Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bullying Changes Your Brain- So Does Everything Else

Scientists have long known that physical and sexual abuse in early childhood can alter brain development. But new research is showing that older kids who have been abused emotionally by their peers tend to share certain abnormalities in the corpus callosum. That's right: Being bullied is associated with an altered brain structure. The assumption here is that the bullying is causing the change, and not the other way around. It's also not totally clear what the external results of those internal changes might be—although researchers think it could have something to do with the higher rates of depression bullied kids also experience. (BOINGBOING)

A comment asks "Isn't any experience associated with an altered brain structure, to one degree or another?"

I responded there, but realized it's relevant to one of the topics I have been exploring on this blog:

There is the factor of genetic predisposition, but it seems like habit (often re-enforced by environmental factors), eventually creates an organic component-- it's like a feedback mechanism. Gives some strange credence to the idea of "fake it till you make it," if you "think" depressed for long enough, you probably will be. And yet, it's far harder to think oneself "out" of it as people suffering from depression will tell you. Because there's become a biological psychological re-enforcement system developed around the behavior and response, even if we consciously hate it and want it to stop.

I assume there are "points of no return" with these things, event horizons, where, at the very least, the power of the will-- call that "escape velocity"-- has been overrun by the "gravity" of a habitual method of thought and behavior. There are so many systems entangled with one another that it is very difficult to know when this point might be in a given case, or what environmental factors may be playing a role, and what that role may be. A "habit" can be something we typical think of when we use the word, like smoking, but any structure of thought which we identify as a part of our personality is a "habit," personas are habitual; the habits taken on or which re-enforce personas are habitual...

(Note: Systemic entanglement is something I want to think about more in regard to the somewhat simplified mystical (or neo-Platonic) premise "all is One." But that's for later, my brain hasn't gestated that thought-baby.)

By the way, I was bullied to an almost absurd degree as a child. I can say beyond a doubt that it had an essentially permanent effect on my neuropsychology. Even the things I've done in an attempt to overcome it become a part of that narrative. Our narrative is, as much as anything is, us. And so the awful things that happen to us become a part as much as the so-called good. Which is yet another reason when someone says to "get over it" that you should punch them in the face. You can, and should, of course attempt to work within the context and confines of your neurology to improve your reactions so that you get more of what you want and less of what you don't in your life. But reductionistic "just feel better," "get over it," etc mentality completely ignores a basic understanding of psychology. It also demonstrates a lack of compassion, which is not pity, but rather an appreciation of the systemic bind people are in when they, for instance, find themselves time and again in depression. You needn't feel sorry for them, but if you can't put yourself in their place, or at least make the attempt, you are not capable of acting out of true compassion.

The same could be said about the blind optimism of schools of thought such as The Secret. But, there's actually more truth to that, in that optimism does tend to provoke contagious reactions from others, and so long as it isn't acting in direct conflict with one of your pre-existent habits, on a personal level at least confidence is beneficial. The pernicious aspect of myths such as The Secret is more in how it will distort your perception and minimalize actual problems. Its flaw is explained well in Candide. Also, in an article that I received for the Immanence of Myth by Catherine Svehla, PhD so I'll let her piece speak to that.

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