There's a huge hole in me. My partner has one too. We think that something is missing from us. It's the love of a parent. Once again science is showing the developmental differences between a child who's been loved, and a child who has not been so fortunate. Neglect leads to less gray matter volumes in the vortex. Neuroscientists say they can tell from brain scans if a child has been abused or neglected in the early years of their life. The article I found goes on to say that abused and neglected kids have a smaller brain. Apparently we're "more likely to develop social disorders, turn to drug use and be involved in violent crime." These theories are backed up by the Washington University School of Medicine. Click here to view.
This research is the first to show the effects of a mothers nurturing on the hippocampus. Follow the previous link to see an image of a scan showing the hippocampus. If you remember from past posts, the hippocampus is related to memory, learning and stress response. If my hippocampus is ten percent smaller than that of a non abused child, then it makes sense that I would struggle to learn, recall and manage stress. That is certainly my lived experience.
I'm not overly impressed with the association of drug use and violent crime. I don't disagree that a lack of nurturing can lead to such outcomes. But that's not the case for everyone. For me life has been an epic struggle. My behaviors have been less than inspiring at times. But I didn't become a drug addict or commit crimes. This is in no way intended to isolate abused people who become addicts or violent. Everybody who's suffering the effects of abuse deserves the resources needed to make a better life. Of course that is no easy task, but we have to try. All I'm saying is it's better to focus on the cause.
So can we fill the hole? Is it possible that if we receive nurturing care in adulthood then we can reduce our stress, increase our capacity to feel safe? Again science has shown us the brain can learn new tricks.
Have you heard the one about strapping a stroke victims good arm to their body? The brain works out a way to make the paralized arm work. Click here for that article.
Or the one about the amputee who's phantom hand had cramps? A neuroscientist created a box with a mirror. When the amputee placed his left hand in the box the mirror gave the illusion that he also had a right hand. Then he clenched his left hand and watched the right reflection. The cramps stopped. They tricked the brain into thinking he had two hands again. So what can the abused and traumatized do to rewire their brain?
I began to research the question. The title of the first article I found left me a little deflated. It's called 'Wounds that time won't heal.'
It refers to 'permanent debilitating changes in the brain, that may lead to psychiatric problems.' Fortunately it also has 'hope for new treatments for abused children and the adults they become.' It's a good article, I urge you to read it.
The neuropsychiatrist, Martin H. Teicher, believes that new insights into how abuse affects the brain should be a wake up call for society. The lack of empathy towards victims and our cultures tendency to say "get over it," is no longer acceptable.
Although neuro plasticity is a reality, the brain is more malleable before puberty. It's harder to teach an old dog new tricks. Early intervention and prevention may be the best tools. But those of us that have smaller amounts of plasticity, have to find ways to reduce our stress, and increase our sense of self and safety.
For me there's been a range of therapies that have contributed to my progress. But the most important element has been love. Without the love and support of my partner I may never have felt safe, those feelings of safety are new and fleeting but they do now exist. It's a slow process but some of that hole is now being filled. I always felt the hole existed because a parental love was absent. I felt it would probably not be possible to fill the hole myself. Someone else would need to help me feel loved. I think I was right.