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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

The Impact of Stress on Cognitive and Emotional Development: Outer Child Exercises Can Help

March 29, 2011 1 comment

Outer Child is fueled by stress, and has been developing since early childhood in reaction (sometimes over-reaction) to it.

Stress hormones can mobilize our physiological resources in a real emergency, but when triggered chronically – especially in children’s developing brains – depending on whether they are sustained and intense, can lead to cognitive deficits, learning difficulties, low self-esteem, memory gaps, heightened emotional sensitivity (resulting in depression or anxiety in adulthood) and repetitive outer child behaviors.

Stress hormones change brain structure

In Taming Your Outer Child, I explain how stress hormones (especially cortisol) can damage branches at the end of the nerves in the hippocampus, pruning the neural connections in the brain, changing brain structure and creating deficits in short term memory and cognitive functioning.

It is also well known that adults who had elevated cortisol levels during childhood (they were raised in orphanages or they were lab animals subjected to various forms of separation/abandonment trauma), on autopsy are found to have smaller Hippocampi and other brain structural differences.

Stress hormones create learning problems

These stress hormones decrease the supply of glucose to brain and prevent the brain from firing, so the brain can’t send nerve impulses involved in learning. They also interfere in the production of another neuro-chemical, glutamate. The way glutamate works is this: Learning can’t happen until a threshold of glutamate is reached in the brain. It is only when a massive wave of excitation occurs and nerves fire that learning occurs. Children raised under conditions of chronic stress develop deficits related to the fact that their brain cells don’t fire sufficiently to induce learning. This impedes both academic and social learning.

Stress hormones affect emotional quality of life

Stress hormones are known to cause the decline of growth hormone, and it is believed that this affects the vagus nerve in the brain, setting the emotional brain at a higher level of reactivity, creating patterns of mood instability into adulthood.

Stress hormones and separation/abandonment

Researchers report that that rat pups that were handled in the first few weeks of life produced lower stress hormones as adults[1]. Conversely, when they (also rhesus monkeys, cats, human children) are separated from their mothers (even briefly), the adult mammal will tend to:

1) have higher glucocorticoid stress hormones

2) have higher flight/flight reactivity

3) avoid novel situations

4) have trouble learning

5) have trouble forming secure attachments

6) be more prone to depression as adults

7) have higher emotional reactivity.

It’s easy to observe all seven of these points in adults who’ve had stressful abandonment histories.

The good news is that regardless of childhood stress’s impact on the brain, we can do things to help the brain regenerate – that is, grow new neurons (in some cases) and new connections between neurons, and well as repair damaged ones. This information is presented to motivate and inspire you to use the Outer Child exercise program (explained in Taming Your Outer Child) as a way of performing physical therapy for your ever-changing brain.

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Trying to Get Over Someone?

August 14, 2010 2 comments

If you are, you might feel like John who wrote into my forum: “Cold, Wet, Miserable, gray day outside and that’s just how I feel on the inside too. Guess we got another visit from the Withdrawal Fairy. Hurts like a Mutha, but I know it’ll pass.”

The “Withdrawal” he is referring to is the second stage of abandonment (Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalizing, Rage, and Lifting), when your body/mind anxiously “searches for the lost object. ” During this stage (which overlaps with the others and can be quite protracted), you feel heartsick. You’re as strung out as a junky, except that instead of craving Heroin, you’re craving a love-fix.
You’re constantly obsessing about your lost love, and it’s so painful and persistent, that you’d do anything to make it stop, only you can’t – the obsession is involuntary and creates real torment.

The good news though, as the writer above mentions, is that this phase passes.

In the meantime though it feels like you’re in permanent hell. People feel ashamed of how awful they feel and how persistent the obsession is – how powerful their abandoner has become in their lives. This shame only makes the withdrawal phase more agonizing, causing us to blame ourselves for being weak. We even wonder if “maybe this is why he left me in the first place!”

When we’re in withdrawal, especially at the beginning, we tend to fall into a game of “lost and found”. We anxiously wait for and “stalk” our lost love maybe we don’t actually follow him or her around (unless we’ve really lost it), but we may drive by his house at night to see if he’s home, check our voice mail 50 times a day, break down and call him, or otherwise try to track his activities. We wonder about his every thought, feeling, and intention. We feel powerless and helpless.

Eventually we stop tracking him or her, but we still don’t feel at peace. We’ve entered a morose period of just feeling lousy. We’re still not free.

So how do we get over someone?

1) We need to validate the fact that abandonment creates an emotional crisis. Just as someone who has received a powerful blow to the stomach, we need to treat ourselves as having incurred a painful wound that requires all of our best self-care. We have broken our emotional ribs. Physician heal thyself. We need to take exquisite care of ourselves.

2) This begins when we stop shaming ourselves – stop questioning our own strength. This love-sickness befalls the most independent people out there. It is not an indication of any shortcomings within ourselves, but just lets us know that we are human – and that we are reacting to a very painful situation. If the tables were turned, our lover would be going through the very same thing.

3) Use this as an opportunity to gain emotional self-reliance. Nobody is going to care about us the way we can care about ourselves (and by now we’ve worn most of our friends out with our obsession, so we’re pretty much on our own). See this painful wound as an opportunity to become self-loving and self-caring. Yes, we learn how to love ourselves from this. The exercises in my book help you actually accomplish this thing called self-love during a time of emotional crisis.

4) Take your abandoner off of the pedestal. Ironically, the more they hurt us, the more we idolize them. The very fact that they caused us so much pain makes us want them more. This paradox is universal, and it taxes the empathy of our friends who say “How could you pine away for someone who treated you so badly?” Yes, it’s a paradox, but they would be doing the same thing if it happened to them. Now is the time to systematically de-elevate your abandoner. You can do this by writing about him or her in your journal with an eye for seeing him as ordinary, human, mortal, flawed (like the rest of us), “not the only one,” not right for you, etc.

5) Re-invest the energy inside of the pain (all of that withdrawal “searching for the lost object” energy) into new activities. Yes, now. You don’t feel like it, but you must do it. You must add new things into your life, make new connections with people, take a self-improvement course, sign up at the gym, ask for a raise, undertake a new daily regimen like daily journaling, or move to a better apartment, etc.

6) Don’t confuse self-love with self-indulgence. The emotional hunger you feel is real, but you must keep it from turning you into an alcoholic, love-aholic, or drama-aholic. You must keep it from ruining your diet, your credit rating, and your future relationships. In caring for yourself, do things that have substantial reward.

7) Start looking for new connections – but vow not to clamp on to any one person (yet). You’re looking for distractions – people to think about and to test your alter egos on, not someone to make a permanent connection to. That will come later.

8) The most important thing to keep in mind is that these efforts involve resolve – hard work and determination will win the race.