Cellular changes occur when a child does not receive comfort for distress. Over time, those changes result in diminished effectiveness of responses to new stressors (Kendler et al., 2001).
– A distressed child who is not comforted becomes frantic and then shuts down (Schore, 2003). The neurobiological impact of repeated neglectful or traumatic failures to receive comfort is a shutdown at the level of parasympathetic nervous system, creating a state of biological and psychological despair. This biological shutdown of unabated sympathetic arousal has repercussions. The arousal will be shut down much faster when a similar arousal is felt at a later time.
– Memories that are implicit – felt physically rather than cognitively and without specific recall (Siegel & Hartzell, 2003)– result in fewer efforts to soothe oneself and contribute to negative expectations of the outcome of new experiences.
– Exposure to early life adversity increases the risk of depression due to the changes in the neurobiological responses to stress and also in the coping style, which becomes maladaptive later in life (Felitti et al., 1998; Nemeroff, 2004). People who have suffers aversive early life experience tend to search for soothing via maladaptive means that can become self-destructive, such as poor self-care, poor eating habits, smoking, or risky sexual behaviors.
As the child matures into adolescence, the risks of feeling less reward and making less effort toward reward show up in the tendency to make poor social connections and feel more depressed. By adulthood this person may have a severe inability to use rational self-talk and natural calming down when facing trouble.
This is a likely outcome for a child who is repeatedly left when distressed without comfort by caregivers. That child first becomes frantic, then resigned, and then hopeless, in effect shutting down emotionally. Repeated experience of this kind of neglectful or even traumatic attachment failure can result in an adult mental default mode of hopelessness and low expectations of self and others, and cause self-reinforcing plunges into psychological despair.
Over the course of life, the way people habitually think about themselves develops into self-image. The self-image that emerges from an implicit memory of despair is an intrinsic sense of worthlessness. The trigger to plunging into this kind of depression can be any situation, inner thought, or conversation that elicits fear or being disappoints, abandoned, or neglected. In some cases, the trigger may be obvious, such as failure to receive a hoped-for promotion, but other times it can be something as small as not receiving attentive service by waitstaff at a restaurant.
- Make safety first priority (protect against self harm, trust process of recovery)
- Set up rewarding activities to participate in regularly (sports, hobbies, social activities)
- Make a conscious effort to think more positively through making/posting positive notes/signs in your environment, keeping a gratitude list.
- Join a self help group: Self-help groups will also help you to acquire tools that you can practice ahead of time, such as reading literature that is soothing or inspiring. Such reading is, in effect, providing the missing voice of a caring parent. That kind of influence needs to come from the outside until you are farther along in recovery from depression.
From “Anxiety + Depression: Effective Treatment of the Big Two Co-Occurring Disorders”
By Margaret Wehrenberg