Autonomy, Abuse and the Hippocampus Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Current brain imaging surveys and other experiments also present evidence that child abuse could permanently damage neural structure and the functioning of the developing brain itself (Carloff).

Cohen (2001) discusses the merits of art therapy with its innate therapeutic qualities, which simultaneously activate the nervous system, the brain, the endocrine and the immune system in a uniquely particular way to support effective clinical management. Psycho-neuroendoimmunology connects an unregulated stress response to health, with stress as the underlying neurological dynamics of psychological and behavioral symptoms. Stress triggers an adaptive sympathetic nervous system response aimed at maintaining an optional state of functioning. This nervous system regulates the fight, flight, or freeze response to stress, which in turn provides the energy for survival and temporarily sharpens memory and brain function. Nature intends the use of this sympathetic adaptive response for survival, but the external reality is that our daily lives or urban environment presents little or no space or chance for flight or fight. It thus deprives the human sympathetic nervous system the opportunities to physiologically express itself. The hippocampus holds short-term memory and codes long-term memory. It is a fragile structure that closes at times of great stress when the mind forgets. The loss of neurons in the hippocampus can lead to serious behavioral problems. Trauma and stress inhibit both emotions in the amygdale and memory function in the hippocampus, as shown by PET scans of trauma survivors of chronic stress, such as in childhood abuse or neglect, where the hippocampus is decreased in size, indicating a loss of neurons. Cohen points out the importance of neurotherapy in intentionally influencing the body and mind connection. It can help identify what things the person's mind responds to so as to increase feelings of safety mastery and control. He concludes that a child's right and left hemisphere connection with the corpus coliseum solidifies and myleniates only at ages 6 to 7 when the nerves get fully covered and the child can communicate efficiently.

Sherry (1997) contributes that injury to the small brain tissue called the hippocampus produces tremendous amnesia so that the source of stress is viewed by the person affected as a stranger, although they had met and talked only minutes earlier. Reasoning and intelligence remain intact in the affected one an only the recent experience of stress disappears. This condition destroys the chance and hope of a normal life (Sherry).

New studies reinforce the theory that those who experience severe stress reaction early in life, such as childhood abuse, have unusually small hippocampus, which helps regulate memory (Bower 1996). But scientists are still uncertain as to whether the size is the consequence of severe trauma or contributes to vulnerability to trauma. Earlier studies conducted on 29 women respondents who survived repeated childhood sexual abuse showed that smaller sized hippocampal volumes by 5% than in those who reported no sexual abuse or psychiatric disorder. Hippocampal volume was lowest in those who reported the most dissociation or feelings of detachment from one's self and other alterations of consciousness. Young children appeared to be more resilient than teenagers or adults. Another study conducted by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire discovered 24% smaller hippocampi in 24% of combat veterans suffering from PTSD than in those without PTSD and those who did not serve in the military. The smallest hippocampi belonged to those who experienced the most severe combat (Bower).

A research study conducted by James Golomb and colleagues at the New York University on 54 health persons aged 55 to 87 showed that recall fails when the hippocampus shrinks (Pennisi 1993). They measured the size of the hippocampi and another similar brain lobe not involved in memory and learning. The research group tested the participants' immediate recall and recall after a few minutes and found that the poorer the individual's ability to recall words and pictures after a delay, the smaller his hippocampus (Pennisi).

III. Methods

This study used the descriptive and normative research method in recording, describing, interpreting, analyzing and comparing information from authoritative sources and the findings of a survey. The survey was conducted on 50 abused women as respondents from women shelters and 50 non-abused women from a local college. The respondents were interviewed and assessed on child abuse, autonomy and hippocampus damage through the childhood abuse scale of the Million Adolescent Clinical Inventory, MRIs, and an autonomy scale.

IV. Conclusions

The hippocampus plays a major role among all other brain structures in the formation of memory among people who have undergone severe stress such as abuse in childhood. During high-level stress episodes, neurochemicals increase to disable the hippocampus from recording extremely painful memory and thus recall is impeded or blocked. The smallness or shrinkage of the hippocampus is proportionate to the severity of stress and unhappiness experienced as a child at a time of greatest vulnerability. Beyond 7, memories consolidate and a damaged hippocampus disables or blocks out new memories and access to previous memories. This is a consistent condition among survivors of severe childhood abuse whose subsequent interpersonal relations in later life are seriously compromised. Their potential for self-actualization and fullness of life is determined or destroyed right at the start when they lose or are deprived the chance to become autonomous individuals at their own time.


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Sources Used in Document:


1. Al-Kurdi, H. (2006). Messing with Our Minds. Dirty Tricks, Inc. VOXNYC.

2. Bower, B. (1996). Small Hippocampus Linked to Higher Risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Science News: Science Service, Inc.

3. Brick, N.D. (2005). How Childhood Sexual Abuse Affects Interpersonal Relations. Smart News.

4. Carloff, A. (2002). Child Abuse and Damage. Punkerslut.

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