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.
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