Childhood maltreatment is associated with an automatic negative emotion processing bias in the amygdala
Major depression has been repeatedly associated with amygdala hyper‐responsiveness to negative (but not positive) facial expressions at early, automatic stages of emotion processing using subliminally presented stimuli. However, it is not clear whether this “limbic bias” is a correlate of depression or represents a vulnerability marker preceding the onset of the disease. Because childhood maltreatment is a potent risk factor for the development of major depression in later life, we explored whether childhood maltreatment is associated with amygdalar emotion processing bias in maltreated but healthy subjects.
Judges and magistrates in the Family Court in England and Wales have to make extremely difficult decisions about what is best for children if their parents cannot agree on the arrangements for the children on or after parental separation or divorce. The family courts have seen a steady increase in such applications since 2014, with 55,645 private law children applications made in 2020 (Government Justice Data, 2021). While courts make great efforts to reach decisions that are in children’s best interests, there may be cases where the process and decisions do not best serve children and parents in this discretionary area of law. However, if there are problems with the process or decisions made, the public cannot usually know about this. Section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 stipulates that the publication of information relating to proceedings brought under the Children Act 1989 is a contempt of court. This legislation, which is intended to protect children, means that nothing about a case can be reported without the court’s permission.
“She said she was the mother of two little girls that he had sexually abused and subsequently served time in prison for abusing,” Julia says. “I literally jumped.” She recalls feeling “very confused, scared and in shock”.
When she confronted him, Robert was “blasé” about it. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, she’s friends with my ex-wife. Don’t listen to her, she’s one of the people who launched a hate campaign against me’.”
Most legal professionals felt the lower courts, where most cases are heard, are particularly letting down victims of domestic abuse and their children. Four out of five lawyers said magistrates have a poor or very poor understanding of domestic abuse and coercive control. One in three said District Judges also have a poor or very poor understanding of these issues.
More than 2,000 parents felt the judge was actively hostile towards them. More than 70% of both mothers and fathers were unhappy with the outcome. Sixty-seven per cent agreed or strongly agreed that their children’s mental health had been affected by family court proceedings.
Cases take on average 18 months to complete, with one in 10 lasting more than five years. The average cost of proceedings is about £13,000, though one in 20 said they had spent more than £100,000.
“It is essential family court judges, magistrates, professionals and experts have full, trauma-informed training on domestic abuse, as recommended by the Ministry of Justice Harm Panel, and are alive to the tactical use of accusations of parental alienation,” said Dr Barnett.
Fronted by journalist Louise Tickle, who has fought for transparency in the family courts for longer than five years, ‘Torn Apart – Family Courts Uncovered’airs this evening (Tuesday 20th July) on Channel 4’s Dispatches at 10 pm. Dr Barnett’s full final report publishes later this year. Read her interim report here.
Abuse victims, like anyone in relationships with high emotional reactivity, build automatic defense systems, which include preemptive strikes — if you expect to be criticized, stonewalled, or demeaned, you may well do it first. Victims can easily develop a reactive narcissism that makes them seem like abusers
The British Psychological Society, incorporated by Royal Charter, is the learned and professional body for psychologists in the United Kingdom. We are a registered charity with a total membership of just over 60,000.
Under its Royal Charter, the objective of the British Psychological Society is “to promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of psychology pure and applied and especially to promote the efficiency and usefulness of members by setting up a high standard of professional education and knowledge”. We are committed to providing and disseminating evidence-based expertise and advice, engaging with policy and decision makers, and promoting the highest standards in learning and teaching, professional practice and research.
The British Psychological Society is an examining body granting certificates and diplomas in specialist areas of professional applied psychology.
CHECKPOINTS ? By 1986, some form of father-daughter incestuous activity, ranging from minimal to brutal and aggressive, was found in approximately 1 in 20 families that included daughters and their natural fathers, and 1 in 7 families in which daughters resided with a stepfather.
? Incest often leads to traumatic bonding, a form of relatedness in which one person mistreats the other with abuse, threats, intimidation, beatings, humiliations, and harassment but also provides attention, some form of affection, and connectedness.
? There are so many disincentives to revelation that many incest victims will undergo several rounds of psychiatric treatment before they risk revealing this aspect of their histories.
? When evaluating a patient, attention must be paid to evidence of dissociation in the patient’s history and to the patient’s overall symptoms. Appropriate treatment is geared toward each individual patient-not around the problem, the relevant diagnoses, or a particular theoretical model.