Emotional Psychopathologies after Adversity

Adversity doesn't always provide valuable lessons. It frequently causes suffering and different psychopathologies. The following article describes the most common disorders that arise after these experiences.
Emotional Psychopathologies after Adversity
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 04 June, 2023

Emotional psychopathologies shape and condition us in infinite ways, as a result of adverse experiences. We’re not immutable entities, nor do we all possess exceptional skills in resilience and stress management. Moreover, life hurts and is often cruel at certain stages when vulnerability takes over. An example of this is childhood.

It’s children who mostly develop disorders associated with painful events, such as abuse or abandonment. However, many of us, as adults, continue to exhibit symptoms linked to complicated events that we haven’t yet overcome. Knowing how to identify the signs helps us to act and become aware that change is necessary.

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”

~ Sigmund Freud ~

Emotional psychopathologies

Emotional psychopathologies are psychological disorders that individuals develop as a consequence of stressful events of great intensity. These experiences might be specific, such as losing a loved one. Some are also maintained over time. For example, dealing with a dysfunctional family where abuse is constant and lasts for years.

It should be noted that these dynamics are a central axis of psychology itself. Since the time of Sigmund Freud, psychology has sought to understand the mechanisms by which adversity harms us or offers us tools to be more resilient. But, the former is more likely than the latter.

Research published in the journal, Affective Science argues that painful experiences alter emotional functioning in many ways. These variations in the correct perception, regulation, and management of our emotional states build the basis of psychological disorders.

Science agrees that early adversity has a great impact on the child and adolescent population. These youngsters almost always exhibit major problems in their correct psycho-emotional development.

The most common emotional psychopathologies after adversity

The effects of adversity can vary dramatically from one individual to another. Indeed, often, two individuals exposed to the same dramatic experience react in different ways. This means that a painful event doesn’t always establish the basis of an emotional disorder. There’s a risk, but not a certainty.

But, why do some people react better to stressful events? Science is still deepening its understanding of resilience mechanisms. A study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics states that there could be a specific genome capable of making some people more resistant.

Further research is needed to arrive at more conclusive data. We’re going to take a look at the most common psychological disorders that develop as a result of these difficult and threatening experiences for our well-being and safety.

As a rule, parental neglect is the experience that causes most emotional psychopathologies in the human being.

Anxiety and emotional dysregulation

Research conducted by the Universidad Mayor de Temuco (Chile) mentions the role of emotional dysregulation as being key in the progress of many psychopathologies. Emotional regulation is understood as an individual’s ability to understand and control their internal psychophysiological states.

When a person is exposed to adversity for a long time, their nervous system is altered and the cerebral amygdala becomes hyperactive. This translates into greater reactivity and emotional dysregulation. It also causes an increase in maladaptive anxiety that makes them lose control and experience extreme discomfort.

Depressive disorder

The painful events that fate brings, either suddenly or over a long period, prove to be fertile ground for mood disorders. An investigation published in Summa Psicológica states that depression is linked, to an extent, with early adversity.

In our childhood years, we’re more vulnerable to these kinds of experiences. In fact, it’s common for the infant brain to suffer the impact of experiences at the anatomical level. Regions such as the hippocampus and the amygdala completely alter their functioning. This can make us, in adulthood, more prone to developing emotional psychopathologies.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Abuse, assaults, natural disasters, parental neglect, and the death of loved ones. Adversity is multifaceted. Yet, one kind of wound it frequently leaves behind is trauma. In fact, for years, psychologists have been treating patients who’ve been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and the psychosocial exhaustion that it implies.

Trauma not only alters the psychological and social life of the individual but their health is also affected. For instance, somatic disorders are common in these cases.

Borderline personality disorder and emotional psychopathologies

One complex and high-impact psychological condition is borderline personality disorder (BPD). We’re steadily learning more about this clinical reality, which allows for the development of better treatments and approaches. The University of Turin (Italy) recently published an interesting paper on the role of trauma in BPD in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology.

BPD has an intimate relationship with the traumatic events of childhood. The adverse experiences that occur at this stage are dramatic, especially in females. This explains why BPD is more common in the female gender. It’s a disorder that completely alters the emotional plane, as detailed below:

  • Identity crisis.
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness.
  • The constant fear of abandonment.
  • Problems establishing quality relationships.
  • Greater impulsivity.
  • Frequent mood swings and extreme emotional instability.
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as self-harm and suicide attempts.

Experiencing painful or complicated events increases the risk of the individual performing dangerous behaviors or suffering from addictions.

Avoidance behaviors and addictions

Each individual handles pain in the way they know how and with the mechanisms available to them. But, they’re not always the healthiest. One recurring psychological phenomenon of emotional psychopathologies is addiction.

Research conducted by the University of Minnesota (USA) alludes to this link. They state that stress and adversity in early life increase vulnerability and the risk of developing addictions. They’re classified into the following types:

  • Substance addictions. Alcohol, drugs, tobacco, etc.
  • Behavioral addictions. Gambling, sex, internet, shopping, etc.

Treatments for disorders associated with adversity

The approach to emotional psychopathologies will always start from the needs of the patient and their particular clinical picture. Although all these disorders are triggered by adverse events, each individual manifests certain characteristics and behaviors. Therefore, some will benefit more from one type of therapy than another. These are the most significant kinds.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts and behaviors linked to the traumatic experience. This model establishes healthier mental approaches and offers the sufferer effective tools for facing their difficulties. The technique is useful in treating anxiety disorders, trauma, and depression.

Dialectical behavior therapy

This model was developed by Marsha M. Linehan to treat BPD. However, it’s also used successfully in other settings. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is effective in addressing any emotional regulation issues, self-injurious and suicidal behaviors, and impulse control.

Its main advantage is the integration of various methods. For example, CBT with elements of Buddhist philosophy, acceptance techniques, and mindfulness.

DBT is the most suitable for treating emotionally dysregulated behaviors that occur alongside self-harm or suicide attempts.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

When dealing with psychological trauma, EMDR therapy is the most interesting. It combines bilateral stimulation (such as eye movements) with progressive exposure to traumatic memories. This mechanism makes it easier for the individual to process and desensitize, session by session, any painful memories and their emotional impact.

Final recommendation

We all go through complicated events at certain times in our lives. Indeed, life doesn’t run in a straight line and adversity exists. In fact, it’s part of being human. However, it’s essential to have the best strategies for dealing with it.

So, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it. There are many professionals specialized in these different therapies who can give you the tools to change.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.