Residual Effects of Childhood Abuse in Female Adult Survivors

A woman stands hugging herself, looking out a window.Many survivors of abuse have heard painful comments from others who didn’t get it, telling them their abuse was in the past and to get over it. But, sadly, childhood abuse causes many difficulties for survivors, and it’s not simply a matter of forgiving and forgetting. Not everyone experiences the same after-effects of childhood abuse, but there are many commonalities among survivors in what they suffer.

These difficulties often include numbing emotions and avoiding feelings, people, places, and circumstances that may trigger memories of past abuse (whether consciously or unconsciously). In adulthood, one might notice gaps in their memory or no recollection of parts or all of their childhood. They might notice problems with concentration, ranging from mild to severe. Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are complications in adulthood often associated with unresolved childhood abuse issues. Women who suffered sexual abuse as children tend to struggle with shame, guilt, sexual difficulties, eating disorders, self-harming behaviors, flashbacks to the traumatic events, sleeping difficulties (nightmares), anger, a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or powerlessness, amnesia, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, suicidal ideation, and  suicide attempts. Severe childhood abuse can result in posttraumatic stress and dissociative identity disorder, leaving the adult female to feel a sense of being in a dream state or as if nothing is real.

Oftentimes adults will use addictive behaviors to deal with the resulting emotions that overwhelm them. Common addictions include the use of alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, over-spending, and other compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately, although these behaviors sometimes provide temporary relief, in the long run they only add to and complicate problems.

Although your situation may feel hopeless, it isn’t. Educate yourself on what constitutes childhood abuse, and learn the effects of this abuse on those struggling in adulthood. Many books are available on the subject and can help you begin the difficult journey of recovery. It is amazing how much easier we connect the dots once we learn what makes up child abuse. Abuse seems normal when you grow up in an abusive home as a child, and you may assume everyone lives that way. Once you educate yourself on what is and is not abusive, it becomes easier to take an honest look at your past and to acknowledge your pain—past and present—that resulted from that abuse.

Bookstores, the library, and trusted websites can provide invaluable information on this topic. Pace yourself. The feelings may overwhelm you. If you begin to feel overwhelmed (especially if you begin to feel helpless and hopeless about your situation), seek out the help of a therapist, preferably one who specializes in childhood trauma and abuse.

Oftentimes a trusted therapist can mean the difference between suffering and healing. It is important, however, to seek out a therapist who is skilled in working with those who have suffered from childhood abuse. Otherwise, you might end up with a therapist who, unfortunately, tells you literally or figuratively that your damage is too great to overcome. This can cause even greater harm to you in your painful struggles.

You might also consider joining a therapy therapy group for those working to overcome the effects of childhood abuse. This can provide a safe environment in which to learn about the lasting effects of abuse and to learn ways in which to overcome these effects. A therapy group can offer a place in which you will be supported by others who deal with the same painful issues, a place where you will be respected and believed and where your feelings will be validated. It can also provide a safe and supportive environment in which healing can occur.

Therapy, whether individual or group, can help you as you begin working through the traumatic events of your past and the related emotions. In time, you will learn how to go about leading a happier and more fulfilling life. During the healing process, remember to be good to yourself. Treat yourself to activities like soaking in a bubble bath while listening to soothing music, spending quality time with a trusted friend, reading a book, sharing a laugh with others, and so on. Remember to love yourself and to never forget your inner strength. The resiliency that resides within you can take you far in your recovery. Childhood abuse can continue to cause problems for the survivor, long after the abuse occurs. Attempting to forget the abuse and neglect can add to the problem. The damage done will not go away, no matter how hard you try to forget what happened. Instead, you must seek out others who are supportive and understanding. Although this recovery work is painful, if accomplished with the therapist that’s right for you, it can be a rewarding journey.

© Copyright 2009 by Joyce Thompson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 27th, 2009 at 5:10 AM

    Cutting Ties With Parents (1 Letter) NY Science Times p. 40 October 27

    October 26, 2009
    To the Editor:

    Re “When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate” (Mind, Oct. 20): Parentectomy — that’s the word we used when I worked for child welfare services in New York City. Some parents mean to harm their kids, and in those rare instances, the children would be made healthier by lopping off the relationship as though it were a diseased body part, like an infected appendix.

    Children are powerless, but when grown up they are able to get rid of the parents who continue doing harm by ending the relationship. Sometimes bad parents are worse than no parents.

    Lynn Somerstein

  • rain

    July 1st, 2014 at 2:15 AM

    I am an adult survivor of child abuse sexual, physical, and mental, our pastor knew teachers family friends and doctors! The biggest thing that gets to me is they all knew, and DID NOTHING!

  • Ellie

    August 21st, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    Hi Rain

    You say you are an adult survivor. How have you coped with it? I know that is a broad question. I haven’t spoken about my childhood abuse. But I am finally realising what terrible effects it still has. I managed to get out of physically and mental domestic able last year with social and polices help. I want to know what can help, not counselling. Maybe support groups? But really to hear on how others have coped? I shut all mine away actually forgot a lot of things.

  • Casandra C

    January 4th, 2017 at 7:57 AM

    I to went through everything that you have said but 1 exception I found out that my mother did all of it for 32 years I was angry at the person found out on the 2nd of January 2017 that she was my sexual abuser not just physical and mental. I have overcome everything and even forgave my ex step-dad thinking all this time it was him till 2 days ago when I was told that I was abused by my own mother when I finally passed out from exhaustion a lot of suppressed memories came flooding back thank God for my awesome supporters but have been working with councilors for 32 years now and I have the tools to help me out with the whole thing but finding out that my own mother is the only one who abused me im so angry right now. Everything was witnessed at least once I was very young when the sexual happened she went to jail in 95 it was the very last time I allowed it to ever happen again I was going to try to fix our family and then all this came up I don’t know how to forgive her this time I just know that I will be taking with the detectives today and if she doesn’t land in jail she will have a civil suit against her. Atleast I already have some very essential information and tools so that helps with a lot of things I’m feeling that I am having. I just don’t understand why I may never know what all happened. I have witnesses. WHY DIDN’T ANYONE HELP ME? They all knew even cps she could hide stuff from a lot of people she is 2 faced. But she is and always will be my mother I still love her and I never want to see her face again I’m way too angry. A little advice you can make through anything with the right help and support I will pray that you are able to heal

  • Carolyn

    December 16th, 2010 at 9:18 PM

    I am currently unemployed and wodering if there are any clinics available for this sort of thing..i am experiencing flashbacks worse than ever before for soe reason and have gripping fear while i am sleeping and cant wake up :(..i have never really come to terms with this as i couldnt figure out what my lifelng probles were caused by..now i believe it has been this all along :( .. i realize now i need help. I am now 58 years old and have suffered with pst and other problems since i can remember ..i stayed drunk for years and dont know how i have made it this far in life.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    December 17th, 2010 at 6:11 AM

    Hi Carolyn-
    You’re brave and smart to seek help; you have suffered more than long enough. Often low-cost therapy is available at clinics associated with psychoanalytic or psychotherapy training institutes, where you would work with a clinician in training, closely supervised by an expert in the field. Mostly such clinics are located in or near big cities, and I don’t know if that’s convenient for you. Please let me know how this works out.
    If you are seeking help for alcoholism, the best treatment in my opinion is a combination: AA, psychiatric consultation for possible medication, and psychotherapy.
    take care,
    Lynn

  • Angela

    June 22nd, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    I have a question about the legal issues of childhood abuse-if an adult woman seeks help from a therapist due to childhood sexual abuse, is the therapist required to report the incident, even if it happened years before?

  • Aaron

    May 15th, 2013 at 2:30 AM

    Hey I’ve never suffered this horrible affliction and have only heard terrible stories about such things. However my girlfriend whom told me that it happened to her. Recently she had a breakdown over something I did (looking up adult material), don’t ask why please. I was frustrated. She had a meltdown over it and she told me they used her to make tapes, her father knew about it and did nothing. In fact himself a child abuser…typing this frustrates me so much because I can’t take away what they did to her. I ended crying with her just realizing the pain I had put her through, never would I have intended this please know that. I almost threw up after I tried to talk to her about it some. She never received any closure, it just stopped when she was seven. I had to talk to someone so I spoke with my mother on the situation and she said that my girlfriend should see a professional, I know she has no intention of it though. I want to help her and protect her…but this isn’t something I can bring up…when I asked her about it she freaked out and said she didn’t want to go back there. She needs to heal, she’s so beautiful if only she had the confidence they took away from her back… I could really use some advice because she needs closure to at least know its not her fault. Which I always tell her she was a victim of a terrible crime…please I know its not about me but I’ve been laying with her here beside me not being able to sleep and the only comfort I feel is what I would do to get my hands on the ones who did this to her…including her father who just let it happen so he could do the same to other little girls…I would be so happy but she’s never spoken about it and never had anyone to count on because people who should have stopped it didn’t. The most disguring thing is I’m sure her sister went through the same stuff, she tried to kill her siblings when they were younger is the only suspicion I have but kids don’t really try to do that unless they’re suffering. Sorry about all of this, typing on a phone right now so sorry for terrible grammer and such.

  • heartbroken

    February 12th, 2014 at 5:30 AM

    Tell her you will never abandon her, that you love and cherish her. That it was not her fault. I know somebody that was sexually assaulted by hundreds of people. She suffered beatings and cruel, sick sexual assaults whe she was 3 and 4 years old. These animals should be tortured and burned alive. Love her and never let anybody hurt her again.

  • paul t

    April 9th, 2015 at 12:32 AM

    The penalty for a crime like child molestation is very severe. A person who is found guilty of child molestation cannot be bailed easily at all. Child molestation cases are sever in every country. A child molestation attorney can prove to be very useful in such cases.

  • B Grace

    October 6th, 2016 at 9:33 PM

    Trying to hold back the tears and always put into gear the need to drown those fears with many beers I wish there was a cure after all these years. Cruelty was the tool that seem to be used by the man who robbed me of my younger years whenever he was near. First it was the beatings it only seem to bring about the bleeding Until the lose of virginity brought me the relief from all that bleeding. Now it seems that I act out knotty after enjoying a few hot toddies. After many years I can’t seem to get the visions to stay clear and I’m afraid they will rob me of many more years. It’s seems I will always be grubby tiring to find some to rub my tummy. Which will cause me never to find my dear I long to have so near. To clear the past I feel I must be crass for all those years in the past that seem to come back so fast. I seem to pass a lot of gas as I struggle to numb the past which robs me of good times at last.

  • NeeNee

    January 26th, 2017 at 9:08 PM

    I was born with a disability of clubfeet and many, many surgeries later, and many years of casts and crutches and braces and finally at age 12 I was left wearing corrective shoes and stuck with a limp the rest of my life. From grade school till I graduated high school, I suffered all those years of being bullied because I was different. Kids would hit me, slam me on my head with their books and trip me, even when I was using crutches, etc. I remember seeing teachers peeking out their classroom doors watching me go through this and they did nothing. Nothing. Just closed there door. But the abuse wasn’t just at school, when I got home, my brother would punch me repeatedly and told me to hit him back and I wouldn’t and he did many things to hurt me. I would tell my parents and they did nothing. I am now in my 60’s and all these old memories come back to haunt me. I went through two marriages, I was physically and mentally and verbally abused till I would leave and get a divorce and then I became a single parent. My ex’s also physically abused my kids. Then I would take them and leave. Now they are all grown and I am sure they have memories of bad times growing up. Then I met a wonderful man and we were together for almost 15 years, and he treated me like a queen. Never a bad word out of him. He loved me unconditionally. Then after finally meeting someone that was nice to me, he passed away from heart issues. So now after a year of him passing, I am finding I grieve for all those wonderful memories we shared together. I want to be happy again. Since his passing all my issues I had before I met him of panic attacks and anxiety have all come flooding back. So now I once again feel a prisoner of my house. But yes, after burying all those bad memories of abuse all those years, they all came back to me like a bad dream after my significant other passed away. I just can’t seem to get past this so I can get on with my life.
    Both my parents are deceased now, but before my mom passed away, I talked to her about a few things from my childhood and she just told me I was making things up. I guess I was the black sheep of the family because I was born different. That’s how I was treated from my parents after I had children of my own. There wasn’t any loving grandparents for my children. They didn’t have time. My Dad even told me one day after I was an adult that it was my fault he and my Mom had to get married at such a young age. How does someone get past all this?

  • Gina

    February 12th, 2017 at 5:07 AM

    I’m dealing with a lot of residual effects from my child abuse now in my fifties. I was good for years but now it seems like everything is bothering me again. I’m becoming closed off from people. I really don’t want to go out and be with a lot of people all of a sudden. And I’m starting to feel unhappy again. I am one of the most positive people I know normally and I teach people how to be more positive and help them grow. There’s a lot more going on with me within myself. I’m not sure what to do.

  • Tei

    March 11th, 2017 at 6:31 AM

    I was a victim of childhood abuse verbally, emotionally and sexually. I dont even remember most of my childhood just bits and pieces here and there. I didn’t really start remembering the things that happened to me til about a year ago. I started having flashbacks of things that happened and went to a therapist but all it did was make the flashbacks worse. I mostly feel empty like I don’t have any emotions whatsoever just this autopilot feeling of doing everything perfuctionary. Its like nothings in me. I think I dealt with everything by pretending it wasn’t happening to me and I remember whenever something bad happening just picturing my emotions and placing them in a huge safe and locking them away. Its scary because I can’t be sure of all that happened and my family won’t tell me anything but I know they knew what was happening. I’m 25 and although I have friends and a job I can’t form emotional attachments to anyone because I just don’t feel anything.

  • Kerry

    March 19th, 2017 at 8:30 PM

    My sexual abuse started when I was 3 and only ended when I was 12, because my mom was divorcing her husband. Unfortunately I remember the day I met him, at the age of 3, when he told me to call him daddy. My mom was an alcoholic and she always needed a man in her life. They were more important than us kids. He told me she knew and it was ok. He abused me while in the same bed with my mom passed out. He would let other men have sex with me for a six pack in the back of a van. I have horrific stories but the trauma I have been through affected how I raised my kids, overly protective. Some might say, too involved in their lives. I believe it has affected my marriage also. I got married at 20 to a 28 year old man, who worships the ground I walk on. We were dating 2 weeks when he said he loved me and I jokingly said , ” If you love me you’ll marry me.” The next day he pulled out a calendar and said when. 6 months later we got married a month later I got pregnant. Unfortunately, 9 hours after our son was born he passed away(malpractice). We’ve had our share of misfortune, but our love for each other pulled us through. We’ve been married for 29 years, but we haven’t had sex in 17 years. He tells me it’s okay, he loves me for who I am. I’ve asked for a divorce so he can move on with a more fulfilling life. He says his life is full with me and our 3 adult children. I know my life sounds great but, I do not have a single friend, my kids have moved out and have begun their new lifes on their own. I was in therapy for 16 years, diagnosed as bi-polar with manic episodes, depression, dissociative personality disorder, not with missing time but I change who I am to fit the situation to extremes, I have never had a personality, I don’t know me or even what I like, my therapists were so busy prescribing drugs and trying to get me to sleep more than 2 hours at a time that I never got to talk about my abuse. Everything is unresolved. My mom passed away without me forgiving her. Our relationship is whole other story. I have been through a lot. All the trauma in my life is just that, I can’t separate each situation and deal with them one on one. My life seems to have been one big trauma. I want to learn how to separate them get through them and become a survivor of each not a victim of all. I want to be at ease when I see a little girl sit on her daddy’s lap. Some of this is jumbled and mixed together but that’s how I live day to day.

  • shikira

    May 5th, 2017 at 2:15 PM

    I was sexually abused from the age of 2.5 years (abandoned by my mother( and sent into foster care where I was sexually abused by the foster parent. I lived the whole of my childhood in fear and witnessed the sexual and mental abuse of my siblings and other children as well as that of my own. My school education was marred and sent to a special school – could not read or write efficently compentent until the age of 21 when I began my first GCSE in English Language. I was severely bullied throughout my childhood life and not just by village girls, yet also by my step-father who taunted me and mocked me whilst sexually assaulting me all throughout my childhood life. My mother denied me and allowed it all to happen and right in front of her without ever stopping or intervening, she saw me as a rival to my father’s affections, I felt so guilty and bad because I hated him and wanted to find a way of killing him but couldn’t. I drew pictures of expicit dirty adults doing sex at the age of 9-12 and the police hid these in their files and possibly destroyed them?. I once had a teacher who loved me and promised to take me away from my family but she used me for 3 years until she had children of her own when I reached age 11 – took me to a fairground and lived with her a whole weekend it felt like a real place to call home and she forever gave me hugs and love until she too abandoned me. I am a highly caring individual with so much human and gifted artistic capability yet do not have the monetary resources to become a fully fledged author and illustrator and artist in my own right like those of capable means. I am immensley intuitive and create beautiful works of art I have yet to exhibit online or even begin to find a way of sharing my immaginative wondering with all others. I do not like to ask or perhaps even beg for funding even as a disabled yet acutely world-inspired individual who can speak several languages (self taught) as well as understand and fathom complex emotions and human diversity enough to communicate this all to the wider world. Please go fund me if you think me worthy and not dying yet living of terminal self-determination.

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