Thursday, January 12, 2012

Altered States of Consciousness Resulting from Trauma and Environmental Factors and Brainwave States Associated with Childhood Growth and Development: Understanding Doctrine Over Person, Part VII

Certain environmental factors and techniques that affect our level of consciousness can greatly enhance the Doctrine Over Person effect which ultimately causes a person to reinterpret their personal history and transform memory in order to meet the demands of a closed religious system. As this has been a matter of some discussion in the past on this blog, I'd like to point out that my primary and brief focus in this post concerns the way trauma alters the brain development of a traumatized child. However, please note the lifelong health effects suffered by adults of both childhood physical and emotional abuse which I detailed in the afterword (read excerpt HERE) of Hillary McFarland's book, Quivering Daughters. I've also discussed this briefly in several posts on the Overcoming Botkin Syndrome blog and here at Under Much Grace concerning the contributing pathophysiology associated with stress related illness.

Brief Introduction to Brainwaves and Levels of Consciousness

As described in this previous post, different areas and structures in the brain generate distinct types of brainwave patterns, much like an electrocardiogram reflects the real time manner in which the heart is beating. The heart generates electrical impulses that can be detected with electrodes. In the same way, the brain also generates electrical energy that is associated with particular levels of consciousness. Developments in dynamic brain imaging also corollate with and corroborate data from the older technology of EEG monitoring, offering additional objective validation of our understanding of how the mind works. Please refer to this previous post which describes the basics of brainwave monitoring and how it correlates with levels of human consciousness.
Brainwave Patterns Reflecting Levels of Consciousness in the Adult

As described in this previous post, different areas and structures in the brain generate distinct types of brainwave patterns, much like an electrocardiogram reflects the real time manner in which the heart is beating. The heart generates electrical impulses that can be detected with electrodes. In the same way, the brain also generates electrical energy that is associated with particular levels of consciousness. Developments in dynamic brain imaging also corollate with and corroborate data from the older technology of EEG monitoring, offering additional objective validation of our understanding of how the mind works. Please refer to this previous post which describes the basics of brainwave monitoring and how it correlates with levels of human consciousness.

I've also previously focused on different factors which promote a person's transition in and out of different levels of waking consciousness in this series which presents the various aspects of how we can be influenced by environmental and social factors which predispose us to become suggestible and easily influenced if not hypnotized. Among these factors, social pressures, anticipation of an exciting time, fatigue, hunger, lighting, music, and all sorts of different things can influence us to accept things that are told to us under pressure but would reject if we were not subject to these factors.

The brainwave pattern generated by a person who is thinking rationally and is being a good Berean, evaluating information to see if it is trustworthy is the primary brainwave state of the fully awake adult. Children do not think analytically until they are near the age of twelve, so they do not generate these types of brainwaves.

The Slower Alpha State of Conscious Relaxed Awareness

As the following chart notes, slower brainwaves also occur during consciousness for the adult and is experienced during relaxation, prayer, and while doing tasks of habit that do not require our deliberate attention. It is the ideal state for hypnosis as well, and it is the primary level of consciousness for children between the ages of 6 to 12 years.

The Alpha state can be triggered without our awareness which makes us vulnerable to manipulation and post-hypnotic suggestion. Many factors can be used by manipulators to slow down our level of alertness and our waking brainwave patterns in order to influence us to accept their ideas. Our body will also adapt to match and mirror frequencies of light and sound in our environment, and this affects not only our breathing and pulse which will respond to such rhythms, but our brainwaves will also speed up and slow down in response, a phenomenon called brainwave entrainment. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing and raising our eyes to 30 degrees to look upward will also cause our brainwaves to slow down, an purely physical response but ones that we encounter throughout the day. I remind the reader to learn more about these previously explored topics by clicking on the embedded links if they are unfamiliar with the material. Children from the ages of approximately ages 6 to 12 years generate these patterns while they are awake.

Cognitive dissonance, the mind-body response to discord in factors in our environment, thought, and emotions, and how appropriate they are in a given context can also have a subtle but profound effect on our level of consciousness, making us even more vulnerable to accepting ideas that we would otherwise reject and oppose by literally slowing down our brain patterns. This series of blog posts explores this phenomenon, and this series discusses how cognitive dissonance can cause lack of ease and anxiety when attempting to study the Bible after emerging from spiritual abuse. Awareness of all of these factors helps us be better stewards of our minds when we encounter these pressures, especially when we understand the many things affect how and what we choose to think. (We can make a conscious choice to remain alert, vigilant to evaluate ideas that we may choose to reject.) Our thoughts are always our choice, except when we are subjected to overt and covert manipulation.

Brain Development and Levels of Consciousness in Young Children

Basically, a infant is born with a primary and slow brainwave pattern, and as they age, they grow into faster patterns as different areas of the brain develop and become active. Adults manifest all of these brainwave types, but they move in and out of them throughout the day and night. Changes in levels of consciousness cause observable changes in the patterns of the brainwaves produced.

The next level of consciousness in descending speed is the Theta state, experienced by adults just before falling asleep and waking, and while doing very repetitive, rhythmic tasks. But oddly, this is also the state of consciousness that is present during physical or psychological threat, a deeply emotional state that is concerned with survival and is associated with premonition and vigilance.

Theta is also the primary level of consciousness of children between the ages of two and six years.

And the slowest pattern is manifested by adults while they are asleep (and not dreaming). This is also the only level of consciousness of infants through the age of two.
(Though a bit off topic, I have to point out that Michael Pearl's misinformation about the “diabolical will” of infants completely falls apart in light of this objective data about the mind of infants. They teach that children plot and scheme to overthrow and thwart parents as though it is a conscious act of will as opposed to responding to rhythm and routine. Children prior to age 2 completely lack all ability to think in this fashion and the LACK the brainwaves to prove it. Children do not manifest faster or more complex wave patterns to remotely begin anything like cause and effect understanding about anything until about age two, noted in the first row concerning Delta waves.)
Click to read more HERE.

2Feb12 Update:  This new post about "The Two Year Window" describes the effects of neglect (a type of abuse) and the chronic stress response on the brain development of children under the age of two as evidenced by EEG data.


The Effects of Trauma on Levels of Consciousness (and resultant brainwave patterns)

Of special concern to us is the response created by trauma (that which is now also corroborated by brain imaging of people with PTSD). Trauma causes physiologic changes in the way that the brain works, and this is reflected by the sensitive measure of blood flow imaging in the brain. Notable to us, this physiologic response of survival (wherein the traumatized person's survival mechanisms in the brain stay active and can be triggered), and those responses divert blood away from the front of the brain, the Prefrontal Cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for critical, analytical and rational thought and is associated with a Beta level of consciousness. Subsequently, in addition to some other features, this response to trauma causes a diminished ability to think critically and rationally. (A similar finding occurs in depression.)

Trauma also causes a state of “derealization,” a certain degree of dissociation, a dreamlike state that helps a person cope by creating emotional distance for them between their consciousness and a threatening event. Unfortunately, the state of dissociation, what is very much dreamlike, is associated with Alpha brainwave patterns and people who experience PTSD have difficulty maintaining a Beta level of consciousness.

Children and Trauma

In children who have been subjected to trauma, levels of consciousness (reflected by brainwave patterns) and sometimes their actual brain growth and development becomes alerted. At the age of twelve or in the vicinity, if proper development occurs, the child produces a certain level of Beta waves indicative of the development of critical thinking. This is why you cannot effectively teach algebra to an average child before the age of about ten years, because their brain has not started functioning on that level yet. They are only able to consider variables and abstract ideas as they approach age twelve, after their brain develops sufficiently. Until that time, children experience life and learn concretely and depend upon an adult to anticipate their needs and lack of ability to protect themselves or plan strategies to accomplish their objectives. In a way, it is almost dreamlike and why it is easy to tell them stories of fantasy. Notably, they also do not distinguish well between fantasy and reality before age twelve. They are in a dreamy state of consciousness while awake, observable by monitoring brainwave patters.

When children who have been traumatized enter this phase of development, rather than growing into a resting stage of Beta which is generated by critical thinking, the traumatized child shows much less critical thought than the non-abused child of the same age.   They remain in a predominant dreamlike state of an Alpha level of consciousness because of dissociation, just like a traumatized adult. They will show Beta activity, but it is not dominant as in their peers of the same age, and they continue to approach the world through a dreamlike state of consciousness. Because the brain is so adaptable, this doesn't remain a permanent state if the child recovers from the trauma, but without healing, one could say that severely traumatized children experience the world as though they are in a dream state.  They remain children.

Note the following chart which details the Alpha state of consciousness experienced by both traumatized adults and children. Recall also that the even an adult does not readily distinguish from what is real and what is imaginary when in an Alpha level of consciousness. Essentially, trauma and tactics of manipulation (through cognitive dissonance) not only lull adults into a dreamlike state, they keep children from maturing into good, critical, discerning thinkers. Abuse destroys Bereans and keeps children from becoming discerning Christians. They grow up, but the tend to agree with everything every authority figure tells them.

Significance for the Survivors of Hephzibah House
How does this pertain to Hephzibah House survivors? I will revisit some of this in an upcoming post, but for now, let me point out a significant problem experienced by girls when they get out and return home: the lack of ability to self-protect. It's a little off topic but demonstrates an important point. Many girls report that they get molested and raped after they leave, and they cannot figure out why this would be so problematic, given what they should have learned in the program.

The effects of the trauma they experienced and the heavy degree of dissociation (feelings that things are not real to more severe adaptations of being outside of one's physical body to memory problems of amnesia, and confabulation of fantasy memories to compensate for the amnesia) has disabled their ability to think.

They are like children, and the abuse to which they were subjected has PHYSIOLOGICALLY altered their ability to plan, strategize and to think like a normal adult. They have been reduced to children, probably to about the developmental age of a ten year old, when it comes to planning self protection and self care.
When threatened with harm, that threat will trigger their trauma, they will become even more dissociated (as if they are not there mentally and in a dream). Because of the areas of the brain that become active during this kind of threat, the function of the basal ganglia in the brain is very likely to route their responses in a way that causes them to respond through “freezing,” and they will become passive. This is a physiologic response to trauma.

And in closing, very briefly, if a traumatized young adult who is in an Alpha state of consciousness all the the time wherein they cannot discern clearly what is real and what is not real, could it not be possible that they either do not remember certain events or could have confabulated an ideal fantasy to fill in periods of amnesia? And if in this highly vulnerable Alpha state, the ideal level of consciousness for hypnosis, is it not possible that if an abuser tells them that a particular thing has or has not happened, is it not very likely that they will be inclined to believe their “delusion of wholeness,” as Lifton and Erikson put it, just to please their authority figure to gain a sense of worth from them? Is it not conceivable that they could believe a dream, a fantasy to help them cope with tragedy?

More to come. More to come.

More to come. More to come.

Please note:

Reference material for the above information can be obtained in any, contemporary studies of consciousness related to PTSD, basic neurofeedback therapy texts, current research with PTSD affected war veterans, war veteran research/therapy by Peter Levine specifically, current theory concerning complex PTSD in adults(pdf) which is most prevalent in people who suffered trauma as children, every lecture (too many to count) that I've heard by Bessel Van der Kolk and his associates/affiliates, breakthrough developments in neurophysiologic imaging related to trauma, etc.... This information is foundational and basic knowledge in the study of PTSD, child development, Milton Erikson theory / Neurolinguistic Programming, etc... I've provided a mere few links to just a few references, as this information consolidates findings taught and supported by all of these noted disciplines. It's almost so ubiquitous, I cannot find a single reference that consolidates all of these findings in a simple link. The most basic place to start would likely be with any foundational self-help text about neurofeedback for a basic introduction.