The Effects of Child Abuse on the Brain

The childhood years are vital to development for the later years. Childhood trauma can have a profound effect and cause changes in the brain that can change responses to certain situations. November is Child Safety Month, and understanding the effects of child abuse on the brain is vital to providing a safe upbringing for children.

What Is Child Abuse?

Child abuse refers to parents and/or other caregivers of children where the wellbeing of the child is at risk. Each state individually is responsible for defining what constitutes child abuse in state laws. There is a federal guideline outlined for states to use as a guideline. This guideline is called The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). 

CAPTA defines child abuse as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation” or as “an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”. This is the minimal degree to which child abuse can be classified. Child abuse has a range of definitions, state to state.

Types of Abuse

There are many different acts that can be considered to be abuse. Some physical, and some psychological, all of them affect a person’s life negatively. The effects of child abuse on the brain can be extreme due to occurance being during the formative years. Some of these abuse forms are as follows: 

  • Physical abuse: causing bodily injury or harm intentionally. Choking, punching, kicking, slapping, and punching are all examples of physical abuse.
  • Emotional/psychological abuse: deliberately inflicted mental or emotional pain. Examples include yelling, cursing, ridicule, and intimidation.
  • Sexual abuse: any unwanted or nonconsentual sexual acts, such as rape or molestation.
  • Abandonment: being left with no ability to fend for oneself, things like food and water consumption are hindered.

These are just a few examples of common abuse types. All of them have a great impact on the victim, especially when it comes to children. 

The Effects of Child Abuse on the Brain

The brain is at a pivotal point during childhood. During this time, neurological growth is occurring and is a complex and confusing process for the child. Learning right from wrong, likes and dislikes, and individuality generally occurs during the early childhood years. When a child is experiencing abuse at home, these learning processes are altered. The effects of child abuse on the brain can change the course for the rest of the child’s life.

Some of the ways the brain is affected by child abuse are:

  • Changes in the hippocampus
  • Overactivity in the amygdala
  • Changes in the corpus callosum
  • Changes in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
  • Lowered prefrontal cortex volume
  • Lowered cerebellum volume

All of these brain sections are vital to development and changes can hinder functions such as memory, stress management, behavior, and mood. The effects of child abuse can make life difficult long after the abuse ends. 

The Impacts of Child Abuse

Oftentimes, prolonged abuse can lead the victim to becoming a victimizer. During the formative years, what is learned is often what is done. So a child who has spent years experiencing physical abuse, can sometimes turn to violent outbursts as a way of coping and dealing with situations. The effects of child abuse on the brain can cause emotional, behavioral, and physical problems for the victim later in life into adulthood. 

Child abuse can lead to a variety of consequences. The most severe and traumatic of these could be premature death. Physical abuse of a child can cause injuries that can be fatal. Injuries as a result of physical abuse can also lead to physical impairments or disabilities, and there is also the risk of substance abuse late in life. 

Impacts of emotional or psychological abuse can be just as devastating. Causing low self esteem, challenges when it comes to trust or intimacy, and making it difficult to maintain relationships, emotional abuse has long lasting effects.

Not all abusive acts have visible injuries, and even if they do, the effects that can linger from childhood into adulthood can hinder the future of the child abuse victim. 

Learning how to be healthy both mentally and physically can break the cycle. Moreover, working through the trauma that child abuse leaves behind, and learning healthy ways of dealing with the effects of child abuse on the brain can help lead to a happy, healthy future. The traumas of child abuse can be healed, and recovery can be possible.

Finding Recovery In Adulthood

Coping with childhood trauma is never easy, healing from it is necessary for a successful recovery from child abuse traumas. Here at the Neuroscience Research Institute in West Palm Beach, FL work to make healing as easy as possible. In conclusion, childhood traumas do not need to make your adult life difficult. Call us today to begin your journey of healing and recovery.

Get Treatment for Trauma in South Florida

Neuroscience Institute provides personalized care for adults at both the outpatient and intensive outpatient levels. Our treatment center in South Florida serves adults with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders. When you choose NRI, you will receive quality clinical services and comprehensive support from a team of dedicated professionals. Contact us to learn more.

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