The effects of childhood abuse
The effects of childhood abuse can last forever. It can influence your thinking, emotional state and the way you relate to others way into adulthood. Child abuse takes a wide variety of forms.
The most common forms of childhood abuse are:
parental substance abuse and/or mental illness
children witnessing domestic violence
The long term effects of child abuse
PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, lack of emotions and hypervigilance. The traumatic past event can be triggered by a smell, similar situation or sounds.
Errors in thinking
Adults who were abused as children may have the view that the world is a dangerous place. They may distrust others and isolate themselves. Some adults behave in the opposite manner by becoming very dependent on another person (sometimes referred to as “co-dependency”). Abuse often leads to an adult who struggles to relate to others, often due to their beliefs that others can’t be trusted. Fear of intimacy can reign and cause havoc.
Severe stress as a child can alter brain chemistry. It can also affect the way the brain develops and matures, leaving a person more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Anger is another common symptom of emotional distress.
Avoidance and disassocation
As a child, we are extremely vulnerable and don’t have a way to escape our situation. As a result, children have to learn a way to cope with the abuse on a mental and emotional level. What often happens is that children learn to disassociate and ‘compartmentalise’ the unpleasant emotions. They somehow find a mental ‘box’ where they stuff the unpleasant experiences and emotions. In its extreme form, children create separate personalities knows as multiple personality disorder. Children who are abused can form personality disorders – a distinctive and dysfunctional way of viewing the world. The brain creates unnatural pathways to cope with abuse and this affects lifelong functioning.
Some abused children go on to avoid experiences that caused upset in their childhood. The other extreme is to over compensate. Parents underestimate their influence on their children.
The first step to dealing with childhood abuse is to acknowledge what happened and that it wasn’t healthy. Therapy can help immensely, allowing adults who were abused to understand they did not deserve the abuse and that it was their parents who were to blame, not them.
We cannot change the past but we can update our thinking and beliefs about the past. An abused childhood can hold us back but only if we allow it to. As adults, we have the power to reject old childhood messages from our parents and re-create another life that is more healthy and conducive to love and happiness.