Parental abuse – the cruel conflict

Recently a series of articles ran in a New Zealand newspaper called Our lost children.  Usually I don’t pay much heed to newspaper articles – if you’ve seen the news wire snippets before further political and sensationalistic spin is added, you’ll know why.  But Parents’ abuse the cruellest conflict by Ericksen (2008), hit close to home.

Of the thousands of children Barnardos works with who have been abused or seen abuse, about half defend the person responsible for the abuse.

“It’s because they love them – that’s their parent,” said northern region spokeswoman Jenny Corry.

“They are the most difficult to shift in terms of their thinking.”

The other half will withdraw from conversations, afraid that if they speak out they will break up their family and be blamed for it.

As an adult you can see the double bind that these children are facing.  The parent they love is hurting them, but they’re still a “parent” with the loyalty and attachments this concept evokes for the child.  The betrayal that the abuse brings is immense, and has shown to have a lasting impact – in another article within the series, it was stated that the ages 0-3 are critical for the rapidly developing brain.  This is supported and expanded by Watts-English, Fortson, Gibler, Hooper & Bellis (2006), who state that the stress caused by childhood maltreatment can cause a negative effect on the brain and ongoing global functioning.

In very simplistic language – child abuse can hinder the development of the brain.

As a survivor of child abuse I have issues with this – it is implied that not only did those who should have protected me didn’t, but their actions may have impacted on the basic physiology and biology of my brain.  In some ways this is obvious through the disorders that I now exhibit, for example individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been shown to have a smaller hippocampi than those in control groups (McNally, 2003).  My global functioning has been assessed to be negatively affected by 50-60%.  So there can be little doubt that the abuse has had long term effects on my daily functioning.

Can this damage could ever be reversed?  In the case of the coping mechanisms developed to cope with this abuse, good therapy can assist in returning functioning to a level that allows me to carry out the daily tasks enjoyed by my peers.  But will the potential damage done to my brain ever be reversed?  The answer to this question is beyond my control.  One thing that gives hope is that those who have a hemispherectomy can and do, have a full and productive life.

No matter what the damage has been caused, it is up to the survivor to work with what they have to make the most of the life given.  Making the most of that life can have different meanings to each individual – it could mean being able to get up to face the day; working on therapy as a full-time job; or being employed and working in a therapeutic environment to heal those wounds.

There is always hope.


Eriksen, A., (2008, December 12). Our lost children: Parents’ abuse the cruellest conflict. The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved December 22, 2008, from

McNally, R., (2003). Progress and controversy in the study of posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 229-252. Retrieved December 22, 2008, from Academic Search Elite.

Watts-English, T., Fortson, B.L., Gibler, N., Hooper, S., & Bellis, M., (2006). Psychobiology of maltreatment in childhood. Journal of Social Issues, 62(4), 717-736. Retrieved December 22, 2008, from Academic Search Elite doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2006.00484.x


4 thoughts on “Parental abuse – the cruel conflict

  1. My therapist assures me that the damage can be healed, but that it takes longer. She has given me several post-doctoral level articles about neuropsychiatry research which have discussed imaging studies done on children and adults who are actively healing from PTSD, and there are many indications that the brain does learn to rewire itself. It’s not fast, but it does seem to be possible.

  2. Hi David,
    We first saw this concept of the brain being affected by neglect or abuse in a BBC documentary – we think it was Child of our Time, but can’t be sure. They stated that once the brain had been altered by abuse or neglect, it was permanent. We were new to the therapy at this stage and it gave us little room for hope.

    But the human brain is an amazing thing. If it can adapt to having one hemisphere removed for the purposes of coping with forms of epilepsy, then surely it can adapt or heal from the impact of abuse. We were in a side impact car accident with gave us moderate concussion. It took over a year to feel as if there was a return to normal functioning, but the healing did take place.

    Have to hang onto every bit of hope there is out there…
    Just shocks us that the neglect and abuse could have caused such fundamental changes…

    Take care,

  3. I believe that all things are possible. *hugs*

    On another note, now that you have a WordPress account, I’ve added you as an approved reader to my private DID blog, which you can find at

    I’m assuming your WordPress login is castorgirl … if not, let me know. Of course there’s no expectation that you visit, but you would be very welcome. I don’t normally invite non-Wordpressers, due to the inconvenience of having to get a WordPress login just to read my private site. 🙂

  4. Hi David,

    Yes, it’s “castorgirl” – we’re incredibly unimaginative with usernames purely to help us all remember it. Thank you for the invitation, we’ll definitely go on over and have a look 🙂

    Take care over the holiday season…
    *safe hugs*
    Sophie 🙂

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