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Tierra Hudson

Professor Graue

English 1201

21 March 2019

The Psychological Effects of Child Abuse and Trauma:

“I did not want him but my mother forced me to keep him. I was very hard on him; I

slapped him around a lot. I never took to him. I did not like him.” (Today’s Child Abuse Creates

Tomorrow’s Criminals). Child abuse and trauma are topics that coincide but require a special

amount of explanation and understanding. Many children go unnoticed or are simply pushed

away by adults due to these accusations of abuse or a traumatic experience. Experiencing these

types of abuse whether it be physical, sexual, or even verbal can cause serious psychological

damage to a child. At a young age children are in a vulnerable state and being exposed to such

traumatic experiences can hinder their abilities to do average things later on in life. Many people,

including the parents of some victims, are either blind to the situation or they do not have a

complete understanding of how to handle it. Child abuse and trauma is a sensitive subject, but it

is one that needs to be discussed, especially among those who want to help and those who need

help. The psychological effects of child abuse and trauma should be discussed more in today’s

society because many people have a misconception of how it can affect one’s life.

To begin, the aspects of child abuse are clearly explained in today’s society. Most people

have a clear understanding of what abuse is and what it looks like. On the other hand, trauma can

be presented in many ways. Traumatic experiences seem to be more personal due its

individuality aspect because not everyone will view the same experience as a traumatic one. An
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example of this would be if someone experienced a death in their family. This could definitely be

a traumatic experience for them because their loved one has just passed and that memory will be

stuck with them forever. Whereas another family member who might not have known the person

who passed that well, may feel sad but it won’t be traumatic event that will change their life

forever. Many adults experience these types of events and are unaware of how to help

themselves, so imagine a child going through that same situation. Trauma can come in various

forms but it all depends on how the person receives it, which creates an even more dangerous

event for children seeing as though they are so vulnerable at that stage in their lives.

Although abuse is one of the main examples of a traumatic experience, there are also

instances where the event is uncontrollable. The example mentioned in the previous paragraph

could be an uncontrollable event that turned out to be traumatic for the child. In some situations,

these uncontrollable events seem to be more harmful to the child because there isn’t always a

clear explanation on what happened and why it happened, which leaves them both hurt and

confused. These feelings often result in the child having a traumatic stress disorder which can

ultimately cause them to experience mental and overall health issues. Sarah Peterson from The

National Child Traumatic Stress Network stated, “Although many of us may experience

reactions to stress from time to time, when a child is experiencing traumatic stress, these

reactions interfere with the child’s daily life and ability to function and interact with others” (The

National Child Traumatic Stress Network). As adults, people come into contact with daily issues

that cause stress but they are able to handle that amount of stress and pressure because their brain

has fully developed. A child’s brain cannot process the event as an adult would because their

brain in still trying to develop and understand the world around them, and when this process is

hindered or changed it can affect their daily life.


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Additionally, there are many personal connections within these events including

emotional abuse and self-esteem issues. Many adults deal with daily complications due to their

past experience with child abuse. Emotional abuse is believed to be the most disastrous type of

abuse because it has such a deep psychological connection with the person. Specifically,

emotional abuse can create a lack of self-confidence within the individual, making it difficult to

interact with others and create positive relationships. Chuqi Lui the author of “Relationship

Between Child Emotional Abuse and Self-Esteem” stated, “It has been found that emotional

abuse is negatively associated with self-esteem (e.g., Brodski & Hutz, 2012), and is positively

associated with hostility and aggression (Nicholas & Bieber, 1996), as well as with depression

and negative attributional styles” (Relationship Between Child Emotional Abuse and Self-

Esteem). Lui is trying to convey the message that emotional abuse is removing self-confidence

from the person while influencing hostility and aggression. This can cause a disconnection

between the individual and others around them because they cannot feel comfortable around

themselves or others.

Furthermore, not only can emotional abuse create lack of self-esteem but it can be the

root of a life-threatening situation. As the symptoms of abuse continue throughout one’s life they

can become a serious burden. During these situations many people are unaware of how to talk

about their experiences. They rarely seek help because they either don’t believe people will help

them or they are simply ridiculed for what they’ve been through. This can result in severe

depression and overall emotional dysregulation. Carolien Christ the author of “Linking

Childhood Emotional Abuse and Depressive Symptoms” says, “Numerous studies have

associated childhood abuse with a variety of adverse effects, such as mood and anxiety disorders

and suicidal behaviors. In particular, childhood abuse has consistently been linked to depressive
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disorders in adulthood in both retrospective studies and prospective studies” (Linking Emotional

Abuse and Depressive Symptoms). The studies conducted on the effects of emotional abuse

concluded that these events can cause serious psychological problems. These psychological

problems have been known to be the cause of many suicides and it is often seen as a motive for

other criminal activity.

While emotional abuse can have serious effects on one’s mental state, physical abuse can

also contribute to a life of instability. Many children experience physical abuse from parents or

any adult around them, and these incidents often go unnoticed. A recent study was taken in rural

Bangladesh to shine light on the numerous reports of physical and sexual abuse the children are

experiencing. While explaining their life at home, it was clear that the children were dealing with

economic disparities as well. There were many cases of maltreatment and negligence due to large

counts of instability within households. Although there are many cases of physical and sexual

abuse, very few are fully reported and only the severe cases are handled. Not only are the

children dealing with physical and sexual abuse, but they are victims of economic issues as well,

which prevent them from receiving the help they need. Their reports of abuse are put on hold

because those in charge believe that fixing other economic issues are far more important than a

child’s safety. Of course maltreatment and negligence are important issues that need to be taken

care of, but the reports of abuse should be handled with the same efforts. When cases like these

go unnoticed it creates an ongoing cycle of abuse because it shows others that abuse is

acceptable and in result they can become abusers themselves.

Nevertheless, it is believed that children who are exposed to violence and criminal

activity at a young age are more likely to involve themselves in the act. Dr. Chandre Gould the

author of “Today’s Child Abuse Creates Tomorrow’s Criminals” performed a research study on
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20 men who were incarcerated in South Africa, to understand what landed them behind bars.

During her study she learned that majority of the men came from crime infested neighborhoods

where society did not create a safe place for them. They experienced a life of crime and abuse at

a young age and were unaware of any other possibilities for their lives. Dr. Gould states, “I

concluded from my research that preventing and reducing stubbornly high levels of violence in

South Africa can only be achieved if the country focuses on ensuring that children are not

exposed to violence or toxic stress at home…” (Today’s Child Abuse Creates Tomorrow’s

Criminals). This is not just an epidemic present in South Africa, but all over the world. When

children are around violence or any type of criminal activity it can become normal to them and

they grow up believing that’s how they are meant to live. Even the abuse aspect can become

normal to them and they become abusers and violent towards others thinking that it is acceptable

because people allowed them to be hurt. These issues can be solved if children were protected

from their abusers and not overlooked by those who believe this type of behavior is okay. As

long as the abuse and exposure to violence continues, it will create more and more criminals out

of these helpless children.

Furthermore, a fairly recent case of sexual abuse involving many underage girls and

Larry Nassar showed how easily people can take advantage of children. Larry Nassar is a former

physician for the American gymnastics team who provided camps for girls at his home and the

Michigan State University Clinic. At the times of the abuse all of the girls were underage and

were unaware that his actions were wrong. Two of the girls who were sexually assaulted by

Nassar explained that he penetrated them with his fingers, claiming that it was a medical

procedure. Although it is true that pelvic floor therapy exists, it was not needed in these sessions

with Nassar. Nassar manipulated these girls into believing these incidents were for medical
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purposes and he got away with it for years. There were more than 150 victims in the courtroom

at his hearing to speak on their experience with Nassar. These victims were not just gymnasts,

they were swimmers, runners, divers, etc., all people who trusted Nassar to help with their

dreams of becoming an elite athlete. On January 24, 2018 Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years

in prison, assuring that he would be there for the rest of his life. This case shows how adults can

easily take advantage of children and manipulate them into believing anything because they

don’t know any better. Those victims now have to live with that memory of being sexually

assaulted by someone they trusted. This dreadful experience could have affected them mentally

and even hindered their ability to have a trusting relationship with anyone else later in life.

Although abuse can cause negative feelings of hostility and overall aggressiveness, it can

also allow one to have empathy. Children and even adults who have experienced abuse often

have a heightened sense of empathy for others. Empathy is the ability to understand and connect

with another based on experiences. Many victims show empathy because they understand what it

is like to be a victim of abuse or any traumatic experience. Some may even relate when it comes

to support because not many people had support or people to listen to them when they needed

them the most. David Greenberg the author of “Elevated Empathy in Adults Following

Childhood Trauma”, conducted a study on 387 adults to examine their emotional status after

experiencing child trauma. The study was focused on the amount of empathy they showed

towards different situations compared to an average adult who did not experience childhood

abuse or trauma. They each were given a forty question “test” to complete that would ultimately

show how much empathy they have towards certain situations. Greenberg stated, “Trauma

increases attention to emotion, environmental cues, and increases amygdala responsiveness. This

increase in awareness could improve the ability to recognize, understand, and react appropriately
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to these states in others, in comparison to individuals who have not had a traumatic experience”

(Elevated Empathy in Adults Following Childhood Trauma). After completing the study,

Greenberg concluded that adults who experienced childhood trauma have a heightened sense of

empathy for others because they were more understanding of each situation and others feelings.

While an elevated sense of empathy may seem like a good thing, it can also be a negative

attribute. Everyone should definitely have a certain amount of empathy in them, but having too

much can result in one being taken advantage of. Most people who are empathetic feel like they

can help everyone and they put there all into one person in order to help them feel better or meet

a certain stage in their life. Unfortunately there will always be those who take advantage and

manipulate empathetic people because they see it as a weakness. This can result in someone

being abused again or even experiencing new trauma from being hurt by someone they trusted

and tried so hard to help. Trust is one of the main points in children and adults that can cause hurt

emotionally and physically because sometimes it is hard to believe that person you once trusted

could hurt you or do anything wrong.

Unlike other forms of abuse such as physical or sexual abuse, many people tend to ignore

the effects of verbal abuse. Even though verbal abuse may not seem as severe it can have the

same effect on children and it often leads to physical or sexual abuse. Just like any type of abuse,

children are sensitive to what they see and experience around them and being verbally attacked

can fall into the category of emotional abuse. Verbal abuse can create lack of self-confidence and

cause others to feel like they are less than their abuser, which allows the abuser to be in charge.

Witnessing verbal abuse can be just as hurtful as experiencing it themselves. Some children who

have seen their parents or any adults around them having a heated argument learn from that and

it allows them to think that is acceptable. In some cases those heated arguments can turn into
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physical fights, which is domestic violence. As a child they may not understand that those

actions were wrong and they often grow up having anger issues or become very physical with

others because they see it at home. Once again after witnessing this type of behavior the child

has the option to become the abused or the abuser. Verbal abuse affects children and adults just

as much as any type of abuse.

Fig. 1. This image portrays a child covering his/her ears while an adult is yelling at them

or possibly another person not shown in the picture. This relates to the issues of verbal abuse

because it is clear that the child is being affected by the unnecessary behavior presented by the

adult. (Child Abuse and Neglect)

Nevertheless, there are ways to try and prevent child abuse or trauma from happening and

affecting their lives forever. One of main ways is for parents to pay attention to their child.

Regarding teenagers, know their friends, and ask where they are going, things as simple as that

can help prevent a child from experiencing a traumatic event. As far as smaller children, be

aware of who is watching them or notice when something is wrong. Parents should always try to

connect with their children so that the child can feel safe when talking to them. As mentioned
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before, some traumatic experiences are uncontrollable and under the circumstances may be

difficult to talk about but should be approached in a special way. No parent or child is perfect but

trying is enough, people notice when the effort is made to connect and try to help. The effects of

an event are different for every child so they should not be treated the same or however someone

else believes they should handle it. With that being said, not every child will be accepting of a

parents help. There will be times when certain things are considered off limits to a parent

because they fear the parent may not understand. The best response to this is to be patient with

the child and allow them to talk on their own time, not force them to talk or ignore them because

that could make things worse and cause communication issues.

Furthermore, those who have already been affected by a traumatic event in their

childhood can be helped too. Adults are often blamed for their reckless actions and while holding

accountability for their actions is important, others should understand that some are taught

different when growing up. For example, seeing criminal activity as a child can influence the

child to do the same because others were allowed. Some people who live a life of crime haven’t

experienced any other way to live, when that’s all you know it becomes normal. Instead of

incarcerating every adult or even juveniles there should be an evaluation and complete

understanding of where they come from and why they did what they did. Even those who do not

live a life of crime but are mentally unstable or unable to connect with others should receive

psychological help. It is not their fault that the world around them showed them no mercy or that

the people around them paid them no attention.

Finally, people need to become more aware of the psychological effects child abuse and

trauma can have on a child’s life. The experience does not end when the madness stops, it

continues to play over and over in the child’s mind and even when they become adults.
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Experiencing abuse can hinder someone’s lifestyle, preventing them from being involved with

others and knowing themselves. Adults need to understand that children know what is happening

around them no matter their age and it can cause life threatening consequences. The child could

be put in danger and they could put others in danger as well. Any type of abuse whether it be

verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual should not be tolerated or encouraged. Environment plays

a huge role in this epidemic because many children are influenced by those around them and if

all they see is violence then they will indulge in the act themselves. If children were protected

and brought up in better environments there would be a huge decrease in crimes and violence

against others. Adults need to become better educated on how to protect their children and help

those who have already experienced these tragedies. These unfortunate events are sensitive to

talk about, but in today’s society it needs to be discussed to create a better understanding of

people. As stated before, it is important to inform those who want to help and listen to those who

need help.
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Works Cited

Atiqul Haque, M., et al. “Children’s Exposure to Physical Abuse from a Child Perspective: A

Population-Based Study in Rural Bangladesh.” PLoS ONE, vol. 14, no. 2, 2019,

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Gould, Chandre. “Today’s Child Abuse Creates Tomorrow’s Criminals.” Opposing Viewpoints

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Hauser, Christine, and Maggie Astor. “The Larry Nassar Case: What Happened and How the

Fallout Is Spreading.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Jan. 2018,

www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/sports/larry-nassar-gymnastics-abuse.html
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Lui, Chuqi, et al. “Relationship between Childhood Emotional Abuse and Self-esteem.”

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