We have already seen from numerous other articles that I have published on this site that if, as children, we experienced traumatic victimization, particularly chronic victimization (e.g. physical abuse or being exposed to domestic violence) by a parent or significant other responsible for our care and protection we may develop long-lasting problems that (without effective therapy) may extend well into adulthood (e.g. in the form of complex PTSD, addictions, relationship problems, anxiety, depression, suicidality and inability to control emotions this last example is sometimes referred to as ‘emotional dysregulation‘).

It may also lead to the development of conditions that may manifest themselves in childhood such as oppositional defiant disorder, difficulties controlling aggressive impulses and severe emotional disturbance.

Some children suffering in this way may sometimes appear callous and unconcerned about the feelings of others though this can often be explained by the necessary defence mechanisms they have unconsciously developed, such as emotional numbing and detachment, to protect themselves from being completely psychologically crushed.

According to Patterson (1993) children who develop oppositional defiant disorder (which can be marked by symptoms such as open hostility, overt aggression, extreme negativity, defiance, suspicious resentment and chronic indifference) and other problems controlling intense aggressive impulses can inadvertently trigger a CASCADE OF IMPAIRMENT for themselves that can potentially ruin their lives (one worst-case scenario is getting in serious trouble with the law in late adolescence or adulthood).

The ‘cascade of impairment’ refers to a vicious circle whereby the child’s defiance and aggressive behaviour has the effect of alienating others and increasing the likelihood that they will avoid the child or act negatively towards him in other ways. This, in turn, is likely to increase the child’s view of himself as being unlovable / disliked/rejected/ostracized¬†/¬†‘intrinsically bad.’

This negative self-view may well then cause the child to feel yet more emotional hurt and distress, and, not understanding or being able to articulate the true source of his problems, he is liable to express this mental anguish through even more intense outbursts of anger and aggression. (Indeed, it is theorized that one function of anger is to ease emotional pain).

Furthermore, feeling rejected by society, he may well start to identify with peers who also perceive themselves to have become ‘social pariahs’ and, together, they may form what effectively come to be seen as a ‘gang of social outcasts’ who reinforce one another’s negative views, start rebelling against ‘mainstream society’ and begin indulging in delinquent behaviour which can quickly escalate to serious levels; such behaviour then becomes ‘normalized’ within their group, thus lowering further their remaining inhibitions about behaving in such a way and leading to further trouble for both themselves and for others.

Furthermore, once the child is firmly ensconced within such a group of rebels his problems may be further increased by a lack of appropriate supervision and also of positive social role-models.

Patterson’s (1993) research identified boys who, by the time that they reached grade 4, had developed serious problems in relation to their school studies and their interpersonal relationships with peers.

These same boys were followed up over a 5 year period and were found to develop a cascade of problems (as referred to above) relating to social, emotional and behavioural aspects of their lives, including the following :

  • lack of adult supervision

  • failure to abide by ‘curfews

  • severe depression

  • problems with the law

  • becoming part of ‘delinquent gangs’

  • truancy

Whilst the above research focused on boys, girls who develop oppositional defiant disorder have been found to be more likely to internalize (as opposed to externalize, as boys are more likely to do) their accompanying psychological problems leading to conditions such as anxiety, depression, irritability, somatization, eating disorders, self-devaluation, suicidal ideation, truancy and avoidance of parents and teachers.


Therapies for young people suffering from serious problems such as those referred to above include :

  1. EMDR
  2. Trauma-Focused Treatment Groups
  3. Cognitive Processing Therapy
  4. Motivation-Adaptive-Skills-Trauma-Resolution (MASTR).




Often Aggressive? Is Your Sensorimotor System Primed To Deal With Threat?

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