It is becoming clear to me that I will not be able to approach the topic of ‘teasing’ until I so some serious thinking about verbal abuse in general and about my own infant-childhood experiences with my mother’s severe (from birth) verbal abuse of me.  I have been avoiding this subject until now.  It is going to be an extremely painful one for me to approach and consider.

Research on how all forms of abuse infants and children experience can change the way their brain develops is beginning to specify which brain regions are most susceptible to change during particular time-frames of development.  Because my mother began to abuse me from birth, I suspect that everything about how my brain developed was affected, including the regions of my brain that process verbal information.

Some links are presented below to information related to brain changes and infant-child abuse.  I realize that all this information does is to begin to build the frame of the scaffold I need before I can personally think about verbal abuse.


February 20, 2009

Cutting Words May Scar Young Brains

Parental Verbal Abuse of Child Appears to Damage Cerebral Pathways

Sticks and stones may break bones, but harsh words may damage a child’s brain. New work from HMS researchers suggests that parental verbal abuse can injure brain pathways, possibly causing depression, anxiety and problems with language processing.”

Word Power
Principal investigator Martin Teicher, HMS associate professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital, became interested in the effects of parental verbal abuse 25 years ago.   A patient of his showed all of the signs of being traumatized as a child, but the only form of maltreatment she had been exposed to was parental verbal abuse.

Later, in 2005, Teicher’s research revealed that parental verbal abuse has the same negative psychiatric influence as witnessing domestic violence or experiencing extrafamilial sexual abuse.  His latest study, which shows that verbal abuse damages specific brain connections, is part of a strategy to isolate different types of abuse, including witnessing domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse and harsh corporal punishment, and to examine the specific effects of each on the developing brain.  The researchers designed this strategy around a hypothesis that all of these will act as stressors that produce similar responses in the brain but along different sensory pathways, said Teicher.

The study on verbal abuse is the first to be published, though the overall hypothesis on distinctive sensory damage has so far panned out when the unpublished work is also considered.  The findings of this study “set the stage for what we’re seeing in the other ongoing studies—that sensory systems are vulnerable,” said Teicher.   “The brain is probably suppressing the development of sensory systems that are providing adverse input.”   That is, children’s brains seem to “turn down the volume” on abusive words, images and even pain.   The result is diminished integrity in these sensory pathways.

“This is the first evidence of the potential deleterious effect of ridicule, humiliation, and disdain on brain connectivity,” said Jeewook Choi, first author and visiting assistant professor of psychiatry from South Korea.”

Among those who [solely] experienced parental verbal abuse, three statistically significant disturbed pathways emerged: the arcuate fasciculus, involved in language processing; part of the cingulum bundle, altered in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder and associated with depression and dissociation; and part of the fornix, linked to anxiety.  The degree of disruption of the normal flow correlated with the severity of abuse.”   PLEASE READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

There’s an incredible photograph at this link showing these three areas of brain changes!

two people who show the same symptoms of depression today may be treated the same. Yet one condition may stem mostly from genetic susceptibility and the other mostly from exposure to childhood adversity. Though the two patients may appear to have the same disorder, “different brain regions or structures may be involved,” said Teicher. “Each may need a very different kind of therapy.”

Teicher and his team are now working to identify sensitive periods when specific brain structures are most susceptible and, if possible, to find ways to reverse the damage.

For now, however, the most important message of this work may be the awareness that parental verbal abuse is damaging. “People hear that spanking is bad, so they stop doing that and become more verbally abusive,” said Teicher. “It turns out, that may be worse.””



The Effects of Verbal Abuse on a Fetus


Parental Verbal Abuse Affects Brain White Matter

By dr teicher


Abuse and Sensitive Periods

By dr teicher

Research from my laboratory, and from other labs here and abroad, have shown that exposure to childhood abuse is associated with alterations in brain structure and function.  This research has largely focused on brain regions known to be susceptible to the effects of stress, such as the hippocampus.  We have recently expanded our knowledge regarding the potential adverse effects of abuse by publishing the first preliminary data indicating that the neurobiological consequences of abuse depend on the age of exposure (Andersen et al 2008).


The brain is molded by experiences that occur throughout the lifespan. However, there are particular stages of development when experience exerts either a maximal (sensitive period) or essential (critical period) effect. Little direct evidence exists for sensitive or critical periods in human brain development. Based on differential rates of maturation specific brain regions should have their own unique periods of sensitivity to the effects of early experiences such as stress.


Within the same group of subjects there were marked differences between regions in the stages of greatest vulnerability.  The hippocampus was particularly sensitive to abuse reported to occur at 3-5 and 11-13 years of age.  In contrast, the rostral body of the corpus callosum was affected by abuse reported to have occurred at ages 9-10, and prefrontal cortex by abuse at ages 14-16.


Childhood abuse has been associated with vulnerability to a host of psychiatric disorders and behavioral problems. Based on the present findings, there may be different abuse-related syndromes associated with particular stages of abuse and specific regional brain changes.

Identifying sensitive periods may also provide insight into key ages at which stimulation or environmental enrichment may optimally benefit development of specific brain regions.”


This information comes from the “A Healthy Me” website.

Yelling at Children (Verbal Abuse)

By Benj Vardigan

“…current research shows that verbal abuse of children can be just as destructive emotionally as physical and sexual abuse and puts them in as much risk for depression and anxiety.”

What is verbal abuse?

• How common is verbal abuse?
• What are signs that a child is suffering from verbal abuse?
• Does verbal abuse do any long-term harm?
• Why can’t I seem to control my temper?
• What can I do to avoid verbally abusing my child?
• What can I do to prevent someone else from verbally abusing my child or another child?
• What if I see a stranger verbally abusing a child in the supermarket or at the park?


From the Find Counseling.com website –

“Child Abuse: An Overview” was written by C. J. Newton, MA, Learning Specialist and published in the Find Counseling.com (formerly TherapistFinder.net) Mental Health Journal in April, 2001:
Child Abuse: Just One Story
Child Abuse Introduction |   Signs of Child Abuse
Child Abuse Statistics |   It’s Under Reported
Effects of Child Abuse on Children: Abuse General
Effects of Child Abuse on Children: Child Sexual Abuse
Injuries to Children: Physical and Sexual Abuse
Effects of Child Abuse on Adults: Childhood Abuse
Effects of Child Abuse on Adults: Childhood Sexual Abuse
Definition of Physical Abuse |   Signs of Physical Abuse
Definition of Sexual Abuse |   Signs of Sexual Abuse
Definition of Child Neglect |   Signs of Child Neglect
Definition of Emotional Abuse |   Signs of Emotional Abuse
Abusers |   Pedophiles
Child Physical Abuse and Corporal Punishment
Treatment for Child Abuse
Costs to Society
State Child Abuse Laws
Nationwide Crisis Line and Hotline Directory
National Non-Governmental Organizations and Links
U.S. Government Organizations and Links


Psychiatric News July 7, 2006
Volume 41 Number 13 Page 28
© American Psychiatric Association

  • Clinical & Research News

Parents’ Verbal Abuse Leaves Long-Term Legacy

By Joan Arehart-Treichel


Here is a website devoted entirely to the subject of VERBAL ABUSE:

ARTICLE:  Verbal Abuse and Children
by Patricia Evans –
Provides information particularly to parents


From The Parent Zone.com website:

What Are The Effects Of Verbal Abuse On Children?


This article is one of the ground breaking research papers about how child abuse changes the development of an infant-child’s brain.  This paper is excluding research about how abuse changes the development of the right emotional limbic brain.  It is focused on LEFT BRAIN changes, and presents a ‘preliminary’ study about altered patterns of development in right handed children who do not end up with the usual left hemisphere dominance.  (EEGs are not able to detect the kinds of right brain changes child abuse causes).

This 1998 article is presenting the hypothesis that verbal abuse might be one of the powerful influences that changes how the hemispheres develop in relation to one another with the end result being that information is not processed ‘normally’ by either hemisphere and is not transmitted between hemispheres ‘normally’, either.

Preliminary Evidence for Aberrant Cortical Development in Abused Children

A Quantitative EEG Study


J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 10:298-307, August 1998
© 1998 American Psychiatric Press, Inc.

Yutaka Ito, M.D., Ph.D., Martin H. Teicher, M.D., Ph.D., Carol A. Glod, R.N., Ph.D. and Erika Ackerman, B.S.


Here is another excellent presentation about child abuse written by Dr. Bruce Perry (1997), Incubated in terror: Neurodevelopmental factors in the ‘cycle of violence.’


The development of dissociation in maltreated preschool-aged children


Johnson et al 2001

Abstract – Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York State Psychiatric Institute, NY 10032, USA.

Childhood verbal abuse and risk for personality disorders during adolescence and early adulthood
Comprehensive Psychiatry, Volume 42, Issue 1, Pages 16-23

ABSTRACT:  Data from a community-based longitudinal study were used to investigate whether childhood verbal abuse increases risk for personality disorders (PDs) during adolescence and early adulthood. Psychiatric and psychosocial interviews were administered to a representative community sample of 793 mothers and their offspring from two New York State counties in 1975, 1983, 1985 to 1986, and 1991 to 1993, when the mean ages of the offspring were 5, 14, 16, and 22 years, respectively. Data regarding childhood abuse and neglect were obtained from the psychosocial interviews and from official New York State records.

Offspring who experienced maternal verbal abuse

during childhood were more than three times as likely

as those who did not experience verbal abuse

to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid PDs during adolescence or early adulthood.

These associations remained significant after offspring temperament, childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, physical punishment during childhood, parental education, parental psychopathology, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders were controlled statistically.

In addition, youths who experienced childhood verbal abuse had elevated borderline, narcissistic, paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal Personality Disorder symptom levels during adolescence and early adulthood after the covariates were accounted for.

These findings suggest that childhood verbal abuse may contribute to the development of some types of Personality Disorders, independent of offspring temperament, childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, physical punishment during childhood, parental education, parental psychopathology, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders.


The region in the primate brain that contains mirror neurons corresponds in our human brain to the region, Broca’s area, that processes speech (see page 184 of chapter reference below).  Think about the impact of all forms of adult interactions with infant-children — especially during the rapid-growth brain developmental stages — as you read the following:

“Relational” Mirror Neurons and the Concept of Representation

“Mirror neurons respond only to intentional motor actions. This is the first evidence that there is an area in the motor cortex that can respond specifically and only to goal-directed, relational actions.”  (page 183)

“When mirror neurons are activated, there is a very tight, precise correspondence between a specific motor action and neuron firing. For example, if a neuron responded to an object held between the fingers, it would not respond to the same object held by tweezers. Self-initiated actions and the individual’s perception of the identical action performed by another evoke the same neural response. So it can be said that the monkey’s brain (and ours as well) is intrinsically relational.”” (page 184)

“The discovery of mirror neurons suggests that certain actions may be represented in the mind because they trigger a neural link between self and other. This representation of the other’s action by means of mirror neurons is direct and immediate and does not require any intervening symbolic code or a mental language, as there is an instantaneous mapping from self to other and from other to self. Mirror neurons support ecological theories of perception in that there is an innate coupling between the self and the other: we respond to directly perceived qualities of the other’s intentionality; we do not require coded information.”  (page 185)


in Imagination and the Meaningful Brain (Philosophical Psychopathology)By Arnold H. Modell (2006), The MIT Press


“Scientists who use advanced imaging technology to study brain function report that the human brain is wired to reward caring, cooperation, and service. According to this research, merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in our brain as when a mother sees distress in her baby’s face. Conversely, the act of helping another triggers the brain’s pleasure center and benefits our health by boosting our immune system, reducing our heart rate, and preparing us to approach and soothe. Positive emotions like compassion produce similar benefits. By contrast, negative emotions suppress our immune system, increase heart rate, and prepare us to fight or flee.”

READ REST OF ARTICLE HERE:  We Are Hard-Wired to Care and Connect by by David Korten




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