Friday, March 28, 2014

Casualty of War

Discoveries from medical science tell us how traumatic circumstances in a child's life produce brain damage.  

It hasn't yet occurred to parents that their verbal behavior and the home's atmosphere could cause physical harm to a child's mind. It can.

Physical abuse can cause physical harm; we understand that much. According to a growing body of evidence, however, verbal abuse is equally harmful. It does damage that lasts; see Wounds That Time Won't Heal for an introduction. Verbal abuse, neglect, and exposure to a threatening environment can result in brain damage, a PTSD equivalent in the child that can persist for the rest of their lives. It is especially harmful during the middle-school years of development.

Adults can be similarly damaged by a harsh and verbally abusive environment over time. We used to call it stress at home and in the workplace.  There is research now indicating that verbal abuse in intimate relationships can lead to depression, anxiety and of course, relationship failure. Similarly, in the workplace where leaving isn't an option, an abusive atmosphere can cause similar psychological problems.  Beyond those, physical damage to a portion of the brain can follow as well.  We didn't know.

  • If I get angry and attack someone physically, perhaps hitting them, I have crossed the line. I've chosen to do them harm, and I deserve to be held accountable. We knew that.
  • If I get angry and viciously berate someone, I have crossed the exact same line.  I've chosen to do them harm. Though the there's no adequate law for it, I still deserve to be held accountable for the attack. We didn't know that.
This perhaps gives us a little insight into the following passage, "You have heard from long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who does will be subject to judgment.' I tell you, though, that anyone who is merely angry with another will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who goes further and insults another is answerable to the court. And anyone who viciously demeans another will be in danger of hell itself." Perhaps because ... I've chosen to do them harm.

The good news is that science has shown that are our brains are open to rewiring - it's called neuroplasticity. That means, among other things, that we can learn new ways of dealing with our own emotions, and we are able to change our brain. 

True?  Is this something we should pursue?

We can change our own behavior.  
As one example, an alternative to name calling and swearing begins with identifying our emotions and naming them (as anger or frustration, for instance) rather than being controlled by them. Expressions like "I'm feeling angry" or "scared" or "sad" will be awkward at first, but can make for healthy conversation. Stopping to understand why is even more revealing.  It may not be as emotionally satisfying as using a four-letter word or calling someone an idiot, but it can produce better results; more open communication and the real possibility of change.