Of the victims of psychological and physical abuse, the most vulnerable in many scenarios are children. Children need the love and support that they can get in order to live happy and fulfilling lives as adults. What are the mental health effects of abuse? Read to find out more.
Children have the right to have a safe and loving environment. This is one of the standards of basic human rights, as children are one of the most vulnerable demographics in our society. Infants, toddlers, and those below the age of responsibility do not have the capacity to defend themselves in times of abuse.
Sadly, this does not keep some people away from hurting or neglecting children. Addictions, personality disorders, or having a dysfunctional household are some of the causes children become subject to abuse. Although people would think that children forget these forms of abuse as they grow up, it is actually one of the causes of the scars they carry from adulthood that they may have trouble recovering from. What are the mental health effects of abuse on children?
Anxiety and depression
Children who suffer from abuse in their early years may develop symptoms of anxiety and depression as they grow up. According to psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, one of the first things an infant can learn from his or her environment is the concept of Trust vs. Mistrust. Children want to have the security they need from those who can care for them.
Without having a healthy, trusting relationship with their parents or caregivers, they may grow insecure, anxious, and depressed growing up. This is where tantrums, meltdowns and isolating behavior starts. When caring for children, it is important that they are provided with an environment that helps establish trust. Anxiety and depression is quite dangerous when children reach an age of maturity, as they may evolve into suicidal thoughts or violent tendencies.
Some children who grow up with verbally abusive parents or caregivers develop self-esteem issues. When they are constantly told that they are not good enough, or they are not worth it, it can be difficult for them to build confidence in themselves. As a result, they may feel lazy, incompetent, or they simply just want to isolate themselves from others.
Children with low self-esteem often have trouble socializing with their peers. They feel as though the thoughts of others about them are the same as those of their abusers. In order to develop confidence in children, parents should learn how to use positive language. Disciplining the right way is also critical. Children must know why they are being disciplined, and if the discipline is appropriate as a consequence for their actions. When children are being brought down through words or emotional neglect, the more that they will struggle to become independent in their adult years.
Personality Disorders and Addictions
Children who undergo abuse at a young age are also likely to develop personality disorders and addictions growing up. When we encounter juveniles in drug rehab centers or mental health institutions, we may notice that majority of them have experienced abuse and neglect in their younger stages. This is one of the manifestations of failing to have a nurturing environment for children.
Although personality disorders can sometimes be genetic, they can also be caused by trauma from past events. Addictions can also be behaviors that are acquired due to the child’s environment. If they see a parent constantly smoking, drinking, or using drugs, they may see this behavior as “normal” and would experiment on these things later in life. Some children discover addictions or develop personality disorders in their early teens.
Another possible mental health effect of abuse on children is difficulty initiating or maintaining relationships. When there is abuse present in their environment, children tend to subconsciously imitate these behaviors in their future relationships. Having an abusive parent or caregiver means that they may adopt communication styles with their future friends and partners.
In turn, some of these children grow up to be abusive people as well, or have mental health issues making it difficult to form relationships. There are research studies that suggest that some mental health problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety and Depression can cause strain in relationship. The stress caused by the trauma can cause an imbalance in the brain’s oxytocin, a hormone responsible for helping establish healthy relationships. When a child does not develop a healthy oxytocin system, they may have difficulties relating to others’ feelings, showing affection, or learning how to receive affection.
Hypervigilance and fear
The mental health issue related to hypervigilance and fear is paranoia. Paranoia is defined as behavior stemming from irrational fear of things which can be present in some psychological disorders.
When children often experience abuse at a young age, they may have flashbacks of their past life which can translate to irrational reactions as they grow up. This can often result to delusions, phobias, or other negative reactions to things which may otherwise be typical for others.
Protect the children and their future
When it comes to addressing problems of abuse, we must be aware that it is not only adults who suffer from them–there are thousands of children who need support and a way out of their situation.
As we become aware of the mental health effects of abuse on our little ones, we can take bigger steps to protect them and their future.