web analytics
February 1, 2015 / 12 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Abuse And The Brain


We may not want to accept it, but abuse occurs everywhere, even in our own communities. The effects of abuse are devastating and long lasting – not only on those individuals who are abused but on their families as well. Even one act of abuse against a person, regardless of age, can have a significantly negative impact that may last a lifetime.

The impact is often much worse when the abuse occurs to a child. People, especially children, who are abused can and often do develop a constellation of different mental health problems including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideas and acts, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders and a variety of other problems most notably character flaws referred to as personality disorders. We understand that abuse is wrong and harmful and should not be tolerated but we are not all that clear on why and just how severe abuses’ bearing is on the most basic quality of life issues.

Recent neuropsychological research is beginning to explain why abuse can harm even the most resilient of individuals. What we are learning is that the old nature versus nurture controversy is simply a straw man. Both components – the genes we are born with and the nurturing we are provided – work together, virtually in equal measure, in forming who we are. This finding has led to an area of research entitled epigenetics. The epigenetic approach has found that the environment an individual is exposed to has an impact on both the expression of the underlying genetics a person is born with and can also actively alter the internal structure of genes themselves. Advertisement

Not only genes but certain basic structures within the brain may be altered by the exposure to abuse. Two structures set deep within the brain, the hippocampus and the amygdala, have been found to be smaller in people abused in childhood as compared with people who were not exposed to trauma. The hippocampus is known to be involved in the process of learning, memory and depression. The amygdala helps to regulate emotions, mood, fear and sleep. It is no wonder, then, that traumatized people can suffer from so many problems. While the young, developing brain may be more vulnerable to these actual physical changes, trauma has been found to alter brain make up regardless of the age of the maltreated person.

What is most interesting is that just as the brain may be altered by horribly traumatic experiences, positive experiences may also alter the brain. Loving, nurturing, supportive and encouraging experiences help the developing brain make connections at the cellular level that enhance experiences later in life. A warm early life has been linked to the development of a resilient approach to life. People who are resilient tend to see challenges as opportunities and have a “can do” attitude about life. They have a healthy network of social and family support, are often very spiritual and have a religious perspective on the meaning of life.

Abused people are more likely to avoid social involvement and discount the spiritual aspects of life. Treatment is predicated on the concept of “plasticity.” Just as the brain may be molded by traumatic experiences it may also be reshaped into a healthier functioning mode by the right therapy and the correct positive social and emotional experiences. For some people the process of change may take many years, even decades; for some the change may never come; but for many it may happen in just a few years.

Of course, one of the best ways to help stop the spiraling negativity and subsequent pathology that traumatized people experience throughout their lives is to stop their abuse and give them the social support and nurturing they so desperately need. That unfortunately does not seem to be a real possibility just yet. Abuse will probably continue and in most communities there is still an entrenched habit of blaming the victim.

While abusers are likely to have been abused themselves when they were young, only about 20 percent of those who were abused become abusers. The remaining 80 percent tend to lead internally troubled lives. Both these groups need to be identified and dealt with. There is not much clinical or research evidence that supports a treatment that successfully stops abusers from continuing their abusive behaviors there are however ways to contain abusers so that they no longer hurt others.

Unfortunately, there has been little attempt in most communities to do so. This is doubly unfortunate because if there were an active attempt to contain abusers, not only would others not be traumatized by them, those who were abused in the past would be helped in their healing. They would see they are not discounted – or worse, blamed for the abuse they experienced. They would see a community that is empathetic and caring and they might just open up enough to begin the therapeutic process that allows them to begin their healing.

Dr. Michael Salamon, a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in Hewlett, New York and a board member of Ptach. He is the author of numerous articles and several psychological tests. His recent books include The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures, (Urim Publications) and Every Pot Has a Cover (University Press of America). His new book on abuse will be available later this spring.

About the Author: Dr. Michael J. Salamon is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the author of numerous articles and books, most recently “Abuse in the Jewish Community” (Urim Publications).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Abuse And The Brain”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Jeremy Bird, working for Israeli campaign outfit V15, shown at Ted Talk, May 20, 2014.
Likud Charges Opponents with Illicit Funding Through US-backed V15
Latest Indepth Stories
Eli Weiss

Shepherding in the Shomron isn’t your usual kind of shepherding – despite his business-minded beginnings, Eli has discovered that a strong ideological impetus powers the job.

Resnick-013015-Pilot

I said to myself, “This story has got to be told. We’re losing this generation of World War II and if we don’t listen to them now, we’ve lost it.”

Eller-013015

His entire existence was about spreading simcha and glorifying G-d’s name on a daily basis.

IRAN-US-POLITICS-MILITARY

An Israeli strike could theoretically damage Iran’s nuclear program; only US can terminate program

At some point we need to stop simply defending and promoting Israel and start living in Israel

“We Jews are the only people who when we drop a book on the floor pick it up and kiss it.”

Though Zaide was the publisher of The Jewish Press, a big newspaper,I always remember him learning

Speaker Silver has been an extraordinary public servant since his election to the Assembly in 1975 and has been an exemplary leader of that body since 1994.

He spent the first leg of his daylong visit to the French capital at Hyper Cacher.

Drawing Congress into the Iran nuclear debate is the last thing the White House wants.

Great leaders like Miriam and like Sarah Schenirer possess the capacity to challenge the status quo that confronts them.

Obama’s foreign policy is viewed by both liberals and conservatives as deeply flawed

Many journalists are covertly blaming the Charlie Hebdo writers themselves through self-censorship.

Why does the Times relay different motivations and narratives for jihadists in Europe and Israel?

More Articles from Dr. Michael J. Salamon
Salamon-012315

Confrontation & accountability, proven techniques, might also help dealing with religious terrorists

Bill Cosby

It shakes our sense of justice when allegations against a famed role model are covered up or ignored

Individuals who may have been abused are the “clients” in need and receiving care and protection.

sympathy: Feeling sorrow or pity for another’s tribulations; Empathy:sharing an emotional experience

Healing requires that the victim be validated for being harmed and the guilty assume responsibility.

The recent conviction of an unlicensed therapist in one of our communities has led to serious soul searching on the part of some and confusion for many others. The most strident argument of his supporters is that he was convicted without proof; that the accuser made up the story to get back at her community and directed her anger at this amateur counselor.

Mental health specialists tend to speak about their patients according to a classification referred to as the DSM, which stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This classification system was first published in 1952 by the American Psychiatric Association as a method to classify mental disorders and develop a statistical baseline through which disorders can be understood, studied and treated. It is not the only classification system available.

The New York Times got it right. In an editorial published on Thursday May 19, the Times castigated the Vatican for issuing “flimsy guidelines” for combating the sexual abuse of children by the clerical hierarchy.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/abuse-and-the-brain/2011/03/23/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: