How can experience of childhood sexual abuse effect us in later life?

Sometimes the experience of abuse appears to be wholly or partially forgotten for some years while the survivor continues with their life. Memories may resurface however when the person is settled in a safe environment, or may be triggered by specific events such as beginning a sexual relationship or becoming a parent.

The memories can bring intense feelings and experiences –

Flashbacks and nightmares

Recollections of the abusive experience may intrude into the waking thoughts or may recur in dreams.

Shame and guilt

The survivor may blame themselves; may suffer from low self-esteem or may feel deeply embarrassed about seeking help. They may become depressed, harm themselves and have thoughts of suicide.

Intense anger

This may be directed at the abuser, and may be linked with a wish to confront or to completely avoid them. It may also be directed at others who seem to have colluded with the abuse or may be more general.

Disrupted relational patterns

Some survivors find they tend to avoid intimate relationships and are distrustful of the motives of all other people. Others may find they tend to form very intense intimate relationships which can be emotionally draining.  Because of childhood abuse they may lack personal boundaries or be vulnerable to undafe sex or further abuse.

Fear of the consequences of the abuse

Survivors may wonder whether they will be able to form normal relationships or whether they might become abusers themselves. There may be difficulties in enjoying normal sexual activities.

Isolation and stigmatisation

Survivors may feel they are totally alone with their experience. They can feel that they have been marked out and that somehow others know of their history without being told and so treat them differently.

As with human response to any trauma, the degree of the reaction can vary widely between individuals. Some people come to terms with very severe abuse comparatively easily; others find the abuse has a lasting effect on them. Neither of these responses is more correct or more healthy than the other.