Effects of Sexual Abuse in Adults
The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse are varied, complex and often devastating. As an adult who was sexually abused as a child, you may feel depressed, anxious and angry. Often people feel shame, powerlessness, shame, guilt, self-hatred, lack of trust, and have an inability to bond with others and have long-term relationships.
Most sexual abuse occurs within families by siblings, parents, stepparents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Often the abuser is a friend, neighbor, baby sitter or teacher. Least often the abuser is a stranger. What determines the importance of sexual abuse in childhood is not the specific abuse that occurred, more so it depends on the impact the abuse had on the child and what feelings the child developed about the abuse.
If you were sexually abused as a child, there may be times when you have trouble being in touch with your bodily feelings. You may not know when you are hungry or feel sexual, or are tired. You may hate your body and not have good self-care skills. You may not eat well or get enough sleep, or abuse drugs, alcohol, food, sex or overwork in order to numb your emotional pain.
You may have trouble forming close relationships with others because trust is often a big issue because your trust was betrayed when you were a child. As an adult you may have trouble receiving affection without being suspicious that others are using you or will abandon you. Also, it may be difficult to say no to unwanted sexual contact or feel guilty about your sexual feelings.
The most painful effects of sexual abuse come from the damage done to self-esteem. Many children believe the abuse was their fault, and often some people end up hating themselves. You may fear that you will harm or sexually abuse your own children and you may be convinced that there is something different or wrong about you. You may be convinced that there is something different about you and the abuse you suffered as a child is often kept a secret and never discussed with anyone.
Many adults who experienced repeated painful sexual abuse remember that it happened, but feel it didn’t really affect them and try to live life by rationalizing that it could have been worse. You may forget how powerless and desperate you felt as a child to make the abuse stop and how you longed to feel safe, secure and loved.
Sometimes the feelings have been so separated from the abuse that remembering it is like watching a movie of someone else’s life or seeing a black and white picture. Only certain images may remain.