PTSD Neurological Issues

MRI results of two 3 year old boys

The primary cause of the extraordinary difference between the brains of these two three-year-old children is the way they were treated by their mothers. The child with the much more fully developed brain was cherished by its mother, who was constantly and fully responsive to her baby. The child with the shrivelled brain was neglected and abused. That difference in treatment explains why one child’s brain develops fully, and the other’s does not.   Neurological development stunted because of lack of love and concern.  The neglected boys health and social outcomes are restricted and perhaps a good indication of acquiring lifelong developmental issues. 

Developmental Issues with Neglect

It has been found that extreme emotional neglect: the kind of neglect where no caretaker was reliably available for support, comfort or protection.   When they grow up sensing no one liked them, welcomed them, or listened to them. No one had empathy for them, showed them warmth, or invited closeness. No one cared about what they thought, felt, did, wanted, or dreamed of. Those trauma victims learned early in life that no matter how hurt, alienated, or terrified they were, turning to a parent would actually exacerbate their experience of rejection. The child who is abandoned in this way experiences the world as a terrifying place.

 Think about how humans were hunter-gatherers for most of our time on this planet—the child's survival and safety from predators during the first six years of life during these times depended on being in very close proximity to an adult. Children are wired to feel scared when left alone, and to cry and protest to alert their caretakers when they are. But when the caretakers turn their backs on such cries for help, the child is left to cope with a nightmarish inner world—the stuff of which emotional flashbacks are made.  Not having that reliable protector creates fear of trusting those perceived as caretakers.  The people that they are told to seek comfort from create more stress; supporting the notion the world is a frightening place.  This relationship skill follows the person into adulthood.   

Studies into PTSD Brain Changes

The stories behind each childhood trauma may have different components involved, variances that change the details, however there are standard outcomes regardless.   There have been several studies looking at how trauma experienced during childhood actually changes the way the brain works. 

“Seventy percent of our genetic structure is added after birth (Schore, 1994; cited in Cozolino, 2002). Experience shapes the structure in which the brain is being organised (Streeck-Fischer & van der Kolk, 2000, Perry et al., 1995). A child's interaction with the outside environment facilitates connections between brain cells (McLean Hospital, 2000). Because the developing brain organizes and internalizes new information in a use-dependent fashion, the more a child is in a state of hyper-arousal or dissociation, the more likely he/she is to be impacted following trauma.” (2)

                                                         Other resources

Traumatized Children: How Childhood Trauma Influences Brain Development

by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.


Childhood Trauma Leaves Legacy of Brain Changes

Time Magazine


Childhood Trauma Wires The Brain For Fear

Dr Bessel van der Kolk - Psychiatrist and Trauma/Stress Expert


Childhood Abuse Can Lead to Health Problems Later

By Rick Nauert PhD - PsychCentral