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How Child Abuse Affects Adult Survivors

Posted on October 27, 2021

How Child Abuse Affects Adult Survivors

When a child under the age of 18 is being physically, mentally or emotionally harmed by an adult or another child, they are a victim of child abuse. If their basic needs are not being met or they are not being cared for correctly, this is classified as neglect which is also a form of child abuse.

Unfortunately, child abuse is more common than many people realise. It includes both a single, isolated incident as well as ongoing and prolonged experiences and can occur both online and in person. Any child is at risk of being abused despite their gender, race and economic status.

The effects of childhood abuse on adult survivors can be long-lasting and linger throughout their lifetime unless effectively addressed and managed.

Many people struggle with low self-esteem, paranoia and various mental health conditions such as PTSD which can have a detrimental effect on their overall life and general wellbeing.

What are the different types of child abuse?

Not all types of child abuse leave a physical mark, and in the age of the internet and online grooming, it’s possible for a child to be abused without even meeting their abuser.

There are four main types of child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. [1]

Many people may not be consciously aware that they have experienced child abuse, as certain types such as emotional and psychological abuse are often mistaken for overly strict parenting.

Common types of child abuse

  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Neglect
  • Grooming
  • Bullying
  • Criminal exploitation
  • Sex trafficking
  • Female genital mutilation

It’s important to be aware of the different ways in which a child can be abused, both to prevent the pattern of behaviour from repeating and to recognise when you have been abused yourself.

What are the effects of child abuse in adult survivors?

The effects of child abuse are not merely relegated to childhood. In fact, the physical and psychological consequences of abuse suffered in earlier life will often manifest during adulthood, particularly if the underlying trauma is not effectively addressed and managed.

This can lead to a number of long-term effects that can have extremely detrimental ramifications to the individual’s emotional wellbeing and can affect their physical health, relationships with others and increase the chances of developing a mental health condition.

1. Low self-esteem and self-worth

Studies have shown that people who experienced abuse during childhood are more likely to suffer from low self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. They may believe that they are inherently less important than other people and that their needs should be placed below others.

This can lead to risk-taking behaviours such as having unprotected sex with multiple partners, self-destructive patterns that may involve over or under-eating and higher rates of violence and criminal activity.

2. Difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships

A number of people who experienced abuse as a child will repeat the patterns of behaviour that they observed as a child and may find themselves entering abusive and unhealthy relationships both with romantic partners as well as friends and acquaintances.

This is often due to the fact that these behaviours are seen as normal, and therefore they unconsciously seek out companions who display abusive traits.

3. Depression and anxiety

It is common for adults who were abused during childhood to struggle with ongoing feelings of depression and anxiety, even when there is no apparent reason for these conditions to occur in their current life.

This is particularly prevalent in cases where the individual has not yet come to terms with the abuse, as they are subconsciously carrying the burden of unresolved issues and memories throughout their lifetime.

4. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Childhood abuse is an extremely traumatic event, whether it is a one-off incident or a prolonged experience. As a result, it has the potential to cause post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD.

This can result in a number of distressing and debilitating symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts and extreme avoidance of anything that could be a potential trigger. PTSD can be successfully managed but often reoccurs during stressful and emotionally charged situations.

5. Paranoia

After experiencing abusive and traumatic situations during childhood, it can be difficult for survivors to trust other people throughout adulthood. This can lead to paranoid thoughts in which the individual may believe that other people are actively plotting against them or are conspiring to hurt or upset them in some form.

They may find it difficult to accept compliments and enter into friendships with others due to the fear of being hurt again by someone they had placed their trust in.

6. Being withdrawn and isolated

As a result of the above points, it is not uncommon for people who experienced any form of abuse during childhood to become withdrawn and isolated from society, believing that the world is an inherently dangerous place.

It may feel safer for them to remain sheltered from the outside world as much as possible which can include shunning potential friendships and relationships. This can lead to a lack of employment as these individuals may find it more difficult to hold down a job due to the isolated nature of their lifestyle.

7. Deep-rooted beliefs that they are inherently ‘bad’

Unfortunately, some people find themselves internalising the abuse that they suffered and believing that they were at fault in some way. They may feel a deep sense of shame and guilt which can prevent them from speaking out about their experiences, and often believe that they are similar to the abusive parents and therefore inherently ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’

How is child abuse linked with addiction in adulthood?

If an adult was abused during childhood, they have a higher likelihood of developing a substance use disorder in later life.

Experiencing abuse during the formative years of an individual’s life can result in trauma and PTSD, and adults who were abused in childhood often find it difficult to form healthy relationships and manage their responses to stress. [2]

As a result, they are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression along with other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Many people who suffered childhood abuse turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate their trauma, which can quickly spiral out of control and lead to a crippling addiction.

It’s a sad reality that these individuals are statistically more likely to repeat the cycle and abuse their own children due to the effects of this substance use, and they may not even be aware that they are doing so. [3]

However, not every adult who experienced abuse as a child is fated to exhibit these behaviours. The outcomes are often more severe if the individual experienced prolonged and multiple instances of abuse as well as more than one type of abuse.

With sufficient counselling and emotional support, many victims of child abuse are able to live happy and fulfilling lives as adults.

Should you report child abuse that happened years ago?

Many people feel apprehensive about reporting historical child abuse, which is any form of abuse that happened to you as a child.

They may worry that too much time has passed, that they won’t be able to provide any evidence to support their case or that the police won’t take them seriously, all factors that can discourage people from reporting past child abuse as an adult and bringing their offenders to justice.

It’s important to understand that there is no time limit for reporting child abuse. It can be more difficult to provide evidence after a number of years have passed, but not impossible. There are many historical child abuse cases that have been successful even after years or even decades of time have passed.

People report past child abuse for a number of reasons – they may be concerned that their abuser is continuing to abuse other children or they may want justice for what happened to them. In some instances, they may simply want to let the police know about their experiences without pursuing an official complaint which is possible in the majority of cases.

You have the right to view any records that were kept about you as a child, and you may want to see these if they contain evidence of past abuse. In some situations, you may even be able to claim financial compensation through the courts as part of your case.

If you are ready to report historical child abuse to the police, you can do so by calling 101 or by visiting your local police station. You will be asked for your personal information and details of the abuse and will be contacted at a later date in order to make a formal statement.

If there is enough evidence to support your case, a decision will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service as to whether they will move forward with prosecution.





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