February 3, 2015

I read a fantastic New York Times article about the impact of violence in the home on violence in society: To Stop Violence, Start at Home.

It has been shown statistically through a number of studies that individuals raised violently in their homes by their parents grow up to re-live violence as adults, both as perpetrators and as victims. The statistics now have backing in science.

Experiencing violence and observing a parent demonstrate violence against one’s other parent both constitute traumas to a young child’s developing brain. The developing brain is particularly sensitive to trauma in the womb and in the earliest years, when its very architecture is created. During this time, the developing brain is maleable. It forms numerous synaptic connections in line with the individual’s experiences and then prunes those that are unnecessary to create wiring that under ideal circumstances is efficient and well-functioning. Take a look at this video from the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child: Experiences Build Brain Architecture.

When an individual experiences a trauma, such as being beaten by a parent or observing a parent beating one’s other parent, that creates defective connections in the child’s developing brain. When it is severe and/or recurring, as violence in the home often is, it can also lead to brain dysfunction as well as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD involves a dysfunction in the body’s stress response system which leads to overreation and avoidance responses to triggers that remind an individual of the original trauma. It also involves a defective resting level of stress. A healthy stress response system reacts to stressful situations with a release of cortisol and a “fight or flight” response.

Those raised in a home with violence, even when it is experienced when in the mother’s womb as a fetus, grow up with defective stress response systems, potentially with PTSD or with post traumatic stress symptoms that don’t rise to the level of diagnosable PTSD, as well as with a brain whose synaptic connections are formed in an environment of violence. Among other effects, this type of brain programming leads to an adult who re-experiences violence throughout his or her life.

Violence breeds violence. This understanding now has a backing in science.

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