Discuss the impact of environmental factors, in particular crime and trauma, on the psychological development of an individual. Discuss the impact of  ‘nature versus nurture’ in the context of crime, both the perspective of the victim and the criminal.

By Sofia Skobeleva VCE Student Princes Hill Secondary College

Not all of us are born equal.Not all of us are born to live, some are born to survive. Even though many individuals were brought up one a particular idea, that people of all races, nationalities, gender, social statuses and backgrounds are completely even, that is not true.3.3 to 10 million children are exposed or are at risk of experiencing domestic violence in the U.S.A.252,962 notifications of suspected child abuse and neglect made to territories and state authorities in Australia during 2011-12,which is increasing by 6.6.% every two years. Every year 15 million children die from hunger.200,000 to 300,000 children are currently serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces in armed conflicts. Not all of us are the same. And very often that becomes the reason why.

As the debate of “ what has a greater impact on people’s behavioral and physical traits, nature or nurture?” is still a hot topic, in terms of crime, nurture is the answer. Neuropsychological study has investigated “the contribution of polymorphisms shown to moderate transcription of two genes involved in serotonergic neurotransmission to the development of violence and to test for gene-environment interactions relating to adverse childhood environment.”

A group of 184 adult male volunteers, referred for forensic assessment took part in the study. Best-fitting model with a predictive power of 74%, revealed independent effects of adverse childhood environment. It was proved that the high environmental affliction during the early years was associated significantly with his violent behaviour. And so, the majority of criminals were exposed to traumatic or criminal events of the past, that has led to aggressive behavior in the adulthood. There is a number of theories explaining the psychology of criminals, the application of psychology in the criminal and civil justice that are known as forensic psychology.

Theories of criminal behavior include Rational choice theory, where choice is perhaps the most common reason why criminals do the things they do; Eysenck’s Theory of Personality and Crime, hat suggests “criminal behavior is the result of an interaction between certain environmental conditions and features of the nervous system”(Bartol & Bartol,2005);Trait Theory, that is the most extreme version of Eysenck’s theory, where criminality is a product of abnormal biological or psychological traits; Social Structure Theory, that questions if biology could explain criminality, then why is the majority of crime and violence is seen on a common basis in poor, underdeveloped neighborhoods?;Social Process Theory, where social process theorists believe that criminality is a “function of individual socialization, and the interactions people have with organizations, institutions, and process of society”(Siegel);Social Conflict Theory is based on a belief that a person, group or institution has the power and the ability to exercise influence and control over others, and Psychodynamic Trait Theory.

Psychodynamic therapy confirms that childhood and nurture plays an enormous role in the behavioral traits of an individual. It was developed by Sigmund Freud in the late 1800’s and has become a significant theory in the history of criminality. Freud believed that that every individual carries “the residue of the most significant emotional attachments of our childhood, which then guides our future interpersonal relationships”. The  theory includes three aspects-the id, the ego and the superego. The id is considered to be the primitive part of our make-up, it controls our need for food, sleep,and other basic instincts. The ego controls the id by setting up boundaries. The superego is in change of judging the situation through morality. Psychodynamic theorists believe that offenders have id-dominated personalities, in other words they lose control of the ego. This causes impulse control problems and increased pleasure-seeking drives. Damaged ego can be also linked to the immaturity, poor social skills, dependence on others. The idea is that negative experiences of offenders’ childhood can damage their ego and their understanding of good or bad. Their comfort zone gets shifted, and it’s hard for them to realize that their actions are harmful, violent and they are not in other people’s habit to experience. Therefore, the convict is unable to cope with conventional society. Other psychodynamic theorists consider the need to be punished for previous sins as the drive to commit crime. The term itself is described “crime is a manifesto of feelings of oppression and people’s inability to develop the proper psychological defense and rationales to keep these feelings under control”(Siegel).

Apart from offenders, victims of the crime have a choice of whether to overcome the aftermath of crime and move on with their lives or to hold on to the bygone event and stay trapped in negative emotions. Sometimes it is extremely hard to let go, as crime can not only hurt you personally, but very often someone else you love. John Sage, the founder of “Bridges to Life”,14-week course for prisoners and the victim of crime himself, explains the feelings experienced by the victims of crime:

“When you think about the evil of someone killing someone you love, you are kind of staring Satan in the eye. I became a prisoner of all those emotions—anger, revenge, just wanting to hurt somebody.”

The response to crime of each individual is closely linked to the way one’s viewing himself or herself, the world around them and the relationship to the trauma. In some cases Victim Mentality can develop in victim’s mind that will affect the way he/or she is looking at the world. This state of mind typically causes a person to believe that he has little control over his life and that the events that occur are the result of what someone else does. A person can start viewing himself as a negative character, that deserves to be blamed, punished and abused. Typically, people suffering victim mentality put the responsibility for what occurs in their lives onto someone else. Tragedy or abuse cause a person to feel lack of control and powerlessness. It becomes extremely hard for victims to take responsibility for their actions and each failure,-losing a job, getting sick, breaking up, is blamed upon other people. Feeling of helplessness, especially when the crime has affect the loved ones, caused by one’s inability to forgive the offender, continues into normal, healthy life. Victim mentality can develop in child’s mind,that is raised in an anxious and abusive environment, as children’s ego isn’t formed yet and they may not suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Constant verbal abuse, domestic violence, scandals around the kitchen table, even divorce can spread the idea in child’s mind that he is the reason for his parents unhappiness. Children start to view themselves as negative characters, concentrating on the bad aspects of their character. Sometimes in single parent families child unintentionally becomes a witness of financial hardships, forms of depression, loneliness and anxiety experienced by their parent. It often outcomes in a child being mentally advanced amongst his peers. The sense of being alienated, ashamed, lonely can place them into a state of a victim, that can follow into future unhappiness in marriage, lack of career, exploitation. People with victim state of mind are always stumbling on abuse, unfairness and aggressiveness towards them. Those scenarios take place in many children’s daily life and are now becoming a common trait. Kirsten Andersen, the journalist at Life Site News has evidence to support my ideas: ”Today, one-third of American children – a total of 15 million – are being raised without a father. Nearly five million more children live without a mother”. Childhood memories, including traumas, are the basis that a child will carry with him throughout his whole life. Victim mindset, when formed, becomes a platform for the criminals to play upon.

Thus, Post-traumatic stress disorder is often viewed amongst adults. It is a severe condition that can develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events. The symptoms include disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event. The psychological, environmental response to a traumatic event is determined by the characteristics of both the event and the person involved. The initial response of fear is inherently biologic, but it can be influenced by the individual’s subjective interpretation of the event, which in turn is influenced by the person’s previous experiences and other risk factors. Horror, anger, sadness, humiliation and guilt can occur in response to trauma. Many people blame themselves for failing to act in ways that could have averted the event or mitigated the circumstances of the event. Especially, in such cases as rape and when the victim blaming applies, women are often judged for being provocative, seductive, suggestive for proposing, teasing or just “asking for it”.

It is known that our experiences, whether they’re good or bad, shape our identity. People’s response to crime is very individual,I t can’t be placed in the average framework. Everyone views themselves differently, and when one person will fall into severe depression, another will move on with his life, learning the lesson. It is very personal the way people perceive their actions, and what motivates them. Criminals sometimes do bad things out of love. Victims sometimes love the criminals who abuse them. Millions of women exposed to violence by their partners stay with them for years and keep silent. Certainly,t here’s no love there, so then what is it that makes them stay? Control, guilt, sympathy? It is a complicated psychology to understand how one perceives this world. But the environment people live in has the greatest impact on their future lives. Some say we are born as a blank slate, and all the bad or the good that’s in us is the fruits of education, family values and life events. This may be true .A quote from Bible that sounds like ”I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33),may evidence that “laws” are written in us from the start. Maybe all our hearts seek is the Garden of Eden, where we could enjoy the sun, pick up fruits from the trees and celebrate our lives? Maybe this is our natural call? Indeed, we experience the call of conscience from a young age, but no laws stop criminals from doing their crimes. Neither conscience stops us from being exposed and violated. My point is clear, environment always dominates over people’s nature. We now more often close our hearts and listen to our brain. Early traumas harden our souls and our values. Especially, in the 21st century world, that is superficial, money-orientated and alien to our natural instincts. Millions of us perceive this life as a racing arena, and in big sports all you care about is the prize.

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