The Antidote – What goes right is often more important than what has gone wrong

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What would it be like if we could take an antidote that could wipe out almost all the impact of poor treatment we have ever received? I’m sure if a pharmaceutical company could bottle such a pill, it would be a best seller.

There may be such an antidote available, but the the down side for pharmaceutical companies is that they won’t be able to bottle it. The good side is, that this antidote is often a lot closer that you think.

In 2004 Joan Kaufman* and colleagues from Yale University gathered together 101 children. 57 of the 101 children were chosen because of their relational history. Those children had parents or caregivers that had abused them and/or failed to attend to their needs. Their parents were at times in custody or under the influence or drugs or alcohol. The children were that badly treated by caregivers that they were removed from their homes by the state. The remaining 44 children in the study were used as a control group, so that comparisons could be made.

Kaufman and her fellow researchers went on to examine the children who were genetically at risk of mental health difficulties. Having done that, they then went on to quantify the level of depression in all the children (the genetically at risk and the more genetically robust children).

In one way, the researchers found what they expected: Children who were genetically at risk of depression were twice as likely to suffer from depression when they have been mistreated as those who were genetically at risk but not mistreated.

It sounds like a ‘fait accompli’, for these children; fortunately, there was good news to come. And I hope this piece of information speaks to you and gives you hope.

The researchers also found that if the child who was at risk genetically had been mistreated but had one trusted adult who they connected with, I’ll repeat that….. just one adult for even as little as once per month or more, the impact of the abuse was only modest. They experienced the same level of emotional upheaval that was found in the genetically vulnerable children who had never been abused. As little as just one, caring adult. Just one. Once a month. That is all.

The impact of one caring adult all but wiped out the impact of the abuse they had endured. The wise words of George Vaillant a one time lead researcher on the Harvard Grant Study ring true again: “What goes right is more important than what goes wrong”.

For many of us who have been hurt it is up to us to ensure that we seek out positive support from others. For those of us who haven’t been hurt or who have recovered from being hurt, it is up to us to provide that support to others. Positive relationships hold out the promise of real change for us, our families and our churches.

*Kaufman, J., et al (2004). Social supports and serotonin transporter gene moderate depression in maltreated children. PNAS, 101(49), 17316-17321.

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