Emotional Neglect: Neurological Damage
Childhood is hell.
Childhood is a hell where we suffer more than ever because children do not know that they are suffering. Although emotional abuse awareness has lately increased in society, most children are still being abused, especially by their parents. Many families have always been negligent. Despite everything, they have survived generations and generations and continue to live in modern times.
Child abuse presupposes that someone has a child. We define basic conditions to mean as simple as food, school, or health, but sometimes the affection and attention that “being so simple’’, for certain families, can become a difficult responsibility. Furthermore, this responsibility does not start after birth, but as soon as the pregnancy begins. Children are born with a history of nine months.
Neglect and abuse result from a complex combination of individual, family, and social factors. Being a single mother or father, being poor, having problems with drug or alcohol abuse, and/or having a mental problem (such as personality disorders or low self-esteem) can make a parent more likely to practice neglect or abuse against the child. Besides, adults who have suffered physical or sexual abuse as children are more likely to abuse their own children. Neglect is identified twelve times more often in children living in poverty than those who do not.
First-time parents, teenage parents, and parents who already have several children under the age of five are also at an increased risk of abusing their children. Women who do not seek antenatal care, who smoke, practice drug abuse, or have a history of domestic violence during pregnancy may be at risk of abuse against their children.In these cases, sometimes strong emotional bonds between parents and children do not develop. This absence of emotional ties occurs more often in premature babies or sick babies separated from their parents in early childhood. Since mothers and babies are not able to have time with each other, they may not create an emotional bond which is vitally important to new-born babies.
Parents, too often, do not harm their children on purpose. However, as we do not allow our children to express their feelings as adults do, we assume that we know what is best for them, and the abuse becomes acceptable. Alice Miller, the famous Polish-Swiss psychotherapist, says in one of her books, ‘’Parents are indeed capable of routinely torturing their children without anyone interceding.’’ She also admits that she was very far away from being an ideal mother, but she learned from her own experience that children are the most vulnerable human beings for being children. We can see this fact through a simple example; when someone starts harassing an adult in public, other people interfere and defend the person who is being harassed. Nevertheless, if an adult harasses a kid, people usually stay quiet and let the abuse happen. Though it is obvious that children are weaker than adults and cannot defend their rights against older people, they are less protected than adults. This is nonsense hypocrisy and still exists.
The belief that parents want the best for their kids may be true for most caregivers, and our society believes that parents own their kids. Therefore, emotional abuse is legitimated by people. Moreover, children that are victims eventually become culpable because normal attitudes such as crying, running, rejecting food are seen as a fault when they are done by a kid. If adults state that they are not hungry, or they do not want to eat cooked food, it, too often, is respected. But children do not have the same rights about deciding their own food, because their parents know the best for them. If they do not follow the rules that are settled by their parents, then people can judge children by not obeying their parents. Thus, according to the common belief, the punishment is acceptable, even deserved. Once the punishment is deserved, the abuse becomes less visible.
Obedient children are considered good kids, but obedience is not the same as being self-disciplined: when in adolescence the sense of freedom and individuality comes to the fore, sublimated by angry hormones, they are likely to want to impose themselves, especially if they have been repressed for years. We need to redefine the idea of a good kid.
It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that parent-child relationships are based on unconditional love for the child. Love is, however, a feeling subject to some risks: it can become property, selfishness, blackmail, self-projection on the other. Also, the generous, infinite, disinterested love of a father and mother for a child, can, in some cases, become the child’s selfish possession, can lead to an authoritarian attitude, to their obsessive controls. Cardinal Angelo Scola observes that “the temptation to possess, that of not allowing the child to be profoundly ‘other’, that is, truly free, constantly threatens father and mother love. Accepting the risk of children’s freedom, in fact, it is the most radical test in the life of the parents: it would be desirable to free the children of all pain, of all evil.This drama, present in every human relationship, becomes especially acute in the father / mother-child relationship. here, it is so powerful that it gives the perception that if the other – the child – gets lost, I lose myself too – mother or father – so the temptation to reduce the child to himself becomes strong, making it a kind of extension of the person himself ”.
In Breaking Down the Wall of Silence, Alice Miller affirms that again and again, like she did in her previous works, the child’s share of the blame is looked for and found, with the result that only extremely brutal cases is the term “child abuse” mentioned, and even then with reservations, with the broad spectrum of psychic mistreatment is disputed or even totally denied. In this way the victims’ voices are silenced almost before they are raised, and the truth, the whole objective truth, of the facts remains in obscurity.
Parents and caregivers usually bring up the difficulties of having children. Some of them recognize the emotional abuse and its effects, but they tend to defend themselves by saying that others do not know what they are going through and parenting is one of the most difficult experiences. Although they might be right about its difficulties, we also should remember that bringing a baby to the world is not the baby’s responsibility but their parents. If someone needs help, they should be looking for it in the right place. Besides harming children, parents who abuse their kids also end up having more problems with them, and eventually a harder experience.
Today parents are striving to be more conscious of their children and attitudes. The social services, health workers, and schools are more trained and supportive than earlier. However, there is still one thing that most people are not very well informed about: the physical effect of emotional abuse and its impacts in the future. Recent research shows that emotional abuse and neglect cause some neurological issues that lead to various problems, such as cognitive disorders and socio-emotional disruptions. Indeed, emotional abuse’s impact is not a new theme in the psychology field.
For Dodge, Pettir and Battes, the lack of affection when interacting with the child can trigger insecurity, hostility, aggression, and vulnerability in their social relationships. The consequences of family neglect can be diverse and lasting. Family neglect can facilitate children’s early contact with the most diverse risk environments, leaving them vulnerable to various forms of violence, affecting their mental and physical health. But also, when exposing children to risk, there can be relatively small physical consequences, such as rocks and small cuts, and even serious consequences, such as hemorrhages, bone fractures, and, in some cases, even death. In the long term, the consequences can be severe, such as neurological impairment, damage to physical health, and several complications that favor fragile health.
Neurological results of emotional abuse are not well recognized by our society. Although it is a life-long damage, a wound that would heal in a week is more recognized than a neurological damage. Yet, researchers that have been working on emotional abuse and its effects have found results that support the fact that emotionally abused kids suffer brain damage.
A physical consequence of family neglect pointed out by Kummer is the so-called deviation or conduct disorder. This disorder is characterized by persistent patterns of socially inappropriate, aggressive, or challenging conduct, violating social norms or individual rights.The family and social environment play an important role in the development and maintenance of conduct disorder. Oppositional and disobedient behavior is associated with aggressive and negligent parents and siblings, divorce from parents, large families, young mothers, low socioeconomic status, only one caregiver, etc.
Conduct disorder is more frequent between 12 and 16 years old, almost 4 times more common in males. Approximately 20% also have some learning disorder, such as difficulty concentrating, expressing themselves orally or writing or memory, resulting in performance below the school average. In adolescents with conduct disorder, it is possible to identify a low responsibility in the orbitofrontal area, which is responsible for processing reward stimuli. It can be the cause and consequence of learning history in which punishments for bad behavior prevailed instead of reinforcement for good behaviors. Similarly, the cerebellar amygdala responds less to stimuli of intimidation and fear. It may be both the reason for not avoiding aversive stimuli that most would avoid or for getting used to living in an intimidating and threatening environment.
These violations do not meet the child’s social expectations, go far beyond childish pranks or adolescent rebellion, and continue to happen regularly. The diagnosis of conduct disorder is based on the presence of excessive manifestations of aggression and tyranny; cruelty towards other people or animals; destruction of the assets of others; incendiary behavior; theft or theft; sexual abuse; carrying weapons; repeated lines; low school attendance and escape from home; abnormally frequent and serious disobediences. These violations do not meet the child’s social expectations, going far beyond childish pranks or adolescent rebellion, and continuing to happen regularly for six months or more. If these behaviors persist after 18, it is diagnosed as Antisocial personality disorder (Psychopathy / Sociopathy).
As a consequence of this, children can, for example, demonstrate antisocial behavior at school, and when the school contacts parents, they do not admit that their child has difficulties for fear of being commented on in the local community. They often prefer to deny the facts, neglecting to help their “protected” children with indifference.
In his book Emotional abuse and neglect (psychological maltreatment): A conceptual framework, Glaser mentions that investigations in different countries reveal that neglect, compared to other types of abuse, is associated with greater damage to the child’s development, especially if experienced chronically. In his work Child abuse and neglect and the brain – A review, Danya Glaser shows considerable evidence of brain damage resulting from experiences of abuse and neglect. Among neglected children, among other consequences, a reduction in brain volume has been observed and biochemical, functional, and brain structure changes.
In Towards an Ecosystem Theory of Child Neglect, Lacharité, Éthier, and Nolin report that the consequences of negligence towards children can be manifested on the physical plane, which can cause children’s mortality; in the exposure to other forms of mistreatment, in the restriction of relationships provided to the child, in the family, and in the living environment, in their social environment and the plan of developmental sequelae. These numerous negative consequences generated by neglect make clear the need to look for ways to develop intervention programs that provide, in the first instance, the early identification of children living in situations of neglect and that, afterward, mitigate or contain their negative effects, as well as how, if possible, change the family situation, in terms of the care spent.
Emotional abuse is one of the most difficult forms of child abuse to diagnose. Although the research mentioned above affirms that neurological problems may be led by emotional neglect, it is not considered as harmful as physical abuse is. Since its damage is not as visible as a punch mark and its consequences are not necessarily immediate, emotional neglect tends to be ignored. Generally, it is detected when associated with other severe mistreatment conditions such as physical and sexual abuse. Although the suspicion is confirmed, professionals’ intervention and/or the legal system occurs more cautiously. As emotional abuse does not cause visible physical harm and parent taboo interrupts the diagnosing process, most cases are missed and not intervened.
However, according to research done in the Minnesota Mother-Child Project, emotionally neglected children showed the most dramatic decline in scores on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development between maltreated groups. The participants’ age range was from 9 months to 24 months, which proves that the results of emotional neglect may be found before adolescence or middle age. According to the scale, which is an assessment instrument designed to measure motor, cognitive, language, social-emotional, and adaptive behavior development in babies and young children, emotionally abused preschoolers have more difficulty handling stressful situations than other kids; they tend to react angrier compared to non maltreated and physically abused children. It means that it is possible to recognize emotional abuse and neglect in the early years of life; therefore, it can be predicted.
Emotional abuse can definitely cause psychological issues, yet therapists and researchers have lately pointed to neurological neglect as important as psychological damage is. For the reasons I mentioned above, such as the difficulty of parenting and being a child, it has been ignored for a long time and still is. However, since psychology has improved its research on children and their well-being, this type of abuse has become more visible, and people have had more consciousness. Through Bayley Scales applied to the children, the results showed that the emotionally abused kids also suffer lower motor and cognitive development besides social-emotional and behavior problems. More people in the field of psychology need to bring up this subject, therefore the abusing culture can be predicted and its damage can be avoided both emotionally and physically.
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Glaser, D. (2002). Emotional abuse and neglect (psychological maltreatment): A conceptual framework. Child Abuse & Neglect. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.rowan.edu/science/article/pii/S0145213402003423
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