If you are an adult survivor of child abuse, you are certainly not alone. With such staggering numbers of reported child abuse (over 3 million cases of child abuse reported annually in the United States and likely more cases unreported), it sheds light on how many adults must have been abused as children.
Often, adults don’t even realize they were actually abused. Many adults who were slapped or hit or even beaten by their parents as children believe that it was their fault and they deserved it. This is what their parents told them each and every time they hurt them. Eventually, children believe the things their parents tell them, even when they are untrue and harmful.
It is absolutely never a child’s fault that they are being abused. As adults, many are in denial that they experienced abuse. By denying their own reality, they are protecting both their parents and themselves from having to acknowledge that the very people who were supposed to nurture and protect them actually hurt them. Often, admitting this would cause too much pain. It is easier to avoid the pain.
There are many problems that are common amongst adults abused as children, even those in denial. Here are some of the traits we tend to see in adult survivors of child abuse.
- Social Struggles: Children who are abused learn not to trust. This makes perfect sense, given that the primary job of a parent is to protect and nurture. When parents fail to do this and actually hurt their children, they have broken the inherent trust. As a result, over the years, children who are abused learn not to trust anyone. It is understandable, given what they’ve been through. When the person or people who you put the most trust in betray you, you can’t help but become untrusting. The truth is that, as children, this might actually serve them well and help them to protect themselves from further harm. The problem becomes that as adults, they still don’t trust. Furthermore, they’ve never really felt heard, so they learn not to speak up and share their feelings. As a matter of fact, they’ve learned that their feelings don’t matter at all, so they often shut them down. This makes it extremely difficult to form friendships and maintain relationships.
- Emotional Problems: For starters, adults abused as children feel a great deal of pain and shame. From blaming themselves to feeling humiliated or even embarrassed that they were a victim, let alone rage, these feelings live deep inside. These painful feelings show up as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, among other things. Adult survivors of childhood abuse also have trouble regulating their emotions, and sometimes their reactions seem excessive. This is because they are always on edge, just as they were as children, never knowing when the next instance of abuse would come. They learned to be hyper vigilant, as it served them well and protected them. The problem is that as adults, it no longer serves them well. Rather, it causes problems.
- Physical problems: Research shows that childhood abuse and trauma impacts the brain. The exposure to heightened levels of stress hormones over time can lead to both symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and also to physical ailments and disease. “Adult survivors are at increased risk of chronic pain and fibromyalgia, gynecological problems, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, headaches, cardiovascular disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome”. They are also far more likely to have substance abuse problems than others, as they may reach out for drugs and alcohol as a way to numb their pain.
While we all would assume that there are, of course, lingering effects to childhood abuse, not many people are aware of how common it is and the emotional scars it leaves. Being aware is the first step; the second is to seek help. The good news is, with the proper care of a therapist, you can overcome this and find a happier tomorrow.