Aug 5th 2017

Are your parents to blame for your psychological problems?

Psychologist Sigmund Freud famously proposed that our personal development is pretty much determined by events in our early childhood. While many of his ideas are now outdated, some modern psychological theories also suggest that childhood experiences play an important role in shaping our lives.

But is there really any evidence that difficult childhood experiences can cause common psychological problems such as anxiety or depression later in life? And if that is the case, will blaming our parents for it help us heal?

There’s no doubt that parents and other main caregivers are critical figures in a child’s development. We know that family-related early experiences have profound and long-lasting effects on children – many of which are positive. Adverse childhood experiences, however, can cause harm or distress and may disrupt the child’s physical and/or psychological development to some extent. Examples of such experiences include poverty, maltreatment, parental divorce or the death of a parent.

These experiences are extremely common worldwide. In England, nearly a half of adults have gone through at least one. Almost one in ten has experienced four or more such negative experiences in childhood. Studies have found links between specific experiences and various negative outcomes, with effects lasting into adulthood. For example, experiencing parental divorce, separation or loss – or living with a mentally ill carer – increases the risk of developing mental health problems across the lifespan.

Our research group recently conducted a study showing that parental divorce leads to increased lifelong risk of depression in offspring. For this research, we combined data from 18 studies published in the last 35 years, with more than 24,000 participants in total. The findings demonstrate that those who experienced parental divorce in childhood were 56% more likely to have depression in adulthood than those who didn’t experience divorce.

It is also known that childhood adversities are often interrelated. For example, parental divorce can lead to a change in socioeconomic status for many families. Studies have shown that accumulating adverse circumstances raises the risk of various mental health problems – and even suicide.

Vulnerability versus resilience

But how can a few traumatic childhood experiences have a lifelong effect? One possible explanation is that exposure to such events increases a person’s vulnerability to the effects of later stressful events. For example, divorce is a difficult experience for most adults – it’s linked with symptoms of anxiety and depression. But people who have also experienced early adversities suffer an even higher risk of developing such conditions as a result of divorce.

But experiencing adversities in childhood doesn’t necessarily make people more vulnerable. Indeed some children never suffer negative consequences even in the face of severe multiple adversities – a trait psychologists call resilience. In these circumstances, the negative experience strengthens resistance to later stress. Resilient people get to know themselves when they go through tough times – learning how to best manage their behaviour and successfully cope with the stress in the future.

Just how a child reacts to stressful experiences seems to depend on a complex mix of factors that differ between individuals, including their genes, temperament and cognitive ability. Researchers are currently investigating to what extent each of these help determine whether someone develops resilience. We may see results soon. With continuing advances in human genomics, the complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors is starting to get uncovered.

It’s important to remember that negative outcomes of childhood traumas are not unavoidable. Even in adulthood, it is still not too late to prevent or reverse outcomes – even from severe ones such as physical or emotional abuse and neglect.

Specifically designed selective intervention programmes for those who experience multiple childhood adversities – such as cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness training – can be particularly beneficial.

Blame game

Many people, however, find it easier to simply blame their parents for their problems. It may seem that finding a root cause for your pain can be helpful – surely it is better to blame your parents than blaming yourself. However, a large study of more than 30,000 participants from 72 countries showed that blaming parents does not help people move away from the negative consequences of difficult experiences.

The study found that those who dwelled on negative experiences like abuse, blaming others or themselves, had a greater risk of suffering from mental health problem than those who didn’t. The study therefore suggests that psychological processes such as blaming parents can be more dangerous for mental health than the past experiences themselves.

If we want to overcome the burden from our past and thrive, we need to stop blaming parents and our past, and instead focus on our present and take control of our lives. Positive adult experiences, such as regular physical activity, higher education and social support, have been shown to improve psychological outcomes – including cognitive function, mental health and well-being. And for severe, persisting mental health problems, seeking help – ranging from talking therapy to medication – could also be a way forward.

So whatever your background, don’t forget it is never too late to enhance your life with positive experiences, moving away from the long shadow of childhood adversities. A bit of work can help you unlock your inner resilience.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.




To subscribe to Facts and Arts' weekly newsletter, please click here.

To follow Facts & Arts' Editor, Olli Raade, on Twitter, please click here.

If you have something to say that you want to say on Facts & Arts, please

Write to the Editor, or write a comment in the comments section.

Browse articles by author

More Essays

May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: " The sad reality is that the Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) were discriminated against from the day of Israel’s inception, whose Ashkenazi (European Jewish) leaders viewed them as intellectually inferior, “backward,” and “too Arab,” and treated them as such, largely because the Ashkenazim agenda was to maintain their upper-class status while controlling the levers of power, which remain prevalent to this day." ..... " The greatest heartbreaking outcome is that for yet another generation of Israelis, growing up in these debilitating conditions has a direct effect on their cognitive development. A 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that “family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size…increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children.” "
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
EXTRACT: "Mental toughness levels are influenced by many different factors. While genetics are partly responsible, a person’s environment is also relevant. For example, both positive experiences while you’re young and mental toughness training programmes have been found to make people mentally tougher."
Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "A blockchain company has bought a piece of Banksy artwork and burnt it. But instead of destroying the value of the art, they claim to have made it more valuable, because it was sold as a piece of blockchain art. The company behind the stunt, called Injective Protocol, bought the screen print from a New York gallery. They then live-streamed its burning on the Twitter account BurntBanksy. But why would anyone buy a piece of art just to burn it? Understanding the answer requires us to delve into the tricky world of blockchain or “NFT” art."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Exercise is good for your health at every age – and you can reap the benefits no matter how late in life you start. But our latest research has shown another benefit of being physically active throughout life. We found that in the US, people who were more physically active as teenagers and throughout adulthood had lower healthcare costs."
Mar 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Although around one in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, there’s still no cure, and no way to prevent the disease from progressing. But a recent study may bring us one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s. The trial, which was conducted on animals, has found a specific molecule can prevent the buildup of a toxic protein known to cause Alzheimer’s in the brain."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The art historian George Kubler observed that scholars in the humanities “pretend to despise measurement because of its ‘scientific’ nature.” As if to illustrate his point Robert Storr, former dean of Yale’s School of Art, declared that artistic success is “completely unquantifiable.” In fact, however, artistic success can be quantified, in several ways. One of these is based on the analysis of texts produced by art scholars, and this measure can give us a systematic understanding of how changes in recent art have produced changes in the canon of art history."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The most politically sensitive option we looked at was the virus escaping from a laboratory. We concluded this was extremely unlikely."
Feb 16th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... these men were completely unaware that they had put their lives in the hands of doctors who not only had no intention of healing them but were committed to observing them until the final autopsy – since it was believed that an autopsy alone could scientifically confirm the study’s findings. As one researcher wrote in a 1933 letter to a colleague, “As I see, we have no further interest in these patients until they die.” ...... The unquestionable ethical failure of Tuskegee is one with which we must grapple, and of which we must never lose sight, lest we allow such moral disasters to repeat themselves. "