If the invisible damage showed up like bruises and marks, perhaps parents would think twice.
About ten years ago Mr. Ramirez was partly dozing off after a long day and watching a TV program about World War II. I was getting ready to facilitate the online group and was killing time reading. I was looking for information I heard about on the car radio so I googled, “child abuse affects brain development.” As I read about how child maltreatment (child abuse) actually changes brain development, I began to read aloud so the words could sink in.
“The brain’s development can literally be altered by this type of toxic stress, resulting in negative impacts on the child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth.” I read.
I was drawn into the five-page article, scrolling down a few lines at a time. The article went on to explain how the stress or danger response (fight or flight) triggered hormones or chemicals in the brain— norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. When it happens only occasionally, the response is normal and the brain chemicals return to normal pre-stress levels. The problem with child abuse is that it happens more often, triggering an almost constant release of those hormones so that the brain does not have time to return to pre-stress levels, that is how abuse changes the developing brain of a child. In other words, the changes in the brain become permanent.
Mr. Ramirez made a sound that broke my concentration. Looking over at him I saw he was fully awake now and tears were streaming down his face.
“How come you didn’t tell me it changes the brain!” he bellowed, “You didn’t tell me!”
He wiped his face on his sleeve and I really did not know what to say; for once I was at a complete loss. I had spent years begging and pleading him not to hit or belittle our kids. Would it have mattered if I said ‘brain’ instead of ‘self-esteem?’ I had dug up data since he is a ‘professional’ and might listen to information from an educated source. He likes analogies so I had told him once that a child with damaged self-esteem is like an animal in the wild, and that all the other animals sensed an injured animal and would move in for the kill. Damage is damage— plain and simple.
Mr. Ramirez raced to his office; a small room at the end of our house where he and his Asperger’s self goes to be alone, read, study, pay bills and escape. I shudder and leave him to beat himself up for a change.
The article summation stated that while these changes can happen when abuse occurs at any point in life, the study showed that abuse, especially during pre-teen and adolescent years are the most damaging, resulting in mood and anxiety disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. I also came across a telling graphic with negative images of the brains showing the differences between normal and abuse brains.
Reading further on the web page it said children can actually inherit a mother’s abuse-altered brain because the DNA is damaged. Both our daughters plan not to have children and that makes me sad but I certainly understand. Katie was able to stop her dad’s physical abuse but he continued verbal abuse. Chelsey’s anger matches or exceeds her dad’s and mine; her only mistake was being her dad’s first-born.
Chelsey says adamantly, “I can not have children; every time I would get mad, I would see a little me.”
Young Children or Toddlers
The effect of child abuse doesn’t end when the hitting stops, it continues to follow the child and the parent for a lifetime. Short term the effects are not as evident, a young child may have marks and bruises that may fade and heal over time. Damaged self-esteem goes hand in hand with abuse. Here are a few outward signs that may indicate abuse:
• Ducking when a larger person comes near
• Standing back to let others go first
• Pushing in front of others
• Reluctance to reclaim things taken away by another child
• Reluctance to go or come to the parent
• Picking on a sibling
• Picked on by siblings and expecting no help
• Appearing fearful when there are noises or quick movements nearby
• Not asking for things
• Being very quiet
• Staying to themselves
• Abnormally clingy
• Extreme sadness or crying
• Failure to thrive
• Anger issues
• Destructive behaviors
Young Children, Pre-Teens, Teens and Young Adults
This age group may display a full range of abuse manifestations or indicators and low self-esteem or self-image. This is only a list of things a child, male or female, could possibly face or display as they grow into adulthood and beyond:
• Suicide/Attempted suicide
• Drug and/or alcohol abuse, tobacco and addictions
• Sexual addictions and promiscuity (Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs)
• Mental health disorders and illnesses
• Lack of self-esteem or general feeling of worthlessness or deficiency
• Eating disorders
• Domestic violence
• Self-injury or cutting
• Abuse of their own children
• Perfectionism (extreme)
• Apathy towards self and or others (lack of hygiene, dental care, self-care, etc.)
• Lethargy or extreme lack of energy
• Friendless or social outcast behaviors (withdrawal)
• Multiple relationships or marriages
• Unstable or erratic hob histories
• Various types of victimization
• General hopelessness and helplessness
• Impulsiveness or lack of self-control
• Fire setting or animal abuse
• Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships
• Anger and rage
• Antisocial behavior
• Insomnia and sleep disturbances
• Poor health in general
• Delinquency, brushes with or entanglements with the law and risky behaviors
Mr. Ramirez: The True Cost of Child Abuse
Mr. Ramirez does not understand how hitting, verbal abuse, public humiliation, demeaning, threats, yelling, etc. can cause so much damage. He feels that these are not abuse but are tools of punishment that will prevent his children from being “spoiled” or “ruined.” He believes he “turned out alright” and that I made a “big deal out of nothing.” Thousands – maybe millions – disagree.
As Mr. Ramirez sees it, the cost of abusing his daughters can be tallied in dollars and cents. (He focused most physical abuse on his first-born but both were verbally battered.) For certain he will not be able to retire when he planned and we have not been able to make improvements to our home either. There have been no vacations, no cruises or impromptu trips.
Mr. Ramirez has been shelling out money at various times for:
• Depression medications
• Psychiatrist to write prescriptions for the medications
• Psychologist/therapist to speak with the kids
• Neurologists (for migraine and visual issues)
• Individual therapy, group therapy and separate sessions with a nutritionist
• An intensive outpatient program for one summer, followed by a year and a half intensive outpatient program several years later
• Mileage and wear and tear on the vehicle – ONE YEAR was roughly three thousand miles!
• Long distance bills
• Many appointments to see the primary care doctor with illnesses manifested and unresolved due to extreme amounts of stress
• College classes were missed and had to be retaken
These are not all of the expenses we have incurred but it is a pretty comprehensive list. A few of these bills were covered in the beginning by insurance but most continued long after insurance dropped our daughter’s coverage. (She was not covered by the recent law continuing coverage to age twenty-six.) Having Asperger’s may prevent him from feeling empathy for his daughter but he can certainly understand dollars and cents damage. None of these items on the list come cheap and nothing was free.
One short question…
Do you think it was worth it for Mr. Ramirez to hit and verbally abuse his daughters?
This is a follow-up to a previous post.
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her at her contact page.