Abuse, Children, Emotional Abuse, Family, Genetics, Health, Mental and Emotional Health, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Therapy, Verbal Abuse

A Note on some Maladies caused by Child Abuse

A group of Canadian scientists recently discovered a way in which abusing a child can cause permanent — or near permanent — changes in the child’s biochemistry.  In turn, those changes in the child’s biochemistry can lead to a lifetime of anxiety, depression, and other maladies.

Ed Yong, over at Not Exactly Rocket Science, wrote about the discovery in a post he published yesterday.  Ed, by the way, is my favorite science writer and a person who, despite his grievous flaw of being better looking than me, typically creates clear, accessible articles that are highly accurate and engaging.

If I understand Ed’s article correctly, then the scientists basically discovered abusing a child can alter the functioning of a certain gene in her body that normally works to limit the level of the stress hormone, cortisol.  As a consequence, she gains too much cortisol in her body which causes her body to behave “as if it were stressed, even when nothing stressful is happening. The result is a higher risk of anxiety, depression and suicide.”

It seems to me the discovery might lead to more effective ways of alleviating the long term problems caused by child abuse.

10 thoughts on “A Note on some Maladies caused by Child Abuse”

  1. This is so complicated I hesitate to comment but I will very briefly. This has been well known for decades, along with the ways in which cortisol washing the developing brain in childhood permanently alters brain structures, which isn’t to say, because human brains are so resilient and malleable, we can’t adapt and get around the damage, but trauma research and treatment has been struggling with the extreme complexities of this for years. Were it just cortisol! Not to knock Mr. Rocket Science who I admit I have not read and I’m not the know-it-all I sound like I am and he may be right and I may be wrong and all that. I’m just voicing an (albeit very opinionated) opinionated. What I’m saying is, there will never be a single “cure” for child abuse, if that’s what he’s getting at.

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  2. @ Querulous: It seems my write-up was way too superficial and gave you a very mislead opinion of what Ed talked about in his post yesterday. Among other things, Ed never suggested in his article there would ever be a single “cure” for child abuse. Nor have I tried to suggest that. But apparently, I came across as if I was suggesting that. My apologies for not being as clear as I could have been.

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  3. And my apologies for coming off like a know-it-all, which I’m not. I know very little about this subject, almost nothing, in terms of the neurological aspects. I just know it’s extremely complicated, beyond my comprehension, and they are coming up with new and self-contradictory theories every day. I just didn’t want any readers to maybe get any hope that there might be some magic bullet, which there will never ever be, unfortunately, sadly, tragically.

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  4. @ Querulous Squirrel: No problem. I know very well that you’re not a know-it-all. Thank you for pointing out there is no magic bullet to cure child abuse. I agree it is very important folks don’t get that impression.

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  5. Child abuse, sadly, has been rising in India as well.

    I had no idea it could mutate a gene..I mean alter a gene but I do agree it does cause some near permanent maladies…but I like to believe they are curable with right kind of counselling and psychotherapy. Because people do get well.

    I recently read a book about chold anuse in India, here’s the reiew but its is more of awareness post about CSA, as in India, people still choose to remain silent about it:
    http://alchemistpoonam.wordpress.com/2009/01/14/book-review-bitter-chocolate/

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  6. Thank you for the link, Poonam! 🙂

    The genetic alteration caused by child abuse is called “epigenetic” — that is, the gene’s chemical sequence is not altered, but it’s physical structure is altered, making it less active.

    It’s tragic people choose to remain silent about child abuse — not just in India, but here too. Abused children can grow up to become abused adults — or even to become child abusers themselves. Unless the cycle is broken, it perpetuates itself.

    I think the abuse of children — and anyone, really — is a worldwide problem that desperately needs to be addressed.

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  7. “What I’m saying is, there will never be a single “cure” for child abuse,”

    Abstinence. Or really good contraception. If you don’t have ’em, you can’t abuse ’em…

    – M. \”0

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  8. I think child abuse is a sign of the challenge humanity is currently facing. I also think self-understanding and wholeness are the only ‘cure’. I speak from the experience of extreme abuse. Extreme from infancy to age six. so if there is epigenetic damage I have it. I have seizures from it. Still, the good part is I am surviving and changing. What if this survival and changing means something scientifically for the whole species? Can us abused people heal ourselves and turn the abuse into a long needed perspective that is missing from our (society’s)current understanding of reality? I think not just maybe, but probably. Maybe the voices that we (humanity) felt compelled to silence through abuse held the info that we most needed to hear . It’s just that because the need to abuse(suppression) was so severe and the damage so great it’s a long time coming, maybe. I don’t know. I mean, isn’t it at least possible that these problems can be healed and that we can all benefit?

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  9. @ Swansong: Thank you for a great post! I believe you are spot on to suggest the victims of abuse can change how people and societies understand abuse — as well as what they do about it — and thus even change the future of humanity. Also, I am convinced the decision by an abused person to put an end to abuse — not to pass it on by abusing others — is perhaps one of the most moral decisions anyone can make.

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  10. Coming from abuse myself, I can vouch for the maladies. I’ve suffered anxiety as long as I can remember and more recently depression. I have also suffered migraines for so long, I can’t remember not having them. I believe at one point, I had reached “adrenal fatigue” as my morning cortisol levels were lower than most people’s sleep levels. Counseling and meditation (and medication) have all helped immensely. I have been on medication for the migraines for a year now and that has the side benefit of helping the anxiety and depression as well. Even now, on the medication, I do still have migraines. I also seem “turned on” to stimulus constantly still, but not nearly as bad. I often feel like I have “feelers” out there and am highly sensitive to changes in my surroundings. I am still “hyper-vigilant” if you will call it that. I have come a long way, but I know I will always be working with it. The anxiety isn’t gone, it is just more controllable. I find most social situations to be anxiety provoking to some degree, but can manage it now.

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