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Brain Chemistry Altered by Early Life Experience, Part 1

There was a fascinating article that recently showed up on NBC on June 2.  It dealt with the overarching concept of resiliency possibly being rooted in childhood, and featured some survivor stories of recent tragedies of natural disasters.  It presented that some people did well; others less so.

The article nicely brought a mental health issue with the potential to affect us all one step closer to the general public.  As well, though, it pointed toward something fascinating — that in terms of causalities of mental health and illness, there is “nature and nurture” and then there is something else.

“Nature” widely has been understood to be our genetics;  “nurture” our early life experiences.  Human behavior has been catchphrased as shaped by these two for centuries.

But then there is brain chemistry.  The genetics category, you say?  Not so fast. Apparently it can be altered by early formative experience.

10 Comments to
Brain Chemistry Altered by Early Life Experience, Part 1

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  1. what an interesting topic Lisa. It makes since that life experiences can change brain chemistry. One day we will be able to detect these changes to gain further understanding of the brain.

  2. Our thoughts and actions as adults are largely influenced by our earliest experiences. I have no doubt that science will one day be able to show conclusive evidence to that effect. Our brains are being programmed before birth, neurons make connections based on what we experience as infants and small children. If we’re given conflicting information or experience inconsistent or harsh treatment or neglect in those formative years, we navigate through life using faulty software.

  3. Theory is interesting but seems to me obvious that we have put genetics and brain function behind experience and I believe that order is crucially backwards
    I’m speaking from my own experience only and of course I’ve read some much research and read so many personal discussions that I form my opinion from this.
    My family has mental illness. My sister is Bipolar. I am a calm by nature person who worked for 25 years in a very active level one trauma center. I have a very kind compassionate husband who has always been warm affection radon sine and hands on in the joint care of our 3 children.
    Mt son was noticeably different from a young age. Extremely bright, wa and interactive with the adults in his environment and much less tolerant or interested in his peers at a young age. This eventually changed as he got older and found other kids with similar interests but began to display at around age 2 or 3 intense frustration and distress in tolerance. . Nothing any parent who understood development who be concerned about. Except despite our like of calm intervention his symptoms worsened. He was early on, struggling with his own internal intense response to small stressors. A pencil breaks, a deeply focused tasking end and so on. These are underlying traits that are NOT environment issue. Even of effective calm modeling is present the child’s internal responses are raging and while calm time outs worked to bring him down , there was never anyone who noticed or tried to help him with those internal responses. I think this is more complex than most understand. Eventually environment can break down because no one has answers no one helps the family or the child build on their personal genetic biological differences.
    So much is blame the family or the kid.

  4. I think we need to distinguish between neurodevelopmental disorders, like autism, and mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Early childhood trauma can bring out genetic proclivities to the latter or suppress them through good nurturing, as Lisa says.

    I’ve been writing about this for a long time in the context of great poets who experienced dissociative creativity. My break-through reading was Dr. Allan Schore’s, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self (1994) and the many, many articles he and others have published since then, plus Dr. Schore’s follow-up book, Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self (through psychotherapy).

  5. Interesting research.
    I think psychiatry is on the right track although there are a lot of topics that are still not considered as child hood trauma yet and thus have a harder time being accepted as it.
    Therefore i think there are a lot of undiagnosed people roaming around here..
    I think its good you did this research because parents need to know how to behave with their children, so thumbs up from me.

  6. I have no doubt that this is correct. Just small things piled up have to have an affect on the mind and brain. Most problems including the Mental Health ones, are from twisted, destroyed, damaged self esteem. Once we find out a magic way of fixing it, we have some problems fixed. There will always be the ones that insist there is nothing wrong with THEM, but the wreckage they leave behind (like me) is severely damaged.
    So far, ‘spiritual’ loving support is the best way to rewire the brain. Peer support, professional or casual, is so absolutely necessary to move people toward recovery.
    The “We have a pill for that” isn’t a cure all.

  7. I wonder if there have been background studies on children diagnosed with adhd? How many with this disorder were early day care babies because parents had to work? Those early years are so important.Too many kids with no one-on-one attention. Can you imagine being taken to a strange place with even 10 other toddlers, left there to fend for yourself before you even have language skills? For many years this has been the Bedlam most children suffer through on a daily basis.

  8. Thanks for doing such important work and TELLING US about it!
    I gave my babies 9 months of breast-feeding when almost all other mothers around me were giving up to 3 months and saying I gave too long. Now many around me are giving 2 year old toddlers and I am thinking “too long”. Especially when there is a small baby sibling, I feel the newborn is “robbed” of the colostrom and other substances in (newly formed) breastmilk. Nurturing for the toddler is very possible in other ways too, My “kids” are now 37 and 34 with stressful jobs and a very international and demanding life with no problems coping with stress, loving and well rounded, which makes me think 9 months were enough. Of course every kid is different, but given your wonderful research, what do you think could be a good range?

  9. I very painfully relate to what I have always intuitively known (about trauma and the developing brain), and have experienced via the profoundly destructive effect to a child exposed to severe abuse and erratic parenting from separate households.

  10. I agree with the politically incorrect posting about Daycare. The human race needs to re-learn the value of a secure attachment. All too often a friend will discover she is pregnant and begin an immediate search for Daycare. Newborns need quiet love and constant care, they need one caregiver and a relationship that is predictable and constant. Babies are sensory beings that suck up everything in their midst.



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