SCARS THAT WON’T HEAL: THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF CHILD ABUSE

There are literally thousands of articles and studies that speak about the brain’s responses to stress, especially in children.

Our scientists and doctors know that certain repeated behaviors and actions with children cause damage and dysfunction in the brain.  They can show how the brain becomes altered, and they can identify what parts of the mind are affected and when.

Here’s an article describing how we can do more than simply “treat” the emotional and psychological responses to abuse and similar repeated ill-treatment of children.

Child abuse experts said the findings reinforce the importance of interventions to prevent abuse.

If children are abused early, they are flooded with stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, said Louise Newman, a professor of perinatal and infant psychiatry at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

“This impacts directly on how the brain develops and the stress regulation mechanism. It becomes highly stressed so it’s like setting the thermostat on high, setting up a system which regulates stress less efficiently,” Newman said.

“Also it impacts on the area which controls feelings, so they’re more likely to be highly stressed, have difficulties with anger and emotions, and be prone to self-harm, anxiety, suicide and depression.”

It’s not clear why some people overcome their past while others succumb to it.

Another article, though long and a bit outdated, worth the read:
Source: Maltreatment at an early age can have enduring negative effects on a child’s brain development and function

It is hardly surprising to us that research reveals a strong link between physical, sexual and emotional mistreatment of children and the development of psychiatric problems. But in the early 1990s mental health professionals believed that emotional and social difficulties occurred mainly through psychological means. Childhood maltreatment was understood either to foster the development of intrapsychic defense mechanisms that proved to be self-defeating in adulthood or to arrest psychosocial development, leaving a “wounded child” within. Researchers thought of the damage as basically a software problem amenable to reprogramming via therapy or simply erasable through the exhortation “Get over it.”

New investigations into the consequences of early maltreatment, including work my colleagues and I have done at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and at Harvard Medical School, appear to tell a different story. Because childhood abuse occurs during the critical formative time when the brain is being physically sculpted by experience, the impact of severe stress can leave an indelible imprint on its structure and function. Such abuse, it seems, induces a cascade of molecular and neurobiological effects that irreversibly alter neural development.

To test this hypothesis, Fred Schiffer worked in my laboratory at McLean in 1995 to measure hemispheric activity in adults during recall of a neutral memory and then during recall of an upsetting early memory. Those with a history of abuse appeared to use predominantly their left hemispheres when thinking about neutral memories and their right when recalling an early disturbing memory. Subjects in the control group used both hemispheres to a comparable degree for either task, suggesting that their responses were more integrated between the two hemispheres.

Because Schiffer’s research indicated that childhood trauma was associated with diminished right-left hemisphere integration, we decided to look for some deficiency in the primary pathway for information exchange between the two hemispheres, the corpus callosum.In 1997 Andersen and I collaborated with Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health to search for the posited effect. Togetherwe found that in boys who had been abused or neglected, the middleparts of the corpus callosum were significantly smaller than in the control groups. Furthermore, in boys, neglect exerted a far greater effect than any other kind of maltreatment. In girls, however, sexual abuse was a more powerful factor, associated with a major reduction in size of the middle parts of the corpus callosum. These results were replicated and extended in 1999 by De Bellis. Likewise, the effects of early experience on the development of the corpus callosum have been confirmed by research in primates by Mara M. Sanchez of Emory.