The Effects of Childhood Trauma and the Result into Relationships and Cognitive Thinking

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Background on Abuse and Victims Effected

Children are developing Individuals that soak up their surrounding information and reciprocate it and express the same behaviors they view themselves. Children from two to five years old are in a specific developmental stage where they are essentially gaining an understanding of their world around them. For whatever reason life can put the children in poor conditions making them victims to abuse. Abuse often perceived by the masses as mainly physical can be other various types as well.

Abuse is defined as the maltreatment of someone or something usually associated with cruelty. There are various types of abuse as well that people can experience. These types of abuse are emotional, physical, sexual, and psychological. Another thing to note about abuse, is that abuse can cause a multitude of psychological disorders and/ or mental sicknesses. A psychological disorder can be summarized and defined as any abnormal behaviors including ways of thinking and living. If this abuse was done to a child, who as I stated earlier are gaining an understanding of their world, they could gain a negative self image of themselves and have other things happen to them mentally which will change their psyche. With this change of psyche there comes the trauma and then the psychological disorders and mental illnesses as they are growing up. “On the other end, stress and trauma during development, such as that endured during physical abuse or lack of parental involvement, can have lasting negative outcomes.” (Gowin, page 1)

This will affect not only themselves but aspects to their life like socializing and the way they connect with people. The way that people connect with each other comes from the way we were treated as children and the care that was given and provided to us as kids. This entire idea of connecting with people and the bonds we form with family and friends can be described with the attachment theory. The attachment theory states that there are four different attachment types that children can form with the parent figure in their lives. These four attachment types will reflect in the future directly onto other people from the child. According to Bowlby and Ainsworth “attachments with the primary caregiver develop during the first 18 months or so of the child’s life, starting with instinctual behaviors like crying and clinging.” (Kennedy).

As previously stated, abuse effects the way that the person who is abused interacts with others in multiple ways. In a child the forming brain is more delicate and fragile both physically and mentally. The surrounding environment can provide early stressors that can cause a multitude of damages to the developing brain. During this phase as well, the child has a self-centered and high personal value of themselves. They are essentially the center of their own unique universe. This effects the way they process things that happen to them as blaming themselves or that it must have happened to them specifically because of something that they had done. “They see themselves as the center of the universe and everything that happens is directly related to their own sensation.” (Harlan, page 1). This self-centered image breaks them down heavily mentally. Things that arise from this problem are PTSD, psychological disorders, and mental illnesses, that is the result of things like abuse and trauma onto a child.

Abuse and How it Changes the Developing Child

The developing brain of a child as previously stated is very susceptible to new information that they are surrounded by. When you are young everything that you are taught whether it be in the classroom or at home all forms your morals and your personality. Your morals and personality will than develop into your thinking of what is right and wrong, and this thinking of what is right or wrong is affected by the parent or guardians heavily, especially when disciplinary force is put into place. When someone is undergoing abuse there is stress and this stress causes problems directly to the brain. A researcher by the name of Jamie Hanson dove into this idea at a conference that Dr. Joshua Gowin reported on in the Psychology Today article on “The Damaging Impact of Abuse on Brain Development”, In this article he says,”… orphaned children and physically abused children had smaller amygdala and hippocampi at age 12 than children without a history of stress. Those with the smallest amygdala and hippocampi also had the most behavioral problems, like getting in fights or skipping school.” This idea that Dr. Hanson covered touches on the same idea iterated earlier of the lack of knowing right from wrong when the parental guardian lacks in teaching. Stress releases Cortisol according this article a lot of stress which is the result of abuse or a trauma including abuse. The extra amounts of Cortisol cause improper growth of the hippocampus and Amygdala. (Gowin, page 1)

Cognitive Thinking/ Cognitive Development and the Relation to Abuse

Cognitive thinking is the formation of the way that an individual thinks and forms idea about everything. The way you understand the way things work and the process of everything and the entire thought formation. Cognitive thinking and development must be formed in the first place. The way these are formed is through experiences and around the ages two through seven. This idea is from Piaget who talked about different stages of cognitive development and the age of two to seven is the preoperational stage. The preoperational stage states that children are more involved with their imagination and adding the surroundings to it. An example of this would be make believe playing house or life and mimicking parental or guardian behavior they observe and exhibiting it as play. Piaget also goes on to talk about the susceptibility and the fragile susceptibility of the brain. Piaget states, “According to Piaget, make use of magical thinking based on their own sensory and perceptual abilities and are easily misled. Children engage in magical thinking, for instance, while speaking with their parents on the telephone and then asking for a gift, expecting it to arrive via the telephone.”( Piaget) This statement means that the mind of the child are susceptible to all types of information good or bad right or wrong. This also is a description and reason for things like the idea of the cycle of abuse.

The cycle of abuse is a theory that states that if exposed to physical and psychological abuse the child that was abused is more likely to abuse their own children. There is theories that the child sees the abuse when they are young and according to the pre operational stage by Piaget they see this behavior and they see it as the “right” thing to do when in reality it is the only thing that they know. There are ways to stop the cycles of abuse that some psychologists specialize in helping. The second theory for cycle of abuse was researched in early two thousand and produced results that made it a reasonable assumption that the abused do continue the abuse they received because of positive reinforced abuse. This positive reinforced abuse or the “inter-generational transmission theory” (Craig, Page 1) means that when the child saw violence or abuse in the household the child would be actively learning and listening light making the child think that the abuse of whomever was in fact the correct way to act, or how they should act. This is another reason or theory on why the children who come from abused homes have a tendency for violence acting out like stated earlier. This all relates back to the main idea that the cognitive development and the cognitive thinking of a child is entirely affected by not only their surroundings but their examples they are around as well.( Department of Social Work, University of Kentucky, Lexington)

The Department of Social Work in Kentucky had done an investigation into “Trauma exposure and child abuse potential”. This investigation had looked into multiple reasons for why a child might continue to abuse such as their parents or guardians did. The Department used something called a CAPI test. The CAPI test, or the Child Abuse Potential Inventory is a one hundred and sixty question test that determines if a caretaker is likely to abuse the individual being taken care of. These tests were used on guardians or care givers that were being investigated or had cases against them of abuse. The Department of Social Work was trying to ascertain the connection between the ones who scored high on the CAPI test and if they scored high the connection of why and if they were abused in their childhood or before. This test concluded that those who were abused did in fact score high on the CAPI a test. The participants were asked to do a trauma screening voluntarily. This trauma screen would provide the information on whether they had trauma in their lives and thus provide the connection that those traumatized or abused continue the cycle. To restate the main idea, the cycle of abuse is caused by the change in an abused individual therefore changing their cognitive development and the way they think, which causes them to abuse the child they take care of, if the cycle continues, thus continuing this cycle until it is stopped with treatments.

Future Directions for Research

In doing this compilation of different studies on the effects of abuse and the result into relationships and cognitive thinking in children there are a lot of areas of study that remain just theories that more research towards would benefit tremendously. These theories such as the cycle of abuse theory would benefit in more research, because of the benefits it will provide for CPS and understanding who would be good care providers or if parents are suitable to take care of the children. Some more research could also be directed toward the treatments and reconstructing of an individuals way of thinking that has been affected by trauma, the care taker who was abusing and has been abused should receive the therapy as well and given more restriction in the future on interacting with children.


The topic of abuse is never an easy one to talk about, but it is necessary to talk about to raise awareness about it. Many people act selfishly around children not regarding the fact that what they are doing could harm the young mind growing near them. Children are creatures meant to learn, like little sponges they soak up all the information around them, which is good it is how they learn, but when someone takes advantage or disregards this fact the child could be in a poor predicament in not knowing right from wrong. People may also be hopeless in their situations after being abused or angry with themselves after seeing that they are the abuser continuing the cycle, to them there is still hope and if you get help. The cycle of abuse can be ended.

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The Effects of Childhood Trauma and the Result into Relationships and Cognitive Thinking. (2022, Sep 11). Retrieved July 22, 2024 , from

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