Behaviors Developed from Abuse: Internalizing and Externalizing

Experiencing or being exposed to a traumatic event–including abuse, violence, maltreatment, or neglect–can have the potential to cause significant psychological problems. When this is the case, which is fairly common among victims in one way or another, negative psychological sequelae can be considered internalized or externalized. As outlined in our Mental Health Issues of Child Maltreatment textbook, this post will examine the prevalence of conditions that fall within one of the two categories of psychological sequelae.

Internalizing behaviors include panic, social isolation, anxiety, changes in mood, and depression. A relationship has been observed through studies between panic symptoms and different forms of trauma. Depending on the severity of abuse and the number of traumatic events, there is a greater likelihood of symptoms. PTSD is the most common disorder exhibiting internalizing behaviors that is associated with trauma. It was estimated in 2003 that over 7 million adults in the United States are affected by PTSD. Suicide is a serious concern among traumatized victims, especially considering the link with both depression and PTSD.

Externalizing behaviors include hypervigilance, hyperarousal, anger, and difficulties with self-regulation. Studies show there is an association with abuse and ADHD and ODD, both disorders that exhibit externalizing behaviors. One study found that 73% of children diagnosed with one of the externalizing disorders had a history of physical abuse. If victims take on externalizing symptoms due to trauma exposure, findings indicate it may intensify ADHD and ODD symptoms in children.

Along with these behaviors, traumatic events can have additional impacts on children that follow with them later in life. If you are someone who helps children who have experienced abuse, maltreatment, or neglect, our textbook can offer valuable information to you in your work. For more information on what we do, check out our website or subscribe to our newsletter.

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