In my youth, I was very prone to outbursts of rage. For instance, I once punched a hole in a wardrobe door. On another occasion, I threw a large and heavy paperweight through my bedroom window. And then there was the time I hacked several deep grooves into the back of a wooden kitchen chair with a 12-inch bread knife. I could go on, but you get the general picture?
So, the question is, what factors contribute to such outbursts of rage in children?
It is not unusual, of course, for children to lose their temper; however, the outbursts of rage displayed by a traumatized child tend to be of a different quality : more intense, more sudden and more out of control; animalistic, even.
One reason for this is that significant, prolonged trauma adversely affects the brain’s biology (in particular the way in which the brain produces the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol, is disrupted). This means that when the traumatized child senses threat or danger (either emotional or physical), the brain’s hardwired circuitry automatically stimulates the child into aggressive behaviour – as a defense mechanism.
It is important to reiterate that the child’s aggression in these circumstances is essentially and fundamentally DEFENSIVE and triggered (unconsciously) by FEAR . This fear may be of being physically harmed or emotionally harmed (eg rejected, abandoned, demeaned or shamed).
During his/her history of being abused, the child has learned how devastating these physical and/or emotional attacks can be and becomes desperate to defend him/herself from further harm – so much so that his/her aggressive behaviour is automatically and unconsciously triggered even when the trigger may seem objectively mild. This is because the child has become hypersensitive to threat so that, even when there is the smallest hint of it, s/he launches (on automatic pilot) a pre-emptive attack (to prevent the threat rapidly escalating – which past experience has shown the child it otherwise will)); the child, in these circumstances, has unconsciously learned that such behaviour has ‘survival value’ and that ‘attack is the best form of defense.’ (In different circumstances the child may learn that AVOIDANCE is the best defense and, therefore, automatically, emotionally ‘shut down’ when s/he senses danger).
It is also known that those who have suffered significant, chronic abuse can cause damage to the development of the brain region known as the amygdala which, in turn, can lead to severe problems controlling the emotions – this will, of course, exacerbate the problem.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery