Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (A
general theory of life) describe clearly the adverse impact of lacking love in
early childhood. Many survivors of abuse and neglect can attest to the
difficulties in mood regulation, distress tolerance, negative self-evaluation,
and even physical problems as a legacy of lack of love.
They propose that therapy is the
pathway to heal from such impoverished childhood environments. Although therapy
can be a pathway to heal past deficits of love, therapist and client would have
a deep heart connection for this to work. This highlights the need for finding
a therapist that engages with you in a positively charged ‘limbic dance’.
I have explained in the previous article “How to Get Over
Childhood Stress: The Process of Getting Hurt" how childhood experiences became
part of the child’s neurological physiology that over time, through re-enforcement
and repetition becomes an aspect of its personality structure.
The task of recovery is to stop the process of repetition
and re-enforcement of the unwanted beliefs, thoughts, and behaviours and to
encourage new, positive ways of being in this world. Thus new neuro-pathways
need to be created (if you remember that has to happen through experience!!) or
if they exist but are just faint connections they have to be strengthened
through more and regular traffic. At the same time it has to be avoided to go
down the familiar path of neuro-connections that are negative and unhelpful so
that they wither away. On paper that sounds very easy, doesn't it?
This is the first of two articles about how to get over childhood stress or – how does therapy work – in which I will explain
how people get hurt by childhood stress (1st article) and how they
can recover from it (2nd article “Healing from Childhood Stress and
Abuse: How Therapy works”). I have
included the impact of childhood stress seen through neuro-biological eyes
because it shows clearly the pathways to how the healing can take place.
I have often been asked by colleagues why I use neuro-biological
concepts instead of psychological concepts to explain what is going on. My
answer to that is: often psychological concepts are way out there and hard
to follow by people who are not totally into that side of things: take for
example Freud’s or Melanie Klein’s work – very exciting … but you have to
bend over backwards and jump through a needle's eye to follow their line of thinking.
Whereas neuro-biological concepts can be ‘seen’ on MRI scans and we become more
understanding of how our brain works. I find that exciting.
So why is childhood stress (hardship, abuse, neglect) so
damaging? Why can people not follow the often given advise and just ‘GET
OVER IT’? She short answer is: Because
the stressful experiences become part of who you are! Let me show you how that
works: (Disclaimer: I am really not a neuro scientist and don’t claim to be an
expert. I’ll give you my ‘lay translation’ of hundreds of research articles and
books that I have studied).
For psychotherapists working with people who struggle with the
legacies of an abusive and/or traumatic childhood, it is no news that people
are affected way past their childhood years. It’s good to see that research is
coming to the party and provides scientific evidence for the long-term
struggles people have.
"The immune system is not preset at birth…The cells are
there, but how they will develop and how well they'll be regulated is very much
influenced by your early environment and the type of rearing you have." We
know from trauma research the same to be true for people’s self-capacities
involved in distress tolerance and emotion regulation.
Indeed, even if the life circumstances improve people show
that early childhood stress has a negative impact on their learning capability,
on their behaviours, and on their immune system. Thus they are disadvantages with regard to
their future careers, to how they integrate into society, and with regard to
their health status.