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Irreversible Psychological Damage

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Whether you believe in biological inheritance (long history of disassociation: murderers and rapists all down the family line), or complete tabula rasa (infant was not granted contact beyond the absolutely necessary, was not told the words "I love you" until preteen years, and with a terrible context) - do you think it's possible for a person to have irreversible emotional or psychological damage and be unable to connect with people, ever, in spite of efforts? If that person failed to learn how to feel empathy, love, compassion during the critical developmental period due to neglect or severe abuse (obviously not the product in all cases, but in some).

I understand that many things in a person can be changed with effort and time - ideas, actions, etc., and that much trauma can be corrected, but are certain aspects beyond correction?

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I take it that your question is primarily: Can a person suffer psychological damage in early years, or later, that is irreversible?

My first thought when I read this is that this is not so much a question for philosophy, but of psychology. Because answering this will require knowledge of some psychological principles. And not only that, but in judging a persons psychology, you have to take into account certain aspects unique to the individual himsel, i.e the choices he has made and what his physiological condition is etc.

For what it's worth, I know Nathaniel Branden thinks it is possible for a child to suffer irreversible psychological damage. In extreme cases. I think it's in "Honoring the Self".

I've heard other, regular, psychologists say that aswell.

In later years I don't know. My guess from reading some psychology is that if you've had a childhood that was good enough to make you able to accomplish some good things later in life, then it's really up to you and your choices to pull yourself through hard times (excluding extremes like torture etc. for wich I guess recovery might be impossible).

So, I certainly agree that it might be possible. But it should be, as a self-diagnosis, an absolute last resort in my opinion.

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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In later years I don't know. My guess from reading some psychology is that if you've had a childhood that was good enough to make you able to accomplish some good things later in life, then it's really up to you and your choices to pull yourself through hard times (excluding extremes like torture etc. for wich I guess recovery might be impossible).

It is automatically assumed that I am addressing myself...

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"If" could indicate that.

"...if you've had a childhood that was good enough to make you able to accomplish some good things later in life..."

Although I think it is also important to note that a person could have the worst childhood ever and still go on to achieve "some good things later in life," as long as said person does not die.

I am not refuting personal recovery and introspective character building, but have you ever heard of "feral children," who were raised without human contact, and who never learned to speak? Once they have been rescued, teaching them language is a chore. They grasp words and meanings, but have difficulty stringing them together in proper sentences. If you take a child who has never been taught to love, can s/he go on to learn what love is? Certainly. Feral children grasp "words," - but if the person cannot string together sentences, metaphorically, cannot love another person in application - my question is whether or not that is a fault on his or her part, if recovery is always possible and failure to do so is a failure to be blamed, or if the brain can develop abnormally, and attributes such as these become an unchangeable piece of an individual's identity.

I was posing it as a philosophical question, because philosophically, people can rewrite their beliefs, change their standards and, as a result, alter the emotional consequences. If you teach yourself that pain is good and become a sadomasochist, pain is interpreted differently. If you teach yourself that suffering is ideal, suffering is interpreted differently... can you teach yourself to love? Can you teach yourself to feel, as you can change your way of thinking?

Edited by Summer
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I don't have a source on hand to give you, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but I've heard that early in life we have all kinds of stuff in our brain which, if it goes unused for too long, will simply die off for seeming to unnecessary. This is why it is much easier to learn languages early in life and why it may become pretty much hopeless to really get feral children to speak a language well if you're found too late. So, in this case, I don't think the kid can be blamed. Basically they've been neglected to the point it has sort of caused brain damage.

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I was posing it as a philosophical question, because philosophically, people can rewrite their beliefs, change their standards and, as a result, alter the emotional consequences. If you teach yourself that pain is good and become a sadomasochist, pain is interpreted differently. If you teach yourself that suffering is ideal, suffering is interpreted differently... can you teach yourself to love? Can you teach yourself to feel, as you can change your way of thinking?
Without only formal knowledge of psychology, but just from personal observation, I suspect that reprogramming one's subconscious is far more difficult than changing one's philosophy. Even if the subconscious is programmed via evaluations, it is not enough to simply make new evaluations. That is the starting point, of course, but it takes more than that to wipe out deeply held subconscious evaluations. I can't say if some damage is irreversible, but one cannot rule that out on philosophical grounds. For instance, mental states have a physical manifestation, and one could hypothesize that certain physical manifestations cannot be fully undone.
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Okay, the video is pretty simple to explain. The baby thinks it understands the nature of its mother better than it does any other single entity of its experience -- even including itself! And it has never before seen its mother NOT respond in her characteristic ways, so this is an unparalleled pattern of behavior for this creature that the baby thought it recognized so well. Interesting! Let's explore ... and maybe get a bit uncertain, learning new things here, wonder why mom isn't "normal" all of a sudden ... hmmm, in a new place too, strange ... etc. The baby alters its behavior as a cognitive response, not primarily an emotional response. The emotional response is secondary, upon evaluation. If the mother started doing this regularly, as a joke say, then the baby would quickly regulate its behavior also. It does prove that the baby is evaluating the data of its senses both cognitively and emotionally, very nice experiment which I will suggest to parents.

As for the possibility of irreversible psychological damage, any such damage must have a physical manifestation; and if that physical manifestation is destructive enough, and not stopped and even reversed, then the psychological damage will also be irreparable. There is a feedback loop where mental and emotional patterns get etched into the dendrites, so if the dendrites become too chaotically interlocking, it may be difficult to recover use of parts of the brain. Long term evasion has the effect of chopping the brain up into islands of dis-coordinated groups of idiosyncratic neurons. No, I can't prove that. It's a hypothetical claim backed up by what I do know, if poetic and imaginative on the mechanism. If the mind is warped far enough for long enough, it won't be able to recover because the holistic cross-linking necessary to create higher-order concepts will be permanently damaged in the physical substrate -- however implemented, that is the principle, the same one that causes granules to form in old cheese.

So, yes. But it usually requires a blunt instrument.

- ico

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As an afterthought, if my hypothesis is more or less correct, then anything that alters brain chemistry can have the effect of altering the process of forming associations among neurons, and hence likely result in a different dendrite web that gradually forms and might have formed otherwise (and may or may not be reformable, not sure there is good science on that yet).

In particular, medications which alter brain chemistry as a side effect should be looked at very closely prior to use. My arch-example in this regard is cholesterol lowering drugs. Cholesterol is instrumental in allowing the body to insulate nerves so they don't jangle too much, and the brain is chock full of cholesterol (those on low cholesterol diets will not be eating sweetbreads). If your ability to produce cholesterol is lost for some reason, you die a horrible, screaming death of extreme pain within very short time. So I seriously doubt the wisdom of using cholesterol lowering drugs except in cases where the cholesterol is so high that it is a clear and present danger -- otherwise, you may be disarming the brain and nervous system of a primary means of regulating stress and emotionally generated physical responses. The result may be brain cancer or alzheimers over prolonged exposure ... these drugs haven't been around long enough for the long term side effects to be noticed, let's wait and see if I am not correct in my plausible hypothesis.

- ico

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@Summer: What are you inclined to believe on this issue? Is a human being capable of re-programming his or her subconscious?

If something were to happen to you right now - you are fully in control of how you react. A fews months ago, I watched another human being die in front of me as a result of a snowboarding accident. I was the last person to see him alive, and I watched as he bled out into the snow. I felt fine afterwards. Obviously, his death is sad, and I know that I most certainly want to live, but I didn't express PTSD, hysteria, black-outs, repression, etc. I chose to be okay.

However, if early trauma possesses a physical manifestation and can cause actual, visible damage to the brain, or to the brain's functioning...

I might need to see scans now. Solid tests and data to confirm.

Edited by Summer
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I was not particular enough in my response. Everyone is responsible for their actions. Having a hard childhood does not justify becoming a murderer.

I also know that there are personality traits which can be revised through effort and introspection, if there is a desire for correction.

Perhaps the issue with psychopaths or people of that nature, then, is that they don't really desire others to begin with - so how could they desire a bond? One might seek it because he is aspiring for "wellness" and has been taught that it is natural - but he is doing it because he wants to be well. Not because he wants someone. He doesn't see "someone." S/he would just be a space-filler, to fit some idea. Anyone that the person attempted to love would exist to him only for the purpose of being loved... Interesting.

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