A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Neuroplasticity, learning disabilities and domestic abuse

I recently read The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, a book by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young who founded Arrowsmith, a secular program for students with learning disabilities.

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s TEDx talk, ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’, can be viewed here.

Here is the blurb from the back cover of The Woman Who Changed her Brain: And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young (Free Press, 2012). Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. Copyright © 2012 Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. With permission of the author.

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young was born with severe learning disabilities that caused teachers to label her slow, stubborn—or worse. As a child, she read and wrote everything backward, struggled to process concepts in language, continually got lost, and was physically uncoordinated. She could make no sense of an analogue clock. But by relying on her formidable memory and iron will, she made her way to graduate school, where she chanced upon research that inspired her to invent cognitive exercises to “fix” her own brain. The Woman Who Changed Her Brain interweaves her personal tale with riveting case histories from her more than thirty years of working with both children and adults.

Recent discoveries in neuroscience have conclusively demonstrated that, by engaging in certain mental tasks or activities, we actually change the structure of our brains—from the cells themselves to the connections between cells. The capability of nerve cells to change is known as neuroplasticity, and Arrowsmith-Young has been putting it into practice for decades. With great inventiveness, after combining two lines of research, Barbara developed unusual cognitive calisthenics that radically increased the functioning of her weakened brain areas to normal and, in some areas, even above-normal levels. She drew on her intellectual strengths to determine what types of drills were required to target the specific nature of her learning problems, and she managed to conquer her cognitive deficits. Starting in the late 1970s, she has continued to expand and refine these exercises, which have benefited thousands of individuals. Barbara founded Arrowsmith School in Toronto in 1980 and then the Arrowsmith Program to train teachers and to implement this highly effective methodology in schools all over North America.

Her work is revealed as one of the first examples of neuroplasticity’s extensive and practical application. The idea that self-improvement can happen in the brain has now caught fire.

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain powerfully illustrates how the lives of children and adults struggling with learning disorders can be dramatically transformed.

Most of the book deals with learning disabilities and how Arrowsmith-Young identified and then devised various cognitive exercises to eradicate them. However, there are a couple of passages our readers will find particularly pertinent to domestic abuse.  The first passage talks about trauma and neuroplasticity  (pp 13-14).

Alain Brunet, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, is using the malleability of the human brain to treat people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. These are victims, for example, of rape, child abuse, car accidents, and hostage taking for whom the event remains very much alive in their minds. Brunet is reporting success using a blend of pharmacology and neuroplasticity.

These patients are first given medication to dampen the emotion associated with these memories and then asked to repeatedly recall the event. These men and women are rewiring their brains, disconnecting the circuitry linking the memory of the event to the arousal of their own threat systems. This process allows each person to file the memory in a new folder in the brain, not in the virtual present but in its rightful place – in the actual past. This is the principle of neuroplasticity in action: neurons that fire apart, wire apart. These new treatments for trauma usefully exploit this fact: when you remember a traumatic event, the network for that memory enters a more malleable state, and the treatment proceeds in that heightened neuroplastic milieu.

The second excerpt I’d like to share with you is where Barbara Arrowsmith-Young talks about her own marriage (pp 188-9):

My marriage had endured fourteen years, and when it ended, so did a seventeen-year relationship that had begun in the spring of 1977. I was not the same person at the end of that period as I was at the beginning.

During the first years with Joshua, my reasoning deficits left me particularly vulnerable to manipulation because I could never be certain what people meant. With some people, there was surface meaning and then there was the true agenda. I could not tell the difference.

In the wake of the cognitive exercises, I had to learn for the first time how to use a brain capacity I had never possessed. Like someone gaining sight after many years of blindness, I found the transition exceedingly difficult. The hallmark of the symbol relations deficit is an abiding sense of uncertainty. After twenty-six years of uncertainty and of missing the nuance in people’s communication, it was difficult to finally trust my understanding. And the emotional turmoil, the low self-esteem that had developed over my first three decades, lived on during my time with Joshua.

I used to think naively that once one’s cognitive deficits were addressed and the learning capacity enhanced, the emotional healing would happen spontaneously. My own experiences and that of people I have worked with suggest otherwise.

The dynamics that govern abusive relationships are complex, and I do not mean to diminish all the factors that contribute. My intention here is to underline the role that learning disabilities can play in this troubled dynamic.

In 1995, trying to make sense of my time with Joshua, I wrote:

The increase in the amplitude of his abuse, all done so gradually, so subtly I was unaware of being caged, until he controlled all outside contacts. My perceptions subtly manipulated by his will. My vision circumscribed by his mind. My world defined by him. A form of agnosia, perceiving sensations but being unable to interpret them without his overlay. The agonist binding to the receptor, fitting together, bound, the pathology incomplete without the two interlocking. Like a chemical reaction, setting off a chain of events no longer under conscious control.

If I had set out to write a story about the intersection between the nature of specific learning disabilities, the vulnerability this creates and the impact all this has on one’s emotional well-being, I don’t think I could have done a better job than describing my own life. Joshua knew my cognitive limitations intimately, and his barbs would deepen my already well-developed sense of inadequacy:

“Why are you so stupid?” he would say.

“Why don’t you understand? It is so obvious.”

“With your lousy sense of direction, it’s a wonder you ever get anywhere.”

“You are so clumsy; I can’t trust you with anything.”

A litany of criticism, each based in a measure of truth. My habitual response was to try harder to get it right. Early on, I had learned to suppress my pain, deny my emotions, and redouble my effort. As Zazetsky [a man who suffered brain damage in a war injury] so aptly said, “I’ll fight on.” This was my mantra. Years later, a researcher who interviewed me likened my world to amygdala hell. The amygdala is the brain’s threat detector, readying one for flight or fight, and mine was on constant high alert.

Where my learning disability had, in its own particular way, closed me off from the world, now my relationship with my husband did. Who I was permitted to speak with or see became more and more restricted until only he was left.

I know when I met Joshua that he was emotionally wounded and in my naivete and arrogance, I wanted to heal him to make him right. All my life, that had been my instinct. But by the end of our time together, I was the one in need of healing.

It was clear to me when I fled Joshua that the blinder I wore because of my neurological deficits had gotten me into that relationship. Cognitive exercises had removed those blinders; learning to understand the world and starting to heal had gotten me out. I felt an odd mixture of sadness and relief.

During those years with Joshua, my work with learning-disabled children became my refuge, the place where I put my heart and my soul and all my creative energy. I was, and I remain, grateful for this work, which is healing work.

So, let’s hear from our readers how you relate to this story. What threads of it are significant for you?


  1. Wendell G

    Ok, I am going to be very vulnerable here and take off a mask. I certainly hope it isn’t too much.

    I would love to be able to rewire my brain from my childhood abuse. Though intellectually I know it is over and done with and that I am not a horrible person, emotionally it is quite a different story. I still suffer, in my 50’s, a lot of anxiety and depression. I will catch myself saying, as my mother used to, “I wish I was dead”.

    It isn’t that I want to die and I would never commit suicide. I just want the hurting to stop, and without drugs if I can. I want to feel like I can succeed at something and see a bright future, rather than a pessimistic one. I am tired of the dread that pervades everything I do sometimes. Most people would not know this about me, because I have become an expert at hiding it.

    My mom has been dead about 4 or 5 years now, but all the pain she inflicted on us as kids is still there, just manifesting itself differently. I know it hinders my relationship with my wife as she will notice the times I am in a funk, yet I can’t really talk about it because I don’t really understand it myself all the time.

    Things that I should be able to bring to God and let go, I can’t because I simply worry and fret over them too much. Philippians 4:6 says to not be anxious about anything, but to give it all to God, yet so many times, that verse seems so hollow to me. I know intellectually it is true, but emotionally and so often experientially it is a different story. Anxiety and worry are my daily partners and no amount of praying or reading Scripture seems to change that.

    It isn’t that God is not faithful, but that I seem to be a mess. So yes, what this lady was saying is very relevant to me.

    • Heather 2

      Wendell, I was an expert too at hiding the truth. Of course, I believed that if I exposed it I would be judged as unforgiving. Consequently, I covered the sins done against me and once I
      Began to share them few believed me.

      I experienced some EMDR which is designed to make new neuropathways. An former friend of mine is a counsellor. She shared with me that I could do some left/right tapping while alone. By naming the lies and replacing them with the truth of who I am in Christ I was told that I could find healing. I don’t always remember to do it, and this article was a good reminder.

    • Katy

      It isn’t that I want to die and I would never commit suicide. I just want the hurting to stop, and without drugs if I can. I want to feel like I can succeed at something and see a bright future, rather than a pessimistic one. I am tired of the dread that pervades everything I do sometimes. Most people would not know this about me, because I have become an expert at hiding it.
      Hmmmm. Wendell I have the same outlook. I thought that being this pessimistic was just “part of my personality”. I approach absolutely everything with dread. I have repeatedly caught myself saying “Once these kids are raised I can finally die”. I think I am just waiting to die, but I want to go in peace.
      Is it not normal to have these thoughts? I am not suicidal at all. hmmm

      • Wendell G

        Katy, I think whether it is normal or not depends upon the heart context. There is a longing in the Christian’s heart to be with Christ; however, I think what I go through is different. It is the feeling of dread and just wanting to escape the pain in life, not really caring about what happens after that gets to be abnormal.

        I remember a pastor friend whose wife had a fatal lung condition which progressed very rapidly. We were visiting with her in the hospital and she was in so much pain and distress, she called out, “Jesus, please take me home!” Yes, she wanted the pain to end, but she had a goal beyond that, to be with Christ. It was also a response to an acute period of pain, not a regular thing of constantly wanting to “die” for dying’s sake. At the time, I understood what she was trying to say, and I don’t think she was wrong in expressing her heartfelt desire to be rid of the pain and to be whole again in heaven.

        In the Christian there is a healthy tension between wanting to be with Christ in heaven and staying on the earth to be be with family and to minister. Paul expressed this tension well. Sometimes I feel that tension, but when the dread and anxiety overtake me, that is all I can think about. I believe that in my case, this is where it becomes unhealthy.

      • Kagi

        Katy & Wendell–

        I struggle with this kind of outlook as well, and I have been assured that it is not ‘normal’, whatever that means, but indicative of more serious emotional issues/damage that haven’t been dealt with or treated and consequently, severe clinical depression. Constant dread, pessimism, soulsickness and being so tired of life that you just wish you could die already, are not healthy and are not just part of your personality – you may be more prone to this kind of depression than most people, that could be, but this is more; it is because something you have gone through and the ways that your heart and mind have reacted to it, whatever scars were left or damage was done in or to your spirit, that is what is causing you to be so dragged down in dread that even prayer and the words of God seem hollow and useless to pull you out again. Someone has been a stumbling block to you, and you are somehow still stuck on it.

        There is some healing that needs to happen somewhere inside of us, because we have been promised peace and joy, and this kind of life does not have it. Dread and numbness and weariness and pain, these things are not the gifts of a loving Father, and to have to plod through every day dragging them around with us is not what he wants for us either.

        I am not sure yet how and where I can get the healing I need, but I am sure that it is there, and if I keep searching and reaching for the Light, he’ll help me find it. Don’t settle for the grey, living this way bleaches all the colour out of your life. It makes you feel like there’s nothing you’re living for except getting to dying, and that’s a dangerous place to be, no matter how certain you are that you would never commit suicide. I live in fear that if it goes on long enough, it will turn me actually suicidal one day, as I’ve been far too close a few times and I am only 30 – I am wonderfully stubborn, but when I get to where stubbornness is all that’s keeping me alive, I have to wonder how long it would hold out, really.

        I’m sure God doesn’t want us living on a cliff’s edge all the time, dreading every step we take. There has to be a way to untangle the twisted, broken pieces of my soul and really heal all the pain and confusion and fear that I’ve just suppressed and pushed down all these years. There must be for yours, too. Because you are loved, and you are precious, and he wants only the best for you. He doesn’t bring us out of darkness only to leave us forever in the half-light. Somewhere there is real, true peace and joy. I don’t know where, but I’m going to keep looking. Hugs for you, if you want them.

      • Oh Kagi, that was beautiful!

      • Kagi

        I just made a post about one other thing that has helped me hang on when I feel like there is nothing to hang on for, which is the choir song Inscription of Hope

        [note from Barb Roberts: Kagi included the lyrics of the song in her post but because we are mindful of the legal consequences of re-publishing lyrics without permission, side we removed them from Kagi’s comment. However, you can read the lyrics here Inscription of Hope: The song lyrics [Internet Archive link] and if that link no longer works, I’m sure a quick google search for the lyrics would find them for you. Thanks Kagi for bringing the song to our attention. I’d never come across it before.]

      • Barnabasintraining

        He doesn’t bring us out of darkness only to leave us forever in the half-light.

        GEMS page!!!

        I think I might frame this and put it on my wall.

    • IamMyBeloved's

      Thank you for taking off the mask, Wendell. I can relate to everything you said. The abuse from my childhood is what I learned and as the poem says, “A Child Lives What They Learn”. If you grow up in abuse, you usually end up choosing abuse in your relationships, because it is what you know. At least that is and has been the case with me. I get the pain and again, the “looking through the clear bubble” up at what I long for to be mine, but just can’t seem to reach high enough to get it. Then I feel guilty for casting my cares, but not being able to leave them there. I know it is about trust. Like you, in my mind it is clear and I know that God knows far greater than I ever would, what is best for me and how to accomplish it, but at times it does not lessen the pain. I am learning. I am fighting and God is giving me abundant grace, to continue to walk and not give up, but then there are those days, when death seems so much better than life. The ultimate escape from the intense pain that abuse causes. I often wonder just how many guilt demons will visit me when my mother dies. It is her abuse that severed that relationship, but in the end, I am pretty certain, I will be tempted to continue to bear the guilt for it. I wish I knew, if there was anyone anywhere, who had been so abused, who is really beyond all of it now, and free to just live and breathe and blow the pain away when it comes for a visit. That is what this article gives hope for, but I just wonder if anyone has ever really recovered, as if they were never abused. I doubt it, because that is what the “garden” was all about. But there will be a day, we know it’s coming, when every tear will be wiped away and never more, never more, will we feel the pain, ever again. Oh what a glorious day, that will be; to be with Christ, Who “gets” all of us and the pain we live in here, Who comforts us and desires, just as we do, for us to be free.

      • Kagi

        Hugs for you, too. I hear you about the clear bubble, though I tend to think of it as more of a glass wall that I am on the wrong side of. And I know the guilt, too – I’ve had to learn to just say ‘I’m doing the best I can’, and keep on fighting, and know that’s really all he wants, is for us to keep trying. He cares about our heart and motivation, not how perfectly we were able to do what we’ve tried.

        I think you are hitting a big part of the truth there when you say it is about trust – I know that I have a huge problem with trust issues, that it’s sabotaging not just my personal relationships but my trust in God, too, and I think that’s why I’ve been slower in healing than maybe some other people. But it’s hard to learn to trust again when you’ve been hurt so many times, especially if it was by people you loved and trusted deeply at some point, people like parents or spouses who were supposed to care for you and have your best interests at heart. I think that kind of betrayal is hard to get over.

        You might be right that we won’t ever really be free of it, all the damage, until ‘someday’, but. Someday will be there. Even for us. Especially for us, maybe. 🙂

    • Wendell I could write several posts in trying to address the things you’ve raised here, but time, oh never enough time!
      Thanks so much for your transparency. Bless you brother!

      Things that I should be able to bring to God and let go, I can’t because I simply worry and fret over them too much. Philippians 4:6 says to not be anxious about anything, but to give it all to God, yet so many times, that verse seems so hollow to me. I know intellectually it is true, but emotionally and so often experientially it is a different story. Anxiety and worry are my daily partners and no amount of praying or reading Scripture seems to change that.

      I am not a counselor, I only have experience of the rewiring and healing that has taken place in my own being. And I am by no means completely healed. Here are some things I have found in my own healing journey:

      ‘Shoulding’ on myself with verses like Philippian 4:6 does not help; it only tends to make things worse. It makes me feel more guilty for being screwed up, which becomes a negative feedback loop, pushing my pain and shame further into darkness.

      God is light. Healing comes by bringing our things to the light. Lies we have believed (or been brainwashed into) can be brought to the light and washed clean with Christ’s help. I have found that for me, it is helpful to be honest about what is going on inside me in the muddled up parts of my psyche, be willing to let that tangled stuff just be without judging it or shaming it for the way it just is. And it has helped to share that stuff with someone I trust and want to feel close to. And if that companion is willing and able to let me be authentic, and doesn’t try to coerce me into some quick-fix “remedy” for my pain and fear, I have found that when I let myself express my emotions and memories and tell my narrative to a trusted listener, that in itself can be healing.
      Memory retrieval when done in the company of an empathetic companion-listener, can in itself can bring about neurological rewiring.
      When I’ve been triggered and am in a safe enough place to give permission my psyche go into full flux from the trigger (I’ve found this is sometimes easiest in the company of a safe companion or counselor) and I pray inwardly while free-floating with the stuff that is going on inside me, Jesus can come in and rewire my tangled psyche. He is called the Wonderful Counselor for very good reason: if anyone understands neuroplasticity, it’s Him!

      And regarding medication, I have found that antidepressants helped me a lot. They did not erase the issues of my past trauma: those things still needed to be worked through in ways I described above. But anti-depressant medication brought my overall mood back up to a more normal level which in turn enabled me to do the psychological / emotional work. I used to feel very reluctant to take anti-depressants, but now I have found a drug in the modern family of anti-depressant drugs that gives me no unpleasant side effects I am very happy to use them and feel no shame about using them.
      With the doctor’s advice I started very very gradually on this medication: half a tablet every second day, then if there were no unpleasant side effects after a few days I increase to half a tablet every day, then if no untoward side effects after a few more days I increased to a whole tablet per day, which was the dose that my doctor I should be aiming for. This worked for me. Gradual titration (adjustment of dosage) seems to be one of the things that helps get a person started on anti-depressants without having bad reactions to the drug.

  2. Heather 2

    A litany of criticism, each based in a measure of truth.

    This part. I find that, just like Satsn uses bits of truth, so does an abuser. We know there is truth in it. And since we tend to absorb blame, guilt, and all the other perceived defects in ourselves we magnify those bits of truth to completely condemn ourselves. It has the power to make us feel like we are going crazy. I still see the innocent face in my mind of a husband who never yelled or was physically cruel but abandoned me in so many ways. In my head I believed that he had to be right because between the morsels of truth and the appearance of him being so quiet and nice to everyone I looked like a crazy person.

    It is a daily task to counter the lies with the truth. That’s why I so appreciated Megan’s article yesterday.

    Interestingly, I began reading a book yesterday about what happens to boys and teenagers who are victims of sexual abuse. What absolutely astounded me was that so many of their feelings and the way they took control of their lives in later years was what my experience was a a child of verbal and emotional anise. The barriers they erected were just like mine. I took mine into my marriage where my ex husband exploited me.

    I must say that none of this was known to me before the last few years. It has only been since my marriage began to crack open and all the sewage began spilling out. One by one I am addressing them. One by one they are forming a picture. The puzzle pieces are making sense now.

    I truly believe that victims of all kinds of abuses suffer with similar feelings.

    • Katy

      Satan is so clever…he tailors your “program of torture” to your weaknesses. First he sniffs out your vulnerabilities and then he crafts evil ways to use them against you. I am a disorganized, somewhat messy person. And forgetful. I am not a good housekeeper and I hate those kinds of chores. I am not a hoarder, or anything like that. I’m just not June Cleaver.
      My ex would use that in subtle ways. Everything from “I eat what you cook and I never complain, do I??” to the night he wouldn’t take me to the hospital when I was in labor “We’re not leaving until I find the phone number for the hospital. You should have had it out here on the counter. You’re so —-ing disorganized!!!”

      a small measure of truth. A huge helping of evil.

      • Katy

        oh and this is so ingrained in my “neuro pathways” (or whatever the right term is ?) that to this day I don’t cook anymore. Whenever I stand in front of the stove and consider cooking something for dinner, I feel sick. I still hear in my head “you suck at this, anything you make is going to have to go right in the trash” – and then I heat up a pizza instead.
        So my kids may suffer a tad, nutritionally, but I can’t stop the panic when I get too close to the stove.

      • Still Scared( but getting angry)

        Katy, I panic when I have to check the bank account on-line , or on paper. It is getting slightly better. Sorry to hear about your struggle but so glad to know that “I am not the only one”. Especially when people I ask for help think I can just easily “get over it” .

  3. Wisdomchaser

    Thanks for posting this. I got so excited I ordered the book immediately. Today I am starting my first session of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. This is another therapy that uses knowledge about brain plasticity and how we can change our brains. EMDR was specifically developed for treating PTSD. I have PTSD and during the last year have been triggered a lot. I am really hoping that EMDR will help me. Pray for me as this will not be an easy process. For anyone who might be interested the book about EMDR is called Getting Past Your Past. I haven’t read it yet but hope to soon.

    • LorenHaas

      I used EMDR therapy in my recovery and found it to be effective. My older brother, who is a licencsed therapist in North Carolina referred me another Christian therapist in CA who used this therapy. How it works is still speculative, but it’s effectiveness is well established.
      It helped me get past traumatic visual images that were “stuck” in my brain and prevented me from moving forward in my recovery. I encountered some criticism by uninformed christians for using this therapy, characterizing it as hypnotism or brain washing. It is neither. I have described it to others as physical therapy for the brain.

      • Heather 2

        It isn’t demonic or New Age. It is rewiring that is done with your complete faculties. Other Christians are not well informed and they label it incorrectly.

  4. Lisa

    Well written, “Heather 2″. Like it says in Romans 12:2
    ” And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
    I think we can be conformed by our surroundings too. Conforming something is to apply constant pressure from the outside in, this will change the inside eventually. Our only weapon against that is the “transformation” of our minds through God’s Word, the only reliable truth, all the time (renewing, and re-newing). Transformation is what happens inside of the cocoon of a caterpillar. It happens from the inside outward. Only God can do that.

    The caterpillar is a beautiful story of transformation, resting in Christ, the shedding of our bondage, and becoming a new creation in The Lord. Then we can fly, held down and caged up by no one. We stop listening to what our abuser tell us we are and become what Christ made us to be! It is a process though, and like the caterpillar, we need to rest in HIm.

    • Heather 2

      That’s it exactly, Katy. And I believe it is one of the most difficult undertakings. But since it is God’s will and He has given us the Holy Spirit we don’t have to do it on our own or in our own strength.

  5. daddysdaughter2

    Arrosmith-Young stated: “Years later, a researcher who interviewed me likened my world to amygdala hell. The amygdala is the brain’s threat detector, readying one for flight or fight, and mine was on constant high alert.”

    I would like to propose an observation for consideration. I believe this observation comes to me via “connecting dots” from conversations over the years with various professionals and wisdom gained through spiritual insight from the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. My observation: not only can learning disabilities lead a person to an abusive relationship, abuse of any kind against a child during formative years leads to learning disabilities. A child can be hurt even in the womb due to prolonged stress upon the mother.

    Anna Buck, Neurodevelopmental Delay Therapist, located in the Denver Colorado area, clearly states that she has observed and learned from her training in England that stress in the womb is highly correlated to dyslexia and other learning disabilities. She also, like Arrowsmith-Young, uses highly specified brain exercises=movements which “wake up sleepy areas” of the brain. “Fear” is the main cause and preventing factor which inhibits brain development and recovery. The primitive areas of the brain: the brainstem, amygdala, the hippocampus, the pineal gland: with continual “firing and activation”, there is a complete shut down the cerebral cortex and higher levels of learning. Development and emotional maturation ceases under ongoing conditions of fear and stress. With development delayed, school and academic demands cause even greater stressors on the child who cannot process information on “grade level”. Dyslexia can be caused by presenting phonics and reading demands on a child who is developmentally not ready, the child who who has lived in an abusive home and plagued by fear and an “amygdala from hell”, a child who was not given an environment of warmth, support, predictability, consistency, and freedom from fear. Abusers create chaos which is hard enough for an adult to handle, but impossible for a child to regulate.

    A Pastor with a Masters in Education, working in ministry for 50 years stated: “He has never seen a learning disability, and especially dyslexia, in which fear was not the main cause and correlating factor of the disability.”

    Many of these children have processing disorders and speech problems. They are often emotionally delayed and often have obsessions or compulsions. They lack confidence and have poor self esteem. In teen years they are prone to drug temptations to ease a pain they cannot identify, the pain of abuse which a child cannot process or make sense of with brains in chaos like the chaos of their homes.

    Arrowsmith-Young understands an amygdala over used, but thanks be to God for neuroplasticity in which recovery is possible!

    • Thanks DD2, very interesting. I am not a professional on these matters, and I can’t respond to what you’ve reported from a professional standpoint, but I would like to just add that I guess not all learning disabilities can be traced to childhood trauma and fear. I would not like our blog to give the impression that learning disabilities are always due to a sub-optimal childhood environment; otherwise we might be causing undue guilt to some people whose children have learning disabilities but the disability is not caused by environmental factors but by some other factor.

      But thank you DD2 for what you shared here. It very much contributes to the discussion. 🙂

      • daddysdaughter2

        Thank you so much, Barbara, for clarifying that all learning disabilities are NOT cause by abuse! For sure that is true-there are so MANY factors – our bodies are complex beyond our understanding and the Psalmist puts it so beautifully that we are fearfully and wonderfully made! Like all of you, I am greatly encouraged by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s work and life story. Neuroplasticity is, to me, one more proof of the limitless love, power, exalted magnificence, and complexity of God seen through the lenses of science. Those in rehabilitation professions get to view a tangible evidence of that and are often in awe. Not all respond with the same recovery, but every change for the better is a joy and victory. May God continue, as He has, to lead each of us and our loved ones to the paths of healing via this blog, books, friends, the body of Christ, and the various professionals available. I am so grateful for this site and what it is teaching me and the ministry I see occurring. Thank you!

  6. Dear all, I have read all your comments with interest and will respond fully later, but I’ve got a full day here with family stuff so it will be a while before I do.
    Bless you all, and thank you so much for supporting each other! I love you all! And miss you now I’m back in Oz.

  7. anonymous

    It is amazing how the brain can change and adapt. I work with children with significant neurological damage and seeing their progress amazes me. We don’t use this program with them but we do use a program of cognitive exercises that helps new pathways develop in the brain and allows the children to overcome their neurological damage to varying degrees. I remember when the blanket statement made to a parent of a child with a TBI or a dx of static encephalopathy was that the brain doesn’t change, thus the use of the word static. It’s been exciting to see developments that give hope to those children and families.

    I never once though made the connection from that to myself and my own brain. It gives me hope. Since I’ve seen progress made in other scenarios it seems logical. I like logical.

  8. Marah

    She says, “Years later, a researcher who interviewed me likened my world to amygdala hell. The amygdala is the brain’s threat detector, readying one for flight or fight, and mine was on constant high alert”

    This is something I’m intimately familiar with. I have an extremely high emotional pain tolerance. Not that I don’t feel it, but that I can withstand mental anguish that, I’ve been told by therapists, would send the average person into a breakdown.

    This has been a blessing, as a survival mechanism, but like all our maladaptions, it eventually became a liability. Rather than fleeing years ago, I stuck it out far longer than my body could handle. I’ve developed fibromyalgia over the last 3-4 years.

    Some of the latest research into FM has indicated that the brain of fibro patients remains in a constant state of fight-or-flight. The amygdala and other structures never shut off. Even at night, the brain sends out an alpha wave burst whenever the patient is about to enter the deepest level of sleep…which means no deep healing occurs, the person never feels rested (because they’re not), and pain is magnified. Among other things.

    So this is the effect on my life of long-term trauma.

    • Marah, thanks for that info. I had not read about that research on fibromyalgia patients. It makes a lot of sense.

  9. Finding Answers


    The Holy Spirit tells me I have another scab to publicly rip off….

    One area of psychology uses the term “injunction”.

    I grew up with the “Don’t Be” injunction, and have been fighting to stay alive for all of my life. (My way of Honouring Resistance).

    In one of my earlier ACFJ posts, Barb wrote something I had never heard – I was not using too many resources. (My way of paraphrasing words that left me speechless / stunned.)

    I have learned many things in the last few months, shifting my perspective on the results of a lifetime of abuse.

    I am learning alternate ways of communicating past emotional boundary blanks spots, permanently damaged areas in my brain. (Neuroplasticity cannot change these blank spots.)

    I am learning to discern the difference between Asperger-like traits (not ASD) and a genetically more sensitive nervous system. (Difficult, when some traits are shared by both “classifications”.)

    The “Don’t Be” injunction still exists. I am using up the resources of people in greater need than I – which includes pretty much everyone. (My heart weeps in pain for those who face the effects of abusive relationships.)

    My footprint on this earth is small, but I am stubborn in my way of Honouring Resistance. I cling to God, knowing I cling to Someone the permanently damaged areas of my brain keeps me from trusting. (The Holy Spirit is my Guide, my Mentor, my Friend.)

    I am re-learning life, learning new skills, learning new languages. Sometimes I have a hard time listening, my old pattern of “verbal diarrhoea” rearing it’s ugly head. (Kind of like pulling the cork from a Champagne bottle, a bottle shaken to generate extra pressure.)

    I don’t know how to “Be.”

    To exist.

    To accept God loves me.

    I will always be a “misfit”, not found in any “classification”. Theological. Psychological. Medical. (I can know all the applicable quotes from Scripture, but I need to work past all the emotional boundary blank spots.)

    Apparently, God wants me to “Be”. The “Don’t Be” injunction needs to be healed.

    • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

      Oh my, Finding Answers, such turmoil with so much pain. I don’t know what I can say, to be honest, sometimes words are not enough so sending you heartfelt hugs 🙂 and praying for you.

      Sometimes we just tread through, step by step (sometimes seemingly very tiny steps) but God is and will take us both through and get us there, that we can be sure of. You are close to God’s heart!! Steps of faith with Him is sometimes all we can do.

      I get you regarding not fitting in with ASD, etc etc and I guess it’s important for your own heart as you struggle to try to piece life together and what is going on inside you. All the whys of past (and now present) in mind, heart and even communication is so hard to fathom out. It’s hard to understand our own being sometimes, and who we are and why we act, react, etc.

      You are just being you, but “you” who has had terrible things happened in life. Things that never ever should have happened, but have left it’s mark and scars. This is understandable, but you are a wonderful person and you are uniquely you. You said it before and it resonated with me so much I haven’t forgotten – you said that you are “just me”!! Wholeheartedly agree – Don’t ever be anyone else or let anyone put you into a box that is not you. God knows exactly who you are even when we haven’t [got] it figured out ourselves. I guess this is why we walk by faith and maybe not knowing all keeps us closer to Him and relying on Him. For me I’m beginning to see that more and more. I don’t pretend to understand – as you very rightly put it, I think is best “BE me”, too.

      Love and prayers to you. My heart was tugged and it goes out to you. I’m sure you are not the only one in here with similar struggles and I’m sure you are an encouragement, despite the struggle within, to others. You are to me. Keep trusting – we are safe in the palm of God’s hand. The hand that upholds us but does not squeeze and crush us or suffocate us.

      So thankful God let’s us breathe and exist to struggle and get there with His loving support in our time. Didn’t mean to say so much but oh how my heart goes out to you. Hugs again 🙂 you are so precious to God!!

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