Picture this example of mirroring bad behavior.  A child is misbehaving and throwing their toy blocks around. The parent hits the child back with the block and doesn’t teach problem-solving.

Martin Teicher at Harvard University and others have been studying the effects of child abuse on brain development. They have discovered that all types of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and neglect) can cause hormones to saturate the brain in a way that actually damages the corpus callosum and makes it smaller after enough repeated abuse.

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How does this happen? Apparently, when a person is stressed, cortisol – also known as the stress hormone – is released. At first, this can be a good thing. Cortisol sharpens the brain’s problem-solving abilities and memory, while also triggering an increase in energy for the muscles to prepare for intense fight or flight. This is supposed to help us quickly deal with the problem.

However, if our brains and bodies are awash with cortisol for longer than about thirty minutes (constant, repeated stress), then it interferes with our brain cells replenishing themselves and with enough continued exposure to cortisol they can actually shrink or even die. So if the child’s mom or dad hits her with the block or yells repeatedly or engages in other abusive behavior a lot, Caitlin won’t grow useful connections between upsets and problem-solving.

But even worse, if she repeatedly is stressed enough, it may trigger too much cortisol for too long on her brain, and may shrink or even kill some of her brain cells. The long-term effects of this can lead to an adult personality disorder, with an inability to manage her own emotions and an inability to solve problems consistently.


About Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of High Conflict Institute. He developed the "High Conflict Personality" theory (HCP Theory) and has become an international expert on managing disputes involving high conflict personalities and personality disorders. He provides training on this subject to lawyers, judges, mediators, managers, human resource professionals, businesspersons, healthcare administrators, college administrators, homeowners’ association managers, ombudspersons, law enforcement, therapists and others. He has been a speaker and trainer in over 25 states, several provinces in Canada, Australia, France and Sweden.

As an attorney, Bill is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law for six years and he is on the part-time faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law and the National Judicial College.

He is the author of numerous articles and several books.

Areas of Expertise: Mediation, Family Law, Workplace, Judicial Officers, Court Systems, Governmental Entities, Mental Health Professionals, New Ways for Families.


To view his book, “BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People,” visit this link:

To view his book, “Don’t Alienate the Kids!” Visit this site: