Child Abuse May Change Brain Structure And Make Depression Worse

Author Article

A study of over a hundred people’s brains suggests that abuse during childhood is linked to changes in brain structure that may make depression more severe in later life.

Nils Opel at the University of Münster, Germany, and his colleagues scanned the brains of 110 adults hospitalised for major depressive disorder and asked them about the severity of their depression and whether they had experienced neglect or emotional, sexual or physical abuse during childhood.

Statistical analysis revealed that those who experienced childhood abuse were more likely to have a smaller insular cortex – a brain region involved in emotional awareness.

Over the following two years, 75 of the adults experienced another bout of depression. The team found that those who had both a history of childhood abuse and a smaller insular cortex were more likely to have a relapse.

“This is pointing to a mechanism: that childhood trauma leads to brain structure alterations, and these lead to recurrence of depression and worse outcomes,” says Opel.

The findings suggest that people with depression who experienced abuse as children could need specialised treatment, he says.

Brain changes can be reversible, says Opel, and the team is planning to test which types of therapies might work best for this group.

Journal reference: Lancet Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30044-6

This May Be The Best Way To Help Kids Who’ve Been Through Trauma

Author Article

Why do some children who experience trauma seem to recover naturally over time whereas others develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and even depression? A new studypublished in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry has identified one key factor: seeing their own emotional reaction as “not normal.”

Researchers assessed over 200 kids between ages 8 and 17 who’d experienced a traumatic event, such as a car crash, assault, or medical emergency. They interviewed the kids twice, once two to four weeks after the event and again two months after the event, asking them questions about how they’ve been coping with what happened. The kids also completed a survey about what their general emotional well-being and cognitive skills were like before the event had ever happened.

What does a “normal” healing process look like?

The study found PTSD symptoms were actually pretty common earlier in the recovery process, at the two- to four-week mark. “Symptoms of PTSD can be a common reaction to trauma in children and teenagers,” said Richard Meiser-Stedman, a clinical psychology professor at the University of East Anglia in England who led the study, in a news release. “These can include distressing symptoms like intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks. Health professionals steer away from diagnosing it in the first month after a trauma because, rather than being a disorder, it’s a completely normal response. … These initial reactions are driven by high levels of fear and confusion during the trauma.”

Generally speaking, though, the majority of the kids healed naturally over the course of the two months without any professional help or interventions.

How much social support they had in their lives and the presence of other life stressors didn’t actually affect their likelihood of having lingering PTSD symptoms. What did? It was the tendency to view their own response to the trauma as being abnormal, a sign of weakness, or a sign that they were “permanently damaged.” That self-judgment was the key predictor of PTSD.

“The young people who didn’t recover well, and who were heading down a chronic PTSD track two months after their trauma, were much more likely to be thinking negatively about their trauma and their reactions—they were ruminating about what happened to them,” Meiser-Stedman explained. “They perceived their symptoms as being a sign that something was seriously and permanently wrong with them, they didn’t trust other people as much, and they thought they couldn’t cope.”

That means one of the biggest ways we can support young people who are recovering from trauma is to normalize their pain. It’s vital to make sure they know that there is nothing wrong with feeling deeply distressed by what’s happened to them and that it will likely take some time before those emotions settle. Trauma certainly can change you, but it by no means “permanently damages” you.

The difference between ruminating and grieving.

Importantly, the study also found that “overthinking” the trauma was also linked to worse PTSD: “The children who didn’t recover well were those that reported spending a lot of time trying to make sense of their trauma. While some efforts to make sense of trauma might make sense, it seems that it is also possible for children to get ‘stuck’ and spend too long focusing on what happened and why,” Meiser-Stedman explained.

Past research has shown our minds generally have a tendency to ruminate on negative events, and that rumination can be disastrous for our mental health. The researchers were hesitant to give any recommendations related to how to process trauma since the risk of “overthinking” can lead to worse outcomes, but at the same time, not processing your pain at all is generally a ticket to growing up with unresolved emotional issues that lead to more reactivity, relationship problems, and poorer health as an adult.

Transformation coach Sheryl Paul offers a good way to understand the difference: Replaying scenes over and over from the negative events in our lives and thinking about why they happened isn’t necessarily the same as emotionally processing your trauma.

“Ruminating isn’t grieving. Thinking isn’t grieving,” she writes at mindbodygreen. “Grieving is an embodied experience that moves the pain out and through, whereas ruminating is a ‘head’ experience that keeps the pain stuck. Ruminating—that is, obsessively going around and around in your mind on one particular storyline, like thinking about what you or the other person did ‘wrong’—creates mental stagnation and prevents the grief from moving through you, thus preventing you from moving on.”

To help kids (or anyone) heal from trauma, make sure they know it’s OK to sit with their pain and feel it. They shouldn’t spend all their time dwelling on what happened—it’s important to be able to also resume life’s activities to be able to access a brighter mood again and reconnect with their other emotions—but normalizing the grieving process is absolutely necessary.

38 Daily Affirmations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

Author Article

38 Daily Affirmations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs as they raise you.

Growing up with your parents under-responding to your feelings throughout your childhood sets you up to under-respond to your own feelings through your adulthood. Essentially, you are trained to ignore, minimize, and perhaps even be ashamed of, your own feelings.

But the good news is that Childhood Emotional Neglect is not a lifelong sentence. You can heal it. And it’s not as difficult or complicated as you might think.

By beginning to pay attention to yourself and your own feelings, you can begin to honor your deepest self; the self that was so ignored as a child. The more you focus on yourself, your own feelings and needs and wants, the better you can take step after step through the CEN healing process.

Why You Need Affirmations

As a psychologist who specializes in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect, I have walked hundreds of people through the 5 stages of CEN recovery. And I have watched motivated people slip off-track, distracted by the demands of their everyday life or discouraged about their inability to make it happen fast enough.

One thing I know from going through this with so many CEN folks is that the ones who succeed, who really change their lives, are the ones who never give up.

The best thing you can do to heal yourself is to keep your goals in your mind as you go through your day. And to help you do that, I am sharing with you daily affirmations in every area of your recovery: healing yourself, healing your marriage, parenting your children, and coping with your emotionally neglectful parents.

Once you get started, you may want to use some from all 4 areas, because once you start to see yourself through the lens of CEN, you may reflect differently on every important person in your life.

How to Use The Affirmations

I recommend you read through all of the affirmations below. As you do so, you may notice that certain ones jump out at you. These are the ones that you likely need the most right now.

You can use these affirmations in two different ways. You can say them to yourself when you need them, to keep you on track, remind you of what’s important, and strengthen you. And you can also use them as starting points to help you think about, or meditate on, what’s important in your healing. I hope you will use them, and use them well.

Special Note: To learn how to repair Emotional Neglect in your most important relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

38 Daily Affirmations/Meditations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

FOR HEALING YOURSELF

My wants and needs are just as important as anyone else’s.

My feelings are important messages from my body.

My feelings matter.

I am a valid human being with feelings and needs.

I am worth getting to know.

I am a likable and lovable person.

I am the only person responsible for getting my own needs met.

It is not selfish, but responsible, to put my own needs first.

Asking for help is a sign of strength.

Feelings are never right or wrong. They just are.

I am proud to be a deeply feeling person.

All human beings make mistakes. What matters is that I learn from mine.

I deserve to be cared for.

My feelings are walled off, but they are still there, and they are important.

Every feeling can be managed.

FOR PARENTING YOUR CHILDREN

My children’s feelings drive their behavior. Feelings first.

I can’t give my children what I do not have myself.

My child is important, but so am I.

The better I care for myself, the better I can care for my child.

I don’t need to be a perfect parent. I just need to pay enough attention to their feelings.

I will give my child what I never got from my parents.

The best way to do better for my children is to do better for myself.

FOR HEALING YOUR MARRIAGE

I matter, and so does my husband/wife.

My partner cannot read my mind.

It’s my responsibility to tell my partner what I want, feel and need.

My partner and I each have hundreds of feelings each and every day.

It’s okay if my partner’s feelings are not the same as mine.

The facts are less important than my partner’s feelings.

When it comes to my marriage, sharing is key.

My partner needs me to talk more and ask more questions.

FOR COPING WITH YOUR PARENTS

I did not choose to grow up emotionally neglected.

My parents could not give me what they did not have.

My parents are not capable of seeing or knowing the real me.

I am angry at my parents for a reason. They failed me in a very important way.

I can spend time with my emotionally neglectful parents. My boundaries will protect me.

I don’t have to be validated by my parents. I validate myself.

If my parents are not able to see me, I will see myself.

It’s my responsibility to give myself what my parents couldn’t give me. And I will.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about how Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Is Your Childhood Blueprint Holding You Back?

Author Article

Do you find you don’t deal with situations or relationships as successfully as you’d like? Do you feel depressed, anxious, or think negative things about yourself, others or the world? If so, it could be that your blueprint is holding you back.

You can think of your blueprint as everything you felt, saw, thought, touch, tasted, laughed or cried at. Millions of experiential data points creating your unique map of how the world works. But a map created before you are cognitively mature enough to understand or handle difficult situations.

Because this blueprint comes from the cause and effect on a child mind there can be limitations on how we now see the world. If we had good mentoring, a stable view of ourselves, and satisfying relationships, then it’s likely we’ll have a healthy blueprint. However, if we experienced poor mentoring, a negative view of ourselves, with less than stable relationships, then our blueprint could be more dysfunctional. Leading us to see the world as unpredictable, uncaring and even traumatic.

These are simplistic extremes for sure, and most people’s lives are far less black and white. However, the point is the same: no matter how the creation of our blueprint happened, it will influence our adult decision-making for the rest of our lives. If this blueprint is mostly dysfunctional, it can leave us vulnerable to mental health issues unless we take steps to change our reoccurring unhealthy responses.1

Our blueprint is important because it plays an integral part in everything we do. Without being aware of it, every day your brain is constantly using your blueprint to predict your environment by following pre-programmed, default responses for familiar tasks2 :how you cook dinner, how you eat, drive, order your coffee, etc. It doesn’t matter the situation, you’ll have a response ready: In this situation you will = think this, feel this, and act like this. And most of the time this is okay. But what happens when we come across a situation that our younger self couldn’t deal with in a healthy way?

Let’s say you had difficulties feeling worthy and appreciated as a child and one day at work your boss shouts at you in front of your colleagues? How do you respond? Well, that’s up to your old blueprint. In less than a second your brain is accessing how you managed similar situations in the past. Maybe it accesses the time you were 12 and a teacher shouted at you in front of the class. You cried and the shame you felt was painful. So, now in front of your boss, your blueprint tells you to “stay quiet and shut down your feelings.” So, that is exactly what you do. Your old responses leaving you helpless in the face of an aggressive other.

If you think you don’t manage certain situations or people well, it might be time edit your old blueprint. To do this, I encourage you to reflect on any given situation you struggle with. Once you have a situation, park any preconceived notion you have about yourself. It doesn’t matter if the situations were wrong, or unfair, the goal is to examine your thinking, feeling, and behaviors analytically. You want to discover whether your blueprint helps or hurts you. What responses you want to keep and which to replace.

Here are six questions to get started.

  1. Is this my typical response in this situation?
  2. Have I reacted this way before (i.e. is this habitual responding)?
  3. What event from my past does this situation/person remind me of?
  4. Does my current reaction help me or hurt me?
  5. How would I prefer to respond/react to this challenging situation?
  6. What do I tell myself that stops me from responding in this healthier way?

Now you have this new information, you can get to work on practicing your new responses. With time, effort, and practice, these new habitual responses will happen naturally. But be aware, you might have another hidden habitual response that stops you from making these changes “just in case” things get worse. And it’s this cycle of wanting to change but fearing change that keeps many people stuck in the same blueprint.

It is worth acknowledging a lot of our old blueprint emerged as self-protection. Created during a time when being turned down by someone you had a crush on hurt to the core. Or when kids laughing at you felt like the most shameful experience you could ever imagine. As children a lot of things seemed like the end of the world, but as adults they’re not even close. If a person you like turns you down, that’s okay. If other people laugh at you for making a mistake, you’ll survive just fine. You really don’t have to follow the same program over and over, you can change it.

Breaking old habits is hard, but creating a new adult blueprint will help make you more confident and robust in the face of all life’s challenges.

Childhood Trauma Exposure Is All Too Common

Author Article

A long-term study of 1,420 people finds that childhood trauma is more commonplace than is often assumed, and that its effects upon the transition to adulthood and adult functioning are not only confined to post-traumatic stresssymptoms and depression, but are more broadly based.

These conclusions were reported on November 9, 2018, by a team led by 2009 BBRF Young Investigator William E. Copeland, Ph.D., of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families at the University of Vermont. He and his colleagues are part of the Great Smoky Mountain Study, a study of children in 11 mainly rural counties in North Carolina.

Beginning in 1993 and continuing through 2015, the study annually observed 1,420 children, selected randomly from a group of 12,000 local children, through age 16, and again when they reached ages 19, 21, 25 and 30. Results are based on analysis of over 11,000 individual interviews. The sample was designed to over-represent frequently overlooked rural and Native American communities.

One striking perspective emerging from the study is that “it is a myth to believe that childhood trauma is a rare experience that only affects few,” the researchers say. Rather, their population sample suggests, “It is a normative experience — it affects the majority of children at some point.” A surprising 60 percent of those in the study were exposed to at least one trauma by age 16. Over 30 percent were exposed to multiple traumatic events.

“Trauma” for the purpose of the study included violent events (e.g., the violent death of a loved one, physical abuse or harm, war or terrorism, captivity); sexual trauma; witnessing a trauma that caused or could have caused death or severe injury; learning about a traumatic event involving a loved one; and other traumas, such as diagnosis with a serious illness, serious injury, or fire.

“Our study suggested that childhood trauma casts a long and wide-ranging shadow,” the researchers say, associated with elevated risk for many adult psychiatric disorders affecting many “important domains of functioning,” with impacts in the form of diminished health, financial and academic success, and social life.

The impact of trauma across the lifespan has been noted in many past studies. The newly reported study, appearing on the website of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), differed, because it followed children from year to year. Prior studies relied upon memory-based reports of childhood events made by participants during their adulthood, which tend to be less accurate. The new study also statistically compensated for the presence of other childhood factors that often co-occur with childhood trauma, such as poverty and family instability or dysfunction.

The researchers say their results are consistent with an “accumulation” model of trauma that assigns increased lifetime risk of psychosocial impact with each additional traumatic exposure during childhood. While they do not shed light on the question of which children are more likely to experience trauma, the team hopes the results will inform public policy, via “interventions or policies that broadly target this largely preventable cluster of childhood experiences.”

The research team included: E. Jane Costello, Ph.D., 2009 Ruane Prizewinner and 2007 BBRF Distinguished Investigator; and Edwin J.C.G. van den Oord, Ph.D., 2002 BBRF Independent Investigator.

For Childfree Women, the Personal is Political

Author Article

In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) author Adi Avivi writes as follows:
The fourth and last construct presented in this discussion addresses the political aspects of child freedom. The construct’s title is drawn from the feminist mantra “the personal is political,” a phrase attributed to different writers of the second feminist wave. Although its exact origin might not be clear, its meaning is important. The phrase indicates that people’s personal decisions and private conduct have profound political implications. When a woman makes a decision regarding work, family, dress code, or choice of language, she is choosing to express her acceptance or rejection of social norms. This is, of course, a simplistic view, as the choice to perform similar acts can have different meanings for different people. For example, choosing to get married could be a defiant act if family or society disapprove of the pairing; marriage could also be an act of submission to the most rigid and oppressive social norms.

Intersubjective Theory: Social and Political Implications
Benjamin (1988) discusses the social and political implications of her intersubjective theory. She claims that in U.S. society, the narcissistic fear of surrendering one’s power over other humans is the source of political, social, and personal cruelty and oppression. Our society idealizes the father-image, which includes aspects of individualism, separation, and domination and devalues the mother-image of connectedness, closeness, and dependency. However, both needs exist in every human, regardless of their sex and gender. The masculine image requires men to maintain rigid separation from others, and in doing so, reject their need for connectedness and closeness. If they address these “feminine” needs, they will have to acknowledge their identification with the maternal. They, therefore, can only tolerate rigid definitions that will simplify their relationships with others. Such definitions help maintain hierarchy by engendering a sense of omnipotence among those who believe they are fitting the only permissible role in the absence of choices. Other options can be classified as deviant or in some cases rejected altogether or even declared illegal. Allowing others to be different but similar, close but separate, independent but needed is impossible when one depends on narcissism and a fantasy of omnipotence in order to maintain a coherent sense of self.
However, the other continues to exist. The participants expressed a desire to contribute to the growing knowledge about CF women, adding that they wanted their voices to be heard. They hoped to dispel misconceptions and misunderstanding, helping non-childfree individuals, policymakers, religious leaders, and mental health professionals to see childfreedom for what it really is: a diverse and rich community with culture and values, made up of individuals who cannot be fully understood or explained by their childfreedom alone.

Comments by Participants
They hoped that social acceptance would reduce the resentment and bitterness some childfree individuals felt while inviting people who might benefit from CF life to entertain it as an option:
S8: “On a less realistic note, I’d like to think that research like this is a big step in changing the way people talk to and about the childfree and the choice to reproduce. It would be nice if people asked ‘are you going to have kids?’ instead of ‘when are you going to have kids?’ and say ‘If you have kids’ instead of ‘when you have kids’. If the dreaded ‘bingo’ went away tomorrow, it would make life so much easier.”
S13: “I’m hoping to bring attention to the cruel and dismissive remarks (‘bingos’ and otherwise) we childfree experience on the Web and real life, and to dispel the myths behind the most common bingos. I hope research shows that we are just as human as the next woman, that there is nothing missing or wrong with us, and that parenthood is not for everyone nor should it be.”
S15: “I am eager to see more exposure of the experiences of those living childfree. My hope is that as information about CF living grows, that more young people will take the time to consider the choice to have children rather than just having kids without thought. So many people are brainwashed into thinking it’s a rite of passage…”
Most participants talked about being discriminated against or misunderstood, and those who did not feel this way still mentioned incidents in which they were met with bewilderment and disbelief. All participants reported that other childfree individuals they met online constantly talked about the discrimination, insults, and rejection they felt. This was especially true when the women were in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, if they had recently married, or if they lived in smaller, more rural locations.

Tolerating the “Other”
Allowing others to be different requires a capacity to tolerate pain, because seeing other options puts a spotlight on one’s limitations. This, according to Benjamin (1988), is true on the individual level, the community level, and the state and country level. Throughout history, the inability to tolerate the “other” and the need to make “me” the only option have pushed nations to wipe out other groups, to deny human rights, and to demand conformity explicitly and implicitly. Benjamin states that both patriarchal hegemony and some feminist worldviews demand that women be mothers and color the maternal role as the source of feminine power. If a woman is not a mother, the patriarchal social order is in danger. Also, the unique power of reproduction as a defining symbol of female supremacy is threatened when capable individuals live fulfilling lives without reproducing. However, the participants of this study conveyed that having childfreedom as an equal option will not ruin humanity or take away feminine power. In fact, it will allow for the definition of what is human to be expanded and offer greater choice for women.
For example, some participants expressed moral and political concerns, saying that while the pronatalist culture ostensibly focuses on children, it actually centers on the concept of future children rather than already living children who are in need. When thinking of the consumption of resources created by every Western child in comparison to children in Third World countries, the moral implications of pronatalism in industrial countries is disconcerting. Promoting motherhood as the preferred choice for everyone is actually a failure to recognize the needs of millions of other, less visible children, in communities whose resources are often abused by Western countries.
Indeed, public and political forces are involved in reproduction. That involvement manifests in campaigns around abortion rights and access, controversy over economic entitlements, workplace policies and employment benefits, and religious freedoms. Because the CF choice is not valued or even accepted in many cases, CF women suffer discrimination both socially and legally. For example, sterilization laws in many places do not support women’s desire to cement their childfreedom (Richie, 2013).

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