There has been a lot of recent research on the changes in brain chemistry, the physical structure of the brain itself, and even the DNA, of children who experience abuse, neglect, hunger, things that scar them for life. There is a great, short video presentation by a brilliant pediatrician, Nadine Burke Harris, clearly setting out the lifelong health consequences of terrible childhood experiences. Fifteen minutes well spent, the link is here.
An old friend was telling me about a recent experiment where they abused baby rats until their brains’ plasticity was gone. This is apparently one effect of child abuse, we can think of it as hardening certain areas of the brain that need to be flexible. Which makes the reaction of someone with this injured brain more extreme and painful than the reaction of someone with a pliable brain that can, literally, stretch and roll with the seemingly, to the un-abused person, minor punch.
This friend and I both identify with this kind of rat, the unfortunate subjects of this brain experiment, and our struggle to behave as well as possible is something we have always supported in each other. The main thing you need when hurt, particularly if you’re an abuse survivor, is empathy for your hurt, so you don’t feel crazy to be suffering what you are — and so you look for empathy, but through a fog of pain.
My friend told me the experimenters, when they were done torturing these baby rats to sufficiently fuck up their brains, administered some drug and watched the effect on the little rats’ personalities. The drug apparently restored their brain plasticity, or elasticity, or whatever it was. The twitching rats became calm and cuddly.
We laughed that there might be hope for us yet. There might be, there might not be. But the laugh certainly didn’t hurt in any case.