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

6 Things Adults With Childhood Emotional Neglect Need to be Happy

Author Article

Funny thing about people who grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): they go through their entire adult lives with a set of requirements for happiness in their minds. But sadly, those requirements end up keeping them from being happy.

CEN folks don’t know it, but the things they think will make them happy have little to do with their actual happiness. In fact, their notion of happiness is mostly about protecting themselves.

Growing up with your feelings unvalidated (Childhood Emotional Neglect) sets you up to feel that there is something wrong with you for simply having normal human feelings. Then, moving through your adulthood, you then feel you must not only protect yourself from your own feelings and needs but also hide them from others.

The 6 Things CEN People Think They Need to be Happy   

  1. To be 100% self-reliant: The child of Emotional Neglect looks to his parents for emotional support and validation but, too often, no one is looking back. This is how he learns that asking for help is wrong. This is why the child, once a CEN adult, believes that his own happiness depends on his own self and no one else, and feels very vulnerable about asking or accepting help. From anyone.
  2. To never, ever, ever appear emotional or needy: Yes, the CEN adult judges her own feelings and emotional needs as a weakness. So she naturally assumes that everyone else will judge her the same way. I have seen CEN people try to hide their desire to find a spouse, conceal the warm feelings they feel toward a friend, or try hard to conceal their hurt feelings from the person who hurt them.
  3. To make no mistakes: CEN folks are highly tolerant of other people’s mistakes, but when it comes to themselves, the opposite is true. I have told many of my CEN clients that they expect themselves to be superhuman and never make mistakes.
  4. To not be asked about their feelings: The CEN man or woman lives in dread of their spouse asking them what they feel. To them, that question seems intrusive, impossible, and perhaps just plain wrong. “As long as no one asks me, I’ll be happy,” they tell themselves.
  5. To have no conflict: CEN people tend to avoid conflict. Conflict feels threatening because it requires skills they don’t have enough of, like identifying their own feelings and expressing them with an awareness of the other person’s feelings too. It’s not the fault of the emotionally neglected child that he did not learn those complex skills. His parents simply didn’t teach him.
  6. To keep most people in their lives at a distance: Deep down, the CEN person harbors a fear that something is wrong with her. She’s not sure what it is, and she can’t put it into words, but one thing she does know is that she doesn’t want anyone else to see it. So she keeps herself shut down, or walled off, to prevent anyone from getting too close. “As long as no one sees my flaws, I’ll be happy,” she tells herself.

What CEN People Actually Need To Be Truly Happy

  1. To ask for help, and accept it: To really be happy, you can learn the beauty of mutual dependence, and the empowerment of accepting support from others who care. Taking the risk to ask for help and accept it opens doors to validation, comfort, and solace that only makes you stronger, not weaker as you have always believed.
  2. To accept your own needs as valid and real: Your parents taught you that you have no right to have emotional needs. But when you try to deny or hide them, you are denying and hiding your deepest self, and this can never make you happy. Accepting your feelings and needs will allow you to honor and express yourself in a way that can lead to true happiness.
  3. To learn the voice of compassionate accountability, and use it: “It’s OK, nobody’s perfect,” you might say to a friend. And now, it’s time to turn your compassion toward yourself. You can learn to talk yourself through mistakes so that you grow from them, while also holding in your mind the reality that everyone makes errors. This is the voice of compassionate accountability, and it will set you free.
  4. To become comfortable identifying and sharing your feelings: Learning these skills gives you a new way of managing difficult feelings. That’s because naming a feeling immediately takes some of its power away. It also gives you the ability to think about that feeling, begin processing it, and finally, if needed, share it. The better you can do this, the deeper and more rewarding your relationships can be.
  5. To view conflict as a normal part of life: Conflicts are the opposite of avoidable, because when you avoid them, they only fester, making matters worse. When you view conflict as an opportunity to work out problems, you can start addressing problems directly when they occur. This gives you the ability to make your relationships stronger, and make you overall happier.
  6. To let the people in your life get closer to you: Research shows that human connection is one of the life factors that contributes the most to human happiness (and perhaps even the top one). So the harder you work on these six areas of your life, the more you will notice that instead of draining you as they always have, your relationships are now actually giving you energy.

These 6 Things Are Not as Hard as You Think

The most difficult thing about these six things boils down to three things: taking risks, tolerating making yourself vulnerable, and doing things that feel, on some level, wrong. But it’s important to recognize that you’ve been walking the path your parents set for you for years. It’s not your fault; it just is.

To make these changes, you will need to make a choice to take a new and different path. A path that feels unfamiliar, yes. Vulnerable, yes. Wrong, yes.

But it’s a path that will heal the effects of the Emotional Neglect you were raised with and offer you the true, connected happiness that you’ve always deserved.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be difficult to see and remember. To find out if it affects you, Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

For help learning how to identify, name and process your feelings, see the book Running On Empty. For help with improving your relationships, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

38 Daily Affirmations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

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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.

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.