Hijacked :: An Introduction

To seize control of a moving vehicle—the brain—by force so as to reach an alternate destination. The adult a child may have become apart from experiencing CSA is someone we'll never meet. The effects are so grave that the person one becomes is at the very least different, if not a world away from who she would've become. This isn't to say that this "alternate version" of oneself is inferior and the other superior. Rather, a child exposed to abuse is forever changed, for the better and the worse.

Hijacked considers how CSA seizes the developing brain, sending it on an alternative trajectory. The book provides a summary of development, the effects of sexual abuse, and the latest brain research using MRI technology. Hope in all forms is also discussed.

Hijacked isn't for everyone as one must be prepared to interact with the toxic realities that CSA presents. Hijacked is written for abuse survivors and counselors in search of an in depth understanding of the effects.

Introduction

Winter, 1913. Fantasies and dreams begin to make their way into small black journals. Failed relationships, emotional distress, loneliness, alienation, and a grand divide between professional obligations and personal aspirations all seem to unite to create a certain lunacy. And unlike many of his peers, the owner of these troubles is more than aware of the need to personally tend to such madness.

As a boy, this deep thinker had a depressed mother and a relationally difficult father who seemed to believe that religiosity and spirituality were contradicting. He was bullied as a boy for his uncanny intelligence, and he was sexually abused as a teenager. Mental health scholar Laura Kerr writes about the nature of such circumstances: “Inopportune, a perfect storm, a test of resilience, and sometimes a trial beyond measure, but also an opportunity to transform oneself, if not the world? To confront madness as a potentially transformative experience takes courage […]”[1] This boy grew up to view that which harmed him as windows of insight that, if harnessed, could renovate the world’s thinking on madness and mental illnesses. One man’s adversity and intellect was fuel in the small fire of analytical psychology.

A Transformative Power

The personal content within the black journals eventually landed in a red leather-bound manuscript and finally settled on the pages of published book despite all odds. Carl Jung’s The Red Book “transformed psychotherapy from a practice concerned with treatment of the sick into a means for higher development of the personality.”[2] If in fact the symptoms of mental illness caused by hardship are seen as transformative rather than obstructive, then the essence of madness isn’t shameful but honorably insightful. Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

In The Red Book Carl Jung wrote, “If we feel our way into the human secrets of the sick person, the madness also reveals its system, and we recognize in the mental illness merely an exceptional reaction to emotional problems which are not strange to us.”[3] Carl Jung saw mental illness as an expected response to harms outside of the self. Perhaps he also saw that suffering has the potential to transform an individual for the better. Indeed, Jung’s open-mindedness and non-judgmental outlook directed the course of his thinking and theories.

Sigmund Freud, one of the 20th century’s most influential theorists, seemed to disagree. The father of psychoanalysis and a father figure to Jung, Freud undoubtedly possessed his own philosophies. Most likely, his theories concerning child sexuality were at least partly liable for the rift between Freud and Jung. Separated by age and varying opinions, Freud and Jung’s relationship was transitory. Furthermore, when Jung was a teenager, an older man highly esteemed by Jung sexually abused him.[4] This fact undoubtedly made relating to Freud difficult. This led Jung to confess this to Freud the following with a significant undertone of regret: “[…] as a boy I was the victim of sexual assault by a man I once worshipped […] This feeling, which I still have not got rid of, hampers me considerably.”[5]

While it’s possible that one’s brain chemistry and physiology are also to blame for mental illness, Jung didn’t appear to criticize himself because of this. Proficiently self-aware, Jung was keenly cognizant of how not himself but his experience was at fault. In his biography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung described his personalities this way:

Naturally I compensated my inner insecurity by an outward show of security, or—to put it better—the defect compensated itself without the intervention of my will. That is, I found myself being guilty and at the same time wishing to be innocent. Somewhere deep in the background I always knew that I was two persons. One was the son of my parents who went to school and was less intelligent, attentive, hard-working, decent, and clean than many other boys. The other was grown up—old, in fact—skeptical, mistrustful, remote from the world of men, but close to nature, the earth, the sun, the moon, the weather, all living creatures, and above all close to the night, to dreams, and to whatever “God” worked directly in him.[6]
Abnormally insightful, Jung recognized that such observations were either inherited or explained by a person’s life. He still acknowledged the feelings of shame within himself. He also saw himself as aged beyond his years; however, the unfortunate circumstances that were likely to lead to a life of distrust and self-pity instead became the fuel that led him to dedicate his life to analytical psychology. 

The Evolution of CSA Research

These extraordinary inner workings of Carl Jung detailing his relationship with himself and God remained tucked away until 2009 when they were finally made available to scholars and the general public. It seems as though adversity, specially abuse and difficulties in childhood, compelled Jung’s research. That said, it’s curious that research on the blend of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), brain development, mental health, and personality is but an infant in the world of psychology. According to Michael De Bellis of the Department of Psychiatry and Duke University Medical Center and his colleagues:

Child maltreatment appears to be the single most preventable cause of mental illness and behavioral dysfunction in the US. […] Despite the fact that sexually abused children suffer adverse outcomes, there are few published studies examining the developmental and psychobiological consequences of sexual abuse.[7]
In The Etiology of Hysteria (1896), Freud was the first to propose a possible effect of CSA in a scientific context. He claimed that a sexual incident experienced during childhood is the sole origin of hysterical symptoms such as a complete loss of self-control due to overwhelming fear related to one’s past. Freud suggested that CSA was the only precursor to hysteria, meaning hysteria is strictly situational and not physiological or genetic. He originally went as far as to say that sexual abuse and even accidental stimulation are the predecessors to all mental illnesses in adulthood.

Though this theory was clearly off base (he later retracted it), perhaps at least Freud’s original concept of what constituted a “trigger” was appropriate. He proposed that permissible sexual actions experienced later in life triggered memories of the defiling acts experienced during childhood. Intense feelings of shame would then activate the hysteria. Little did Freud know that he was actually alluding to a condition that war veterans and CSA survivors experience alike; this condition would later be labeled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Regardless of how inaccurate, Freud’s original hypothesis—CSA is the only precursor to hysteria—at the very least got people talking. His discussions regarding child abuse marked the beginning of psychoanalysis.

Some fifty years ago, research conducted by Seymour Levine, M.D., and Victor Denenberg, a developmental psychobiologist, indicated that even a few minutes of handling a rat during its infancy led to positive lifelong changes,[8] suggesting that the same might be true for humans. It wasn’t until 1962 that C. Henry Kempe proposed that the battered-child syndrome is a cause of childhood disability and death, a nation-wide survey of hospitals being the primary source. He and the authors of The Battered-Child Syndrome wrote, “The Battered-Child Syndrome is a term used by us to characterize a clinical condition in young children who have received serious physical abuse, generally from a parent or foster parent.” This new awareness of physical abuse prompted the emergence of child abuse reporting laws.[9]

Reports of CSA were on the rise in the 1970s. CSA was gaining attention and was beginning to be recognized as a serious problem. Around this same time, sexual abusers were beginning to be classified. At first offenders were seen as either fixated or regressed, meaning they either were solely attraction to children or they also maintained relationships with other adults respectively. Researchers began to publish scientific findings on CSA in the late 70s and early 80s. In 1978 Groth and Birnbaum showed that the sexual orientation of the abuser in fact didn’t play a role in who he/she decided to target. The term pedophile was later used to describe an adult who is attracted to prepubescent children, whether those feelings of attraction are acted upon or not.

In 1979 R. K. Davies reported data on children having abnormal brain waves and seizures. He supported the idea that these abnormalities caused children to be more vulnerable to experiencing abuse, thereby placing the blame on the child’s predisposed physiological makeup and not the circumstances.

In the early 80s it was evident that many abused children experienced neurological damage, though some didn’t believe that this damage could be attributed to the abuse. Martin Teicher (M.D., Ph.D.) of Harvard Medical School began to hypothesize around the year 2000 that “the trauma of abuse includes a cascade of effects, including changes in hormones and neurotransmitters that mediate development of vulnerable brain regions.”[10]

Nature and nurture have long been at war in the world of psychology. Whether nature or nurture is responsible for the greater number of casualties was disagreed upon until a new argument was made: Nature and nurture actually meld together to influence one’s psyche. Predispositions don’t help the matter, but sexual abuse in childhood clearly has disturbing effects.

According to Time (Health & Family), “To cope with overwhelming experiences of distress, the brain can alter patterns of signaling from the pathways involved, which can ultimately leave those regions underdeveloped from reduced input. The brain of a child who is raped, for example, may react be reducing connectivity of the regions that were hurt.”[11] As with the exercise of any muscle, muscles used will grow and become strong; those left unused will weaken and lose their function.

Associate professor of psychiatry Jens Pruessner of McGill University in Montreal provides hope: The brain has the ability to change drastically when the right type of support and emotional nourishment are present. Understanding how the brain reacts and during and after sexual abuse will help researchers find a way to make it right again.[12] Surely an increase of our knowledge base will help treat and support survivors, yet some effects may not be so easy to overcome. As Teicher has noted, early trauma or CSA isn’t something that you just “get over.” 

The Bigger Picture

God is the predecessor to every created thing, including what we now term to be psychology and science. God is the creator of every intricate interaction within our minds, our bodies, the environment. May we learn to see our limited understanding of these workings as gifts from the one who made them; however, understanding and healing must be appreciated within a larger context.

Carl Jung once said that “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Healing in the most central sense begins with belief in a Savior and is completed through the death of Jesus on a cross. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). He has shown his love for us by giving us his own righteousness. Not only so, he is also the sacrifice for the sins that have been committed against us. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). This is the most fundamental definition of healing. Our ultimate healing holds an eternal perspective. For believers, our glimpses of healing point to the greater hope that one day even death itself will be no more. All mourning, crying, and pain will cease to exist (see Revelation 21:4). This isn’t to say that healing can’t exist throughout this life, but it won’t be completed.

The following discussion must be prefaced with the ultimate hope in mind, for we do not have the option in this lifetime of removing the cancer altogether. The effects of sexual abuse are very real, and we know more today than ever the nature of those effects. The damage occurs on a very fundamental level, meaning the anatomy and physiology of an abuse survivor undeniably differs from that of someone who suffered little to no disturbance during her upbringing. Praise God that one day all will be made new and no longer will we feel these effects of sin.

The acceptance of Jesus is the ultimate antidote. Perhaps the efforts to heal in this life can only be termed acute treatments. Our search for a cure in this sense can be compared to treatments for cancer. Pain, time, money, and energy will undoubtedly be expended with the knowledge that the cancer may not be cured. And if and when healing comes, a scar remains. Does the solution simply lie within one’s ability to view that scar tissue as thick and durable—something that develops perseverance and builds character—rather than an unsightly wound? Absolutely, but abuse isn’t simply gotten over or forgotten. While we excitedly anticipate our full redemption in Christ and allow Christ to live within us, is there anything that can treat our fallen brains and bodies?

No search for an adequate treatment ever started blindly. Many have chosen to reverse engineer the disease. Attention isn’t focused on the tumor itself but the mechanism by which it came to be. In the same way, researchers are beginning to understand the effects of sexual abuse by studying the changes in the brain. Depression, anxiety, PTSD—those are only a handful of symptoms that trace back to physiological and psychological changes within the brain. May we as abuse survivors learn to see these changes as the result of something outside of ourselves. May we strive to understand ourselves and be open to change. May we begin with understanding, continue with toiling towards change, and finish with seeing him face to face. After all, Carl Jung himself once said, “Understanding does not cure evil, but it is a definite help, inasmuch as one can cope with a comprehensible darkness.”

[1] Kerr LK (2013): “The Red Book”: A Primer for Healing Madness in a Mad World. Trauma’s Labyrinth: Retrieved March 22, 2014, <www.laurakerr.com>.
[2], [3] Jung CG, Shamdasani S (2009): The Red Book: A Reader’s Edition, book description. W. W. Norton & Company.
[4] Kerr J (1994): A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. Vintage Books.
[5] Freud/Jung Letters, The (1974): Edited by William McGuire. Princeton University Press.
[6] Jung CG (1963): Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Random House, 44.
[7] De Bellis MD, Spratt EG, Hooper SR (2011): Neurodevelopmental Biology Associated with Childhood Sexual Abuse. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 20(5):548-587.
[8], [10] Teicher MH (2000): Wounds That Time Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse. Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science, 2(4).
[9] Kempe CH, et al (1985): The Battered-Child Syndrome. Child Abuse & Neglect, 9:143-154. Pergamon Press Ltd. Originally published in 1962.
[11], [12] Sexual and Emotional Abuse Scar the Brain in Specific Ways (2013): Time Health & Family. <www.healthandtime.com>.

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