Emotional Neglect: Neurological Damage
Childhood is a hell.
Childhood is a hell where we suffer more than ever, because children don’t know that they are suffering. And hell is not where we suffer, hell is where nobody knows that we are suffering. Although emotional abuse awareness has lately increased in society, most children are still being abused by older people, 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.
Neglect or the act of neglect presupposes that the child is being deprived of its basic conditions. We talk about something 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. And this responsibility does not start after birth, but as soon as the pregnancy begins. Children are born with their 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 . In addition, 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. Yet,
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. 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 who are separated from their parents in early childhood or with children without biological relationships (for example, stepchildren), and this increases the risk of abuse.
Parents, too often, don’t harm their children on purpose. Yet, as we don’t allow our children to express their feelings like 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. But if an adult harrasses a kid, people usually stay quiet and let the abuse happen. Though it is obvious that children are weaker than an adult and cannot defend their rights against older people, they are less protected than adults. This is a nonsense hypocrisy and still exists.
The belief that parents want the best for their kids may be true for most caregivers, and our society tends to believe that parents own their kids, therefore, emotional abuse is legitimated by people. Moreover, children that are victims eventually become culpable because of this parent taboo. They, too often, are punished for their ‘’mistakes’’ and for not being obedient. Thus, according to the common belief, the punishment is acceptable, even deserved.
“Again and again 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.” (Miller, 1990, pp. 94-95)
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. But there is still one thing that most people are not aware of: the physical effect of emotional abuse and its impacts in future. Recent researches show that emotional abuse and neglecting cause some neurological issues that lead to a variety of problems such as cognitive disorders and socio-emotional disruptions. Indeed, emotional abuse’s impact is not a new theme in the psychology field.
Family neglect can facilitate children’s early contact with the most diverse risk environments, leaving them vulnerable to various forms of violence, which can affect their mental and physical health.
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. 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.
The consequences of family neglect can span generations, as parents who have been abandoned, tend to abandon their children, or neglect them.
The immediate emotional consequences are diverse, among them, isolation, low self-esteem, relationship difficulties, eating disorders, fear, anxiety, lack of confidence, depression, mental and emotional losses of various orders and chronic diseases. The latter can also remain for the rest of their lives. Among the most common long-term consequences are the risk of teenage pregnancy and contact with psychoactive substances, causing chemical dependence.
Another 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, with violation of social norms or individual rights.
The family and social environment plays 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, being almost 4 times more common in males. Approximately 20% also have some learning disorder, such as difficulty in concentrating, expressing themselves orally or in 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 the processing of reward stimuli. It can be the cause and consequence of a 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, and 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 social expectations of the child’s age, going 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 lies; low school attendance and escape from home; abnormally frequent and serious disobediences. These violations do not meet the social expectations of the child’s age, going far beyond childish pranks or adolescent rebellion and continue to happen regularly for six months or more. If these behaviors persist after the age of 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 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 in a chronic way. Glaser, in his work Child abuse and neglect and the brain – A review, 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, as well as biochemical, functional and brain structure changes.
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 in 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, afterwards, mitigate or contain their negative effects, as well as how, if possible, change the family situation, in terms of the care spent.
It is interesting to note that emotional abuse is one of the most difficult forms of child abuse to diagnose. Although the research mentioned above affirm that neurological problems may be led by emotional neglect, it is not considered as harmful as physical abuse is. Generally, it is detected when associated with other severe conditions of mistreatment such as physical and sexual abuse, and although the suspicion is confirmed, the intervention of professionals and / or the legal system occurs more cautiously. As emotional abuse does not cause a visible physical harm and parent taboo interrupts the diagnosing process, most cases are missed and not intervened.
However, according to a research done in the Minnesota Mother-Child Project, between maltreated groups, emotionally neglected children showed the most dramatic decline in scores on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. The age range of the participants were from 9 months to 24 months, which proves that the results of emotional neglect may be found before adolescence or middle age. Emotionally abused preschoolers have more difficulty in handling stressful situations, 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 early years of life, therefore, can be predicted.
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