Emotional Neglect In Childhood Predicts Higher Levels Of Insomnia In Young Adults

Author Article

New research has found a link between childhood emotional neglect and insomnia. The findings appear in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Previous research has found a strong link between childhood maltreatment and depression. “Importantly, sleep disturbance may be one critical mechanism through which individuals exposed to maltreatment are vulnerable for recurrent depressive episodes. Indeed, sleep complaints are among the most common residual symptoms of depression,” the authors of the study explained.

The researchers surveyed 102 young adults with a history of clinical or subclinical depression regarding childhood trauma, recent life stressors, and anxiety symptoms. The participants also completed a daily measure of depressive symptoms and kept a sleep diary for 2 weeks.

They found that young adults who experienced more childhood emotional neglect reported more difficulty falling and staying asleep, even after controlling for factors such as daily depressive symptoms, recent stress, anxiety, other forms of childhood maltreatment, and several demographic factors.

In other words, participants who did not feel loved or looked out for by their family as children tended to report higher levels of insomnia symptoms.

“Thus, our results highlight a distinct relationship between emotional neglect during childhood and difficulties initiating and/or maintaining sleep as young adults, which is important given that emotional neglect is one of the most prevalent forms of maltreatment,” the researchers said.

Emotional neglect may contribute to insomnia symptoms by depriving individuals of sense of safety, leading to heightened psychophysiological arousal, they explained.

Emotional neglect, however, did not predict sleep duration. But this could be due to the fact that the researchers relied on the participants to keep track of when they went to bed and woke up in the morning, rather than more objective measures of sleep like a wrist-worn actigraph that monitors physical activity.

“Our measure captured time in bed, which may not be the most accurate representation of time spent asleep,” the wrote.

The study, “Childhood Trauma and Sleep Among Young Adults With a History of Depression: A Daily Diary Study“, was authored by Jessica L. Hamilton, Ryan C. Brindle, Lauren B. Alloy, and Richard T. Liu.

How Childhood Trauma Teaches Us to Dissociate

Author Article

What is dissociation?
Dissociation, sometimes also referred to as disassociation, is a term commonly used in psychology that refers to a detachment from your surroundings, and/or physical and emotional experiences. Dissociation is a defense mechanism that stems from trauma, inner conflict, and other forms of stress, or even boredom.

Dissociation is understood on a continuum in terms of its intensity, and as non-pathological or pathological in regard of its type and effects. An example of non-pathological dissociation is daydreaming.

From here on we will talk about pathological dissociation.

Some examples of pathological dissociation are the following:

Feeling that your sense of self is not real (depersonalization)
Feeling that the world is unreal (derealization)
Memory loss (amnesia)
Forgetting identity or assuming a new self (fugue)
Separate streams of consciousness, identity, and self (dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder)
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
Dissociation is closely tied to stressful states and situations. If a person has an inner conflict, they may start dissociating when thinking about it. Or if they are terrified of social situations, they may experience dissociation when around people.

Some people report severe dissociation and panic attacks after doing certain drugs. Dissociation can sometimes occur when we experience distortion in or an impairment of our senses, for instance, while having a migraine, tinnitus, light sensitivity, and so on.

Trauma and dissociation
Dissociation is a common response to trauma. The experience of being present and in the moment when we are severely abused and feel powerless is incredibly painful. This is when our psyche self-protects and makes us disconnect from what’s happening to us in order to make it more tolerable to endure.

That’s why many abuse victims, especially those who suffered sexual abuse, say that they felt like they were watching themselves be abused from the third person’s perspective and it seemed like they were watching a movie rather than being a participant.

Since dissociation is often an aftereffect of trauma, it can routinely reoccur until the emotions related to the trauma are resolved. Regardless of how often you experience it, dissociation can be incredibly unpleasant, terrifying, and debilitating.

Some people describe dissociation as their most horrifying experience. Moreover, experiencing dissociation can create new symptoms or aggravate other underlying problems, and in doing so, make the person’s mental condition even worse.

Childhood trauma and dissociation
Commonly, dissociation experienced as an adult is rooted in one’s childhood.

Since a child is dependent on their caregivers and their brain is still developing, they are unable to deal with their trauma by themselves. However, their caregivers are often unable or unwilling to comfort the child and help them overcome it without severe aftereffects.

Not only that, the child’s caregivers may even be the ones who traumatize the child. It’s not to say that it always happens out of spite, but even when done with good intentions or out of ignorance, the effects on the child’s psyche are as they are.

So what does a child do when they experience stress and trauma? Since they can’t resolve it by themselves, they dissociate. This usually occurs early and routinely. Not every trauma is “big” and evident, but even things that don’t seem like a “big trauma” can be very traumatic to a child.

So, we experience many traumas and “microtraumas” as children. And since a common reaction to trauma is dissociation, we dissociate. And over time, two main dissociative behaviors are the result. One, we may suffer from episodes of dissociation (generally, PTSD and C-PTSD).

And two, we learn to deal with emotional distress by participating in dissociative behaviors, such as addiction to food, sex, drugs, TV, the Internet, attention, sports, and anything else that helps us repress our painful emotions.

Moreover, a child can’t attribute responsibility for their trauma to their caregiver since they need them to survive, so they learn to blame themselves for it, which creates a myriad of other problems, but we won’t talk about those in this article.

People’s stories about dissociation
Recently on my website’s Facebook page, I shared two posts about dissociation. One was a picture with a quote explaining what it is (added here), and the other was a quote from my book Human Development and Trauma:

“Many abused children dissociate and unconsciously warp their perception of reality in order to survive. Naturally this requires that they justify the abusive behavior of their caregivers.”

Under those posts, some people shared their experiences and thoughts regarding dissociation, so I would like to add them to this article.

One person writes this:

“I permanently dissociated, my development was arrested at 13 years when my aunt accused me of trying to seduce her husband who was lusting for me. I spent most of my adult year feeling like a 13-year-old. Healing has allowed for a shift from that state to feeling more adult-like.”

This person shares their dissociation experience starting as early as 3 years old:

“I remember leaving my own body at night from the age of 3ish as my parents would be beating each other to death downstairs. I grew up thinking I really could fly. I only learned of disassociation last year.”

Another person says this:

“Sleep has always been an issue. If I did manage to sleep it was full of vivid horrid dreams. I had two regular dreams all my life. I was always a big reader. Escaping into books I was guaranteed a happy ending. I had to. I was exposed to awful things as far back as I can recall.”

For this person, as for all of us, repressed trauma manifested itself in nightmares:

“I remember that every time something traumatizing happened in my family, right before sleep in my bed I tried to convince myself that It didn’t happen and after that I used to have nightmares of being chased by a horrible monster in an abandoned factory or something. Now after a lot of studying I realized that it was my brain entering REM mode in order to storage the traumatic experience deep in my subconscious so I can consciously forget about it.”

This person feels dissociation when having an aural migraine, which I can confirm from my personal experience too:

“I don’t want to reduce this by any means because this may not be seen as traumatic to others however, this happens to me when I get migraines. I don’t know if it is part of the migraine symptoms or if I am disassociating because they hurt so much for such a long period. I feel far away, muffled, floaty kinda dreamlike. I respond slower cause I feel that people are not talking directly to me. My speech is slow and I feel like I am watching a TV show or like if I am drunk/stoned. It’s weird. This happened throughout my life because I have migraine with aura/fainting spells. It’s a scary uncontrolled feeling.”

And this person’s comment explains very well how dissociation is both terrifying and necessary to cope with enormous emotional and psychological pain:

“The most unreal experience of my life, literally. Would never want to experience it again. As distressing as it was, it was a relief as well. The feeling of being outside of oneself and everyone else, the inability to connect to reality, is the most distressing, but the inability to do that gives you a break from the current trauma, and there’s relief in that.”

Do you have any stories about dissociation you would like to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below!

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.

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