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The Effects of Abuse Resulting in Long-Term Psychological Disorders

Essay by   •  November 3, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,950 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,931 Views

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Introduction

A long-term study by Silverman, Reinherz, & Giaconia (1996) has indicated that "as many as 80 percent of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21" (Child Welfare Information Gateway). There are many long-term problems that stem from abuse as children, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and attempts at suicide, but this Extended Essay will investigate only the three most prominent, long-term psychological effects of child abuse, focusing specifically on the types of abuse that may lead to the following disorders: dissociation, multiple-personality disorder (as well as borderline personality disorder), and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Abuse is herewith defined as a methodic pattern of behaviors used to acquire and preserve control and power over another, and is typically split into three different categories: emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse. For the purposes of keeping this evaluation properly focused and more easily analyzed, examination of disorders in adults resulting from abuse as children (ages 5 through 15) will be limited to physical and sexual abuse because these are more easily assessed, though any other branches might be mentioned throughout this investigation. Child abuse is known to be a cause of brain damage which can lead to mental handicap in the victim as well as social handicap due to lack of self-esteem and overriding fear (Smith, 85). It is also widely accepted among psychologists that "... when child victims become adults the violence can be a life sentence requiring great control to keep the potential aggressive behavior contained and controlled" (ibid). Along with the precursor of self-perpetuating continuation of abuse through generations (meaning that those who had been abused as children are more likely than most to abuse their own children as adults), abuse of one's progeny can also lead to therapeutic problems, such as those that would impede a psychologist's ability to help the victim. These problems might include amnesia, dissociation, shifts in personality during help sessions, simple unwillingness to discuss past abuse, and other such difficulties that can be brought about and faced during therapy. Generally, however, the most problematic complications caused by abuse, in due course, are more severe disorders such as those that will be discussed further in the body of this investigation: dissociation, Multiple Personality Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The subject of psychology itself is open to analysis through reasoning, much like any other scientific discipline. Such findings can be summarized through both large-scale studies, as well as smaller investigations of specific cases, but while some of these publications succeeded in pointing out the disorders found to be associated with child abuse, none proved helpful in outlining exactly to what extent these disorders in adults relate to having been abused as children. Other related research has been documented, but as with most observations in psychology, some experiments themselves are focused on specific cases and subsequently less reliable than larger-scale. In this way, few reliable studies have been made as to the causes of certain psychological disorders, and to what extent child abuse plays a role in the long-term mental health of those victims, leaving much to be desired in the field of psychology as pertains to child abuse. Thus, the focused question that this Extended Essay will attempt to answer is, to what does extent are certain long-term psychological disorders found in adult victims a result of child abuse? The aim of this essay is to fill in some of the aforementioned statistical gaps with in-depth analysis, and simplify what data can be found for a more easily facilitated study of the specific, long-term outcomes of child abuse.

Of course, not all abuse automatically results in long-term psychological maladies. There are always at least a few people, in a general populace, who are unaffected or who have fought through their maltreatment and exploitation, and who report few long-term consequences (Briere, 50). In this way, existing literature is only limited to those who have been untreated or not been through therapy for their traumatic experiences: those who have indeed been treated for such are unlikely to present with long-term problems in adulthood. "Nevertheless, as has been presented, there are many women and men whose childhood experiences were so destructive that they continue to suffer as adults" (50). This is what causes disorders such as those discussed in this investigation, and as such will only be focused on untreated victims who, even in adulthood, continue to suffer through the difficulties of their childhood trauma.

It is appropriate to mention the differences between correlation and causation when evaluating psychological studies. This is to say that if two variables are correlated, it cannot be automatically assumed that one causes the other. Any relation found between two different variables in psychology, then, must be examined in order to prevent a fallacy of this sort from occurring, so in this evaluation, additional research will be made so to ensure that such occurrences are avoided, and maintain valid information for interpretation.

Dissociative Disorders

Dissociation is defined by the American Psychiatric Association's (the APA's) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition, otherwise known as the DSM-IV) as "a disruption in consciousness, memory, identity, or perception" and includes such disorders as psychogenic amnesia/fugue, multiple personality disorder, and depersonalization disorder . Dissociation in general is a fairly effective initial response to abuse, as in each form it works by creating an alternate psychological situation, either by completely forgetting the afflictive event, figuratively 'stepping away' from the body (or the separation of oneself from the body being abused during this aforementioned event), or even creating an alternate personality to suffer in the child's place. There are two common themes in each of these branches of dissociation: the ultimate ability for the victim to place a barrier between him/herself and the physical abuse he/she has suffered at the hands of someone else, and the eventual tendency for these disorders to be counterproductive later in life when counseling becomes necessary (Gil, 137).

Dissociation, simply put, is a personality disorder that allows the patient to avoid the confrontation of abuse. It is most common among survivors of psychical and sexual abuse, victims of more than one abuser, and victims of ritualistic

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