From Sexual Abuse to PTSD: What Lies In Between?

It is well-documented that sexual abuse, especially during childhood, is one of the traumatic life experiences that make a person far more likely to suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder later down the line. Psychotherapists and counselors regularly work with people who have spent their whole lives responding, both psychologically and emotionally, to the abuse they suffered years and decades earlier. In addition to treating abuse survivors for their current conditions, therapists and mental health professionals can also learn from abuse survivors to discern what makes victims more or less likely to experience PTSD later in life.

That’s exactly what researchers from the University of Granada have done. Reaching out to 1,500 university students with an anonymous survey, they gathered data that firstly linked childhood abuse with present-day PTSD. From that group, respondent’s answers gave researchers insight into which factors played a role in victims’ later development (or not) of PTSD. What they found is that children and teenagers who blame themselves or their families for the sexual abuse they experience are more likely to cope through avoidance. Avoidance coping includes things like not thinking about the problem, sleeping as much as possible, and turning to drugs and alcohol. Avoidance coping, in turn, can lead to higher incidences of PTSD symptoms later on.

What does this mean for therapists, counselors, and other social and mental health professionals? For one thing, abuse survivors who suffer PTSD may also be dealing with years of trying to avoid, rather than confront and work through, the abuse they suffered and feelings that themselves or their families are to blame. But it also has implications for helping more recent victims of abuse.  Well-meaning family and friends may encourage survivors to “move on” and “not think about it” – but avoidance, if paired with a sense of guilt or blame, can have harmful long-term consequences. Helping abuse survivors address and confront the abuse in a patient and supportive way can help them take control of their experience and lay a more resilient groundwork for the rest of their lives.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. 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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  • Hannah

    Hannah

    November 3rd, 2010 at 4:37 AM

    Sexual abuse and what it can do to the life of a child should be pretty well understood. It takes away their innocence and trust and belief in the adults in theri lives who are supposed to be protecting them and saving them from these predators. Sometimes this is not possible but there are other times that you know the adults in their lives are looking the other way and allowing this to happen. No wonder the present with PTSD in the future. How would you feel growing up if it felt like no one saved you and that everyone let you down?

  • ernie

    ernie

    November 3rd, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    i know how bad it can feel when you have a problem and your family is just turning a blind eye to it and is not responding…been there,done that…but to have something as serious as sexual abuse not be given proper attention from the family can be very damaging to a person.

  • LD

    LD

    November 3rd, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    Being abused sexually is something that happens to a lot of kids but it often goes unnoticed or is under reported. If there is a change in people’s views on the issues we cam then have a lot of effort going into solving this problem of sexual abuse in minors.

  • MIKE

    MIKE

    November 3rd, 2010 at 7:29 PM

    Being Exposed To Something As Damaging As Sexual Abuse Can Be So Very Bad For A Little Child Because They Don’t Really Know What’s Happening And The Experience Is Going To Haunt Them For The Rest Of Their Lives And Create Problems Not Only In Their Growing Up Years But In Their Adult Lives As Well…

  • Cheryl

    Cheryl

    November 4th, 2010 at 4:37 AM

    hurt pain shame and anger- that’s what lies in between

  • RITA

    RITA

    November 4th, 2010 at 4:54 AM

    Although such an abuse is sure to affect even the toughest kid,what should be known is that although there will definitely be a degree of trouble,it can atleast be stopped from growing into a monster.This can be done by intervention programmes and through a lot of support from the family.

  • heather t

    heather t

    November 4th, 2010 at 11:20 PM

    i agree with you,rita.a lot can be achieved through counseling and rehabilitation.i have heard and read of a lot of people benefiting through these techniques and it just surprises me to know that a lot of people do not even tread this path!

  • ashleigh

    ashleigh

    November 5th, 2010 at 4:41 AM

    Being able to address what happened to you with a trained therapist who really knows how to get you to talk and then help you move forward is the ideal situation for anyone who has faced this experience. Unfortunately there are those who are unwilling to talk about what happened and that destines them to continually live in the past and never have the chance to move forward from that hurt and anger that they rightly feel.

  • James

    James

    November 6th, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    as a survivor of sexual abuse when I was young I know that I could have never made it through the experience with out the support of my family and my faith- those are the things that brought me through it intact

  • Jamie Carter

    Jamie Carter

    November 16th, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    What do you do when its your grandparent and it is hushed because he is sick. then at fourteen you get raped by your moms new husband and at first its not believed until you have three nurses and two doctors exposing your genitalia area to your mom and a CPS caseworker and a detective, as if being damaged and wishing some freak accident would happen to take your life. NOW htrough it all I have an exceptional family. A Husband, Three beautiful children, And a chance to help other people get the help they need and deserve.

  • mach

    mach

    September 14th, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    There only seems to be cases of alleged sexual abuse, how about where a sic parent has an Ida that there may be something happening or wants more control over family, taking a child aside and poisoning them against a family member, I know there was no abuse sexually or phisicly the mother put sic things in the child’s mind and whalla I’m charged with sexual abuse the things I’m charged with wow and now the child has an education that no other child in class will or should have but this is going to get her in the long run as she realizes that her mom is sick and uncle may have or not depending on how things go went to jail for her lie whell the words of a lie that her sic mom put there

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