Psychological Self-Help

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Finding the causes --if traumatic early childhood experiences
have great impact on later adjustment and if we tend to forget those
connections, it seems reasonable that gaining insight into the original
or early sources of our problems might be helpful. Our society is
enormously influenced by the idea that childhood has permanent,
inevitable impact on all the rest of life. Freud said, "The child is
psychological father to the adult...." Building on Freud, Erik Erikson
described eight stages of life in which we, ideally, develop lasting
traits, such as trust, independence, purpose, feeling of competence, an
ability to love, etc. Failing at any stage is thought to cause serious
problems. The early years are seen as especially crucial. 
Furthermore, a massive amount of clinical experience with
disturbed patients has confirmed that early psychological experiences
were important causes. These include loss of a parent, intense
conflicts within the family, abusive treatment or neglect, over-
controlling or critical parents or siblings, stressful sexual experiences,
etc. Research shows correlations between parental adjustment and
their children's adjustment, even as married adults. Abusers tend
(60%) to have been abused or to have seen abuse as children
(NiCarthy, 1982). Sexually abused children have more stress-related
symptoms than nonabused children, but 2/3rds recover in 12-18
months (Kendall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor, 1993). Alcoholics tend
to have a parent who drank excessively or both parents who were
teetotalers (Weil & Rosen, 1993). The children's personality and school
adjustment are affected for several years after a divorce (see chapter
10). However, childhood traumas are not in the history of every
anxious person. 
Why might early stresses decrease our tolerance of stress later in
life? First, the trauma may reduce our sense of control--we feel
vulnerable, we know human frailty. We may learn to see the world as
uncaring or downright hostile. Second, a disruptive event might
interfere with our own psychological development (as mentioned in the
last paragraph). Third, early hurts and threats may leave us sensitive
to later occurrences--a teenager who lost her father at age 5 or 6 by
divorce may be especially sensitive to any critical comment by her
Contrary to the common view, however, there is evidence that
early traumatic experiences are not prophetic, they certainly don't
always result in a ruined life. In fact, Clarke and Clarke (1976) report
that severe shocks (loss of both parents, beaten and poorly fed,
rejected and hated) can be handled. Humans are pretty tough.
Furthermore, the healing effects of care and love after a trauma are
remarkable if we are young. The effectiveness of love and support (to
compensate for trauma) decline if the victim is older, say adolescent or
young adult. This research doesn't indicate that early traumatic
experiences are unimportant, but rather that they could be handled if
we knew and cared enough. Also, it may be beneficial to have practice
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