web analytics
July 4, 2015 / 17 Tammuz, 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.

Current Top Story
UN Human Rights Council
UN HRC Condemns Israel (But Not Hamas) for War Crimes
Latest Indepth Stories
Jelgava Synagogue, Latvia

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

United Nations Building, New York City

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Zuckerman-070315

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

wedding cake

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

Rambam writes the verse’s double term refers to 2 messiahs: first King David; 2nd the final Mashiach

The Gaza flotilla has been rightfully and legally blocked by Israel’s Navy, with greetings from Bibi

The president described the attack as “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”

“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” said the 69-year-old Trump.

And whereas at the outset the plan was that Iran would have to surrender most of its centrifuges, it will now be able to retain several thousand.

Now oil independent, US no longer needs its former strategic alliances with Gulf States-or Israel

In addition to the palace’s tremendous size it was home to the “hanging gardens,” which were counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

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

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

Salamon-042415

Iran has at its core the same ideology as that of ISIS but, inaccurately, is thought a lesser threat

A message can be manipulated for and targeted to an audience without the awareness of the listener

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

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.

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

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: