Issues Treated in Therapy:
A history of being abused physically is often a root cause of emotional and psychological difficulties later in life. Abuse by a parent, caretaker, significant other, or others can lead to issues with anxiety, self-esteem, anger, depression, blocks to intimacy, or other challenges. Most people who are abused as children manage to function as adults, but maintaining a sense of peace and happiness can be very challenging. Often, memories arise most dramatically when people who were abused begin to form intimate relationships and think about raising a family, or when they actually have children of their own.
Sometimes people who have experienced abuse get advice--from others or from their own internal voice--to just “move on,” “forget the past,” or “let go" of negative memories. Such advice may be well-intended (although, if it comes from the abuser, it may be self-serving), but it is not easy to accomplish, and may not be healthful or helpful at first. While letting go and practicing forgiveness can be helpful goals for a survivor of abuse, dealing first with feelings of anger, grief, guilt, anxiety, and other painful emotions resulting from the abuse is likely necessary before trying to “move on.”
Therapy can help in a number of ways, including increasing insight into the nature of feelings that are arising, clarifying values and choices, helping with anger management and communication skills, uncovering and working through shame, and facilitating emotional catharsis. In situations where symptoms of post traumatic stress are present, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has been shown to be very effective.
If memories of abuse are intense and interfere with one’s life in significant ways, posttraumatic stress disorder may be diagnosed. Depression, anxiety, and some personality disorders (particularly if abuse is persistent and severe) are a possible outcome of physical abuse. Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) rarely occurs unless there is a history of severe abuse. For children, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder sometimes develop in the aftermath of serious abuse.
Ron, 40, presents with depression and reports he is having memories of being abused by his father. His wife tells him to “get over it”, but Ron finds he has great anxiety about disciplining his son, who is four. Ron has been refusing to participate in any parenting role other than playing with his son, and his wife is frustrated, but Ron is afraid he will hit his son, and admits to bouts of anger. He is afraid to disclose this in therapy, worrying that the therapist will call social services, but he says, “I really want to get better so I can be a good father.” The therapist explains the rules of confidentiality, and assures Ron that unless he actually abuses or neglects his son, his privacy is protected; thoughts and feelings are not reportable offenses. The therapist helps Ron achieve a catharsis of grief and anger at his father; this helps Ron develop a deeper sense of compassion for himself and his own son, and his feelings of anger at his son subside. The therapist invites Ron to invite his wife to their sessions, and then begins discussing with the couple some non-violent parenting techniques.
Rita, 29, is anxious and fearful, especially around men. She is unable to identify a reason for this. The therapist takes a personal history and discovers physical abuse in her family of origin, but Rita denies that this is the cause of her anxiety. The therapist facilitates several deep relaxation sessions, and Rita begins to be open to the possibility that her experience as a child affect her as an adult. Eventually, Rita begins to verbalize her emotions around her past abuse, and she accepts a recommendation from her therapist to attend a support group for victims of abuse.
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Last updated: 05-14-2013
Physical Abuse Articles