Emotional abuse results in damage to the hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory ability. This damage results in associated memory deficits, according to studies from Yale University School of Medicine, Yale Psychiatric Institute and the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. Intense stress from emotional abuse floods the brain with hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and opiates, which results in eventual shrinkage of the hippocampus, according to Pierce J. Howard, PhD in his book, The Owner's Manual for the Brain. Emotional abuse includes:

  1. Terrorizing
  • causing a child or youth to be terrified by constant threats, intimidating behavior, and bullying
  • unpredictable and extreme responses to child's behavior
  • inconsistent demands on the child
  • threats to reveal intensely embarrassing traits to peers
  • threatening abandonment
  • threatening to destroy a favorite object
  • Rejection
    • constant criticism
    • name-calling
    • yelling or swearing
    • verbal humiliation
    • physical abandonment
    • refusing hugs and loving gestures
    • treating an adolescent like a child
    • not accepting youth because of their sexual preference
  • Isolating
    • keeping child away from the other parent if separated
    • punishing youth for engaging in normal social experiences
    • isolating child in closet
    • not allowing child to have friends
    • preventing a child from participating in activities outside the home
  • Ignoring
    • failing to give any response to or interact with a child at all
    • rejecting the child as an offspring
    • failure to engage child in day-to-day activities
    • denying required health and dental care
    • not paying attention to significant events in child's life
  • Corruption
    • encouraging a child or youth to do things that are illegal or harmful to themselves
    • rewarding child for bullying and harassing behavior
    • rewarding child for substance abuse and sexual activity
    • encouraging violence in sporting activities
    • supplying child with drugs, alcohol and other illegal substances
  • Exploitation
    • giving a child or youth responsibilities far greater than they are capable of handling
    • getting angry when a child cries
    • using a child for profit
    • parent depending on child as a “caregiver”
    • blaming child or youth for misbehavior of siblings
    • requiring child or youth to participate in sexual exploitation

    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed reduction in hippocampus size in combat veterans and victims of childhood abuse suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. These studies show that traumatic or highly stressful experiences can have long-term effects on the structure and function of the brain, at the point where the frontal cortex, the emotional brain and the survival brain converge.

    Our brains are structured into three main parts:

    • The cortex - the outer surface, where higher thinking skills arise; includes the frontal cortex, the most recently evolved portion of the brain
    • The limbic system - the center of the brain, where emotions evolve
    • The brain stem - the reptilian brain that controls basic survival functions

    Brain scans of people with relationship or developmental difficulties, learning challenges, and social interaction issues reveal similar structural and functional irregularities to those suffering with PTSD.

    When we experience stress, our body floods the body with cortisol, a stress hormone resulting in a “fight or flight” response. High levels of cortisol may damage or destroy cells in the hippocampus, according to the New York University Medical Center. Hypercortisolism has also been found to be a primary cause of obesity.

    Chronic stress causes the brain to be flooded with the enzyme kinase C, which breaks down the dendritic spines of neurons in the prefrontal cortex, according to Amy Arnsten, professor of neurobiology at Yale University.

    When we control this enzyme response with medication or natural stress reduction, the neurons recuperate in otherwise healthy individuals, says B.J. Casey Ph.D., Professor and Director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Cornell University's Weill Medical College. Casey and a student, Conor Liston, tested the hypothesis on 20 medical school students. Scanning their brains during and after the students took their medical board exams, a high-stress period, the Cornell team saw that damage to the prefrontal cortex done during the exams was completely reversed a month later.

    For people with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or chronic depression and anxiety, the brain has no ability to recover from damage caused by the enzyme. GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) has been found to be the one of most effective ways of controlling cortisol levels and treating these conditions. Initial studies in the 1950s found that it had a calming effect on the brain and could be effective in the treatment of anxiety and schizophrenia. More recently, Dr. Harold Whitcomb and biochemical nutritionist Phyllis Bronson of the Aspen Colorado Clinic for Preventive and Environmental Medicine confirm the calming effects of GABA. When the brain is in a state of anxiety, it over-fires, sending too many messages at once. GABA sends a message to nerve cells not to fire.

    If you experience chronic stress you are not alone. There are several safe and effective natural treatments for chronic stress. Meditation can reduce your cortisol levels, according to the Department of Physiology and Anatomy at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. Exercise, nutritional supplements such as GABA, Vitamins B5, B6 and C, and a healthy diet help to lower your stress response, repairing the effects of Emotional Abuse and Brain Structural Damage. And as you develop a healthier brain, you will live a healthier, happier, and longer life full of energy and peace.

    Author's Bio: 

    Michael Locklear is a researcher and consultant with 30 years experience, studying health, nutrition, and human behavior. He has been president of the Global Peace Project since 1986, and he administrates the website www.Natural-Remedies-for-Total-Health.com as part of the Global Peace Project Educational Outreach Program. You can also find him on The Total Health Blog.