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How Childhood Trauma Can Make Us Constantly Hypervigilant

What Is Meant By Hypervigilance?

A person who is hypervigilant feels constantly ‘on edge’ , ‘keyed up’ and fearful. S/he experiences a perpetual sense of dread and of being under threat despite the fact, objectively speaking, there is no present danger. Indeed, the person affected in this way is so intensely alert to, and focused upon, any conceivable imminent danger that s/he may develop paranoia-like symptoms and frequently perceive danger in situations where no such danger, in reality, exists.

Nervous System

In physiological terms, the nervous system becomes ‘stuck’in an over-activated state and it is very difficult for the hypervigilant individual to calm him/herself sufficiently to enable it to return to a normal level of activation ; instead, it becomes locked into the fight or flight mode (the hypervigilant person’s body is in a continuous state of preparedness to fight or flee because of the anticipation of threat the person feels).

Hypervigilane, Hyperarousal, Childhood Trauma And Complex PTSD :

Hypervigilance is one of the many symptoms of hyperarousal.

Hyperarousal, in turn, is a symptom of PTSD / Complex PTSD which are conditions linked to severe and protracted childhood trauma.

 

Other symptoms of hyperarousal may include :

  • insomnia (e.g. constant waking in night and finding it hard to go back to sleep)
  • extremely sensitive startle response
  • problems with concentration and mental focus
  • abiding feelings of irritability and anger, perhaps giving rise to outbursts of extreme rage / verbal aggression, or, even, physical violence
  • constant anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • reckless behavior
  • using short-term ‘solutions’ such as drinking too much alcohol or using street drugs to reduce painful feelings which, in the longer-term, are self-destructive

It is not difficult to see why the experience of childhood trauma should be linked to increased risk of develop hypervigilance as an adult : if we have lived our early life in an environment that made us feel constantly anxious, under threat and fearful ,our very neural development (i.e. the development of our brain) can be adversely affected and it is such negative effects that can leave us so vulnerable and predisposed to developing the disorder, particularly at times when  our adult lives expose us to further stressful experiences.

RESOURCES :

 

LINK : One of the world’s leading experts on how trauma affects the body, and what can be done about it, is the author of The Body Keeps Score’, Bessel van der Kolk, and his website can be found here : besselvanderkolk.net

 

David Hosier BSC Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Hypervigilance And Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD).

hypervigilance

hypervigilance and complex posttraumatic stress disorder

If we have grown up in a chronically stressful and traumatic environment in which we often experienced anxiety, trepidation, stress and fear we are at high risk of developing a fundamental, core belief (on a conscious and/or unconscious level) that the world is a dangerous place and that we need to be constantly on ‘red-alert’ and ‘on-guard’ in order to protect ourselves from sustaining further psychological injury.

In other words, we GENERALIZE our perception that our childhood environment was a dangerous place (because of the emotional and/or physical harm done to us there) into a perception that everywhere else/the world in general poses an on-going threat to us.

As a result, we may develop a symptom known as HYPERVIGILANCE.

HYPERVIGILANCE is a main symptom of complex PTSD (complex PTSD is a serious psychological disorder strongly associated with childhood trauma which you can read more about by reading my post entitled : Childhood Trauma : Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (With Questionnaire).

hypervigilance

HOW DOES HYPERVIGILANCE MANIFEST ITSELF?

Individuals suffering from hypervigilance may :

  • constantly analyze the behavior (including body language, facial expressions, intonation etc) of those around them in an attempt to determine if they pose a threat (and, frequently, they may perceive a threat to exist when, in reality, it does not)
  • be in a constant state of anxiety, irritation and agitation
  • have an exaggerated startle response to loud, unexpected noises
  • experience excessive concern regarding how they are viewed by others
  • be excessively suspicious of others / expect others to betray them ; this can give rise to paranoid-like states
  • perceive danger everywhere even though this is not objectively justified
  • easily be provoked into aggression (as a means of defending themselves against perceived threats from others ; in other words, such aggressive outbursts are a (primarily unconsciously motivated) DEFENSE MECHANISM.
  • PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS (including elevated heart rate, hyperventilation, trembling and sweating)
  • have false perceptions that others dislike them, are plotting against them or mean them harm
  • see minor set-backs as major disasters (this is a cognitive distortion sometimes referred to as CATASTROPHIZING.
  • frequently experience fear and panic when, objectively speaking, it is not justified
  • experience obsessive worry and rumination that is intrusive and hard to control
  • suffer from sleep problems (including very frequent waking and nightmares)
  • feel constantly exhausted (due to both sleep problems and the sheer debilitating effects of being in a constant state of anxiety)
  • social anxiety / impaired relationships / social isolation

Therapies For The Treatment Of Hypervigilance :

Therapies that may ameliorate symptoms of hypervigilance include :

Some medications, such as beta blockers, may sometimes also be appropriate, but, it is, of course, always necessary to consult a suitably qualified professional before embarking upon such treatment.

 

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here or on above image for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

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