How Childhood Trauma Leads to ‘Emotional Scars’
People who have been a victim of child abuse or being neglected in their youth are more often confronted with depression and anxiety. Moreover, the course of these psychological disorders is more often unfavorable in them.
This is evidence from the Ph.D. research by Jacqueline Hovens. She advocates more awareness and prevention. “Emotional neglect is now too often invisible.”
Jacqueline Hovens, the psychiatrist at the LUMC, distinguished four kinds of youth traumas in her research: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and emotional neglect.
The more often violation and abuse occurred together, the stronger the connection with anxiety and depression, especially the combination of these. Adverse life events, such as divorce or death of parents and out-of-home placement, do not increase the possibility of becoming anxious or depressed. “That is only the case if these events go hand in hand with long-term abuse or neglect,” says Hovens.
Childhood Trauma and Emotional Scars
Especially emotional abuse (such as belittling and blackmailing) and emotional neglect (giving no attention and love to the child) were found to increase the risk of anxiety and depression. Hovens, therefore, calls for more attention for these forms of abuse.
“Sexual abuse and physical abuse have decreased enormously in recent decades, but emotional neglect is not. It is believed that more than 10 percent of children are emotionally neglected. The problem is that it is often not visible and patients, but also therapists, find it difficult to discuss. “
More chronic consequences
Hovens advocates making youth traumas negotiable, because it may be necessary for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Traumatic experiences, for example, appear to be predictors for a chronic course of therapy and unfavorable treatment results.
Previous research even shows that people with a trauma history benefit more from psychotherapy than from medication, whereas this does not apply to patients without childhood trauma. “People with childhood trauma often have difficulty in regulating their emotions properly, distrust their environment more and think more negatively about themselves. You should not only treat depression but also do something about it. “
Vulnerable personality profile
The Ph.D. student also looked at psychological mechanisms that could explain the connection between childhood traumas and mental disorders. “People with childhood trauma have a more vulnerable personality profile. For example, they score higher on hopelessness and helplessness, are less extrovert and less inclined to ask for help. They are emotionally more unstable and impulsive, so the chance of negative events in later life is also greater. “
Hovens argues for more attention for this problem, not only for treatment providers of patients with anxiety and depression but also – for prevention – among professionals who work with children, such as teachers, youth care workers, and doctors.
“Parents often neglect or abuse their child out of impotence or because they are traumatized. They need support to promote a positive parent-child relationship. Moreover, the vicious circle must be broken. “
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