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The Possible Outcomes Resulting From A Traumatic Childhood

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“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul. ”- Dave Pelzer, a Child Called “IT” It is no secret that homicide and violence has been a behavior expressed by the human beings within this world and that it has constantly plagued the human race since the beginning of human history, even up until present time, the 21st century. An example that can be used is the United States of America, in 2017 a total of 17, 284 homicidal reports were reported in the United States of America. Although the numbers have sufficiently decreased in the past 20 years, unfortunately, for the United States, the murder rates are still high.

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Homicidal behavior and violent acts leads individuals to question: “Why does humanity have to behave this way? What has caused people to result in such manner?” the list can go on and on. However one thing that can be pinpoint, according to research, is that it is possible for humans that result in violence or homicidal behavior come from a traumatic childhood. The focus of this research paper will be to list the causes of trauma that has happened in the childhood of a human being and explain how those causes may result in homicide and/or violent behavior within a human being through utilizing research journals, books, and intellectual websites that will benefit this research paper and enrich the material. The aim of this research paper is in no way, shape, or form to attempt to decipher the human brain because the human brain is highly complex and constantly evolving.

If anything, it’s to gain somewhat an understanding and to bring awareness of the gruesome possibilities that result from a traumatic childhood. According to the American Psychological Association, A “traumatic” event is defined as “threats of injury, death, or the physical integrity of self or others and also causes horror, terror, or helplessness at the time that it occurs. Traumatic events include sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, community and school violence, medical trauma, motor vehicle accidents, acts of terrorism, war experiences, natural and human-made disasters, suicides, and other traumatic losses”, with this definition one can conclude that a “traumatic” event can be almost anything that brings harm to a being and as a result it affects the mind, emotions, and the consciousness of a human being, it can also cause lifelong emotional or physical (sometimes both) “scars” that may be difficult to overcome after the trauma has been implicated onto a person. Another equally important definition to add on is “childhood” since it is part of the research question that will be answered. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund a “childhood” is defined as “a separate space from adulthood and recognizing that what is appropriate for an adult may not be suitable for a child; It refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years”, the childhood of a human being, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, should be free from fear and violence, and protected from any kind of abuse.

According to Science Netlinks infancy is from birth to 2 years old, early childhood is from 3 to 8 years old, middle childhood is from 9 to 11 years old, and adolescence is from 12 to 18 years old. What may be the cause of homicidal/violent behavior? To begin with, this research paper will provide people that have resulted in homicide or violent behaviors alongside with their background information that will include their childhood events and the type of abuse that they experienced, everything will go back to the origin that may have created a homicidal and/or violent outcome. The childhood of a human is one of the most significant stages when it comes to the development of someone’s growth; emotionally, the personality of an infant develops into all depends on the childhood of a person especially the first year of a child, this is where a child learns how to interpret feelings, which is very crucial to a human being. Feelings such as remorse. The childhood of a human being is where a child learns and develops awareness of when they have done something ethically wrong, become sympathetic towards others aside from themselves and become affectionate or feel the love of another or when they know they have done something right.

According to Vronsky (2004), a child may start to show signs of a homicidal/violent personality by the tender age of two, and due to this many start building up and creating aggressive fantasies that only they are aware of, such aggressions begins in the early childhood of most homicidal/violent people. In 1987, Leyton stated “due to the absence of a child receiving emotions such as affection, remorse, and to be able to sympathize with others emotions (caring whether or not someone is feeling something such as happiness or sadness), and due to the absence of emotion and attention, the child starts to develop a sense of looking out for itself, and starts to be self-centered and fence for itself…Keeping in mind the idea that infant bonding is imperative to personality development, it is no surprise that a common characteristic of serial killers is that they were adopted” In like manner, a child does indeed start to show homicidal and/or violent tendencies at a young age. Because a child lacks feelings and emotions they will feel no empathy or sympathy towards someone who may need help or is simply happy. This may imply that as infant a murder such as, David Berkowitz or Joel Rifkin, did not receive proper attention as they were given up by their biological mothers for adoption during a vital period in their lives (childhood), many serial killers have had a common experience in their childhood, which is being avoided and neglected from the necessary attention and affection that was needed, they were not shown and given the emotions such as sympathy and remorse, like in Canter’s (2005) words, “It may be a danger for children if they do not receive the necessary attention and the physical affection and touch because they most likely will suffer through personality disorders in their adult life. ”

According to Sigmund Freud “the unconscious part of the mind develops early in everyone’s childhood and it will be what permanent influences everyone’s way of being for the rest of one’s life, any negative past experiences act as a permanent stain on their mind that were made from their early childhood, he believed that there are three different sides to the personality, the ID, the ego, and the superego, The ID is the primitive it supplies the unconscious part of our mind and it drives for food and sex; The ego is what works as a helper to guide us through life and keeps us in tact with the norms of society and how it functions, and lastly the superego, it is developed to make it known the values and morals, serial killers ID are at a higher point than both the ego and superego, this could be because they did not receive the proper care as a child” serial killers such as David Berkowitz, who killed six young people and wounding seven others with a 44-caliber revolver, he did not receive the proper care that a child should get, which may have happened because of his adoption which resulted in a negative affect going into his adult life, and according to the psychodynamic theory crime comes into place when a person displays a weak ego, and a serial killers seem to be displaying their feelings of oppression from childhood in the form of brutal murders. Neglect: Let’s begin with, Neglect. Neglect is defined as failing or refusing to provide adequate food, clothing, and shelter, emotional nurturing, or health care and failing to provide adequate supervision in relation to the child’s age and level of development, the most important stage in a human’s life is their childhood because it is what shape and mold a child, and it is where the majority of memories get engraved into a humans brain, making it last a lifetime, the lack of the experience of love and being nurtured, it’s bound to leave a mark on them emotionally and mentally, whether it was under their very own home, at school, etc. An example that “The Incidence of child abuse in serial killers” provides is serial killer Carlton Gary, Gary had no choice but to eat food out of trash cans, whatever he could find to prevent him from starving, this would happen because his mother would “forget” to feed him proper food, thus the “failing or refusing to provide adequate food” part of the definition; the “health care” because Gary wasn’t being provided the necessary attention by his mother, and so he wasn’t given the proper nutrition that a child needs to grow up healthy.

Another example is Ressler K. R, Shachtman R. , they provided information that resulted from a study that was made in 2005, and they provided the following information in “Patterns of Childhood Neglect” pages “From Serial Killers”, P 98-105: in this study he interviewed 36 different imprisoned murders “most of whom committed homicide”, and wrote an article based on his findings. According to Shachtman “the subjects displayed similar patterns of severe childhood neglect, patterns developed from birth through adolescence” he looked into the past of all the “subjects” and found that the majority of them had similar history of abuses, neglect. However, not only did they suffer through it while they were still infants but also all the way through to their teenage years; “Most of the killers had poor relationships with their mothers and consequently never learned appropriate ways to relate to other human beings. For example, the mother of one subject was schizophrenic and the mother of another subject had banished him to the basement when he was only 10 years old” this shows personal experiences that the inmates went through, and how their mother did not give them the necessary attention that were needed by them, as it states that one inmates mother suffered from schizophrenia and due to this, when he was at the tender age of 10 years old, his mother left him in a basement without any attention that a caring and responsible mother would should give her child. Shachtman does in fact make it clear that “Although many individuals who suffer from neglect in childhood do not become killers, without intervention at crucial points in childhood development, abused and neglected children are at high risk for growing up to become violent murderers”, yes indeed everyone that experiences these traumatizing events, it does not automatically signs them up with the label “violent human being” or “has homicidal tendencies”. But they will need help in order to deal with the damage that was implicated on to them. There is still hope that children that have gone through this, can still find a way to help them.

Physical abuse

According to Heather Mitchell and Michael G. Aamodt “The Incidence of Child Abuse in Serial Killers” physical abuse is defined as “causing or allowing any non-accidental physical injury”. “The incidence of child abuse in serial killers” also states “For instance, the mother of child rapist and murderer Lorenzo Frayne had to be counseled by social services not to strike her son in the head as punishment”, it states an example of a murderers childhood and on how his mother would strike him as a form of punishment. Not only is the physical abuse that Frayne’s mother implicated onto him against the law, it is also unethical. It is unethical because hurting someone, especially when that “someone” is defenseless, someone who has no way of defending themselves implies that the child has no power over their body. The feeling of having no control or power may lead that child to grow up and attempt to find that power or control under any circumstance, including having the tendencies of homicide or violence.

Sexual Abuse

The Incidence of Child Abuse in Serial Killers states “sexual abuse is defined as any sexual activity, practice or instruction which either meets the criminal definition or is unhealthy for a child considering his/her age and level of development, committing or allowing to be committed any illegal sexual act upon a child including incest, rape, fondling, indecent exposure, prostitution, or allowing a child to be used in any sexually explicit visual material. ” With this definition It also states “For example, serial killer Bobby Joe Long was forced to sleep in the same bed with his mother until he was 13 years old and was forced to watch her have sex with men. Notably, such traumatizing experience as watching his own mother act on sexual activity with men against his will this man was exposed to sexual activities at age that was not appropriate for a child to be seeing, he felt powerless at the fact that he had no other choice but to be forced to watch the actions. Such actions may cause to develop aggression, to the point that he may result in violence to express himself because he needed his mother to understand that no child should be looking at such things, however she still proceed to so.

Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse is defined by “The Incidence of Child Abuse in Serial Killers” as “any acts such as intentional humiliation, causing emotional conflict, or any act that could be psychologically damaging to the child” and it also provides a case from serial killer Carroll Edward Cole: “His mother, aware of his anger at being teased by other children regarding his “feminine name, ” dressed him in girl’s clothing and forced him to serve tea to neighborhood ladies” yet again this is another example of a child being feeling helpless and angry at the fact that he has no choice over his body, and the more helpless boy had no choice but to abide to his mother’s actions because he had no other choice, The feeling of being helpless and powerless, feeling like no one is coming to help is a feeling that some human beings take with them throughout their lives. Let’s take one of America’s first recorded serial murderer, H. H. Holmes (Dr. Henry Howard Holmes) as an example for physical and psychological abuse, In “H. H. Holmes: One of America’s First Recorded Serial Murderers” by Brown J. , Hickey E. , Harris B. , Wilson A. , Price D. , Olson J. and Oberoi P. it states “As a child, Holmes was bullied and abused in school for his good grades and slightly odd demeanor. The most noted of these experiences occurred when Holmes, blindsided by classmates, was forced into a doctor’s office, where the hands of a skeleton were forcibly placed over his face”, this shows the psychological abuse that his classmates were placing on to him when he was a child, it shows the bullying that others would place oh Holmes. Keeping in mind that psychological abuse is also defined as “intentional humiliation, causing emotional conflict”.

Not only was Holmes treated poorly by his peers at school, Holmes was seen by his classmates as if he was not good enough to have a friend and treated poorly, being treated in such a way, something in him, snapped, something that could drive a human being down the path that results in homicide and violent tendencies. In addition to that statement, homes suffered neglect, psychological, and physical abuse at home by both his “cold and distinct” mother and “alcoholic” father. In “H. H. Holmes: One of America’s First Recorded Serial Murderers” by Brown J. , Hickey E. , Harris B. , Wilson A. , Price D. , Olson J. and Oberoi P. it states “his mother was a schoolteacher. She was described as a cold and distant individual who used religion as a daily guide for parenting. His alcoholic father followed a strict disciplinarian approach that resulted in physical abuse. ” This serves the purpose to describe both his mother and father and how they were towards Holmes, in continuation, it states “Holmes’ parents were both physically and mentally abusive towards him, and this was particularly true of his father. The harsh disciplinary tactics included prolonged isolation and even food deprivation. Furthermore, his father reportedly held kerosene soaked rags over Holmes and the other children’s mouths to “quiet them” when they cried” this explains how Holmes was a victim of neglect from his parents by being prevented from being fed, and his father abused of him psychologically by isolating him for a long time and after his father abused him, to quiet down him (along with other children), his father would use a wet rag to muffle Holmes and the other children along after he abused of them.

Hurting Animals

After all the torment and abuse that most serial killers go through as a child, they start to develop a strong aggression because of the way they were treated in their childhood so they need a way to let out their frustration at the fact that they have no control or power over their own lives that the only way for them to let out this aggression and frustration. For such reasons, a sign of homicidal/violent behavior in a young child is when they tend to hurt small animals since it is the only thing that they, as a child, can have complete control over and fulfil their “fantasies” of having at least a little bit of control. “Holmes found refuge in the forest near his home. It was in the forest that he began dissecting animals and developing his deviant fascination of things, both dead and alive. ”, as it also stated in “H. H. Holmes: One of America’s First Recorded Serial Murderers”.

According to “Do Mass Killers Start out by Harming Pets” by Gail F. Melson Ph. D. , February 13, 2013, “Young children might pull the cat’s tail or yank the dog’s hair out of curiosity or mischief. These can be teachable moments for parents or other adults to build empathy by pointing out the animal’s feelings and needs. However, when a child of any age shows intentional cruelty toward animals that is repeated, severe and without remorse, this should be taken very seriously. It is not only crucial to keep animals safe, but childhood animal abuse is linked to other forms of violence and psychopathology. A child who abuses animals requires immediate intervention and treatment. Animal abuse is often the first manifestation of serious emotional turmoil that may escalate into extreme violence, such as mass killing. Here’s why psychologists are increasingly focused on animal abuse in childhood as a warning sign”.

One of the main reasons as to why a people tortured animals at one point of their childhood is because they want to have total control and power over others’ lives, also a warning sign is when a child tortures small animals such as a squirrels or dog. Since they are living things that are far more defenseless than a child, and since a child may feel like they have no control of their own lives, they want to feel some sort of power and control over another living thing. Statistics: In the final analysis, while less than 5% of U. S. children are estimated to have intentionally hurt an animal, for children at mental health clinics, animal cruelty rates range from 10 to 25%. Prof. Frank Ascione at the University of Denver and Prof. Arnold Arluke at Northeastern University estimate that one in four children and adolescents with conduct disorder have abused animals. Children who have been physically abused and exposed to domestic violence are at even higher risk. In an assessment of 1433 children ages 6 to 12, Ascione found that among abused children, 60% had abused animals. ” Prof. Frank Ascione at the University of Denver and Prof. Arnold Arluke at Northeastern University set out to find out if their theory “troubled children are much more likely to mistreat animals”, they conducted an assessment, which included 1433 children between the ages of 6 to 12, and they provided their results along with statistic shows that only 5% of the children of the U. S have shown that they have hurt an animal, but they didn’t do intentionally meanwhile a child that has suffered abused, through physical or mentally were at an even higher risk, up to 60 % of all the children that were in this assessment. In this study, it also provides real life cases about killers, as it states “Animal abuse is often the first sign of serious disturbance among adolescent and adult killers. On Oct. 1, 1997, Luke Woodham, a sophomore at Pearl High School, in a suburb of Jackson, MI, stabbed his mother to death and then opened fire on classmates with a hunting rifle, killing two girls and wounding seven other students. Investigators later found Woodham’s account of his torture and killing of his pet dog Sparkle, which the boy described as his “first kill. ” On May 21, 1998, fifteen year old Kip Kinkel shot his parents to death before emptying three guns at his classmates in Thurston High School, Springfield, OR, leaving one dead and 26 injured. Kip had often bragged to others at school about how he tortured animals. Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo (the “Boston strangler”), David Berkowitz (the “Son of Sam”) and Carroll Edward Cole, a serial killer accused of 35 deaths, all recounted animal torture as their first violent act. When counselors at several federal penitentiaries evaluated inmates for levels of aggression, 70% of the most violent prisoners had serious and repeated animal abuse in their childhood histories, as compared to 6% of nonaggressive prisoners in the same facilities.


All things considered, although this research paper did provide causes that happened in the childhood of a human being and that may have caused the outcomes such as homicidal and/or violent behavior, it did provide an answer to some extend to the question that many others question: “What causes someone to result in violent/homicidal behavior?” Yet again in no way does this research paper assume that because someone has gone through a traumatic/ abusive childhood will they result in homicidal or violent tendencies. Because the brain is such a complex thing to study, homicide is not always the result of a traumatic childhood. The reasons or such behaviors indeed needs more research. This research paper was only able to provide one answer that may be the result of such behavior. But one thing that can be gained is that the people of this world needs to take care of their children, protect them from fear and abuse, After All, they are the future of this world.

15 July 2020

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