Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse – A Short Guide

For many people, the experience of suffering sexual abuse as a child is not something that they want to talk about or revisit as an adult.

Problems in later life resulting from abuse as a child or young person can vary widely from person to person. Some may find that they have very little in the way of emotional or mental health problems while others may experience crippling and severe consequences relating directly to their mental well being as a consequence of abuse.

Sexual abuse is a type of trauma and like all traumas, it’s effect upon the emotional health of an individual can depend upon a wide variety of factors including the age at which it was experienced; the relationship to the abuser; the intensity and chronology of the trauma and how other people may have responded to your story if you have disclosed it.

Later life can lead to childhood abuse becoming evident in a variety of ways. For example, survivors of sexual abuse are three times more likely to suffer from mental health issues including post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety as well as problems involving drug addiction, eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Many survivors also tend to be frequent users of GP and A&E services.

Even physical health has been shown to be affected with survivors of childhood sexual abuse more likely then the general population to suffer from stroke and heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and gastrointestinal problems.

If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you may find your life blighted by a variety of emotional problems as a result. These vary from individual to individual but can include –

Isolation & Fear

You may have managed a great deal of stress from a position of loneliness and felt unable to share your experiences with siblings, relatives and friends. Coercion and threats often accompany sexual abuse leading to fear of physical harm or other retribution and a crippling fear of not being believed.

Guilt and Shame 

You may have been made to feel like a ‘bad person’ and that the abuse was somehow your fault or resulted from your own actions.

Helplessness and Betrayal

As an abused child, you may have felt that you had no choices or control over what was happening to you. Feelings of betrayal arise from the belief that there was no-one to protect you from the abuse and it may be that you were abused by someone who you should have been able to trust and love.

Anger and Sadness

It is common to experience sadness as an adult at feelings of a lost childhood and lost innocence. Anger is also a very common and normal feeling. It is perfectly normal and totally understandable that you should feel angry and hostile towards your abuser as well as towards those who you think could and should have protected you. Many victims of abuse report feelings of low self esteem as a result and it is common for such feelings to be displayed outwardly in the form of excessive risk taking, particularly involving drugs and alcohol. Similarly, some victims display reckless behaviour and acts of self harm.

Loss of Trust and Relationship Difficulties

 It is perhaps not surprising that negative experiences in early life can lead to a loss of trust in other people. Sometimes this can manifest itself in relationships with a general lack of satisfaction, the possibility of domestic violence, difficulty communicating feelings to a partner and a subsequent higher risk of separation and divorce.

Flashbacks and Nightmares

Sudden, daytime recollections and ‘reliving’ of the abuse accompanied by vivid memories can be terrifying.  Many survivors also report night-time disturbances in the form of nightmares where they wake anxious, sweating and frightened after vivid memories intrude upon their sleep.

If you suffer from any or more than one of the above difficulties as an adult survivor of sexual abuse, we can help.

Please feel free to contact us in total confidence to discuss how our counselling and psychotherapy services can help you to cope with this difficult and sensitive subject and assist you towards being able to live a better and happier life.

Remember – a child is always the victim and never the perpetrator of abuse by an adult. You should feel able to stand tall and proud as a survivor without shame, guilt or fear.

We are always here to help and there is no need to feel alone. Feel free to call us for a no obligation discussion when you are ready to talk. You owe it to yourself and deserve to live a fulfilling and happy life. Rest assured that you will be able to speak to an experienced and skilled professional registered as such with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and bound by its code of ethics.  We can help you to stay in control and break your silence in a caring and confidential setting on your own terms and in your own time. Where appropriate, we can also help you seek financial compensation for your abuse and guide you, free of charge, to a caring and sympathetic legal expert who has specialist knowledge of the law in this area.