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Childhood abuse and neglect

CHILD ABUSE An impressive body of research have shown that child abuse may endanger a child’s development and increase the risk of negative outcomes later in life (Graham-Berman, Hughes, 1998). For example, physically abused children were found to have greater number of depressive symptoms and lower levels of self-esteem (Toth, Manly, & Cicchetti, 1992), higher levels of aggressive behaviour (Azar, Barnes, & Twentyman, 1988), poorer peer relations (Salzinger, Feldman, Hammer, & Rosario, 1993), and poorer academic functioning (Eckenrode, Laird, & Doris, 1993) than non-abused peers.

Neglected children were found to have the lowest level of academic performance, and they generally suffered more severe problems than children exposed to other forms of maltreatment (Eckenrode et al., 1993).Physical abuse in early childhood is linked to aggressive and violent behaviour in adolescents and adults, including violence towards nonfamily members, children, dating partners and spouse (Kendall-Tackett et al., 1993). The developmental stage at which sexual abuse occurs is particularly significant in determining longer-term outcomes. For example, incest (sexual abuse by a parent) disrupts the development of social functioning and self-esteem and increases the risk for borderline and multiple personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse in adolescence and early childhood (Spaccarelli 1994).

There are some researchers (Matsakis, 1991) who report that children who have been sexually abused by a relative suffer from even more intense guilt and shame, low self-esteem, depression and self destructive behaviour than children who have been sexually assaulted by a stranger. Some theorists believe that incest can contribute to anxieties, phobias, dissociative responses, lowered self-esteem, higher promiscuity, confusion about one’s sexuality, sleep disturbances, flashbacks, concentration difficulties (Bartoi and Kinder, 1998). Other symptoms may include eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, socially maladaptive behaviours, inappropriate aggression toward others, as well as self-isolation (deYoung, 1982). In therapy the person is able to integrate the fragmented self, take control and choose to resolve those early psychological issues.