raising Our Self-Esteem.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF THINKING BADLY ABOUT OURSELVES?

Individuals with low self-esteem constantly criticize themselves. We may even META-CRITICIZE ourselves (criticize ourselves for criticizing ourselves). We oftemn focus on mistakes and over-generalize from them, believing that these mistakes completely define us as a person (thus losing perspective and ignoring the positive things about ourselves; in other words, being biased against ourselves, often because we have been programmed to dislike ourselves during childhood).

This faulty thinking style leads to depression, guilt and low confidence. We may think of ourselves as: -stupid -unlikeable -inferior -weak -incompetent etc,etc…

We need to question our negative beliefs about ourselves and ask ourselves: ARE WE CONFUSING OUR THOUGHTS ABOUT OURSELVES WITH THE ACTUAL FACTS? One of the biggest dangers of self-criticism is that it can PARALYZE and DEMORALIZE us, taking away our confidence to try to develop ourselves in life. We feel doomed to perpetual, unremitting failure.

CONSTANTLY CRITICIZING OURSELVES IS UNFAIR:

We would not follow a friend around all day and focus his attention on his every little mistake by loudly announcing it to the exclusion of everything else, so why do we think it fair to do it to ourselves – undermining ourselves, chipping further away at our own precarious confidence?

CONSTANT SELF-CRITICISM IS COMPLETELY UNREALISTIC:

Often, we criticize ourselves with the benefit of hindsight – overlooking the fact that it was not possible to have this perspective at the time, and that we reacted AS THINGS APPEARED TO US THEN.

When we criticize ourselves in RETROSPECT, we do so with the benefit of information that was not available to us at the time we acted. CONSTANT SELF-CRITICISM PREVENTS US FROM LEARNING:

By constantly criticizing ourselves we take away our confidence to tackle problems in the future that could help develop us as a person; we keep ourselves ‘stuck’. We learn much better by PRAISING OURSELVES FOR WHAT WE DO RIGHT, NOT CRITICIZING OURSELVES FOR WHAT WE DO WRONG.

If we conclude we’re a hopeless failure, condemned to be eternally incompetent and useless, when we get things wrong, we will lose all incentive to perservere and make constructive changes in our lives.

CONSTANT SELF-CRITICISM IS MASOCHISTIC:

By constantly criticizing ourselves, we are kicking ourselves when we are down. We might be criticizing ourselves for such things as lacking confidence or always being miserable. It is important to remember, though, that other people, too, would probably see themselves in the same way if they had had the same experiences as us. It is a NATURAL and COMMON response to stressful events and does not mean that there is anything fundamentally wrong with us.

OVERCOMING OUR CRITICAL THOUGHTS:

-Spotting our self-critical thoughts: self-critical thoughts can become automatic, a routine we have never actively tried to change. We may not even have considered that we can change, assuming they were an essential and intransigent part of our nature.

But changing the way we think about ourselves changes the way we feel and behave, so it is necessary for us to stop being so hard on ourselves and focus much more on our positive qualities an our potential to grow as a person as we would like to.

We need to stop feeling excessive guilt and disappointment in ourselves and realize such thoughts are most probably the result of depressed, faulty self-judgments and do not accurately reflect the person we actually are.

We need to gradually distance ourselves from these erroneous, negative self-descriptions that we have, up until the time we undertake to change, imposed upon ourselves.

Challenging our negative thoughts about ourselves:

When we have negative thoughts about ourselves we can do the following:

-tell ourselves our thoughts about ourselves could be completely mistaken, unrealistic and unfair. Also, they may be caused by an irrational guilt complex and a subsequent unconscious wish to punish ourselves.

-concentrate on all the evidence AGAINST our negative view of ourselves.

-consider other perspectives: are we taking the most negative one possible?

-remind ourselves that our negative thoughts are keeping us stuck in our life situation, making us too depressed, unmotivated and lacking necessary confidence to develop our full potential and to change our lives for the better.

-remind ourselves that we are almost certainly judging ourselves too harshly; much more harshly, say, than we would judge a friend. -remind ourselves that it is irrational to write ourselves off as a person due to some past mistakes and weaknesses. -make more of our strengths and less of our weaknesses.

-stop feeling disproportionately guilty about mistakes made in relation to great stress.

RESOURCES

TEN STEPS TO SOLID SELF-ESTEEM MP3CLICK HERE

CHALLENGING NEGATIVE THOUGHTS MP3CLICK HERE

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

Psychotherapeutic Interventions That Research Suggests Are Helpful For Individuals Suffering with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

A quick search of the internet reveals a very large range of therapies on offer which purport to treat BPD effectively. Indeed, the sheer range of putative treatments can seem confusing and overwhelming.

It is for this reason that I concentrate on just six treatments which research suggests are the most beneficial.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) MENTALIZATION-BASED THERAPY (MBT).

My previous post on BPD referred to how people suffering from it have difficulties with how they are attached to (ie how they relate to) PRIMARY CARE GIVERS (eg parents). This can manifest itself in ATTACHMENT DISORDERS (which I also looked at in my last post) making other relationships they develop in adult life very difficult, volatile, complex, painful and distressing.

MBT seeks to help the person understand the roots of these difficulties and how their feelings and behaviours may be impacting on their relationships which in turn makes these relationships problematic.

Research shows that outcomes of MBT treatment have so far been very encouraging.

As well as reducing relationship problems, the therapy has also been found to lessen the likelihood of suicidal ideation ( thoughts and plans about suicide) and hospitalizations. Also, it has been shown to improve day-to-day functioning.

2) SCHEMA THERAPY.

Schemas are deeply entrenched beliefs relating to both oneself and the world in general. In people with BPD, these schema can be extremely negative (inaccurately so) and very unhelpful (or, to use a more technical term, MALADAPTIVE) to the individual who holds them.

Very often, they stem from a negative mindset which developed during the individual’s early life, due to, in no small part, childhood trauma. It is worth repeating that these negative schema can be very deeply ingrained and colour the individual’s entire outlook on life.

Schema therapy seeks to change these maladaptive schema into more adaptive (helpful) ones.

Treatment can be very lengthy, but there is strong evidence that it can significantly reduce symptoms of BPD.

Research into this type of treatment remains ongoing and I will report on any significant developments.

3) TRANSFERENCE-FOCUSED PSYCHOTHERAPY (TFP).

It is certainly worth first defining the psychotherapeutic idea of TRANSFERENCE:

it may be defined as: THE INAPPROPRIATE REPETITION IN THE PRESENT OF A RELATIONSHIP THAT WAS IMPORTANT TO THE PERSON’S CHILDHOOD.

For example, if our parents hurt, exploited or rejected us as children, in adult life we might feel that everyone we get to know will do the same, but without evidence that this will be the case (we are basing our view on a past relationship which is now not relevant).

The treatment aims to help individuals stop viewing present relationships in a rigid way determined by their painful past and show them that they could be misperceiving their present interactions with others ( including the therapist, as often individuals transfer the feelings they had for their parents as children -eg resentment- onto the therapist in the present).
Research, so far, has shown positive results and remains ongoing.

4) COGNITIVE THERAPY.

Cognitive therapy has long been known to be a very effective treatment for conditions such as anxiety and depression, and it is now being increasingly used to treat BPD. Studies of its effectiveness in relation to this have, so far, been encouraging.

One advantage of cognitive therapy is that it often leads to very significant improvements over quite short treatment periods. I myself underwent cognitive therapy and found it very beneficial.

Cognitive therapy focuses on correcting faulty, distorted, negative thinking styles relating to how we view ourselves, the world and the future. I write in more detail about cognitive therapy in the EFFECTS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA category of my blog.

5) DIALECTIC BEHAVIOUR THERAPY (DBT).

The studies on this therapy have , so far, given mixed results. It has been shown, though, in several pieces of research, to reduce the likelihood of suicide attempts in the individual undergoing treatment (the risk of suicide in people suffering from BPD without treatment is high).

Also, after a year of treatment, individuals report a more general improvement in their condition, but, unfortunately, often are still left with significant levels of distress. More studies are required, and, indeed, are being conducted to see if longer treatment periods yield better outcomes. I will report on any significant developments in this area.

DBT draws on psychotherapy, group therapy, meditation, elements of Buddhism and cognitive-behaviour therapy. More research needs to be conducted on the therapy to discover which of its varied components are the most effective in treating BPD. Again, I will report on significant developments.

6) MEDICATION.

Whilst there is, at the moment, no obvious, single medication to treat the whole range of BPD symptoms equally effectively, there are, nevertheless, established medications which can help with some of the symptoms the BPD sufferer might experience, such as anxiety and depression. This is, though, of course, the province of GPs and psychiatrists.

borderline personality disorder ebook.  CPTSD ebook

Above eBooks now available on Amazon for immediate download. $4.99 each. CLICK HERE.

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

Childhood Trauma and Self-Harm : How it can be Addressed.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

Childhood Trauma And Self-Harm :

Three key elements to reducing our risk of harming ourselves are:

1) distracting our thoughts away from self-harm
2) reducing the intensity of our emotional arousal to levels which we are able to manage
3) dealing with internal critical ‘voices’ (ie thought processes).

However, as self-harming is often deeply ingrained, we cannot expect instantaneous results. It needs working at.

Let’s look at each of the 3 elements in turn:

1) DISTRACTION: these can be very simple things such as listening to music, watching a movie, going for a walk or a run, reading, calling a friend, browsing the internet, doing something creative like art or craft (eg making a collage), taking a bath, and keeping a journal or diary (including writing down our feelings).

2) REDUCING THE INTENSITY OF OUR EMOTIONAL AROUSAL: one way to do this is to get the painful emotion out. Again, there are simple ways to accomplish this. They include: going for a run, punching a punch bag (or even a pillow), writing a letter to, for example, our parents (without actually sending it), writing out our feelings in a journal, calling a crisis line, going to an online chatline/support group and sharing our feelings, writing poetry about how we feel, playing moving music/crying.

RELEASING ANGER SAFELY:

Sometimes our anger can overwhelm us, so it is important to be able to discharge it in a safe way. Those of us who have experienced childhood trauma have very frequently been taught to blame ourselves. This can result in remaining angry at ‘the child within us’. It is therefore necessary to realize:

a) this child did nothing wrong and does not deserve our anger.
b) the anger needs to be appropriately and safely redirected at those who caused our childhood trauma (in a way which is not destructive to ourselves or them).
c) FEELING angry is not the same as EXPRESSING anger, so does no harm: so we don’t need to fear these angry feelings.
d)we need to stop repressing or misdirecting our anger (at those who do not deserve it – known as DISPLACEMENT in psychodynamic theory) as this can lead to it becoming obsessive.
e) we need to learn to express our anger safely, appropriately and positively. For example, writing a letter we have no intention of sending in order to release our pent up feelings, taking up Judo or a martial art, role playing with a friend or counsellor ( saying to him/her what we would like to say to those who caused our childhood trauma).

SOME DOs AND DON’Ts RELATED TO ANGER:

DO:

A acknowledge anger
N nip it in the bud
G get help for your anger if necessary (eg anger management classes)
E express anger constructively
R release anger appropriately and let it go

DON’T:

A avoid it
N numb it with food/ illicit drugs/alcohol etc
G grin and grit your teeth (ie suppress it as it will just ‘fester’)
E explode
R rationalize it (ie explain it away)

3) DEALING WITH OUR INTERNAL CRITICAL ‘VOICES’: growing up with negative parents leaves many of us with a lot of negative messages running around our heads – we may have had horrible things said about us so often that we have INTERNALIZED them (ie come to see them as true so they form the basis of our self-concept). As adults, we first need to acknowledge that we have these self-lacerating thoughts. This is because the attempt to ignore them can paradoxically make them all the more intense and tenacious.

We may come to notice triggers for these thoughts. For example, if someone is just slightly off-hand with us we may feel we must be a horrible person who everyone will always reject as a matter of course. The root of this may be that we were rejected by one or both of our parents. Being able to trace our self-critical thoughts back to their roots in such a way, and, therefore, understand their triggers, can reduce their intensity of them quite considerably.

In order to retrain the way we think about ourselves, it is helpful, every time we have a negative thought about ourselves, to replace it with a positive one. It can be helpful, too, to write those positive messages down and to keep them somewhere they can easily be retrieved so that we can, on occasion, read through them. It is even possible to make an audio file of them and listen to them occasionally.

As time goes on, it is necessary to let our self-critical messages go and to stop emotionally tormenting ourselves – instead, we need to treat ourselves with compassion.

When individuals come to the point that they are ready to stop hurting themselves with self-critical messages, some make a kind of ritual out of it such as writing down all the negative thoughts they used to have about themselves on a piece of paper and then burning it or tearing it up and throwing it away.

In summary, then, we need to realize that we have absolutely nothing whatsoever to gain, for either ourselves or others, by constantly emotionally torturing ourselves. It is necessary, instead, to start treating ourselves with the love and compassion which may well have been denied us in childhood. We can give ourselves the love and compassion the child within us deserves.

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

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