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Investigation Into The Extent To Which Adult Pychological Problems Are Relelaed To Chilldhood Experiences

  • 08 Pages
  • Published On: 07-10-2023


: Anda and Felitti (2012) report that the vital factor associated with optimal physical and mental well-being of children is the capacity of parents and guardians to provide them nurturing, safe and stable environments that facilitate development of healthy emotional, cognitive and social skills. According to Egan et al. (2016), individuals’ childhood experiences are critical in determining their future outcomes. The Council on Children and Families (2010) observes that one in ten adults experience at least four adverse childhood experiences ranging from emotional neglect to physical abuse. The National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) report of 2014 indicates that around 50,000 children in the UK at risk of ill-treatment. Further, the report specifies that one in five children aged 11 – 17 years have suffered from severe maltreatment.

The aim of this review is to examine the extent to which adult psychological problems are related to childhood experiences. The topic is of vital importance since some research studies, (Taillieu, et al., 2016; Herrenkohl, et al., 2012; Chae, et al., 2011) have found that children with psychiatric disorders have increased difficulties in transitioning into adulthood. Moreover, they were found to have higher odds (at least six times) of having legal, financial, health and social problems in adulthood. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry (2014) explained that children with milder symptoms were at least three times more likely to experience adulthood psychological problems.


The associated psychoanalytic theory is briefly discussed below

Theoretical Perspective

An abridged version of Freud’s theory (1966), asserts that personality develops through phases or stages and each stage is characterised by certain internal psychological conflicts. In the first place, the character is comprised of several factors such as unconscious processes, instinctual drives and early childhood influences (Ehring, et al., 2014). Freud's theory postulates that there are significant risk factors in childhood that primarily affect psychological development in adulthood with the inclusion of psychopathology (Pratt, 2014). Several studies have examined the link between psychopathology and childhood adversity (Pratt, 2014; Lereya, et al., 2015; Council on Children and Families, 2010). Basing arguments in the psychoanalytic theory, this essay will examine literature and provide an understanding of the extent to which adult psychological problems are related to childhood experiences.

Social anxiety and depression related to emotional neglect in childhood

Social anxiety and depression in adulthood have been studied widely, and the most common causes have been found to be sexual abuse, maltreatment and emotional neglect. Bozhenko (2011) investigated the risk factors for social anxiety and depression and narrowed down to specific causes for a specific disorder. The aim of the study was to determine what types of childhood traumas are related to specific psychological disorders. Methodologically, participants were interviewed on whether they had experienced sexual or physical abuse or emotional neglect before the age of 16 years. Additionally, the reviewers sought to understand participants' severe childhood experiences such as death, divorce or institutionalisation.

A standard questionnaire was used to interrogate participants' dominant negative experiences in their adult lives such unemployment, failed marriages and relationships, deaths of close friends among a host of others. It was found that individuals who suffered from depression and anxiety disorders reported more significant life events than healthy people in the control group. Additionally, childhood and youth traumas and negative life events coincided with almost all anxiety and depressive disorders. Emotional neglect was found to increase the vulnerability of adults to social anxiety and depressive episodes. The results showed that individuals that suffer from more than one depressive and anxiety disorders reported constant sexual and physical abuse and emotional neglect. As such, there was a stronger connection where such childhood traumas were frequently experienced.

A similar study by the American Academy of Paediatrics (2010) established that physical abuse and emotional neglects delayed intellectual development and in so doing, they impair language and cognitive abilities in children. Adults who suffered from physical violence and neglect with no evidence of neurological impairment were found to have significantly lower scores in verbal intelligence.

Other similar studied were undertaken by (Chae, et al., 2011; Taillieu, et al., 2016) and it can be inferred that childhood physical abuse, sexual exploitation and emotional neglect are strongly related to late-life depressive episodes, anxiety and their comorbidities.

Childhood psychological problems and adulthood earnings and social relationships.

Goodman et al. (2011) found that psychological problems experienced during formative years may have long-lasting adverse impacts on any individual's course of life by decreasing their chances of establishing long-lasting relationships and reducing their earnings. Goodman et al. (2011) analysed information about a large group of British adults gathered from their first week of birth until five decades later. The main aim was to identify mid-life problems and those that emerge on the onset of late-life periods. As such, data were gathered on children’s experiences in different settings, their youthful behavioural tendencies and adulthood outcomes. The data were separated into two groups where one group comprised of healthy adults who lead normal childhood while the other composed of individuals who had suffered serious problems.

Empirical evidence obtained from the database clearly demonstrated that individuals that had suffered psychologically in their infancy were primarily associated with having less-stable personal relationships, lower marriage rates and were less conscientious. The findings show that psychological problems during infancy can have considerable negative impacts in the course of individuals' lives which are sometimes greater than those associated with childhood physical health issues. A similar study conducted in America found similar results. In fact, the reduction in earnings among affected adults was found to be a bountiful $2.1 trillion.

Relationship between adverse childhood experiences and adult behaviours

A Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that one in four young adults suffered from severe maltreatment up to the age of 16 years. Leraya et al. (2015) in a study of a British sample established that approximately half of English adults had suffered from maltreatment in their formative years. Leraya et al. (2015) studied adult behaviours in the sample and related them to childhood experiences. The primary objective was to find a relationship between negative adulthood behaviours and psychological traumas during childhood. Participants were interviewed, and questionnaires were administered. It was found that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) such as physical abuse lowered the pain threshold, affected sleep and resulted in undesirable adulthood behaviours. Individuals with four or more of the ten identified ACE were found to exhibit the following psychological problems: first, their likelihood to smoke cigarettes was doubled. Next, they were four times more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviours and drug abuse. Third, their risk of suffering from chronic alcoholism was seven times that of healthy individuals. Fourth, they were found to be eleven times likely to consume drugs via risky injections. Lastly and more importantly, such individuals’ likelihood of committing suicide was found to be 19 times higher. These findings suggest that severe maltreatment to the point of ACE has adverse effects on the normal physical and cognitive growth in children. Such disorders usually manifest later in life with dire consequences for the adults.

A study by Hughes et al. (2016) reinforced Leraya et al. (2015) findings regarding English adults. As such, a nationally representative household survey of 3885 English adults was undertaken to measure mental well-being, retrospective exposure to nine ACEs and life satisfaction using the Short Edinburgh-Warwick Mental Well-being Scale (SWEMWBS). It was found that almost half (46.4 percent) of the adults had suffered from at least one ACE while 8.3 percent had suffered from four or more ACEs. It was found that individuals rarely or never felt close to others depending on the severity of their childhood maltreatments. From the two studies, it is evident that childhood adversity has a proportional relationship with mental well-being in adulthood.

Childhood and adolescent psychological distress and adulthood unemployment

Egan et al. (2016) state that psychological distress is indexed by low moods neuroticism, psychiatric conditions and depression. In some longitudinal studies of young people aged 10 – 16 years and their adult lives, it has been found that psychological distress in the early age can predict worse unemployment prospects. As such, 7125 cohort members including 2986 siblings self-reported their employment outcomes and mental health conditions from 2000 – 2011. Adjustment for covariates was done and compared to people with moderate distress, and it was established that highly distressed people in their young lives were 32 percent more likely to be unemployed. Further, 26 percent of them were more likely to be out of the labour force and experienced 28 percent more unemployment than their healthy counterparts.

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In summary, this review has provided an in-depth analysis of the extent to which childhood problems relate to adult psychological issues. For children that suffered from severe maltreatment and any ACEs, there is a significantly high likelihood that they will suffer from a mental issue during adulthood. For children that suffered four or more ACEs, various spheres of their adult lives are also affected negatively. For instance, the stability of relationships, incidences of marriage, unemployment, sociability, anger management and relationships with other people. From the studies reviewed, it can be concluded that childhood experiences are significantly related to adult psychological problems experienced in mid and late life. Additionally, the extent of severity is directly proportional to the gravity of psychological problems in adulthood.


  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2010). Adverse childhood experiences and the lifelong consequences of trauma. Boston: AAP.
  • Anda, F., & Felitti, J. (2012). Adverse childhood experiences and their relationship to adult well-being and disease. New York: Centers for Disease Control.
  • Bozhenko, E. (2011). Adult child-parent relationships: On the problem of classification. Social and Behavioral Sciences , 30, 1625 – 1629.
  • Chae, Y., Goodman, S., Mitchell, L., Eisen, B., & Jianjian, Q. (2011). Event memory and suggestibility in abused and neglected children: Trauma-related psychopathology and cognitive functioning. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110, 520-538.
  • Council on Children and Families. (2010). Adverse childhood experiences among New York adults. New York: Council on Children and Families.
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  • Ehring, T., Welborenb, R., Morina, N., M.Wicherts, Freitag, J., & Emmelkamp, G. (214). Meta-analysis of psychological treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder in adult survivors of childhood abuse. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 645-667.
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  • Herrenkohl, I., Olivia, J., Kosterman, R., & Hawkins, D. (2012). Family influences related to adult substance use and mental health problems: A developmental analysis of child and adolescent predictors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51, 129-135.
  • Hughes, K., Lowey, H., Quigg, Z., & Bellis, A. (2016). Relationships between adverse childhood experiences and adult mental well-being: results from an English national household survey. BMC Public Health, 16, 222-225.
  • Lereya, S., Copeland, E., Jane, E., Costello, S., & Wolke, D. (2015). Adult mental health consequences of peer bullying and maltreatment in childhood: two cohorts in two countries. Lancet Psychiatry, 2, 524-530.
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  • Poon, C., & Knight, B. (2011). Impact of hildhood parental abuse and neglect on sleep problems in old age. The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 66(3), 307-310.
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  • Taillieu, L., Brownridge, D., Sareen, J., & Afifi, O. (2016). Childhood emotional maltreatment and mental disorders: Results from a nationally representative adult sample from the United States. Child Abuse & Neglect, 59, 1-12.
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