I was going to try to list all the different ways we can mess up our kids, but then every time I tried to post that particular article up, my site crashed....
After the eighth time, I finally got the message: focus on SOLUTIONS, not problems. So i'm shifting the focus of these posts from now on, to describe the problems as gently as possible, and to put the emphasis much more on how to solve them.
This post was going to be about 'emotional neglect', but given the above, we now going to talk about 'emotionally-absent' parents instead, and what you can do to make sure you're present, and giving your children the emotional nurturing they need to grow up happy and well-adjusted - even if you didn't receive that yourself.
When a parent is emotionally-absent from their child’s life, then their kid generally experiences very little in the way of parental warmth and love. When a child has an emotionally-absent parent, they often perceive the situation as the parent disliking them, somehow.
That’s because the parent appears to not want to spend time with their child, and acts as though they don’t really enjoy their company, and has very little to say to them. An emotionally-absent parent may still ask perfunctory questions like: ‘How was your day?’ but their heart isn’t really in hearing the answer, or helping their child to deal with any of their other fears, issues or problems.
As with all ‘absences’ of good, it’s easier to describe what’s missing than what is actually happening.
When a parent is EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE and EMOTIONALLY NURTURING, they do the following sorts of things for their children
I’ll stop there for now, but the single best way to find out if your parent(s) were emotionally-absent or not is to go down this list, and tick the ones that apply. By the end of the exercise, if you’re looking at a lot of ticks - that’s a reasonably-trustworthy indication that you had ‘good enough’ emotional nurturing and support.
If you’re not looking at a lot of ticks, then it’s a fair bet that your parent(s) were emotionally-absent, and that you probably have some ‘inner work’ to do to rectify the fall-out from that. Emotional neglect is often described as being at the ‘core’ of C-PTSD, because it can leave you with very deep feelings of being alone, uncared for and unimportant.
When small children are left to fend for themselves emotionally, it can literally cause them to experience the most excrutiating feelings of gut-wrenching anxiety, panic and emotional overwhelm, instantly pinging them into a very strong ‘stress response’.
If that happens on a regular basis, then the fight-flight-freeze-fawn switch in the developing brain gets flipped ‘on’ permanently, even if no other form of obvious maltreatment occurs.
We’ll return to this topic again in a future post, but that’s hopefully enough of a basic introduction to the topic of emotionally-absent parents for now.
PS: If you went down that list and are now having a ‘parenting meltdown’ about all the things you should be doing and aren’t, take a deep breath, and press ‘pause’ on the self-flagellation. Everything can be fixed! Everything can be rectified! If you didn’t get this stuff yourself as a kid, then you didn’t even know what was missing.
Even just knowing what’s been missing changes everything. Sure, there’s a lot to pray for, but God’s in the picture, and everything can still turn out A-OK.
As with all cults, if you only had the cult-leader themselves to deal with, it theoretically wouldn’t be that hard for a lot of people to eventually shrug off their brainwashing, and return to being a fully productive, alive and emotionally-healthy member of the human race.
What gives cults their power - from the ‘big’ cult players like the Moonies and Scientologists right down to the small mom-and-pop family cults that we’re talking about in these posts - is the other cult members.
Going against one person, however scary, is doable if you have a bunch of like-minded people on your side. There really is strength in numbers. But here is where we hit a huge problem for the people who want to leave the ‘mini cults’ that develop in a narcissist’s family: if you leave the cult and stop seeing your parent as ‘perfect’, then it’s not only your parent who’s going to come after you; it could be your whole brainwashed family.
Remember, the parent is perfect. That’s the main and central tenet, or belief, of the personality-disordered cults that build up around narcissist parents. As soon as you challenge that belief, you become the cult’s Public Enemy One, and your sister, your brother, your dad, your aunty - pretty much everyone you know who is also part of the cult - is going to come after you, to try to get you to admit that you’re completely wrong about the cult leader.
This next bit sounds counter-intuitive, but the easier ‘cult members’ to deal with are the obviously poisonous and nasty ones. They are the ones that write you emails telling you that unlike the cult leader, you’re a bigoted maggot, and an evil and cruel person. They also like to threaten you with all sorts of consequences for disobeying the cult leader, like dying a lonely, miserable death because you’ve isolated yourself from all the people who ‘really love you’ by leaving the cult.
As it’s pretty obvious that you’re dealing with an unhinged, mentally-ill lunatic, it’s much easier to reassure yourself that you’re really not the problem, here (although this still takes some practice, as malignant narcissists excel in identifying your weak spots, and zoning in on them with their eviscerating comments. If you secretly fear you’re a bad mother, for example, that will be the area they zone in on, as they tell you ‘you’re incapable of raising your children’ and other pleasantries like that.)
By far the more difficult characters are the two-faced cult members who pretend to be on your side, while all the time working overtime for the cult leader. These are the ones who keep persuading you to go against your best interests, or keep telling you to get back in touch, or try to guilt you out of leaving the cult by making it clear that ‘mom is about to have a BIG operation!!!’ and other manipulative moves like that.
They’ll ‘explain’ how the cult leader, or other cult member only said those disgustingly awful things because you started it! You made them do it! You suggested the cult leader wasn’t perfect and broke the cult’s sacred commandment! It’s all your fault that things are such a shambles because you have a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, and you’re mentally ill, and everyone else in the cult thinks that mom is THE BEST MOM EVER! So clearly, you are the only one at fault and the only one to blame for the family not being perfect.
Because the more two-faced cult members are great actors, they can make it seem that they really get your complaints, and your pain, and your hurt, while still turning it all around on to you and deflecting the problem away from the cult leader. “You’re just saying things to make it seem like mom is bad,” they’ll explain. “You set dad up and got him to act like a raging animal, when really he’s always so kind hearted,” they’ll tell you. “Unlike you, I know that mom only cut you out of the will because she has your best interests at heart, and if you weren’t so greedy and selfish you would understand that, too.”
The two-faced ones are much, much harder to deal with, because part of you hopes that once you lay everything out for them clearly, they’ll also come around to a more realistic view of what’s going on in the family-cum-cult.
A BROAD RULE OF THUMB FOR DEALING WITH OTHER CULT MEMBERS
Here’s a broad rule of thumb for dealing with other family members who are in the cult:
Any family member who is a narcissist themselves will be 100% committed to preserving and protecting the cult of perfection. They will abuse, cajole, lie, manipulate, threaten, attack and evade the truth at all costs.
When a family member is in the cult, but not a narcissist themselves, they will experience some severe cognitive dissonance around you, and do their best to steer the topic away from your ‘subversive’ views, and troubling heretical statements about the cult leaders not being as perfect as they seem. But they will not attack and abuse you in defence of the cult leaders.
When a family member is not in the cult, and not a narcissist - they’ll be so relieved to finally hear someone else telling the truth about what’s really going on! But it can take years for non-narcissist cult members to get to this stage, if it happens at all.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at how best to deal with abusive family members who are trying to stop you from ‘leaving the cult’.
When people have a ‘Cluster B’ personality disorder like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) they have an overwhelming need to be seen as perfect and whiter-than-white. They also siphon off other people’s attention and energy with one shameless manipulation after another; cannot empathise with or ‘see’ anybody else’s viewpoints or needs; and will lie shamelessly to cover up their own failings and flaws.
When the parents in a family have NPD, the family unit tends to function like a sort of ‘mini-cult’.
Remember that the main (but by no means only…) ‘issue’ for people with NPD is maintaining an external appearance of complete perfection. That means they can’t acknowledge any mistakes, bad behavior, bad character traits or anything else that will mar the appearance of perfection to the outside world.
Of course, narcissists are probably some of the most poisonous, toxic people to be around, particularly for their kids, as they’re full of anger, spite, vengeance, soul-destroying put downs, hatred and other types of emotionally abusive behavior.
For as long as you’re towing the narcissist’s line and not challenging them, the true extent of their mental illness isn’t obvious. It’s only when you start to challenge the picture of perfection that they’re painting for you (and everyone else) that the narcissist’s mask really comes off, and you get to see the scary monster lurking underneath.
Because narcissists can never admit to anyone, especially themselves, that their poisonous behavior and attitudes to others are the cause of so many of the difficulties occurring in their relationships, they fall back on two things to shore up their appearance of perfection:
It’s hard to appreciate just how big the lies get when you start challenging the narcissist’s false picture of perfection, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Here’s a few examples to give you a flavor:
They’ll send you an email telling you that you’re nothing but a parasite, an evil person, and mentally ill - all the while claiming they have no idea ‘where all the hatred is coming from’ or why you want them to apologise for their awful treatment of you, because they’ve never done anything horrible to you, or said anything bad to you.
And yes, you’ll get both of these statements sandwiched together in the same email.
You get accused of all the terrible things they’re doing. So they’ll cut a child out of their will for daring to suggest they aren’t perfect, and in the same breath lecture that child that they still have so much to learn about unselfish giving that doesn’t expect anything in return.
And if the child reacts in any way other than being grateful for the narcissist’s timeless advice, they’ll be accused of being ‘mentally-ill’ and told to GET HELP!!! for failing to appreciate how AMAZING, kind and loving their parent really is.
Anything you say (or email) that doesn’t fit in with the narcissist’s view of themselves as perfect and infallible will be routinely characterized as ‘horrendous’, ‘disgusting’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘hateful’ - even if it contains nothing more offensive than asking for an apology for the hurt caused by the narcissist’s behavior, or pointing out the inconsistencies in what they’re saying.
Anything they say (or email) is always perfect, full stop. And this is true even if they’re saying the most soul-eviscerating criticisms, lies and insults.
If you try to point any of this rank hypocrisy out to them, you will be blamed for [whatever it is the narcissist is actually doing themselves]. I.e.: ‘destroying the family’, ‘acting like Jekyll and Hyde’, ‘emotionally-blackmailing’, ‘being completely unbalanced’, ‘causing nothing but pain and shame to the family’, etc etc.
Again, it’s hard to do this topic real justice in a few lines. Those unfortunate people who have experienced the deceit, warped logic and ‘projected blame’ that comes with narcissists know only too well what I’m talking about. And those that haven’t (or haven’t acknowledged what’s really going on with these people) are probably scratching their heads and pondering how on earth people could lie in such a blatant, brazen way and expect to get away with it.
But they can, they do, and that’s a big part of a narcissist’s mentally-ill behavior.
Which brings me on to the next subject: because you can’t get a narcissist to admit any ‘truth’, however obvious, that doesn’t accord with their self-image of being perfect, sooner or later you have to make a choice with enormous ramifications for your relationship with the narcissist:
So why do people continue to go with Choice 2, even when it causes them to disconnect from their souls and their own true selves? To put it very simply, when you are being raised by narcissists - the effective ‘cult leaders’ - you can’t go against them. If you try, you will be mercilessly tormented and punished until you fall back into line, and go back to believing that the narcissist parent is only ever completely perfect, and you are the one causing all the problems.
So Choice 2 is the ‘default’ option that nearly every child of a narcissist parent has to struggle very hard to escape from.
Children of narcissists undergo a sort of self-induced ‘brain-washing’ process where they literally jettison their own subjective sense of self, and disconnect from what they really feel and what they really know in order to ‘fit’ into the fantasy world created by the narcissist parent. It’s almost impossible for a child to go against their narcissist parent, as the parent is the one defining reality for that child.
Which is how you end up with a whole family of individuals, children and grandchildren, who are effectively part of a brainwashed cult that the narcissist has built up around them, with a central belief that ‘the narcissist is perfect, and can do no wrong.’
We’ll continue this discussion in the next post, where we look at the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ that occurs amongst the children of narcissists.
A few years' ago, we moved house a month before hayfever season, to a new neighbourhood in Israel. A few weeks' later, my eldest daughter woke up wheezing and struggling to breathe. We panicked, and like all good, responsible parents, we rushed her off to the emergency clinic (where else?). A couple of hours' later, she came back with a whole breathing machine, a face mask, a few packets of various drugs, and an official diagnosis of 'asthma'.
The doctor who diagnosed her was a genuinely caring, sweet, lovely religious man, which only underscores some of the enormous problems with modern medicine, because he was clearly trying to help us, and my daughter.
Yet no-one told us that asthma is often connected to stress, or emotional issues. No-one suggested that maybe, the asthma wasn't even really asthma, and maybe was just an allergic hayfever reaction, given the time of year (my daughter already had multiple food allergies, at that point).
We were just given a very fast diagnosis, a blue and a brown inhaler, and at the tender age of 6, my daughter turned into an 'asthmatic' overnight.
My daughter is very sensitive. Now she knew she was officially an 'asthmatic' with breathing problems, her stress shot through the roof, and her asthma worsened accordingly. She got stressed when she thought about exercising with asthma; stressed about school outings with asthma; stressed about doing exams with asthma - and as soon as she got stressed, on cue, the asthma would appear.
In all the years I've been refilling the prescription for the Ventolin, not one doctor ever explained to me that the same inhaler that was helping my daughter to breathe better in the middle of a crisis was actually also worsening the fundamental problem. It's scientifically proven that the more you use inhalers, the more asthma attacks you get. Why didn't anyone tell me that?
Why didn't anyone mention that people have died from over-using certain brands of asthma inhalers? I had no idea that inhalers were even remotely dangerous until a year ago when my daughter came back from a school trip with blue lips, and severe breathing issues, from using her puff 8 times in a row.
That's when I started to really research this amazing, safe, solution to my daughters' asthma, and I was shocked to see all the potential issues, side-effects and long-term problems associated with using inhalers (some of which have already been withdrawn from the market, as the stats on deaths from using 'beta agonists' are starting to stack up).
For example, a lot of the 'regular' (ie, not considered to be serious) side affects from inhalers show up in tachycardia, heart palpitations and tremors.
Three years' after my daughter's 'asthma' diagnosis, she went through a very stressful time in school, and was using her puff 4-5 times a day (well within prescribed limits). Within a couple of weeks of that episode, she was at the doctor with a bad case of flu when he listened to her heart, and told me I should go and take her for an EKG…
Baruch Hashem, nothing came of that. But only recently did I realise that what was causing the 'heart problem', whatever it was, was her asthma inhaler. How come the doctor didn't make that connection?
Last year, we started to make a concerted effort to get her off the puff, and thank G-d, her use is now way, way down. All this happened before I learnt energy medicine, so it took a lot of praying, a lot of essential oils and Su Jok, and a lot of massage - in that order.
We still have the inhaler (I got given four on my last visit to the doctor…) - but it's strictly for emergencies, now that we know that it's actually a dangerous drug. But as I said, the less we're using the puff, the less asthma my daughter actually has - and life's still been pretty stressful.
With hindsight, I don't think she had asthma in the first place. I think she had severe hayfever (she gets hayfever every year). By being so quick to diagnose asthma, that kind, caring doctor set my daughter on a path where she was scared to exercise (exacerbating the problem…); stressed about being away from her puff (exacerbating the problem…); and starting to get unexplained heart palpitations from her prescription medicine (exacerbating the problem…)
There has to be a better way, don't you think?
Having a kid tell us that they’re struggling is really hard for a parent to hear. Whether we admit it or not, all of us have a ‘guilt reflex’ that kicks in, and starts blaming us for the problem (and it’s often right - but more on that in a moment).
The trouble is, that then means that we want to shut down the cause of the pain and discomfort and guilt we’re feeling, which often means that subtly or otherwise, we give our kids signals to shut up and go away. That only has to happen a few times, before our kids give up on telling us things that we may find upsetting, or letting us into their inner lives.
When this becomes the ‘norm’ for the parent / child relationship, it can cause so much destruction, loneliness and heartache.
But this happens to even the best of parents, sometimes.
The parental guilt reflex is very strong in most of us, because on some level, we know that we affect our kids’ wellbeing and happiness more than anything or anyone else.
So now, let’s take a deeper look at what’s really going on here, and see if we can come up with some useful guidelines for how to really help our depressed children.
Adults are adept at hiding their true feelings, especially in the west where emotions have been pathologised. That’s why sometimes, God uses our kids to send us messages about where we’re really holding that we often don’t want to look at, accept or consider.
So the first thing to check is: which parent might also be depressed, and why?
Once the parent starts working on their own emotional issues, the issues tend to clear up really fast in their kids, too.
2. Find out why the kid feels depressed
Again, this bit can be SO hard, because of the parental guilt reflex. If you feel you’re going to blow up at your kid, get hyper-defensive, feel anger or crippling guilt, then you may need to enlist someone with more objectivity and perspective to do this part of the process.
But people usually feel depressed because they feel that what they think and feel doesn’t count, or that they’re worthless, or that no-one really cares about them - which are all REALLY hard things for even the most caring parent to hear!
Yet giving the child a chance to express themselves truthfully - and to say even the icky things that no parent wants to hear - without being attacked or ‘punished’ for expressing themselves, is a crucial part of the healing process.
Most of us can’t handle that so well (especially if the guilt reflex is kicking in, and we feel on some level the kid may actually be right.)
But for the child’s own mental health, they need to be able to express themselves truthfully, in a loving, 100% accepting atmosphere. If the parent can’t provide that (and hey, that’s OK to admit) - then find a good counsellor or friend WHO IS NOT GOING TO PUSH YOUR KID DOWN THE ANTI-DEPRESSANT ROUTE.
That last part is crucial.
No chemical imbalance has ever been found to cause depression, or any other mental illness, despite it being such a popular ‘theory’ of psychiatrists (who make most of their income from their exclusive ability to prescribe psychotropic drugs for mental illnesses.)
When kids get pushed onto anti-depressants to ‘make their problems go away’, instead of being encouraged to really speak out what they truly feel, and to re-connect to their families, and to deal with their negative emotions in a productive way, it’s setting them up for a lifetime of worsening mental and physical health issues.
I’m including some research articles, plus one documentary (bottom link) that you may want to check out for yourself:
Negative Effects of Antidepressants | Mad in America
Depression Screening in Children is Not Supported by Research
Antidepressants Often Prescribed to Enforce Heteronormativity
Depression Pills Made Me Unfit To Be A Mother
3. Don’t feel you have to ‘fix’ the problem immediately
Oftentimes, we parents feel as though we have to try and ‘fix’ our kids issues, or even prevent them from having issues in the first place.
While it’s understandable and well-intended, this approach actually does far more damage than good. Life is full of issues, and ups and downs, and negative emotions, and less-than-ideal responses.
When we send our kids a message that they ‘can’t’ be depressed, or that they have huge issues if they feel down, or that their ‘brain is broken’ (i.e. they have a chemical imbalance), we’re piling on guilt, anxiety and worry onto an already crowded platform of negative feelings.
The truth is: we all feel depressed sometimes. That’s part of life.
If the parent is operating from their own guilt reflex, then even without realising it their main focus will be on getting the problem to ‘go away’ ASAP (which is why medication also sometimes looks so darned appealing). But especially with depression, that’s only going to make things worse.
Instead, if we encourage our kid (and ourselves), and we do the work to find out what’s really triggering it, and what ‘message’ we’re being given via our negative emotions and depression about what needs to be looked at, changed or improved in our lives, then we’re teaching our children a magnificent lesson in how to stay mentally and emotionally healthy over their lifetime.
People with depression need to be empowered, in some way, to stop feeling like helpless ‘victims’ of circumstance. A key way to do that is to help them figure out WHO or WHAT is causing them to feel that way in the first place, and then to figure out how that scenario can be changed or improved.
4. Make sure the physical side of things is covered
If your child isn’t exercising enough, not sleeping enough, not eating enough of the right sort of food (around their inevitable intake of junk food…) - then that can also seriously contribute to feeling depressed.
Again, the mirroring principle will probably kick in here again, and you may want to consider if the parents are also sleeping enough, eating right and getting enough exercise.
30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, is scientifically proven to be more effective at overcoming depression, permanently, than medications.
Vitamin B12 is also a biggy, for overcoming depression (and a bunch of other mental illnesses…)
Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Brain Health | Blog | Kelly Brogan MD
5. Like yourself
This bit is also really crucial, both because your kid is just your mirror, spiritually-speaking, and also because if you don’t like yourself, your guilt reflex will kick-in big time and will skew your parenting response in a way that’s very unhelpful to both you and your kid.
Tell yourself: “I am doing the best I can!”
Also accept that sometimes, that best really isn’t very good (and that’s true for all parents, even the best ones, because none of us are angels.)
When we parents like ourselves more, and we know that we really aren’t trying to hurt our kids on purpose, or mess them up (even though of course that’s happening a lot…), then we are much gentler and forgiving with ourselves - and also with our kids.
We’re in this process called ‘life’ together. The more we can see that we’re good, the more we’ll also see the good in our kids, which is probably the single biggest ‘key’ to ensuring their mental health and wellbeing.
Dear reader, you’re a great mum or dad!
We’re all down here to work on ourselves and to fix ourselves, and the parents who can admit that they’re flawed, and struggling, and (at least occasionally…) ‘wrong’ are the ones that paradoxically raise the happiest and healthiest kids.
My kids know I am a really rubbish parent in a myriad of ways. They also know that I try my best, and often fail. They also know that I really love them. They also know that I’m (occasionally…) selfish, self-absorbed, mean, lazy, clueless [fill in the blank].
When I can fix this stuff, I do.
When I can’t, I try to apologise, and ask God to help me fill in the bits that are missing (and believe me, there’s a lot).
So it’s crucial to like yourself so that you know that even if your kid needs to say something ‘icky’ to you, in order to clear things up and get back on an even keel, or even if there’s stuff that needs improving or fixing, or even if you yourself have been struggling emotionally, that you are still a great person, and it’s not the end of the world.
That’s the single biggest present you could give yourself, and your children.
TO SUM UP:
Check out my book: Causes and Cures of Depression
Following on from Dassie’s excellent comment on the post about parental abuse giving kids brain damage (which you can read in full HERE), I just wanted to flag her main points, as I think they sum up what’s really going on with our negative character traits, like anger:
"Personally, I've tried many, many methods for dealing with anger over the years. And the best I've found is the approach of emuna (as you write so often), in that, out of love, God WANTS my child/spouse/neighbor/washing machine to behave a certain way. It's from Him, not them. So why should I get angry at them? Also, the knowledge that things are going right according to God's Plan. It has helped me a lot."
For as long as we can’t see ‘behind’ the person who’s hurting us, annoying us, inconveniencing us, or upsetting us in some way, it’s going to be very hard, and probably even impossible, to get over our natural angry reaction to these occurrences.
Most holistic health people can quote stats and facts about anger being bad for health until they’re blue in the face. But the real question is this: HOW do we get rid of that anger? HOW do we fight it off, or over-power it, or defuse it in a healthy way, when people really are doing horrible, upsetting and destructive things to us?
That’s really the crux of the matter.
For myself, this is how I try to respond to angry-making situations (which believe me, I seem to be having tons of experience with, at the moment):
For example, one time I’ll figure out that I actually need to work on my boundaries more with that person, so they can’t put me in the same situation again. Another time, I’ll figure out that I actually need to apologise, because I was in the wrong. Another time, it’ll be something super-simple like ‘eat enough, so you don’t get grumpy and exhausted’. Yet others, it’ll be something hugely profound like ‘that was so weird, it just has to be unfinished business from a past life’.
And so on, and so forth. But the key is to put God in the picture, and get Him involved, and to understand that nothing is happening randomly, or just because you happened to be friends with a few ‘Class A’ jerks.
Without that understanding, it’s so hard as to be impossible to NOT get angry at the people who twist the windscreen wipers off your brand new car just for kicks, to use just one recent example from my own life.
So to sum up: if we don’t have God in the picture, and if we’re not trying to internalize that everything that happens is just a Divine message for us to work on, change, acknowledge, or fix something, then overcoming negative character traits like anger is going to be really, really hard.
So, the experiment mostly worked! BH.
This time round we covered:
Otherwise, I'll keep you posted on when the next one goes live.
You know, one of the more upsetting things about trying to get people to accept the idea that how parents treat their children has a huge impact on whether that child will grow up happy, well-adjusted and even sane and physically healthy, is that the information and the science is out there in droves - but it's being ignored.
Recently, I came across this presentation by Dr Martin Teicher, who's a leading researcher into the links between parental abuse and the effects it has on the development of the brain.
He's summed up a lot of his findings in this very informative (and relatively easy to read) PDF presentation, which you can see for yourself HERE.
Here's an excerpt on one of his recent studies on the effects of parental verbal abuse (that so many of us like to pretend is 'ok', and not doing the kid any harm) from his website:
This study provides the first evidence that high levels of parental verbal aggression may be a form of abuse or adversity that alters trajectories of brain development. It supports our previous hypothesis that different forms of childhood maltreatment will exert some comparable an array of consistent neurobiological effects (particularly on limbic regions or connection) as they are all stressors. However, different forms of abuse will also have some unique effects based on sensory systems activated that convey the aversive stimulus to specific parts of the brain that process and interpret the information.
And here are Dr Teicher's 11 'take home' messages, about the links between adversity in childhood and mental illnesses:
1. Childhood maltreatment is associated with marked effects on brain morphology, function and circuitry.
2. The nature or magnitude of the effect depends to a substantial degree on type and timing of maltreatment during developmental sensitive periods.
3. Sensitive periods detected to date were often surprisingly brief and associated with vulnerability to one or two specific types of maltreatment.
4. While type and timing is often the most important predictive factor, there are some consequences of maltreatment that depend more on severity and multiplicity of exposure.
5. Childhood maltreatment is associated with structural alterations in key components of threat detection and response circuit.
6. These different components have their own unique sensitive periods so that maltreatment at different ages will target this circuit - but in different ways.
7. Maltreatment-related alterations in threat detection and response are likely adaptive alterations designed to reduce distress and to help individuals reproduce and survive in what appears to be a malevolent world.
8. The impact of maltreatment on trajectories of brain development provides a strong signal that appears in many instances to be much larger than signals associated with psychopathology per se.
9. Childhood maltreatment / early life stress is a huge confound in studies on biology or treatment of psychiatric disorders when not taken into account.
10. Maltreated and non-maltreated individuals with the same primary DSM-5, ICD-10 disorder appear to differ clinically, neurobiologically and genetically.
11. It is crucial to recognize that early traumatic stress is not just as a risk factor for psychopathology. Rather, it is a critical element that subdivides psychiatric disorders in a way that has far reaching implications for research, treatment and prevention. Developmental
The evidence is stacking up daily that mental illnesses are NOT caused by chemical imbalances or genes. The chemical imbalances, where they exist, are caused by different types of abuse that the person experiences at various sensitive times in their childhood, which actually alter the physical way the brain functions.
Stop the abuse, you stop the 'mental illness'.
And once that message starts to get out, then we'll really start to see things move and improve.
One of the most mind-boggling things about piecing all the information together about how body, mind and soul are really interconnected is how much science has been out there – for decades already – proving these connections beyond the shadow of a doubt.
A few months’ back, I wrote about the study done more than half a century ago, showing a direct correlation between serious illnesses and problematic relationships with parents.
Bernie Siegel’s book, particularly Love, Medicine and Miracles are also chock-full of scientific studies pointing up the connections between difficult, abusive childhood experiences and physical illness.
Then there’s Bessel Van Der Kolk’s excellent book, The Body Keeps the Score, which explores the issue from a different angle, namely how healing the body’s trauma is the key to healing their mental health and emotional issues, too. And again, his book is packed with literally hundreds of studies all showing that when people experience chronic trauma as children, normally as a result of abusive behavior by their main caregivers, it literally drives them insane, and causes them no-end of mental and physical health issues.
My latest ‘find’, if you can call it that, is something called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, that took place around 20 years’ ago.
At that time, between 1995 and 1997, researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US assessed the health of some 17,000 patients who underwent a complete check-up.
The researchers were trying to find out how experiencing the following things as a child:
They also explored whether ‘chaotic home environments’ – like having a parent with chronic depression or some other serious mental illness, drug abusing parents or divorced or bereaved parents, for example – could also impact the adult child’s physical health.
The people being assessed were solid ‘middle America’ types, not homeless folk, or people who lived in inner city projects. And the results were still stunning:
Two thirds of the people studied had experienced at least one category of ‘childhood adversity’ before turning 18; and one in six of the respondents had an ACE score of 4 or higher.
So, was there a connection between childhood adversity and the degree of illness experienced by the adult? When the study’s results were published in 1998, the correlation was so powerful that the researchers admitted to being ‘stunned’ by their findings.
In a nutshell, the higher the ACE score a person had, the more chronic and serious illness they were experiencing as an adult.
That study was published 18 years’ ago, already. In the two decades since, we’ve witnessed conventional medicine march proudly further down the path of ‘biology’ being the only answer to health, and drugs and surgery being the only solution to our physical illnesses.
Yet, study after study has been done showing that our EXPERIENCES as children have a much greater impact on our mental and physical health than our genes or biology.
One big reason why physical and mental illnesses appear to be genetic is because the same, dysfunctional, ill-making parenting behaviors are passed on to each new generation in turn, like some sort of twisted, sacred tradition. Whatever was done to you, you do to your children in turn – until you get the courage, insight and clarity to stop. And to think. And to try to change the pattern.
In the past week, I’ve had emails from a range of people suffering from serious illnesses. Most of them are keen to tell me that their childhoods were ‘great’, their parents are the most amazing people, and their terrible health issues are nothing to do with their ‘perfect’ family relationships.
But the science begs to differ. The science suggests that terrible, chronic illnesses, serious mental health problems and auto-immune conditions don’t just pop-up out of nowhere. Underneath the problem, you will always find some sort of terrible, traumatic experiences.
They could be horrible ‘one offs’ like being in a bad accident or experiencing a war on your doorstop. But more likely in our circles, it’s the more pernicious after-effects of having to live with people who don’t treat you like a human being, who treat you cruelly, and who continually put what’s best for them ahead of what’s best for you, regardless of how big a toll that takes.
It’s precisely when we can’t acknowledge or connect to our own pain that we get so terribly ill.
But who wants to look at this? Who wants to admit what’s really going on in our homes and families? It takes a brave person indeed to take the double-leap of breaking with the poisonous ‘norms’ of the past, and also to recognize that at least some of the time, they are also acting in that poisonous, abusive, ‘normal’ way with their own children.
The stakes are so high, aren’t they? Acknowledge the truth, and you’ll probably put yourself at odds with most of your family and friends (and feel very alone and lonely). Don’t acknowledge the truth, and you and your kids run a very high risk of being the next ones to come down with the serious illness, auto-immune condition, or emotional health problem.
I’ll come back to this subject more in subsequent posts, as there’s so much to say about it.
But for now, you can click on THIS LINK to take the ACE test on-line, and find your own ACE score.
Illness is not random, statistical or thanks to bad biology. Serious illness is a message from God that something – usually a whole bunch of big ‘somethings’ – need to change. That’s a hugely uncomfortable idea for most people, which is probably why this particular truth – and all the scientific studies out there backing it up – will continue to get buried and ignored, until more of us find the courage to stop pretending ‘everything’s OK’, and to admit what our bodies have been screaming at us for decades:
OUR FAMILY DYNAMICS ARE SERIOUSLY BROKEN, AND THEY NEED TO BE FIXED.
When I was a working woman in London, I probably would have hated this week's posts, because they would have underlined two things that were already causing me some huge problems: 1) I had no energy for my kids or my husband after a hard day’s work and 2) I couldn’t stop working and continue to have the lifestyle, house and money I thought I needed to be happy.
But the hormones don’t lie, and while it’s uncomfortable and distressing to acknowledge what’s really going on, what’s really going on is that chronically-stressed women find it very difficult to have the necessary ‘oomph’ available to mother their children and nurture their families (and also, perhaps even more crucially, themselves.)
Let me add in here that I know that all too often, the women themselves know this to be true, but are often pushed into working by misplaced feelings of guilt, friends, or relatives who don’t understand that having a genuinely happy, relaxed wife and mother is the key to everything else in the home working the way it should.
So now, let’s throw some scientific studies into the mix, to prove the point that chronic stress and caring compassion can't go together, hormonally-speaking:
‘Studies have shown that loyal, loving prairie voles can be made to behave like their more callous montane cousins by disrupting oxytocin activity in their brains…several studies have shown that genetic differences in the gene that encodes for the oxytocin receptor are associated with prosocial behavior and empathy, as well as with neurological / psychiatric conditions such as autism that are characterized by deficits or abnormalities in social behavior and empathy.”
That’s the message of the first study. The message of the second set of studies is that:
“Being stressed out does not typically bring out our most caring behavior towards others. Studies tend to confirm this, especially when the stressor is social in nature. EG, people who are socially excluded in an experimental paradigm show less subsequent prosocial behavior towards others…oxytocin has been shown to reduce stress-related patterns of brain activation (ie, activation of the amygdala)…the same oxytocin receptor gene that has been associated with reduced empathy has also been shown to promote increased autonomic stress responses.”
If you’re wondering what the heck an ‘autonomic stress response’ is, it’s the fight-or-flight response that I’ve written about a great deal on this blog as being underneath pretty much every mental illness, emotional difficulty and bad character trait known to man.
So to recap, this is what we’ve just learned over the last 2 posts:
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