Tag Archives: Immune System

3 Reactions Of Nervous System To Shame And Health Effects

 

 

INTERNALIZATION DURING CHILDHOOD :

I have described in several other articles that I have published on this site that if we were treated during our childhood by our parents / primary caretakers in an abusive fashion (e.g. made to feel worthless, unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, fundamentally flawed etc.) we are likely to internalize a very negative view of ourselves and, without appropriate therapy, go through life having to endure profound and pervasive feelings of shame that can severely impair our quality of life by making us feel unwanted wherever we go and of less worth than others (Pattison).

PHYSIOLOGICAL RESONSES TO SHAME :

In physiological terms, we respond to shame a similar fashion to how we respond to feelings of fear, danger and threat. In evolutionary terms, this response has come about because the perception of shame is linked to the fear of social rejection and ostracization which could, literally, threaten our distant ancestors’ ability to survive ; therefore, to be rejected from the group could be fatal.

In the modern day, of course, social rejection and ostracization is unlikely to prove fatal (unless, of course, it drives us to suicide) but our nervous systems still respond to perceived shame as it did for our ancestors i.e. feelings of shame are equated with being in danger and, as a consequence, the SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM IS ACTIVATED AND WE ENTER THE FIGHT / FLIGHT / FREEZE STATE.

In this state, the body is biologically prepared to deal with danger by either PHYSICALLY FIGHTING or RUNNING AWAY. However, as I have said, this response evolved to help our ancestors and is seldom appropriate in relation to modern day shame-inducing scenarios so, instead of physically fighting, we may become extremely angry and verbally aggressive (although in extreme cases a person might become physically violent) or hide ourselves away (e,g, by not leaving the house, avoiding people etc. – in extreme cases, a person might move to another town, country or, if things are particularly bad, perhaps, continent). This feeling of wanting to hide and escape is encapsulated fairly well by the expression : ‘I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me’ and, of course, by actions such as covering one’s face with one’s hands or averting one’s gaze away from others / looking down at the ground. To reiterate, all these shame responses are directly linked to the activation of our sympathetic nervous system and the potential danger to which our brains are alerted.

However, our most common response to shame is the FREEZE response (which involves part of the nervous system shutting down) because we can’t properly metabolize our feelings of shame via the fight or flight responses. This freeze response can give rise to various unpleasant symptoms such as dissociation, derealization and depersonalization. In this state we feel trapped, powerless and completely unable to help ourselves or change our situation. It can also deprive us of our ability to think clearly which Nathanson refers to as ‘cognitive shock’ – cognitive shock is a state of panic involving a desperate need to hide from or conceal our shame and stops us from being able to think in a rational way or to exercise moral reasoning (Nathason).

To reiterate : all three reactions to shame, i.e. fight, flight and freeze, are physiological repercussions to being in ‘survival mode’ due to perceived danger. When we are in ‘survival mode’, because all our mental and physiological resources are focused on, in effect, ‘keeping ourselves alive,’ it is almost impossible for us to feel empathy for others.¬†

Shame pervades our very sense of identity making us feel intrinsically worthless as a person, Furthermore, we are highly liable to ‘feeling ashamed of feeling ashamed‘, creating a viscious cycle whereby shame feeds off shame. (You may wish to read more about this in my previously published article about a phenomenon known as THE SHAME LOOP.)

Because being conscious of our own shame can be exquisitely painful, we sometimes repress it (i.e. block it out of conscious awareness) and protect ourselves from its poisonouis effects by employing psychological defense mechanisms. According to Nathanson, four such defenses we use against shame are :

  1. shameful withdrawal
  2. masochistic submission
  3. narcissistic avoidance of shame
  4. the rage of wounded pride

HEALTH EFFECTS OF CHRONIC SHAME :

I stated at the beginning of this article that feelings of chronic shame can stem from an abusive childhood, and it is also associated with PTSD, complex PTSD, social anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.

There is also research existing to suggest that chronic shame can lead to :

  • alcoholism
  • addictions
  • eating disorders
  • narcissistic rage leading to violence and antisocial behavior
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • weight gain

And, research suggests, because chronic shame is such a powerfully negative emotion, it can increase the level of stress an individual experiences leading to increases in the body of the stress hormone cortisol which, in turn, can impair both cardiovascular health and the immune system.

 

RESOURCES :

Dealing With Guilt and Shame | Self Hypnosis Downloads

or may wish to visit this website : The Healing Shame Center

 

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

 

Acrimonious Divorces May Damage Children’s Immune Systems

acrimonious divorces may harm children's immune systems

A study conducted by Murphy et al (2017) suggests that childhood trauma (and, specifically, in this case, the experience, as a child, of having had parents who divorced acrimoniously) can adversely affect the immune system.

The study involved 201 ‘normal’ adult participants whose parents had separated during their childhoods. The participants were divided into two categories :

CATEGORY ONE : Those whose parents had separated amicably and civilly

CATEGORY TWO : Those whose parents had separated acrimoniously (e.g. frequently shouted and yelled at one another or refused to talk to one another)

RESULTS OF THE STUDY :

It was found that those adults in category two (i.e. those whose parents had separated acrimoniously when they were children) had weaker immune systems than those adults in category one (i.e. those who had parents who had separated amicably when they were children).

This was inferred from the fact that it was found that those from group one were less prone to common colds and similar conditions.

(It should be noted, however, that a sample of 201 for such a study is low which could affect the validity of the findings and that, because of this, further, similar studies need to be conducted using larger samples of participants).

effect of divorce on immune system

THE THEORY THAT UNDERLIES THESE FINDINGS :

The theory that underlies these findings is that NEGATIVE EMOTIONS IN GENERAL (such as depression, anxiety, chronic stress etc) harm individuals’ physiology and inflammatory processes and this harm may still be apparent decades later. However, precise details of the mechanism that underpins this harmful process is not, as yet, entirely understood (so, clearly, more research will also be necessary to resolve this matter). Assuming this theory is correct (and there is much evidence it is), then it follows that it is not just the experience of having parents who divorce acrimoniously that may lead to damage to the immune system, but any significant childhood trauma that results chronic stress and negative emotions.

CONCLUSION :

Children whose parents divorce acrimoniously are more likely to incur damage to their immune systems (that endures well into adulthood) than those whose parents divorce amicably / civilly (all else being equal) according to the findings of this study. However, future similar studies are necessary in order to add weight of evidence to these results.

N.B This is NOT to say children whose parents divorce relatively civilly are not psychologically damaged and it is also NOT to say that such children suffer no harm to their immune systems as a result of their parents’ divorce ; it can only be inferred, in the light of this study, that if one’s parents divorce amicably this may operate as a protective psychological factor, protecting the child from the worst of the detrimental emotional effects of divorce. For more information about the effects, in general, of divorce upon children you may wish to read my previously published article entitled :¬†POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF DIVORCE ON CHILDREN.

 

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

Childhood Trauma Recovery