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Psychological injuries in childhood and their consequences


Psychotherapists often say that for the treatment of mental trauma, it is imperative that the patient makes contact with his “wounded inner child”. By this child we mean all the psychological and emotional baggage left over from childhood and continuing to create problems in adulthood. The term "inner child" has gained popularity thanks to the authors of self-help books, primarily John Bradshaw and his bestselling book Homecoming.

The archetype of a “wounded child” usually manifests itself as follows: in the life of an adult, the same negative experiences and manifestations of inappropriate behavior that he adopted in childhood, looking at others, are repeated again and again. For example, if a girl in childhood regularly observed how her father abused her mother, then in adulthood she can constantly enter into relationships with men who are prone to abuse.

Addiction and mental health problems that are rooted in childhood are treatable. Here are a few techniques that can help you recognize negative patterns learned in childhood and “re-educate” your inner child.

1. Empty Chair Technique

The application of this technique looks like this: the therapist puts an empty chair in front of you and offers to imagine that a significant person is sitting on it - for example, one of the parents. You “communicate” with an imaginary interlocutor, talk about your thoughts and feelings, or explain to him what you wanted, but you could not get from him in childhood. The therapist may suggest that you “swap roles" and take the place of an imaginary interlocutor yourself.

Such work is especially useful when people who have meant a lot to you in the past cannot or do not want to take part in therapy. It helps to restore contact with your feelings about the past and with those parts of yourself that you tried to hide or suppress with the help of addiction or other destructive behavior. Having established contact with your own feelings and memories, you will be able to realize how they affect your current behavior, and understand how you can change the situation.

2. Schematic therapy

This method is suitable for patients experiencing difficulties in society, as well as for those who cannot cope with the consequences of childhood trauma. Children who grow up in a hostile or unhealthy environment often develop such coping ways, memories, emotions, self-image and others that are fraught with problems and lead to inappropriate reactions and behavior in adulthood.

Schematic therapy teaches the patient to look at themselves differently and helps to overcome the desire to avoid unpleasant situations.

Schematic therapy combines the approaches and principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy, attachment theory and other methods. During treatment, the therapist uses “re-education” techniques to help the patient’s vulnerable inner child learn how to satisfy their basic emotional needs with healthy methods.

Using various methods: dialogues, role-playing games, keeping diaries, learning important skills, schematic therapy teaches the patient to look at himself and others differently and helps him overcome the desire to avoid unpleasant situations and get rid of other inappropriate reactions.

Desensitization and processing by eye movement (DPDG) - a technique based on the processing of information by the brain. It can help alleviate unpleasant experiences associated with traumatic events of the past and manifest in the form of obsessive thoughts, sudden heavy memories, anxiety, fear, panic attacks.

During the work, the patient watches the moving objects (for example, the therapist's fingers) with his eyes, while trying to focus on the internal negative images, thoughts and feelings associated with injuries. A similar technique simultaneously involves both hemispheres of the brain, allowing the client to get rid of the usual reaction to injury. Rapid eye movements and concentration on external stimuli help him to recall, process and “discharge” painful memories that create or exacerbate his problems.

These and other types of therapy can help you meet those key emotional needs that were left unfulfilled in childhood and heal old wounds that interfere with a full life.

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What is a child trauma?

The formation of children's psychological trauma is caused by intense stressful effects, excessive in comparison with the capabilities of the protective mechanisms of the psyche of the baby. Certain circumstances that have arisen in adulthood can initiate the manifestation of childhood trauma in adults.

With psychological trauma, the child disappears the feeling of safety and comfort that surrounded him earlier. It covers fear, powerlessness, helplessness in front of a changeable and indefinite outside world. What yesterday brought a sense of peace, confidence, was replaced today by pain and suffering.

Children in stressful situations constitute a risk group, as their broken psyche is not able to withstand negative external factors.

Traumatic experience does not always have a physical character. Its main criteria are intensity and strength, which cause the appearance of an emotional response in the individual. The higher the intensity of the negative impact of the event, the higher the likelihood of injury formation.

However, not all unpleasant situations can injure the psyche of the child. Damage to mental health is caused only by events that are significant for him. With their frequent repetition, healthy children may become neurotically ill adults in the future.

Children's psychotrauma in adults: causes of formation

Psychologists identify the following potential sources of childhood psychological trauma:

  • the departure of one of the parents from the family, divorce. Often in such situations, adults manipulate each other, the child for them is a tool of control and revenge. The child involuntarily faces a difficult choice: taking the side of one of the parents, he is separated from the other,
  • unreliable habitat. The danger is not necessarily physical, tangible. A child’s psychological trauma can be formed as a result of constant conflicts in the family and school, moral pressure, pressure, latent conflicts, an oppressive severe atmosphere,
  • serious illness or death of family members or close friends. The death of loved ones can provoke a child’s insecurity of the safety and permanence of the outside world,
  • lack of parental attention. For each child, it is important to feel unconditional love and personal need from people close to him. While it is difficult for him to understand the words with which adults express their love, the main indicators of their affection for the baby are the care, attention and actions of the parents. Children, deprived of proper attention, grow up estranged and outcast, they feel worthless and useless to anyone,
  • directives: personal settings with which the baby’s parents were never able to cope on their own, to overcome their negative impact, they use to bookmark the script for the whole subsequent life of their child. Any parental directive embedded in the children's psyche can cause negative consequences in adulthood: to form numerous complexes, self-doubt, low self-esteem, inability to communicate with other people.

How do children's psychological injuries in adults manifest

Any surge of traumatic experiences is normal and natural, as it is highly expected to respond to negative events that cause damage to the psyche.

True childhood psychological trauma in adults can be manifested by the following psychological signs:

  • shock state, gloom, apathy, joylessness, depression. These conditions can be observed for a rather long time without obvious reasons.
  • causeless mood swings, gaiety can be replaced by rage and irritation,
  • the appearance of feelings of shame, guilt. A person blames himself, looking for the causes that lead to negative consequences,
  • a sense of anxiety, fear, the development of a fear of inconsequential, psychological phobias - a person is afraid of silence, darkness, loud sounds, strangers strangers, a large crowd, loneliness,
  • a person feels abandoned, unnecessary, flawed.

In addition, child psychotrauma can be said in the presence of the following physiological symptoms:

  • nightly fears, nightmares, insomnia,
  • palpitations, tachycardia,
  • chronic pain, for no reason
  • fatigue, constant fatigue, powerlessness,
  • memory impairment and impaired attention,
  • muscle clamps, tension.

What is emotional and psychological trauma?

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of a stressful effect, the strength of which turned out to be excessive for the psyche. As a result of this, a person loses a sense of security, experiences impotence and helplessness.

Traumatic experience is not always accompanied by physical impact. This is any situation in which you experience over-tension and helplessness. And this is not a specific concept, but your personal emotional reaction in response to an event. The more horror and helplessness you experience, the greater the likelihood of injury.

Causes of emotional and psychological trauma

Most likely the event will lead to injury if:

  • It happened unexpectedly.
  • You were not ready for it.
  • You felt powerless to prevent it.
  • The event happened very quickly.
  • Someone intentionally brutally treated you.
  • It happened in childhood.

Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by a one-time event, for example, an accident, a natural illness, or an episode of violence. Or maybe a prolonged stressful effect: life in domestic violence, in the neighborhood with criminal elements, suffering from cancer.

The most common examples of traumatic events:

  • Sports and domestic injuries.
  • Surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life).
  • Sudden death of a loved one.
  • Car accident.
  • Breaking a meaningful relationship.
  • A humiliating and deeply disappointing experience.
  • Loss of functionality and chronic serious illness.
  • Risk factors that increase your vulnerability to traumatic events.

Not all potentially traumatic events lead to emotional and psychological trauma. Some quickly recover from a serious traumatic experience, while others are injured at the fact that at first glance it is much less shocking.

Increased vulnerability is possessed by people who are already under the influence of stress factors, as well as those who have experienced something similar in childhood. For them, the incident becomes a reminder that provokes repeated trauma.

Child injury increases the risk of future injuries.

Experiencing trauma in childhood has a lasting effect: such children see the world as a frightening and dangerous place. And if the injury is not cured, then they transfer feelings of fear and helplessness into adulthood, becoming increasingly vulnerable to injuries in the future.

Child injury occurs in any event that violates the child’s sense of security:

  • Unstable and dangerous environment
  • Separation from parents
  • Serious illness
  • Traumatic medical procedures,
  • Sexual, physical and verbal abuse,
  • Domestic violence
  • Rejection
  • Baiting
  • Symptoms of emotional and psychological trauma.

In response to a traumatic event and repeated trauma, people respond in different ways, which manifest themselves in a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. There is no “right” and “wrong” way to respond to a traumatic event: to feel, think and act. Therefore, you should not blame yourself and others for certain actions. Your behavior is normal reaction to abnormal event.

Emotional symptoms of trauma:

  • Shock, rejection, loss of faith,
  • Rage, irritation, horse racing mood,
  • Guilt, shame, self-incrimination,
  • Feelings of longing and hopelessness
  • Confusion, impaired concentration,
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Enclosure
  • Feeling of abandonment.

Physical symptoms of injury:

  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Shyness
  • Heartbeat
  • Acute and chronic pain
  • Fatigue,
  • Impaired attention
  • Fussiness,
  • Muscle tension.

These symptoms and feelings typically last from a few days to several months and disappear as you live. But even when you feel better, painful memories and feelings can still come up - especially at moments such as the anniversary of the event or a reminiscent image, sound, and situation.

Burning is a normal process after an injury.

Regardless of whether death was included in the traumatic event or not, the survivor is faced with the need to experience grief from the loss of at least a sense of security. And the natural reaction to loss is grief. As well as those who have lost loved ones, survivors of trauma go through the process of grief. This is a painful process in which he needs the support of other people, there is an acute need to talk about his feelings, to develop a strategy of self-support.

When do I need to seek help from a specialist?

Recovery from injury takes time, and everyone does it in their own rhythm and in their own way. But if months have passed, and your symptoms do not go away, then you need to contact a specialist.

Seek specialist help if:

  • Things are falling apart at home and at work,
  • You suffer from anxiety and fear
  • You can’t be in close relationships, afraid of intimacy,
  • Suffer from sleep disturbances, nightmares and outbreaks of traumatic memories,
  • Avoid things reminiscent of trauma more and more
  • Emotionally moved away from others and feel abandoned,
  • Use alcohol and drugs to feel better.

How to determine the right specialist?

Work with trauma can be frightening, painful, and provoking retraumatization. Therefore, it should be carried out by an experienced specialist.

Do not rush to the first one, spend some time searching. It is important that the specialist has experience with traumatic experience. But the most important thing is the quality of your relationship with him. Choose the one with whom you will be comfortable and safe. Trust your instincts. If you do not feel safe, understandable, do not feel respect, then find another specialist. It’s good when there is warmth and trust in your relationship.

After meeting with a specialist, ask yourself:

  • Did you feel comfortable discussing your problems with a specialist?
  • Did you feel that the therapist understands what you are talking about?
  • Which of your problems were taken seriously and which ones took the least amount of time?
  • Did he treat you with respect and compassion?
  • Do you believe that you can restore confidence in your relationship with this therapist?

Psychological and emotional trauma treatment

In the process of healing psychological and emotional trauma, you must encounter intolerable feelings and memories that you avoided. Otherwise, they will come back again and again.

In the process of trauma therapy, the following occurs:

  • the study of traumatic memories and feelings,
  • defusing the “run or fight” stress response system,
  • training to regulate strong emotions,
  • building or rebuilding the ability to trust people,
  • Key points recovery from emotional and psychological trauma.

Recovery takes time. No need to rush yourself to live faster and get rid of all the symptoms and consequences. The healing process cannot be whipped up by willpower. Allow yourself to experience different feelings without guilt or judgment. Here are some notes on how to help yourself and loved ones.

Self Help Strategy # 1: Don't Get Insulated

From trauma, you can become isolated from people, but it will only get worse. Communicating with other people will help the healing process, so make an effort to maintain your relationship and not spend too much time alone.

Ask for support. It’s important to talk about your feelings and ask for the support you need. Contact the person you trust: family member, colleague, psychologist.

Engage in social activity, even if you don’t like it. Do “normal” things with other people, something that has nothing to do with traumatic experience. Restore the relationship that you broke due to injury.

Find a trauma support group. Contact with people who, like you, have experienced a similar condition, will help you reduce your sense of isolation and understand how others deal with their condition.

Self-Help Strategy # 2: Stay Grounded

To be grounded means to be in contact with reality, while remaining in contact with yourself.

Continue to do the usual things - regular walks, sleep, food, work and sports. There must be time for relaxation and communication.

Break work tasks into small pieces. Praise yourself for even the smallest achievements.

Find something that helps you feel better and occupy your mind (reading, cooking, playing with friends and animals), this will help you refrain from immersing yourself in memories and traumatic experiences.

Allow yourself to experience those feelings that pop up. Notice your feelings that pop up due to injury, accept and support their appearance. Think of them as part of the mourning process necessary for healing.

Body Grounding: Self-Help Principles If you feel disorientation, confusion, sudden strong feelings, do the following:

  • Sit on a chair. Feel your feet on the floor as you lean on it. Press the buttocks on the chair, feel the support at this point. Feel your back resting on a chair. Bring back your bodily sense of stability.
  • Look around and select 6 objects of different colors, consider them - bring attention from the inside out.
  • Pay attention to breathing: take a few slow and deep breaths.

Self-Help Strategy # 3: Take Care of Your Health

In a healthy body, the processes of mental recovery proceed more actively.

Watch your sleep. A traumatic experience can disrupt your normal sleep. And the consequences of sleep disturbance are to aggravate the course of traumatic symptoms. Therefore, go to bed every day at the same time, preferably until 12 a.m., so that sleep lasts 7-9 hours.

Avoid alcohol and drugs because they always worsen the course of traumatic symptoms, causing depression, anxiety and isolation.

Go in for sports. Regular exercise raises the level of serotonin, endorphins and other mood-enhancing substances. They also enhance self-esteem and promote sleep regulation. For the desired effect, 30-60 minutes per day is enough.

Eat a balanced diet. Eat small meals often throughout the day. This will help you maintain your energy levels and reduce mood swings. Less simple carbohydrates (sweet and starchy), because they quickly change the composition of the blood, which affects mood. More vegetables, fish, cereals.

Reduce the impact of stress factors. Pay attention to rest and relaxation. Master relaxation systems: meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing practices. Make time for activities that bring you pleasure - a favorite hobby or an active vacation with friends.

Help surviving emotional and psychological trauma

Of course, it is difficult when your loved one suffers from a traumatic experience, but your support can be a key factor in his recovery.

Show patience and understanding. Recovery from emotional and mental trauma takes time. Be patient with the recovery process, because everyone has their own speed. Do not judge for the reactions that arise in your loved one: he may be temporarily short-tempered or vice versa closed, but show understanding.

Offer practical help so that your loved one returns to normal everyday activities: shopping, household chores, or just be at your fingertips.

Do not push the offer and talk, but just be available. It’s hard for some people to talk about what happened, and don’t have to insist that they share if they don’t want to. Just indicate your willingness to talk and listen when they are ready.

Help relax and return to socialization. Suggest doing sports or relaxation practices together, looking for friends according to your interests and hobbies, doing something that can please them.

Do not take reactions to your account. Your loved one may experience rage, emptiness, abandonment, emotionally alienate. Remember that this is the result of an injury and may not have anything to do with your relationship.

Helping a child in trauma

It is very important to communicate openly with a child who has suffered an injury. Despite the fact that there is always fear and a desire not to discuss a painful topic. But then you leave the child isolated in his experiences. Tell him it’s okay to worry about a traumatic event. That his reactions are normal.

How do children respond to emotional and mental trauma? A few typical reactions and ways to deal with them:

  • Regression. Many children try to return to an early age, where they were safer and they felt caring. Smaller children begin to urinate in bed and ask for a bottle. Older - afraid to be alone. It is important to be careful and respectful of such symptoms.
  • Take the blame for the event on themselves. Children under 7–8 years of age think they are to blame for what happened. And it can be completely irrational, but just be patient and repeat to them that they are not to blame.
  • Sleep disturbances. Some children have difficulty falling asleep, while others often wake up and have terrible dreams. If possible, give the child a soft toy, cover it, leave the night light on. Spend more time with him before going to bed, talking or reading. Be patient. It takes time for the sleep to return to normal.
  • Feeling helpless. Discussion and planning of measures that can prevent similar experiences in the future will help here, involvement in goal-oriented activity helps to restore a sense of control.