What are some common reactions of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse?
Common feelings include:
- depression and anxiety
- anger and rage
Are there physical effects that survivors of abuse typically experience as adults?
In adulthood, anxiety and fear-related physical symptoms are common, including:
- gastrointestinal disturbances
- respiratory distress
- gynecological problems
- problems with sexual desire and function
- immunological disturbances
- chronic pain
- muscular tension
- stress reactions such as migraine headaches and teeth grinding (TMJ)
- panic attacks
Why don't survivors "just get over it" ?
Time doesn't heal all wounds. In fact, the deep wound of childhood sexual abuse often creates difficulties in emotional stability, formation of relationships, and in overall function that compound as life becomes more complex in adulthood. Survivors often suffer silently, unwilling and unable to speak about their sexual abuse in childhood or feel that they should get over something that happened so long ago. Many survivors do not realize that specialized therapy services are available and can be a gateway to healing and reclaiming the life and vitality that were compromised as a result of the abuse.
Why is shame a factor in the survivor's sense of self?
The adult survivor's predominant view of self is often bound by shame. Adults continue to ask themselves how and why the abuse happened to them. They feel fated and contaminated and are often in despair. Both the women's and men's groups at Shepherd's serve to normalize feelings, and the results are that the survivor starts to feel the support of others, learning that they are not alone.
Do adult survivors sometimes face barriers to a healthy sexual life?
Sexual abuse can strongly affect adult sexuality and sexual functioning. This includes:
- sexual behavior in adolescence and early adulthood
- questions of sexual orientation and preference
- sexual arousal, response and satisfaction difficulties
Therapists at Shepherd's believe that there can be significant unlearning of unhealthy responses and relearning of healthy ones. The partner support groups tend to educate partners to understand the dilemma that survivors find themselves in—how to regain ownership of their own bodies while continuing to love their partners, husbands and wives.
Can survivors ever love and be intimately involved again?
Relationships require trust and vulnerability and some adult survivors experience intimacy as entrapping and threatening rather than satisfying. Couples counseling at Shepherd's offers clients a way of working through these issues with the goal of intimate and committed relationships as a key to health and happiness.
What about the survivor's relationship with their extended families?
The conflicted relationship and prescribed roles with parents and siblings often continue into adulthood. Abuse can adversely affect many adult survivor's ability to parent their own children adequately. However, attending to the dynamics of childhood trauma can often effectively stop the cycle of abuse and help parents establish healthy and satisfying relationships with their children and other family members.