In the long-term, empirical evidence suggests that as many as 80% of young adults abused in childhood meet the formal diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder by the age of 21, including some of the most serious such as clinical depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal inclinations (Silverman, Reinherz, & Giaconia, 1996). The full spectrum of psychological disorders to which adult victims of childhood abuse are typically prone includes panic disorder, dissociative disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and reactive attachment disorder (Teicher, 2000).
The main character in Good Will Hunting provides a vivid glimpse into the short- and long-term effects of traumatic abuse and neglect in childhood. As a result of a long history of abandonment, neglect, and horrific physical abuse throughout his childhood, Will failed to develop a healthy self-image or self-esteem and he lost his ability to trust others or to become close to others; he also abandoned any hope of satisfaction and pleasure, partly to avoid the expectation of losing anything positive in his life and partly because his childhood abuse had left him with underlying negative assumptions causing him to believe that he deserved nothing good in his life. The fact that Will is extremely intelligent is important because it provides a vivid illustration that the effects of psychological trauma transcend intelligence and are capable of masking virtually anything about which the individual might deserve to feel positive about himself. Will's case was typical of others who suffer through similar circumstances in that he was unable to enjoy the benefits of his natural talents and abilities until he confronted and dealt with the psychological traumas of his past.