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Home / Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Mental Health Support for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

If you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse, know that it was not your fault.

Childhood sexual abuse is common. Although the exact prevalence is not known, it is estimated that every eight minutes, a child is sexually assaulted. Moreover, nearly 93% of children know the perpetrator. Shame and stigma prevents many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse from disclosing the incident. Incest once considered rare, occurs with alarming frequency. Of all the girls who experienced sexual abuse, 65% girls report being abused more than once, 57% report that the abuser was a family member and 53% report that the abuse occurred at home.

No matter what, the abuse was never your fault and it is never too late to start healing.

What are the effects of childhood sexual abuse on adult survivors?

Women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse may have a range of short term and long term effects like-

  • Emotional reactions such as fear, shame, self hate, guilt, blame are common and may lead to depression and anxiety. You may feel guilty that you were not able to stop the abuse or that you yourself experienced physical pleasure. It is important for you  to accept that it was the person who abused you who is guilty- not you.
  • Self Esteem. You may struggle with low self esteem or distorted self perceptions such as a belief that you were responsible or that you deserved the abuse. Low self esteem can affect many areas of life such as work performance, relationships, career and health.
  • Intimacy and relationships. As an adult survivor of abuse you may have difficulty in all kinds of relationships from school  friends, work friends, parent child relation to romantic intimate relations. Your struggles with trust, assertiveness, self confidence, communication skills, ability to give and take affection, empathy and overwhelming moods may affect the quality and stability in relations. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may have disturbing flashbacks or painful memories while engaging in sexual activity in consensual relationships. You may struggle to set boundaries in sexual relationships. You may feel more vulnerable and less skilled in self leading to a tendency to repeat victimization or exploitation by untrustworthy people. Trust may be a crucial issue  for many survivors throughout their life.
  • Long term Psychological disorders. Depression, anxiety, suicide, self harm behaviors, eating disorders, substance abuse, borderline personality are commonly seen in survivors.
  • Physical ailments. Many stress related psychosomatic illnesses are very common like stomach upset, migraine, back pain, ulcers, allergies, asthma and skin problems.

We remember trauma less in words and more in feelings and in our bodies.

childhood sexual abuse

Road to Recovery: Responsible Therapy for Responsible Recovery 

The first “step” to recovery is actually a ” giant leap”.  You can reach out for help to a trusted friend , a family member or join a self help recovery program or join a therapist for guided professional help.

Can I handle the memories of abuse effectively to resolve the emotional problems of adulthood? If the answer is a NO then you should consider meeting a professional. 

Choosing a Therapist. Just like any other profession therapists may have variable experience handling complex trauma. Check the credentials,training and experience of your therapist. You should be comfortable with the pace and progress of your therapy.

What about confronting my abusers? This is a very difficult question  and one that you can only answer. For some survivors an internal resolution of the pain and trauma via therapy may defer the need for a confrontation. For others a direct confrontation, either face to face or on email or phone, for still others a self disclosure in public speaking, in articles or stories helps. Some also resort to legal action.  Confrontation is usually a difficult task while legal discourse inherently adversarial in nature and interferes with recovery as it brings back flashbacks and painful memories to the forefront of consciousness. For this reason, you should weigh the consequences of each pathway and see whether you are sufficiently grounded to handle the pressure and stress before starting confrontation with the abuser.

Therapy Process.  Therapy for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse is a step by step process of remembering, mourning and healing. Several therapeutic approaches are available such as Trauma focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy,