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
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 :
- develop your ability to plan
- improve your capacity to manage stress so that you are less prone to making errors under pressure
- increase level of exercise (this also helps to boost one’s ability to tolerate stress and improves mood)
- improve diet
- improve quality (and, if necessary, quantity) of sleep – better sleep helps the prefrontal cortex to function more efficiently
- learn to delay gratification (you can read about a very interesting article about a study showing the importance of delaying gratification by clicking here).
- increase ability to tolerate stress – high levels of stress impair the functioning of the prefrontal cortex
- learn to meditate (to read more about the benefits of meditation, click here).
- repeated self-hypnosis
- IMPROVE IMPULSE CONTROL
- IMPROVE YOUR DECISION MAKING ABILITY
- IMPROVE YOUR SOCIAL SKILLS
- OVERCOME SLEEP PROBLEMS
- INCREASE YOUR EXERCISE MOTIVATION
- EAT A MORE HEALTHY DIET
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).