It doesn’t “just go away.” Even after the victim has been helped by an effective, knowledgeable pastor, therapist, or friend, the memories are there for keeps. The victim is NOT just being weak, self-centered, or dramatic. The effects of childhood sexual abuse eat into the very heart and soul, and they change the victim from what she would have been without that experience into something she was never intended to be.
Here are some of the results that adult survivors of sexual abuse experience:
- Difficulty in developing or maintaining close personal relationships.
- A strong desire to live in isolation or to “hide out” from life.
- Physical ailments like neck, back, stomach and gynecological problems that persist despite efforts at good self-care.
- Feelings of sadness, fear and anger that often seem unmanageable or overwhelming.
- Undergo panics, rages, depressions, sleep disorders, or self-mutilation or have suicidal thoughts.
- Find themselves depending on alcohol, other drugs, or may develop eating disorders to cover feelings of humiliation, shame and low self-confidence.
- Experience problems like low self-confidence, avoidance of sex, promiscuity, or inability to perform sexually or to enjoy sex.
- Exhibit signs of trauma like panic attacks, numbing of body areas, and feeling of being disconnected from their bodies.
Most of my clients who have been sexually abused have experienced ALL of the above. I generally give them a PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) diagnosis, and treat them for trauma. Being sexually abused is a trauma. If it never happened to you, be thankful and don’t rush to judgment if you know someone who didn’t escape. They were fundamentally changed in their developmental years. If they’d never been touched that way, they would be different.
One of the things children learn when they are being sexually abused is that they have no right to control their own bodies. They have no power. If they don’t submit, bad things will happen. One of those bad things could be that they would hurt the feelings of the abuser!
If you learn very young that you have no right to say “NO!” then your behavior will show that lesson very clearly as you grow up. Most victims have been victimized more than once. It’s almost as if they have a sign on their foreheads saying, “I won’t fight back.” As adults, women who have been abused tend to get into very dysfunctional, controlling relationships with men. Even when they marry, the man is frequently abusive in some way. He doesn’t always know her history, doesn’t understand her behavior, and really just wants her to “shape up.” More guilt for the woman, more of a sense of personal deficiency. The cycle continues.
I’m going to stop now. This is hard for me to write about. Next week, we’ll go into more detail around the results for adults of having been abused as children.