Category Archives: Anger And Violence

Childhood Trauma: The Link with Future Violence. Part One.

childhood trauma and violence

A research study (Fonagy et al., 1997) showed that 90% of young offenders had suffered significant childhood trauma, including both abuse and loss (eg. of a parent through divorce). Neglect in childhood was also a very significant factor in greatly increasing the risk of later violent offending. Violent offending following such trauma is sometimes referred to as ‘acting out’.


The psychologist Bowlby (1969) studied the effects of loss in childhood (eg. through parental divorce). He demonstrated that it very often led to the child responding by passing through three stages:


2) DESPAIR (due to grief over the loss. NB. The loss need not be due to death).

3) EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT (a defense mechanism).

Following loss, if the child is not treated sympathetically and emotionally supported, his or her response to the loss can become pathological.

childhood trauma and violence


Two types of loss that the child might experience are death of a parent or parental divorce. But a feeling of loss can, in fact, be just as damaging (or, indeed, even more damaging) following less overt forms of loss. For example:

-parental rejection
-parental threats to abandon the child
-parental neglect/lack of emotional involvement
-parental abuse
-parents not giving the child love

Later work by Bowlby (1979) has shown that children often ‘re-experience’ their childhood loss in later life when faced with further separation and loss, or the threat of it, in their adult relationships. This may be expressed by the individual ‘re-experiencing’ his or her feelings of childhood loss by reacting with violence, anger and hatred.

Furthermore, these dysfunctional response patterns are resistant to change as the individual’s perception of adult relationships becomes distorted by their experience of childhood loss (in essence, leading to error-correcting information being defensively and selectively excluded from consciousness).


Further research (Van der Kolk et al., 1995) has shown that childhood trauma can lead to the individual experiencing a deep feeling of terror which he or she is unable to articulate; this in turn leads to the individual experiencing extreme problems in relation to regulating internal states/emotions. Indeed, this dysfunction is biological in origin, as the biological state of the individual has been adversely affected by the childhood trauma.


It has also been demonstrated by research that, following loss-related childhood trauma, the individual’s adult relationships very frequently induce great feelings of insecurity (‘attachment insecurity’/attachment disorder/attachment anxiety) in later life and that these reponses to interpersonal relationships become repetitive and habitual.This can, and, often does, lead the individual to adopt dysfunctional coping strategies including alcohol and drug misuse, violence and crime.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Neurological Effects: How Childhood Trauma can Damage the Developing Physical Brain.

effects of trauma on physical development of brain

Recently, there have been various cutting-edge studies into the neurological effects of child abuse and child neglect- in other words, how childhood trauma has been shown to damage the developing physical brain.

It has been shown that BEHAVIOURAL PROBLEMS, following childhood trauma, can be scientifically traced back in origin to damage, caused by child abuse, neglect etc., to both the brain’s PHYSICAL STRUCTURE and its CHEMISTRY. As well as behavioural problems resulting from this damage, it has also been shown to impair the sufferer’s ability to LEARN.

Indeed, it has been estimated that about 75% of children in the care system could have suffered such adverse effects on the physical brain following their particular traumas.


This is all very depressing; however, there is also good news: the damage that the brain has suffered is NOT ALWAYS PERMANENT. If therapeutic interventions are made, especially when the brain is still developing during childhood, the brain is able, to some extent (due to its plasticity), to rewire itself in such a way that development can return much closer to the norm than it would have done without such intervention. The intervention needs to include the child being given a loving, secure, stable and supportive environment.

In general, the more protracted and intense the childhood trauma, the more serious the damaging effects on the physical brain will have been.

effects of childhood trauma on the physical development of the brain

Above –  Neurological Effects : An illustration of how childhood trauma can seriously, adversely affect physical developmemt of the brain



Severe and prolonged childhood trauma has been demonstrated to potentially damage:

a) THE CORTEX (the function of the cortex is to facilitate RATIONAL THINKING).

b) THE HIPPOCAMPUS (the function of the hippocampus is, in part, to facilitate the REGULATION of our EMOTIONS).

Given that these regions of the brain are sometimes damaged by childhood trauma, and given the function of these regions, we need hardly be surprised that if we have suffered childhood trauma we might find ourselves behaving IRRATIONALLY at times and finding it very difficult to CONTROL OUR EMOTIONS.

Indeed, in one study it was found those who had suffered childhood trauma were much more likely to have:

a) an underdeveloped cortex

b) a smaller hippocampus

Further studies have found that another brain area, the AMYGDALA (which also has a very prevalent role in regulating our emotions) becomes OVERSENSITIVE and OVERACTIVE in those who have suffered childhood trauma. As a result, it will often signal extreme danger – putting us constantly on ‘red-alert’, as it were – even when, in objective terms, there is no, or very little, danger threatening us. Our fear response, then, operates on a hair-trigger.


Studies have also found that prolonged and severe STRESS in early life can also affect the production of chemicals (also known as neurotransmitters) in the brain. For example:

a) CORTISOL (which regulates stress)

b) SEROTONIN (which is closely tied to MOOD and BEHAVIOUR)

Dysfunction of these chemicals leads, respectively, to:

a) us becoming far more susceptible and far more likely to be adversely affected by stress

b) us becoming far more prone to severe, CLINICAL DEPRESSION and much more prone than normal to IMPULSIVE VIOLENCE/AGGRESSION.

child_trauma_and_NEUROPLASTICITY, functional_and_structural_ neuroplasticity

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery