When something threatens our wellbeing, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are in charge of releasing a huge combination of hormones (catecholamines, corticosteroids and opioids) to provide the body with the energy that is required to respond to the unsafe situation.
Being constantly under threat makes the brain to be in a "fly or fight mode" most of the time
and that eventually affects the brain's development in a growing child.
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There are negative physical effects in children that have been abused or neglected:
One of them is a decrease in the size of the hippocampus, which has a very important role in learning and memory. You can also see a decrease in the size of the corpus callosum, which is in charge of emotions, impulses, and arousal. There is a decrease in the size of the cerebellum, which can affect motor skills and coordination. Some times there is a decrease in the volume of the prefrontal cortex, which affects behavior, balancing emotions and perception.
Many disorders are associated with childhood abuse. One is depression or heightened risk for developing it.
Victims are more likely than non-victims to experience the following mental health challenges:
- About 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse
- About 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults
- About 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults
“Protective factors that can strengthen families and help prevent abuse and neglect, and promote healthy brain development:
- Nurturing and attachment
- Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development
- Parental resilience
- Social connections
- Concrete supports for parents
- Social and emotional competence for children”
To be able to heal an altered brain, weekly therapies are often not enough. Brain functioning was altered by repeated experiences so interventions should include all aspects of the child's life; to recover neuronal pathways we must provide frequent and consistent replacement experiences so the child's brain can begin to incorporate a new safe, predictable and nurturing environment.