When I came across the article, “The Wounds Time Won’t Heal”, it answered many of the concerns I have about my own two children, who are victims of child abuse, and who have experienced significant trauma in their lives.
I went back to family court recently, and had to prove a “significant change” in order to ask for the relief outlined in my motion. One of the things the judge said to me is, “How do I know that what you are reporting is not just the special needs the children have?” The answer should have been obvious — my children have not been diagnosed with a serious mental illness or chemical imbalance. Their symptoms, and poor functioning, are a direct result of their history, and current dysfunctional environment (abusive father has sole custody). My daughter is diagnosed with “anxiety” and she is growing worse, not improving in her father’s care. In my care, my daughter normalizes. Recently, my daughter has had violent outbursts in school – which has never happened before this year. The abusive ex is refusing a recommended assessment for my son, I believe because he wants to cover up the abuse. My son has spoken out about the abuse in the past, and has been diagnosed with PTSD. My son, also, is growing worse in his father’s care. The school has reported that if my son does not get help, they fear for his future. This is the most heartbreaking, painful experience any parent could endure. My children are suffering, and I am being prevented from supporting them or offering any kind of help.
If this court order is in the “best interest” of my children, why aren’t they improving?
And what is really happening with my children – who continue to display various behavioral and emotional symptoms despite the interventions of the court?
I am just one parent of countless other facing similar concerns… Dr. Teicher offers valuable insight for us, as well as for the court officers and professionals working with our children.
In his article, “The Wounds that Time Won’t Heal”, developmental neuropsychiatrist Martin H. Teicher reveals how abuse negatively impacts child’s development, and can even cause permanent damage to a child’s brain. Teicher states, “Our research (and that of other scientists) delineates a constellation of brain abnormalities associated with childhood abuse.” and ,”Childhood trauma is not a passing psychological slight that one can choose to ignore. Even if the abused person comes to terms with the traumatic memories and chooses (for the sake of sanity) to forgive the perpetrator, this will not reverse the neurobiological abnormalities.”
Researchers are finding that the effects of abuse and neglect on young, even psychological abuse (where there are no bruises), causes a lasting negative impact on brain development. The brain abnormalities caused by abuse may account for abnormal personality traits and other debilitating psychological symptoms.
A victim may experience inward and outward symptoms as a result of abuse, or both.When the victim turns their fear, shame, confusion and hopelessness inward, they often experience depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and PTSD. If the victim turns their fear outwards, they experience aggression, hyperactivity, impulsiveness and drug/alcohol addiction. Sometimes the victim may repeat the abuse they experienced or witnessed onto others.
Childhood trauma also causes a range of psychosomatic symptoms (that involve both body and mind). Including somatoform disorder where a patient experiences physical pain and symptoms with no known cause, these symptoms are directly related to trauma. Victims can develop anxiety and panic disorders. Some victims regress, which means when triggered by trauma they revert to a behavior from an early stage of life where they felt safe. Often the victim may appear infantile, they will crawl or hide under furniture, they may not speak but instead babble or cry, sometimes they curl up in a ball or throw tantrums/fits of rage.
Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) causes a victim to re-experience the trauma–usually after they are triggered by a specific reminder. Not only does the trauma play in their mind but their body chemically responds, also going back to that place of trauma. The reminders can happen in the day during vivid flashbacks or, at night with nightmares or panic attacks. PTSD has a variety of symptoms including (but not limited to): feeling numb, becoming extra sensitive to stimuli (hyper arousal), outbursts of anger, avoiding the places or reminders of trauma, losing interest in things you once enjoyed, exaggerated startle response, feeling disconnected and depression.
For example, When I escaped the abuse, my son was 6 years old. He suffered from such severe PTSD that when triggered, he would pound his head on the wall or hit his head with his fists. When I asked my son why he did this, he said, “The pain feels better than the memories.” And, “If I do this, I won’t remember anymore.”
Researchers are discovering that abuses causes neurological damage, even without a physical blow to the head. Studies show that abuse victims have abnormal brain waves, some suffer from seizures, or somatic disorder. Dr. Teicher says, “My hypothesis is that the trauma of abuse induces a cascade of effects, including changes in hormones and neurotransmitters that mediate development of vulnerable brain regions.”
Teicher believes that our society, and government, should take a strong stand, followed by actions, to prevent child abuse. His ideas include: tracking statistics about child abuse in order to implement programs and policy better able to support families, and prevent abuse. Making after school programs and day care programs for children more available. Increased education for the public, and professionals alike.
Teicher’s article has taught me alot, and I highly recommend it.
— Emily Court