Once again, I am indebted to delanceyplace.com for referring me to yet another eye-opening piece, this time not taken from a book but an article published on The Guardian's website.  This piece tells of a definitive study on the issue of psychosis in children, and it would appear that nurture, not nature, is the smoking gun here.  The correlation between this study and the issue of bullying (and yes, perhaps religious indoctrination as well) should be obvious.  When a top-flight psychologist admits that a years-long search for genetic markers for psychological traits has been fruitless while the correlation between environment and psychosis is as strong as the article indicates, they have my full attention.

And from where I sit, they should have yours.  The full Guardian article is here. The delancyplace.com extract follows.


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In an astonishing admission in the Guardian last month, Robert Plomin, the country's leading genetic psychologist, admitted of the Human Genome Project's quest for genes for psychological traits of all kinds: "I've been looking for these genes for 15 years and I don't have any."

On the other side of the equation, the evidence for the role of maltreatment in causing emotional distress in general, and emotional abuse and neglect in particular, has become overwhelming. This applies as much to the extreme disturbance of psychosis (mostly schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) as to more common problems such as depression and anxiety.

A definitive analysis of the 41 best studies into the impact of childhood adversity on the risk of psychosis (mostly schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) was published in 2012. It broke down the role of different kinds of maltreatment. Emotional abuse meant exposure to behaviour such as harshness and name-calling from parents. Emotional neglect meant lack of love and responsiveness. Overall, in order of impact, emotional abuse increased the risk of psychosis the most (by 3.4 times, physical abuse and emotional neglect did so by 2.9, sexual abuse and bullying by peers by 2.4).

That emotional abuse is more damaging than sexual and physical abuse may seem surprising, although they tend to go together. One study found that the emotionally abused were 12 times more likely to be schizophrenic than the general population (compared with six times for the physically abused and twice as likely for the sexually abused). Another study followed adolescents for 15 years and found that over a third became schizophrenic if both parents were hostile, critical and intrusive, compared with none where only one parent was or neither were. In his definitive book, Models of Madness, John Read, a clinical psychologist at Liverpool University, shows that in the 10 studies testing the matter, the more extreme the childhood adversity, the greater the risk of adult psychosis. The results are similar for the number of adversities. In one large study, those subjected to five or more adversities were 193 times more likely to suffer psychosis than those with none.

Similar findings come from studies of less extreme emotional distress. In the definitive one, which followed 180 children from infancy to the age of 18, 90% of those who suffered early maltreatment qualified for a mental illness. Emotional neglect under the age of two was a critical predictor.

Tags: bullying, environment, genetic, psychosis

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Replies to This Discussion

Loren, the real problem with emotional abuse is there are no bruises, bone fractures, or signs of pulled out hair. What I did with the boys at the ranch, the men in the prison, women and children in the battered women's shelter was look at their eyes, body posture, flinching responses. When these indicated there might be emotional causes it was relatively easy to listen to their language and find evidence of self-hate, feelings of sadness, anger, fear, guilt or shame. I was particularly sensitive to signs of sexual abuse, especially since the ranch was run by a Rcatholic priest who wanted to be a clone of Father Flanagan and staffed by mostly dominate males personality types. 

Even photographs of children sometimes reveal an emotional disorder in their eyes. 

Many children who have very early emotional or physical abuse develop a blocking system that shuts out the conscious memories and builds up a protective thinking mechanism to protect themselves or anesthetize themselves to turn off awareness and feelings.

My experiences from my childhood, and even after becoming a mother was that no one believed, or took seriously the events that occurred. As a mother, I pleaded with doctors, nurses, police, and judges  for help and the response was to my hysteria, not to the underlying causes of my out-of-control emotions. This is the cause of learned helplessness, the belief there was nothing one can do to change what happened, is happening, or what will happen. Learned helplessness correlates with depression and anxiety. It is a mental coping strategy to survive, not thrive. 

Things are different now than 78 years ago when I was born or 50 years ago when my three children were born. People who take these situations seriously, who pay attention, who stand in support of the one trying to figure out what to do and how to become free of such abuses, open doors otherwise not available to the abused. 

Thanks for the article, and thinks for being one of those on AN who listens and supports change and growth toward health. 

Another study followed adolescents for 15 years and found that over a third became schizophrenic if both parents were hostile, critical and intrusive

I can shed some light on this.  Both of my parents WERE hostile, critical and intrusive.  As well as my brothers and sister, who learned how to act towards me, from my parents.  My father wanted to take me over completely, and my mother intruded in order to attack.  Like a bird with a long beak stabbing a piece of fruit. 

Actually "hostile, critical and intrusive" is a euphemism in my case.  She tried to kill me when I was about 2 years old, and I dissociated and "grew up" as a kind of shell that formed around that. 

What all that does, is to abolish the self, so that for many years even after I got away, there was no real "I". 

One time in college, I tried walking around observing how my vision changed as I moved, and tried to construct an "I" from that. 

And I went crazy when I was 19.  The content of my "craziness" was visions of the buried emotional reality of my family, visions of my own soul and others' souls: who I really was and who others really were.  Part of my parents' attack on me was to put me into a kind of trance state where their perceptions were my perceptions, and their concept of me was my concept of me.   When I went "crazy" I broke out of that trance state.

I was told that 80% of the people who go crazy once, go crazy over and over again, and a lot of other grim things.  But I didn't go crazy again.   I think, because my visions then became the backbone of my life thereafter, I didn't need to "hear it" again or see more visions to tell me what I needed to know.  I left my abusive family, except for a few forays back to them which I fled from like a bird flying out of Hell.  

There was a biochemical aspect too, which I found out about at 43.  I found out I had been severely, profoundly affected emotionally by celiac disease / delayed food allergies.  The gluten/milk especially seemed to have been a mild chronic hallucinogen for me. 

I started having weird food reactions when I was about 20 - about the same age that I went crazy, which suggests that both might have been connected to my immune system. 

It is all interwoven - I think my father at least was the way he was, because he had gluten problems which caused him severe chronic emotional and physical tension, hair-trigger rage.  And I think my parents' abuse might be a lot of the reason for my immune system problems - emotional trauma affects the immune system. 

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