The Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Abuse

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Many are the times we have come across news reporting of child abuse. Rarely do we take time and ponder what the consequences of such abuse might be to the child and to the society at large. The cases reported in the media are often times extreme. There are many more pervasive child abuse cases that go unreported. It is even worse in countries that do not have elaborate and well-structured child policies as majority of the victims do not get professional help. Abused children tend to have an array of difficulties when they cross over to adulthood. Most of the patients undergoing counseling due to psychological or emotional problems have at one point of their young lives experienced some form of abuse; be it physical, sexual or even neglect. The perpetrators behind these abuses do not know beforehand what their acts might do to the latter lives of their victims, who end up experiencing many challenges in life, both to themselves and the society at large. This paper is an attempt to examine the long term effects of child abuse.

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Suicide is and has been a major cause of death in many countries. In the United States, it is the third leading cause of death among young adults. Countries like China, New Zeeland, Sweden, and Australia amongst a horde of others report suicide as the number one leading cause of death amongst teenagers. It is reported that for every completed suicide, about 10 to 20 suicidal attempts have been made. Alarming as this sounds, the root cause of these deaths, when traced backwards, points to a childhood riddled with abuse and neglect. In a study of 159 adolescents who had attempted suicide, Daykin et al found out that the study adolescents had experiences of childhood abuse compared to control adolescents who had healthy childhoods. Adult individuals who have had abusive childhoods have a low oxytocin concentration in their cerebrospinal fluid compared to individuals who have had normal childhoods (Heim et al). Oxytocin hormone plays a key role in stress and anxiety protection and in the creation of social affiliations and trusts.

Individuals who have had childhood abuse experience tend to display impulsive behaviors when they cross over to adulthood. Impulsive individuals react quickly and often unplanned as a response to both internal and external stimuli. Rarely do they consider what the outcome of their reaction might be to themselves and those who are around them. Childhood malpractices hampers the functioning of inhibitory processes of the brain which are governed mainly by the frontal cortex such that the individual will have little or no control to react appropriately to stimuli both internal and external. Trauma experienced due to childhood abuse tampers with neurotransmitters and hormones that help when responding to stimuli. It is no wonder that most stressed individuals end up committing heinous acts, only to regret later of the consequences.

Childhood abuse, especially sexually, is closely associated with depression. A study conducted among a sample 204 women in London found a strong correlation between psychological abuse in childhood and chronic or recurrent depression. Depression, if not timely treated will ultimately lead to suicide as the patients see no point in living anymore.

Physical abuse and other forms of antisocial behavior are some of the major documented consequences that have a direct linkage to an abusive childhood. Studies have shown that abused children-whether physically or by neglect- generally display aggressive tendencies, though it varies with the form of abuse. For those who do not display aggressive behaviors, they tend to be withdrawn, reserved and lack social skills. A child who witnesses abuse meted out to his siblings or parents will still be affected as if they were the ones victimized (Rosenbaum et al). Some children who witness such violence might adopt it as a practice to solve conflicts even in their adult lives and might even come to see violence as an important aspect in a relationship.

Research has shown that abused children are at a higher risk of being delinquents. It should however be understood that not all abused children end up being delinquents, neither were all delinquents abused in their childhood. Studies have shown that there is a 20-30% likelihood that abused children end up being delinquents (Wisdom). Abused children tend to start delinquent behaviors at an earlier age compared to healthy children. There is also a high likelihood that violent delinquents must have experienced severe abuse than those that are non-violent (Lewis et al).

Low self-esteem is also associated with child abuse. A good image of ones self worth is essential for social interactions. People with low self-esteem feel unlovable or unworthy, leading to self-destructive behaviors. Such feelings stem from children who witnessed abusive relations between their parents blaming themselves that they were the cause of the frosty relationships. Children view parents as godlike creatures and whatever they say is always true. When parents abuse them in any way, either verbally or sexually, they usually take this to imply that they are worthless and undeserving of any value. Low self-esteem negatively affects every other aspect of ones life. This can be worse in relationships where an abused victim tolerates violence and abuse in a relationship because they do not see and appreciate their value.

Eating disorders is also a common consequence associated with the ill practice of child abuse. Since the victims do not see much value in themselves, considering themselves as worthless, they often end up indulging on eating anything that come across their way without due regard to their health. Some also end up being alcoholics and substance abusers. Many of the substance abuse users in rehabilitation centers were at some point in their childhood abused.

We should also not forget that physical abuse result in permanent bruises and dents that remind the victims of their past. There have been instances of parents inflicting severe burns and wounds to their children which will leave permanent scars. Every time such victims see the scars they are reminded of the violence they went through and it becomes a constant source of trauma. Their self-esteem will also drop as some might be badly disfigured, only to call themselves ugly.

Child abuse and neglect has been proven to hamper brain development in children. Some parts of the brain do not develop at all or they just develop partially. These alterations in the development of the brain have long term consequences in terms of cognitive, language and academic skills of the child (Tarullo 2012). A disruption in the neurodevelopment processes of the child can cause the child to adopt a mental disposition of being under constant fear as well as other attributes that are appropriate when responding to anger but which are counterproductive when there are no threats, such as anxiety and hypervigilance.

Some studies have also shown that children who suffer abuse tend to have poor physical health. Adults who went through abuse in their childhood are at a higher risk of contracting such diseases as diabetes, lung and liver diseases (Felitti et al 2009). Neglected children were at a higher risk of suffering from diabetes and dysfunctional lungs, whereas those that had been physically abused were at a higher risk of suffering from malnutrition and diabetes (Wisdom et al 2012).

Indirect costs as a result of child abuse and neglect will keep piling up. The economy will keep bleeding if practices of child abuse keep on unabated. According to Prevent Child Abuse America, taxpayers money amounting to $104 billion could be saved each year if this menace had not existed. The economic aspect of child abuse is rarely considered as much focus is usually shed on the psychological and emotional aspects of the individual.

Majority of abused children end up causing much harm to themselves and the society in their adult lives. Child abuse leads to destabilization of the childs emotional and cognitive development, hampering most other functions in their adult lives. It will not be a surprise to witness a drastic drop in crime rates if child abuse and neglect were to be curtailed. A bad child foundation in most instances breeds a lawless citizen in the future. Appropriate measures should therefore be taken to ensure that a healthy environment is accorded to our children so that they can grow up to be law abiding and productive citizens. A huge proportion of health budgets today is allocated to rehabilitation centers that treat psychological problems, most of whose roots can be traced to cases of child abuse. Such expenditures could and would be avoided if the menace of child menace would be addressed. Much effort needs to be put by all responsible stakeholders to ensure that children are accorded healthy growing environments.

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