Tag Archives: Hippocampus

How Does Trauma Affect Memory?

childhood trauma and traumatic memories

Traumatic Memories

Remembering traumatic events is in some ways beneficial. For example, it allows us to review the experience and learn from it. Also, by replaying the event/s, its/their emotional charge is diminished.

However, sometimes the process breaks down and the memories remain powerful and frightening. Sometimes they seem to appear at random, and at other times they can be TRIGGERED by a particular event such as a film with a scene that shows a person suffering from a similar trauma to that suffered by the person watching it.

Traumatic memories can manifest themselves in any of the 3 ways listed below:

FLASHBACKS
INTRUSIVE MEMORIES
NIGHTMARES

1) FLASHBACKS

These are often intense, vivid and frightening. They can be difficult to control, especially at night.

Sometimes a flashback may be very detailed, but at other times it may be a more nebulous ‘sense’ of the trauma.

Sometimes the person experiencing the flashback feels that they are going mad or are about to completely lose control, but THIS IS NOT THE CASE.

Traumatic_memories

2) INTRUSIVE MEMORIES

These are more likely to occur when the mind is not occupied. They are more a recollection of the event rather than a reliving of it. When they do intrude, they can be painful. Often, the more we try to banish them from memory the more tenaciously they maintain their grip.

3) NIGHTMARES

These can replay the traumatic events in a similar way to how they originally happened or occur as distorted REPRESENTATIONS of the event.

HOW RELIABLE ARE MEMORIES OF TRAUMATIC EVENTS?

There used to be concern that some memories of trauma may be false memories. However, the latest research suggests that memories of trauma tend to be quite accurate but may be distorted or embellished.

However, false memories CAN occasionally occur. This is most likely to happen when someone we trust, such as a therapist, keeps suggesting some trauma (eg sexual abuse) must have happened.

It is important to remember, though, that parents or carers will sometimes DENY or DOWNPLAY and MINIMIZE our traumatic experiences due to a sense of their own guilt. In other words, they may claim our traumatic memories are false when in fact they are not.

REPRESSION :

Very traumatic memories may sometimes be REPRESSED (buried in the unconscious with no conscious access to them). In other words, we may forget that a trauma has happened. As I suggested in PART 1, this is a defense mechanism. Sometimes the buried memories can be brought back into consciousness (eg through psychotherapy) so that the brain may be allowed to process and work through the memories allowing a recovery process to get underway.

 

Trauma, Memory And The Brain :

New memories are stored in the region of the brain known as the hippocampus. However, not all memories that enter the hippocampus are stored by the brain permanently.

Only some are transferred to the cerebral cortex for long-term storage; the rest fade away. The more important the memory, and, in particular, the more intense the emotions connected to the memory are, the more likely it is to be permanently stored. This process in called memory consolidation.

When an event occurs that is very threatening or damaging to us, the stress of this causes stress hormones ADRENALIN and CORTISOL to be released into the brain.

The effect of these stress hormones is to strengthen the memory of this threatening or damaging event.

The stress hormones released into the brain (in particular, the amygdala) also ensure the memory of the negative event becomes strongly associated with the emotions (such as fear and terror) that it originally evoked.

intrusive_memories

So, for example, if we are viciously attacked and maimed by a savage and demented Rottweiler, cortisol and adrenaline will be released into our brain to ensure that the memory is indelibly stored. These same stress hormones will also ensure that the emotions we felt at the time of the attack, such as fear and terror, also become strongly associated with the memory of our unfortunate encounter with the less than friendly canine miscreant.

This way of storing such memories evolved for the survival value it confers on our genes.

Also, when extremely traumatic events occur, the hippocampus can become so excessively flooded by stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that it incurs damage.

This damage can then alter the way that the traumatic event is stored. Because of this the memory may become:

fragmented

‘foggy’ / ‘blurry’

distorted

inaccessible to conscious awareness

Furthermore, the memory of the extremely traumatic event may become highly invasive – especially when the person in possession of the memory is reminded of the traumatic event (even tangentially) – and constantly break through into consciousness wholly unbidden, re-triggering the release of excessive amounts of stress hormones into the brain ; this can lead to:

flashbacks

nightmares

obsessive rumination about the traumatic event

 

TRAUMA AND NON-DECLARATIVE MEMORY :

Our long-term memory can be divided into :

1. Declarative Memory (sometimes called explicit memory or narrative memory) – it is the part of our memory that we use for the conscious recall of facts or events.

Declarative memory depends upon language in order to organize, store and retrieve the information that it holds.

2. Non- Declarative Memory (sometimes called implicit memory, procedural memory or sensorimotor memory) – it is this part of our memory that allows us to automatically retrieve information connected to something we have learned without conscious deliberation.

Non-declarative memory

For example, we can get on a bike and ride it without having to concentrate on exactly how we’re doing it or go over in our minds the steps involved in how we learned to do it; indeed, we need not even remember when or how when learned to do it (I certainly don’t) – nevertheless, the necessary ‘know-how’ has been unconsciously, permanently retained.

Non-declarative memory, unlike declarative memory, does not depend upon language for the organization, storage and retrieval of information. Because of this, non-declarative memories are frequently very hard indeed to describe in words (try explaining all the tiny body and muscle adjustments necessary to maintain balance whilst riding a bicycle – yet the memory of exactly how to do this has been faithfully, unconsciously stored, courtesy of your non-declarative memory!).

TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES ARE FREQUENTLY STORED AS NON-DECLARATIVE MEMORIES :

Due to their their utterly overwhelming nature, we often can’t completely and linguistically, mentally process our traumatic experiences which prevents them from being stored in declarative memory ; when this happens, the traumatic experiences are instead stored in our non-declarative memory.

THE FRAGMENTARY NATURE OF INCOMPLETELY PROCESSED TRAUMATIC MEMORIES :

The incompletely processed traumatic memories stored in non-declarative memory tend to be very fragmentary in nature. As we have seen, too, they are not stored in linguistic form but, instead, often in the form of :

bodily sensations (e.g. muscular tension, increased heart rate, hyperventilation)

images (e.g. these might come to us in nightmares or intrusively and unheralded during our waking hours as a result, often, of unconscious triggers – see below)

emotions (e.g. extreme anger or fear)

Also, our unconscious, non-declarative memories may express themselves through chronic, seemingly inexplicable symptoms and behaviours.

WHY WE FIND IT HARD TO ARTICULATE OUR TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES :

Because the memory of our trauma has not been properly processed at the linguistic level we are likely to find ourselves unable to articulate our traumatic experiences in any coherent manner. (Click here to read my article on how we find it difficult to talk about our trauma).

TRIGGERS :

Bodily sensations, images, emotions, symptoms and behaviours linked to our non-declarative memories of our original, childhood trauma may be triggered whenever anything even remotely reminds us of this trauma.

In this way, we may find ourselves re-enacting aspects of our original trauma in our everyday lives months, years or, even (in the absence of effective therapy), decades after the actual experience of our childhood trauma is over.

 

RELATED POSTS :

TYPES OF DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA IN COMPLEX PTSD

FIVE TYPES OF AMNESIA LINKED TO CHILDHOOD TRAUMA

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND MEMORY – WHY SOME REMEMBER AND OTHERS FORGET.

CAN ‘BURIED MEMORIES’ BE UNCOVERED BY HYPNOSIS?

 

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

 

 

 

 

Effect Of Childhood Trauma On The Limbic System

Limbic system

If we have suffered severe and chronic childhood trauma, there is a risk that an area of our brain called the limbic system may have incurred developmental damage which severely affects how we feel and behave as adults.

What Is The Limbic System’s Normal Function?

The limbic system is a region of our brain that experiences emotional reactions to information relayed by our five senses : taste, touch, vision, smell and hearing. These emotional reactions are strongly shaped by the memories stored in the limbic system connected to past experiences associated with these senses.

To provide a simple example : if our ancestors heard the roar of a lion behind them, because this sound is associated (from past experience) in the limbic system with danger, they would react with fear and run away. This function of the limbic system clearly has survival value, which is why modern day humans have inherited it.

Components Of The Limbic System:

The limbic system comprises :

– the amygdala

– the hippocampus

– mammillary body

– hypothalamus

– olfactory cortex

– thalamus

– cingulate gyrus

– fornix

The positioning in the brain of the above regions is shown in the diagram below:

 

How Can The Experience Of Childhood Trauma Cause The Limbic System To Become Dysfunctional?

If as children, our limbic system was repeatedly activated by threatening and frightening experiences then its development may have been disrupted. This may mean that it becomes HYPERSENSITIVE to perceived threat AND OVER- REACTIVE to perceived threat.

Importantly, the limbic system may cause us to OVER-REACT TO PERCEIVED THREATS THAT WE ONLY PERCEIVE ON AN UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL. For example, if someone in authority speaks to us in a manner that, on an unconscious level, reminds us of how an abusive parent used to speak to us, we might become extremely anxious, frightened or aggressive (aggression here would represent an unconscious drive to defend ourselves).

Theoretical Reversibility:

However, because of a quality of the brain known as neuroplasticity, this disrupted part of the brain can begin to heal itself through factors including the

 

eBook :

childhood_trauma

 

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

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

 

 

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

Three critical brain regions that may be adversely affected by significant and chronic childhood trauma are :

1) The thalamus

2) The amygdala

3) The hippocampus

Below, I will briefly describe the main functions of each of these three crucial regions of the brain, together with providing a summary of the damage they may sustain to their development due early adverse experiences.

1) Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Thalamus :

The thalamus is the part of the brain that assesses all incoming sensory data (ie. information from sound, vision, touch,  smell and taste) and then sends this information on to the appropriate, higher region of the brain for further analysis.

If a child constantly experiences trauma (for example, by frequently witnessing domestic violence perpetrated by a drunken father) the child’s thalamus can become so overwhelmed by the intensity and quantity of sense data it needs to process that it is no longer able to process it properly.

This can lead to the child’s memories of trauma becoming very fragmented.

Another effect of the thalamus being overloaded with traumatic sensory data is to shut down the cortex, resulting in impairment of rational thinking processes. Also, due to the shutting down of the cortex, many of the traumatic experiences are stored without awareness (so that they become unconscious memories).

 

Above : diagram showing the position of the thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus (together with other brain regions).

 

2) Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Amygdala :

The amygdala is the brain region that responds to fear, threat and danger.

If a child experiences frequent fear due to childhood abuse the amygdala becomes overwhelmed by the need to process too much information. This can damage it in two main ways :

a) the amygdala becomes overactive and remains constantly ‘stuck on red alert’, leading the individual feeling constantly anxious and fearful, even at times when there is no need to feel this way, objectively speaking. An oversensitive amygdala is also thought to be a major feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious psychiatric condition.

b) the amygdala shuts down as a way of protecting the individual from intolerable feelings of being in danger, which can have the effect of leaving the him/her feeling numb, empty, emotionally dead and dissociated.

3)  Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Hippocampus:

The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for long-term storage of memories. If trauma is severe, the consequential production by the body of stress hormones can have a toxic effect upon this brain area, reducing its capacity by as much as 25℅.

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

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

3 Types Of Emotional Control Difficulties Resulting From Childhood Trauma

We know that those who suffer significant childhood trauma are more likely to suffer from emotional dysregulation (i.e. problems controlling their emotions) in adulthood compared to those who had a relatively stable upbringing. This is especially true, of course, if they develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a result of their childhood experiences (BPD is strongly associated with childhood trauma and one of its main symptoms is emotional dysregulation.

It is theorized (and there is much evidence building up which supports the theory) that one main reason childhood trauma causes the person who suffered it to develop problems controlling his/her emotions in later life is that the experience of significant childhood trauma can lead to damage of the brain structure called the amygdala which is responsible for our emotional reactions to events. (It is also thought that the experience of childhood trauma can also damage other areas of the brain that affect our emotional responses, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex). Click here to read my article on this.

The three types of emotional control difficulties that an individual who has suffered significant childhood trauma may develop are:

1) Severe emotional over-reactions.

2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state (also known as emotional lability).

3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Severe emotional over- reactions:

We may react emotionally disproportionately to the things that happen to us. For example, disproportionately angry as a result of what would objectively appear to be very minor provocation, disproportionately anxious in response to a very minor threat or even suicidal behaviour/self-harming behaviour in response to events that the ‘average’ person could take in their stride with little difficulty.

To take a personal example : when I was a teenager I had a minor argument with a friend. As a result, he demanded that I leave his house. Before I knew it, I had punched him. It was only years later (because I’m stupid) that it occurred that I’d reacted as I did because the incident reminded me, on an unconscious level, of my mother throwing me out of the house some years earlier (when I was thirteen years old); in so doing, it had triggered intensely painful feelings associated with the memory of this ultimate rejection.

2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state:

For example, one minute the individual may be withdrawn, depressed and reticent but then suddenly swing, with little or no provocation, into a highly agitated, angry and voluble state.

3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels:

It thought that this is due to problems of communication between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala (in healthy individuals the prefrontal cortex acts efficiently to send messages to the amygdala to reduce its activity once the cause of the emotions is over – the amygdala being a part of the brain which gives rise to emotional responses).

Indeed, it is thought all three of the above problems occur due to brain dysfunction caused, at least in part, by early life trauma.

Above ebook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here.

Other Resources:

Control Your Emotions (hypnosis MP3 download). Click here for details.

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

Physical Brain Differences In Those Who Suffer Severe Anxiety.

effects_of_childhood_trauma_ptsf

Research suggests that those who suffer from severe anxiety conditions have brains which are different in terms of structure, chemistry and biology compared to the brains of those individuals who are fortunate enough not to suffer from such a debilitating affliction.

To date, research has provided evidence for the following differences:

1) Those who suffer from severe anxiety tend to have lower levels of the chemical serotonin (also known as a neurotransmitter) available in their brains than average (research has found that this also tends to be true of individuals suffering from clinical depression).

This theory of serotonin deficiency is supported by the fact that medications that increase the level of serotonin in the brain, such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSSRIs) class of anti- depressants can effectively ameliorate the symptoms of anxiety.

2) Those who suffer from severe anxiety tend to have lower levels of the amino gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) available in their brains compared to average.

GABA’s  function is to calm and quieten brain activity ; when there is too little of it, research suggests it can lead to:

– difficulties sleeping/insomnia

– feelings of agitation/inability to relax/restlessness/ jitteriness

– ‘out of control’ thoughts/ racing thoughts

– a general feeling of anxiety/nervousness

This theory is supported by the research finding that benzodiazepines, which increase the effectiveness of GABA in the brain, can help to alleviate the symptoms listed above. Unfortunately, however, this medication is addictive and (here in the UK, at least) doctors are very reluctant to prescribe it, particularly for more than a very short period of time (a week or two, in my own personal experience).

3) Those who suffer from severe anxiety, research using brain scans have revealed, can show abnormalities in both the structure and functioning of their brains.

 

PTSD_in_children_and_teenagers

Physical differences in brains of those who have PTSD as a result of severe stress. PTSD can develop as a result of severe childhood trauma.

 

For example, individuals suffering from severe anxiety have been found to possess smaller amygdalae and hippocampae (these are both brain structures involved in the experience of anxiety) than normal, one cause of which is thought to be as a result of the development of these two brain structures being adversely affected in childhood due to the suffering of severe trauma (click here to read one of my articles on this).

Indeed, one study found that those who had suffered severe childhood trauma had hippocampae which were only, on average, about seventy-five per cent the size of normal hippocampae.

 

ANXIETY AND NEUROTRANSMITTERS :

 

Many individuals who suffer from anxiety take prescribed medication for it. This is because anxiety is linked to the imbalance of various neurotransmitters in the brain and medications can sometimes helpfully correct such imbalances (though, like any treatment for anxiety, they do not work equally well for everyone – indeed, in my own case, very few medications I have ever taken for anxiety have had any beneficial effect whatsoever).

What Are Neurotransmitters And What Is Meant By ‘Out Of Balance’?

The brain contains about 10 billion neurons (brain cells). Each of these can potentially communicate with 10,000 other neurons. This communication is carried out by the brain’s neurotransmitters and this communication gives rise to how we think, behave and feel.

When neurotransmitters become out of balance, it simply means that there is an excess or insufficiency of them being produced in the brain. The effect of such an imbalance can cause us problems relating to how we think, behave and feel.

In this article, I want to look at the main neurotransmitters in the brain that are found to be out of balance in those suffering from an anxiety disorder; they are :

  1. SEROTONIN
  2. DOPAMINE
  3. NOREPINEPHRINE
  4. GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid)
  5. GLUTAMATE

What Symptoms Are Caused By Imbalances Of The Above Neurotransmitters In The Brain?

I briefly describe these below :

  1. LOW LEVELS OF SEROTONIN CAN CAUSE : 

 

       2. LOW LEVELS OF DOPAMINE CAN CAUSE :

  • inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia)
  • loss of motivation
  • delusions / psychosis
  • obsession with detail / perfectionism

 

         3. HIGH LEVELS OF NOREPINEPHRINE CAN CAUSE :

  • impaired ability to think coherently / scattered thoughts
  • intense anxiety and restlessness
  • impending sense of doom
  • sense of extreme tension (both bodily and psychologically)
  • hyperarousal
  • feeling ‘wired’ and ‘jittery’
  • panic attacks

 

     4. GABA :

  • when GABA works ineffectively it can cause panic attacks 

 

       5. GLUTAMATE

  •   imbalance which can, in turn, exacerbate an imbalance in other neurotransmitters

 

As stated above, medication prescribed to help correct the imbalance of neurotransmitters does not work equally well for everyone. Non-drug methods of treating anxiety which can be effective include :

  1. COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT)
  2. MINDFULNESS MEDITATION
  3. BREATHING EXERCISES
  4. HYPNOTHERAPY / COGNITIVE HYPNOTHERAPY (see below)

 

HYPNOTHERAPY AND ANXIETY :

In cases where medication does not work or is inappropriate, hypnotherapy can be an effective treatment for anxiety. The relaxation that hypnosis induces can significantly reduce both emotional arousal and the physiological arousal which invariably accompanies it.

Well controlled research studies (e.g. Weldon et. al.) have demonstrated that the more hypnotizable an individual is, the better their outcome when being treated for anxiety. Anxiety is related to PERSISTENT NEGATIVE THOUGHTS, in particular the constant anticipation that the worst is likely to happen.

Such thoughts are often of the ‘what if…’ type, leading to the imagination conjuring up all kinds of dire predictions (the anxious individual will almost invariably vastly overestimate the chances of the worst happening AND underestimate his/her ability to cope should the worst occur. However, I know from my own experience that the fear such thinking creates is very real and can lead to severe distress).

Examples of the kinds of thoughts the anxious individual may experience are :

– ‘ what if my partner leaves me? – I’ll die lonely and unhappy.’

– ‘ what if I lose my job? – I’ll be on the streets and have to obtain my meals from garbage cans.’

– ‘ what if this new mole on my hand is skin cancer? – I’ll be dead within a month and die horribly, or else my hand will be amputated and my juggling career will be severely hampered.’

The term for this kind of thinking, you will not be surprised to discover, is CATASTROPHIZING. Such thinking processes are often deeply ingrained in those who suffer anxiety; indeed, such catastrophizing can become intrusive and obsessive causing, as I have said, considerable anguish. My own anxiety required that I was sometimes hospitalized.

THE ROLE OF HYPNOSIS. When we are anxious, a vicious circle can develop : our negative, even paranoid, thinking causes us to experience adverse physiological symptoms (e.g. sweating, dizziness, tremors, dry mouth, stomach upsets, physical tension, restlessness etc) and these symptoms, in turn, intensify our negative thinking. In this way the mental and physiological symptoms feed off one another in a king of anti-symbiotic relationship.

Hypnosis can address both of these categories of symptoms in a two-pronged attack – it can reduce negative thinking and encourage their replacement with more realistic, positive thoughts by utilizing a technique, based upon the psychologist, Beck’s, cognitive behavioral therapy model (click here to read my article on this) AND training the individual to use powerful, physical relaxation techniques.

However, acquiring the new skills requires several hypnotherapy sessions, which is why a good hypnotherapist will provide the client with a recording of the session so that s/he (the client) can repeatedly listen to it at home, thus making it more likely the new skills will take permanent root in his/her mind.

 

COGNITIVE HYPNOTHERAPY

COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS WHICH UNDERPIN ANXIETY :

The psychologist Beck (1985), identified certain faulty-thinking styles, or cognitive (thinking) distortions, which underpin the pathological anxious response. These include :

– CATASTROPHIZATION : always expecting the worst possible outcome

– HYPERVIGILANCE : constantly feeling in great danger, and, therefore, always being on ‘red alert’, making relaxation impossible (I myself was in such a state for at least three years without respite and I can therefore attest to the excruciating mental agony such a state can entail)

– SELECTIVE ABSTRACTION : this refers to when we exclusively focus on just the negative side of the situation we find ourselves in

– IRRATIONALITY/LOSS OF PERSPECTIVE : this can involve greatly overestimating the odds of what we fear actually happening. Again, I was in such a state for a long period of time which I think must have extended, at times, into the realms of clinical paranoia. Absolutely horrible.

– DICHOTOMOUS THINKING : this refers to seeing things in extremes and is sometimes referred to ‘black and white’ thinking, so things are viewed as ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ which leads to the exaggeration, in our minds, of negative events, circumstances and situations.

Hypnosis can help by positively modifying these kinds of faulty-thinking styles and also be inducing relaxation. Some specific techniques employed by cognitive hypnotherapy are outlined below :

1) AGE PROGRESSION : this involves getting the client, in the hypnotic state, to visualize him/herself in a future situation which s/he currently fears and then imagine him/herself coping well with it

2) RESTRUCTURING COGNITIVE CORE BELIEFS : Beck and Emery (1985) identified a number of unhelpful fundamental or core beliefs that the individual prone to pathological anxiety was likely to hold (such a maladaptive belief system almost invariably  stems from adverse childhood experiences). Examples of such anxiety inducing core beliefs (and for many such core beliefs will be acting on an unconscious level) include :

a) ‘I should regard any strange situation I find myself in as dangerous’

b) ‘ I should always expect the worst will happen’

c) ‘I am constantly in serious danger’

The psychologist Leahy (1996) expands upon this and puts forward the view that underlying anxiety are a sense of :

a) Threat

b) Imminent loss or failure

c) Imminent, or current, loss of control over one’s own life

Dowd (1997) outlines ways in which hypnosis can help us to cognitively restructure our unhealthy core beliefs :

REPLACEMENT AND COPING IMAGERY : Once the individual is in the hypnotic trance state it is suggested to them that they imagine themselves in a feared situation, such as being reprimanded by a superior at work. It is then suggested to them that any anxiety this induces will quickly dissolve and be replaced by feelings of competence and of being in control, together with an acceptance that no one is perfect so there is no need to feel one’s confidence has been significantly undermined.

HYPNOTIC COGNITIVE REHEARSAL : This involves repeatedly imagining, under hypnosis, performing well in a feared situation, such as an upcoming social event ( a similar technique is used in sports psychology, whereby, for example, a tennis player will have been trained to vividly imagine a successful serve – exactly where to place the ball etc – before executing the shot).

RESOURCES :

BEAT FEAR AND ANXIETY : SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

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

 

Borderline Personality Disorder – The Role of Childhood Trauma and Other Factors

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

Biological Factors :

Several of my articles have already examined, in some detail, environmental factors in childhood which put the individual at risk of developing borderline personality disorder (BPD) as an adult (however, for those of you who are not familiar with them, I will summarize them at the end of this article).

Before I do that, however, I wish to look at other factors which research suggests may be linked to the development, in adulthood, of BPD. These are :

Neurotransmitters

– Neurobiology

– Genetics

NEUROTRANSMITTERS : Neurotransmitters are chemicals which exist in the brain and have the function of sending messages between neurons (brain cells). In individuals with BPD, research has shown that three groups of neurotransmitters, in particular, have often been disrupted; these are :

a) SEROTONIN : this neurotransmitter is linked to destructive urges, aggressive behavior and depression

b) DOPAMINE : this neurotransmitter is linked to emotional lability (instability)

c) NORADRENALINE : as above

NB It should be noted that these neurotransmitters may well have been adversely affected as a result of childhood trauma (click here for an explanation as to how this may occur)

images      images2

Above : 2 visual representations of neurotransmitters.

 

NEUROBIOLOGY : Brain scan technology has revealed that those who suffer from BPD frequently have brain abnormalities relating to both the brain’s structure and its functioning. Three parts of the brain, in particular, are frequently found to have been damaged ; these are :

a) THE HIPPOCAMPUS : this brain region is involved in regulating our behavior (self-control)

b) ORBITOFRONTAL CORTEX : this brain region is involved in decision making skills and planning

c) AMYGDALA : this brain region is involved in regulating (controlling) our behavior, especially anger, aggression, violent impulses, fear and anxiety

The idea has been put forward that the damage to these brain regions, and the consequent emotional and behavioral problems, go quite some considerable way to explaining why it is that those who suffer from BPD so frequently have very significant difficulties in forming stable relationships.

NB. Again, it seems these brain regions have been damaged in BPD sufferers when their brains were still developing and, therefore,highly vulnerable during childhood as a result of their traumatic experiences. The good news is, however, that such damage seems to be, at least in part, reversible (click here to read my article on this)

GENETICS :

There is no evidence that there is a specific gene relating to the development of BPD. However, it has been suggested that certain personality traits (characteristics) might have been inherited from parents which put the individual at greater risk of developing BPD ; these include a propensity towards aggression and emotional instability. Presently, however, this is merely a hypothesis.

 

TRAUMATIC CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES:

FINALLY, AS PROMISED, I WILL SUMMARIZE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES WHICH MAKE IT MORE LIKELY AN INDIVIDUAL WILL DEVELOP BPD ; THESE ARE :

dysfunctional relationships with parent/s

– growing up in a household in which a member has significant problems relating to drugs and/or alcohol

– growing up in a household in which a member suffers from a serious psychiatric illness

– abuse (physical/emotional/sexual)

neglect by parent/s

– growing up in an environment which involves living in a frequently occurring or chronic state of fear/anxiety/distress

For more on this, click here.

 

N.B.  The risk of development of BPD as an adult is significantly increased if psychological issues relating to the above have not been addressed/resolved through therapy and, especially, if others (particularly the perpetrators) try to undermine, invalidate and/or discredit one’s perception of the impact one’s overwhelmingly stressful childhood experiences have had on one.

 

eBooks:

51Qg4LQa-aL._UY250_emotional abusebrain damage caused by childhood trauma

The above eBooks are now available for immediate download on Amazon. Click here for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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