Imagine a group of children going to school for the first time.
You will notice that there are few kids who are crying, throwing tantrums, while there are other kids who are excited and looking forward to the new experience of their first day in school.
Why are some of them so strong and others sensitive in the face of stress?
Why do they have such disparity in behavior and difference in response to the same stimulus?
After all, the experience of being away from home for the first time should be equally stressful for all of them.
Has it got anything to do with the genes?
A lot of scientists and neurologists believe that sensitivity or persistence in the face of stress is determined by genes.
Some children can be emotionally sensitive like a fragile orchid and some can be resilient like strong orchid during the times of stress due to the absence or presence of certain genes.
However, it is also believed that nurture and proper care can help to undo undesirable effects caused by genes to some extent.
How do Genes determine the stress response?
The activity in the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene NR3C1 region determines how one responds to stress.
The glucocorticoid receptor binds to stress hormone cortisol and helps it to communicate with the rest of the body.
We need a moderate amount of cortisol for general functioning. During times of stress, secretion of cortisol makes us alert to respond to the external environment.
But excessive secretion of cortisol can lead to panic and anxiety and might actually decline our performance, making us hypersensitive to stress.
A study conducted on children aged between 11 years and 14 years who have undergone childhood trauma, showed that they had reduced activity of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene NR3C1 which means fewer glucocorticoid receptors in their brains.
Fewer glucocorticoid receptors mean that excessive secretion of cortisol can’t be regulated in the body.
Therefore, kids who have undergone childhood trauma can grow up to be individuals who are susceptible to large amounts of cortisol in their bodies and hence they are more vulnerable to the effects of stress.
Childhood abuse or trauma can alter gene expression
There have been lots of studies to determine the effect of childhood trauma and abuse on the genetic makeup of a child.
Childhood abuse can be in any form ranging from maternal neglect during infancy years, separation or abandonment from parents during childhood, or /and physical or emotional abuse.
It can lead to alteration of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene expression.
Modification of this gene is believed to be the main reason that leads to increased sensitivity to stress.
Therefore children who have faced childhood trauma grow up to be adults with hypersensitivity to external stimuli of stress and suffer from panic or anxiety and are more prone to mental health issues.
An ‘Orchid Child’ and “Dandelion Child”
Any flower can grow beautifully and blossom into its fullest potential provided it is given the right conditions.
The “Orchid child” can be nurtured to grow into a beautiful human being with strength and resilience by providing loving care and support.