Lack Of Emotional Security
Children who grow up in emotionally secure environments are likely to develop good emotional regulation (control) in later life and are unlikely to develop significant anti-social personality traits (characteristics). However, when there is a lack of emotional security and the environment is hostile, the child will tend to develop ‘avoidant attachment’ with the parent/s or carer/s (ie avoid interaction with them where possible) and is likely to become aggressive (especially if male – Renken et al, 1989). This is especially likely if the parents are often angry (either with each other or with the child).
In this situation, the child will generalize from his experiences and come to see others as hostile and likely to reject him/her. Also, because s/he is dependent upon the parents s/he will often be unable to fully express the true level of his/her anger towards them so will tend to lessen it by avoiding contact with them. This avoidant behaviour, then, is not genetic, but a learned defensive response.
Once the child has learned this response, and both defensiveness and expectation of harsh treatment by the parent/s or carer/s have become ingrained, s/he does not stand to lose much by rebelling and going against their wishes. This leads to the parent controlling or attempting to control, the child by instilling yet further fear in him/her.
This pattern of maladaptive interaction between the parent and child can adversely affect how the child’s brain develops. On a biochemical level, the hostile environment in which the child finds him/herself trapped can lead to the brain receiving insufficient opiates. This means that the medial prefrontal cortex fails to develop properly. The behavioural effect is that the child grows up believing others will either pay him/her no attention or will act in a hostile or aggressive manner towards him/her. In essence, then, he generalizes his/her experience of how his/her parent/s or carer/s treat him/her into his/her belief system relating to how s/he expects others will treat him/her.
Studies have found (eg Dodge et al, 1987) that boys who have been brought up in this type of environment are often likely to interpret the behaviour of others towards them as hostile even when, in objective terms, this is not the case. In other words, their perception of reality may become distorted by the way in which the environment they have grown up in has affected their brain development.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).