Abusive relationships or abuse in childhood can have major ramifications in the lives of the abused, including psychological disorders like PTSD.
Abuse has many faces. It can be verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, or even spiritual. It is not actually true, as the childhood saying goes, that “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me.” In some cases, mere threats can be classified as abuse because they may seriously harm the person being threatened. We often talk about child abuse because it is particularly common, but abuse happens between adults as well. Anything that involves threat, ridicule, intimidation, humiliation, and harm is abusive.
Children are particularly vulnerable to abuse due to their natural dependency, their innocence, and their lack of physical and emotional strength. Besides the overt forms of abuse mentioned above, children may also be abused by being neglected. If children don’t get the love, touch, and support they need from caring adults around them, it has a serious effect on them. Child neglect causes children to have developmental problems and difficulty learning to trust loved ones and form positive relationships. Often children who suffer prolonged neglect develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) which can be debilitating, though tremendous recovery can be seen with Somatic Experiencing.
Child abuse may involve sexual abuse, which means any sexual contact that occurs between an adult or older teen and a child. This is also known as molestation. Sexual abuse does not only serve the need for sexual gratification by the adult or teen, but is often used to gain power over the child. If the abuser is a caretaker or relative of the child, it also involves a huge betrayal of the child’s trust. Even very young babies, who supposedly are not even fully aware of what is happening to them, will nonetheless show symptoms after such a betrayal, and may recall accurate memories as an adult. Read more on child sexual abuse.
Child abuse and child neglect are more common than many would expect. Depending on the source consulted, experts estimate that 4 to 16% of children are physically abused, and roughly 10% are neglected. Girls tend to suffer more sexual abuse than boys, with 5 to 38% of girls and 2 to 16% of boys suffering penetrative sexual abuse. Of course, these numbers are difficult to estimate accurately because so many cases of child abuse go unreported. Some experts believe that up to 90-95% of incidents of sexual abuse are unreported.
Abuse survivors may find that the hardest part of overcoming their pain is admitting that they were abused. Abuse, especially in children, leads to feelings of guilt, denial, self-loathing, self-blame, and depression. Because of the subtle dynamics of power and trust in child/adult relationships, it often comes as a surprise when adults realize they were indeed abused as children. It may be even harder to let go of the guilt and recognize that, as a child, they were not at fault.
Paul, I hope this email can convey at least a small portion of my deep gratitude. I’m getting my life back. Overcoming challenges has become much easier. My confidence is building. Using the techniques that you’ve taught me I’m seeing what’s good in my life.
— Steve H. after a series of phone sessions
Once you realize that you suffered abuse, whether as a child or as an adult, it’s important to seek help to gain perspective and insight into your own pain. Untreated, the trauma of abuse can lead to conditions like alcoholism or drug addiction, anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, self-hatred, difficulty forming positive relationships, and sexual issues, such as discomfort with physical intimacy and difficulty becoming aroused. However, many thousands of abuse survivors have healed from these problems. You can too.
We work with abuse survivors to unlock the hold that an abusive past has on their present lives. Blaming yourself for abuse or denying that it ever happened is not helpful. But releasing the grip that an abusive past has on you is possible and leads to a happier, more fruitful life.