Long Term Effects of Abuse and Neglect
Note: This is a repost of a blog I published last year. As the release date for my memoir is just days away, I realized the content resonates with me today. I struggled with the inner voice of a frightened little girl this week. Reading this post grounded me once again.
I recently posted the link to an article by Roland Bal on my Facebook page. In the article, “Child Neglect and Its Long-Term Repercussions into Adulthood”, Bal explains,
“In childhood, your brain and nervous system are busy laying down neural pathways. You are dependent on your environment for a stimulus to promote that growth of the neural pathways in your brain and nervous system.”
Even though Bal’s background is mostly grounded in psychology and eastern religions, he presents a good overview of how important early experiences are to our emotional and social development. Bal explains that in cases of severe neglect there is no reference point for the individual which results in stunted emotional and social growth. The deficit often leads to seeking recognition outside of ourselves. The result is an adult who has no sense of self in the case of neglect and a distorted sense of self in the case of abuse.
In the article, Bal makes the statement that his “description makes child neglect and its repercussions into adulthood look very bleak.” He then offers a few suggestions to help an individual rewire their brain.
The God Factor
While his suggestions are one method for finding a reference point and breaking old patterns of coping, there is another component that I found essential in my healing process-recognizing God’s constant presence in my life. I benefited greatly from psychological techniques like the ones Bal describes, but I always felt like something was missing as applied the meditation, positive affirmations and other tools that I learned.
A significant turning point for me in my healing process was embracing the truths found in the Bible about my identity. Yes, I constantly sought acknowledgment outside of myself and feared rejection because of the abuse and neglect I endured as a child. Bal’s description, “From there on it can become gridlocked into a habitual pattern of continually trying to please others while being met by further rejection or even abuse,” describes the way I approached life for many years.
Sometimes, I still fall into the pattern which hinders my ability to form healthy relationships.
When I recognize the inner voice that tells me to sabotage a relationship, or warns me to run away from a friendship, I stop the thought and replace it with scripture. Part of the process is identifying when I felt the same emotions or physical sensations. Once I identify an experience, I change the conversation to something like I am not that frightened little girl anymore, I am a child of God and the evil one cannot touch me. Or, God did not create me with Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, anxiety or depression, so I do not have to react the way I used to react.
The simple process takes me out of the moment, but not as a dissociative episode. By remembering and announcing my identity in Christ, I ground my mind on the truth and dismiss the lies that my experience taught me. The change happens within me and centers me long enough to breathe, pause and react to the circumstance as a healthy adult rather than a frightened child.
The symptoms of mental illness are devastating and are not easy to manage, but I find that when I include scripture, prayer and speak the truth when I experience an intense situation, it brings calm to the chaos in my mind. I like to think of the process as integrating faith, imagination, and reason to bring about a more complete healing for the mind, body, and spirit. The process is life-long, but not hopeless. Rewiring my brain continues, but I don’t think it gets short-circuited as often or intensely as it did years ago.
I Am Not the Same
As I write my memoir, I realize there are nuances of my childhood experiences that were untouched during the initial years of healing. As I explore those nuances, I understand more about my reactions and emotions as an adult. However, I also see how far I have come. I ask for help and for prayer from others before I am in crisis. I take breaks and practice self-care. I allow myself to grieve when I realize some new detail. I don’t dissociate or lose my grip on reality like I did years ago.
I think I can say with confidence that there is hope and that Bal’s statement that “child neglect and its repercussions into adulthood look very bleak,” is not true for everyone. I agree with Bal’s contention that “for many this is their reality.” However, with a combination of psychological tools like those Bal lists and Biblically based tools, adults can find contentment, form healthy relationships and not be trapped by the faulty belief that their situation is hopeless.