Abuse Really Does Permanently Change You, and Ruminations About Comment Threads

One of my favorite blogs is Ed Yong’s Not Exactly Rocket Science, and it had a thoughtful post in February, discussing a study that showed that the genes of abused children change permanently:

By studying the brains of suicide victims, Patrick McGowan from the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, found that child abuse modifies a gene called NR3C1 that affects a person’s ability to deal with stress. The changes it wrought were “epigenetic”, meaning that the gene’s DNA sequence wasn’t altered but its structure was modified to make it less active. These types of changes are very long-lasting, which strongly suggests that the trauma of child abuse could be permanently inscribed onto a person’s genes.

And more:

With the gene not working properly in many cells, the body can’t produce enough glucocorticoid receptor.

As a result, the HPA trinity can’t turn itself down properly and is constantly on high-alert. The body behaves as if it were stressed, even when nothing stressful is happening. The result is a higher risk of anxiety, depression and suicide. McGowan admits that this the whole picture is still speculative, but the individual steps make sense in the light of his results.

If true (and the results are rather suggestive), the study’s results do rather explain a lot.

Like why child abuse victims are so “contrary” to attempts to heal them. It’s hard, if not impossible, to go up against a lack of hormones, due to your own genes having their active regions changed, that control stress receptors.

This could be as important (in terms of permanancy of impact of one’s life, not the severity of life-threatening ((Okay. I say this because a lot of people don’t think a tendency towards heart disease or suicide is as deadly as cancer. And I don’t really know what to say to that, except that maybe we ought to rethink such positions.)) ) as the type of gene changes that bring about obesity and cancer.

Of course, a lot of people believe that depression is just a chosen state of mind, that being fat is just a failure of willpower, and/or that cancer results from not enough prayer.

To those people I say, even without this study, even without the other studies (or, you know, science), knowing what I do from personal experience and the experiences of others ((Let me also take this moment to say “fuck you” to all the people who claim that the Internet has no value; do you know how hard it is to find a child abuse support group or the time and money to spend on it? You can sometimes get what you pay for, of course. But if you don’t believe the experiences I blog about, I suppose you don’t believe all those other deviants on the web either.)) … fuck you.

I didn’t choose this any more than others have.

Obviously positive life experiences can be supported by family (um, except not your abusers or their enablers), friends, and the mere act of social contact with human beings, through a screen or not… but y’know. Brain chemistry still fucks with your head in serious, non-ignorable ways. You can mitigate, but not remove the effects. It’s horrible, but it’s life. ((It also means that the monster in my room isn’t going to evaporate any time soon.))

The full article is interesting and deserves the rest of it to be read. Although I warn you that there is an obsessive “devil’s advocate” ((I say obsessive because: really, if you need to take the time to swipe at people on an article four months old, you might have a twitch.)) at the end of the comments taking this chance to tell people they’re wasting their time thinking about the possible results of this study on their lives.

Veering off on another subject here…

This is why I don’t like the act of playing devil’s advocate on a subject that is actually traumatic to the people involved. When emotional stakes are that high, unless you enjoy inflicting pain on others—there are already disclaimers in the article on “if this is true” and admissions by the researchers that this is “still speculative”—you really probably shouldn’t. I don’t say that you want to inflict pain, just that your actions, whether you mean to or not, do have that impact.

Also, if your comment in any discussion is along the lines of “you shouldn’t feel that way”, the chances of your comments being trollerific go up considerably. I’d say 100%. And indeed, it was the cause of much of the hurt that Racefail induced. Just because you can treat something clinically doesn’t mean that other people, who have suffered considerably from what you blithely discuss, won’t get emotionally worked up. And if you think that’s simply a personal failing in them, I just have this to say: look at the damn study and tell me you don’t ponder whether what you think can be “reasoned out” might actually be possible to ignore.

I try to remember the motto these days: do no harm.