Childhood trauma and its effects on violent behavior

sad little boy hugging teddy bear

As human beings, we see horrible acts of violence every day. We try to make sense of it all and wonder how a person could commit such acts. More often than not, the media portrays the offenders’ family lives as unstable and dysfunctional, often telling a tale of severe childhood physical, mental, or emotional trauma. This is true even after seeking and getting justice, such as relying on a car accident attorney after a wreck. What is the link between trauma and violent behavior?

Making a Connection

Criminologists and mental health professionals have been researching the correlation between childhood trauma and violence for decades. The 1970’s gave rise to more interest and consequent studies, largely due to trauma-related disorders becoming more widely diagnosed. Disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became fully recognized.

Studies show a direct negative association between the duration and frequency of traumatic events, particularly during childhood development, and the severity of future violent tendencies. In other words, the younger the person was at the time of the trauma, the more long lasting and severe the effects were likely to be. 

Research also has suggested a connection between the nature of the trauma and the violent outcomes, providing evidence that the type of trauma results in a similar behavior from the victim in the future. For example, people that experienced emotional trauma are more likely to exhibit anger and hostility, as well as emotional related disorders such as anxiety and depression

Trauma related to social interactions appears to significantly increase risk for the victim to incorrectly perceive the emotions and actions of others’ intentions as malicious. Increased risk for distrust, social rejection, detachment, and social ineptitude. 

To make matters worse, those that experience childhood trauma are more likely to experience employment problems, hypervigilance, alcohol abuse, and engaging in antisocial activities, including violent acts. This remains true even when the victim sought justice, such as relying on these Folsom personal injury attorneys

Does Childhood Trauma Always Lead to Violence

Most people that experience childhood trauma, do not commit acts of violence as adults.  However, research does suggest that some people that have experienced childhood trauma will commit future acts of violence, often in the same manner as they themselves have experienced. The likelihood for a victim to commit violent acts increases as the risk factors increase.

What are the Risk Factors?

As stated before, the duration of the trauma, as well the age at which the event or events occurred, may be a predictor. Factors such as mental illness, personality disorder, and alcohol or substance abuse prove to contribute to an increased risk for violent behaviors. Negative attitudes, impulsivity, and inability to control one’s emotions are also used as indicators for potential violent behaviors.

Although people that display several risk factors may not have experienced trauma, traumatic experiences during childhood often contribute to the development of several of the risk factors for violent behavior. For example, children that observe abusive parenting may learn that abuse or violence towards others is normal and acceptable.

According to research, highly stressful and traumatic events can alter the brain’s structures, particularly in developing children, teens, and young adults. Periods of prolonged stress can inhibit the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with inhibiting behavior such as aggression and impulsivity. 

It is therefore reasonable to conclude that trauma can directly or indirectly contribute to the likelihood of violent acts. Clearly the correlation between childhood trauma and violence is multi-faceted and multi-layered.