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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.
Glaser, D. (2002). Emotional abuse and neglect (psychological maltreatment): A conceptual framework. Child Abuse & Neglect. Retrieved December 11, 2020, fromhttps://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.rowan.edu/science/article/pii/S0145213402003423
Lacharité, C., L. S. Éthier, and P. Nolin. 2006. Vers une théorie écosystémique de la négligence envers les enfants. Bulletin de psychologie.