Most of us are aware that children, who suffer violence and abuse at home, are at greater risk of suffering from anxiety and depression later in life. According to a study by the University College London, violence/abuse within families can affect children in the same way as combat affects soldiers.
Scientists carried out magnetic resonance imaging brain scans of children. More than half of them were from abusive homes. The pattern of activity in the brain showed heightened activation in two regions that are associated with threat detection. Previous research of combat soldiers has shown similar patterns.
The scans suggest both veterans and children from abusive homes tune their brains to be hyper-aware of environmental dangers. This also increases vulnerability to mental health problems. In my experience, it also creates ultra-sensitivity to other people’s aggression.
I often wonder why certain traumatic events in life have been a breeze in comparison to early childhood with my parents. From early memories – 3 to 9 years old – Mum would regularly launch into attacking my sister and me with her slipper. In addition, Dad’s violence and intimidation were severe and repressive.
Between a dysfunctional home and sexual abuse, my behaviour was appalling. To this day, it is hard to revisit that part of childhood. Unfortunately, vivid PTSD-like flashback images can haunt me like nightmares. My heart beats heavily with adrenaline. The anger is soul destroying.
It would take an entire post to explain the complex nature of our mother. Never renowned for patience, “misdemeanours” never did wear well. Barely a day would pass without her bemoaning, “Oh what a terrible time I’m having”. This would only fuel Dad’s temper even more.
I can still hear her moan, “I wish I never had you” and “You will go into a home for bad boys”. The intention was to frighten me into submission. She had no way of knowing that I would pray to God for two things – to be put in a home as far away from them as possible or that I would die.
Seldom does the child break, but on the rare occasions when he does, Mum would soothe-talk with statements like, “It is your own fault” and “You bring it all on yourself”. It planted the seeds of guilt, shame and humiliation. Emotions I still struggle with today.
Of course, I know we should not harbour feelings of shame and self-blame, but these emotions still weigh heavy, as though they are the bricks and mortar of my life. They are hard to shake.