Studies have shown that a child who is physically or emotionally abused often grow up to abuse others or themselves. These children not only show signs of this abuse while they are still young by constantly seeking attention, bullying, or withdrawing but, unless they receive intensive therapy they grow up to be adults with significant problems.
Children who are abused grow up to be adults that have low self esteem and are filled with pain, anger and self loathing. Sometimes, they take out their anger and pain on their partners in a relationship or their children. Other times they take out their self loathing on themselves by entering into abusive relationships or taking harmful risks such as unprotected sex, eating disorders drugs, and other dangerous behaviors.
Still others try to make the pain go away by self medicating with drugs or alcohol often becoming addicts in the process. All of these actions only make things worse as problem after problem is added to their feelings of worthlessness. Many addicts today have been victims of neglect or physical or emotional abuse and in order for them to beat their addiction they need to get help to deal with the underlying problems that drove them to drink or take drugs in the first place.
This is not easy because as a child these people became victims of the people they loved the most and even as adults they feel a sense of betrayal talking about the abuse or neglect they suffered at the hands of their parents or an older sibling. This is partly because they feel deep inside if their own family did not love them then they surely must be unlovable and admitting that is something that many of these people can't bear to do.
However, all is not hopeless. Often times it simply takes one person to tell them they are worth something, that they matter and deserve to be happy. Many times this break through occurs when they run afoul of the law and order into AA or NA. Other times, it is a friend, their spouse or co-worker and on rare occasions it may be a complete stranger.
Once these people get into a 12 step program, stop medicating, and are able to think more clearly it is easier for them to seek the next step and seek the counseling they need to heal and make the changes in their life they need to make to overcome that childhood trauma. That is why when you see someone who is acting in a way that is harmful to themselves you should never give up on them because you simply never know when you might say or do the one thing that makes them stop and think and take that first step to turning their life around.