Whatever the form, sexual, physical or psychological, the experience of childhood abuse is a trauma.
Childhood trauma can damage the client’s ability to enter into trusting relationships, emotionally and physically and continues to have an impact on people throughout their adult lives. Counselling for adult survivors of childhood abuse aims to tackle this trauma.
The long reaching effect of childhood abuse
If, as a child, you were exposed to abuse, then you will have learned to protect yourself with coping mechanisms such as denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, by distancing yourself emotionally, switching off your feelings, acting out, or blaming yourself. Learning to use these coping mechanisms during childhood, goes on to have long-term consequences in your adult lives, which can include:
- Low self-esteem or self-hatred.
- Feelings that you are somehow contaminated or unworthy.
- Suffering bouts of depression.
- Thoughts of guilt, shame and blame – guilt or shame because you feel you made no direct attempt to stop the abuse or because you experienced physical pleasure from it.
- Sleep disturbances / disorders – trouble sleeping because of the trauma and anxiety or possibly related to the experience you had; perhaps you were sexually abused in your own bed.
- Lack of trust for anyone – you feel betrayed by the very people you were dependent on those who were supposed to care for you, who insisted they loved you even while abusing you; learning to trust can be extremely difficult under these circumstances.
- Becoming an adult victim of abuse – as an adult you may find yourself in an abusive or dangerous relationship/s.
- Flashbacks – you may re-experience the abuse as if it were occurring at that moment, usually accompanied by visual images of the abuse. These flashes of images are often triggered by an event, action, or even a smell that is reminiscent of the abuse or the abuser.
- Dissociation – You may go through a process where the mind distances itself from the experience because it is too much for your psyche to process at the time. This loss of connection with thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity, is a coping mechanism and may affect aspects of your cognitive functioning.
- Sexuality / Intimacy issues – You may difficulty engaging in sexual relationships, which may bring about feelings of fright, frustration, or being ashamed.
How you cope as an adult survivor of childhood abuse
As an adult survivor of childhood abuse you may have adopted coping mechanisms (or survival strategies) to guard against feelings of terror and helplessness that you may have felt as a child. These past feelings can still have influence over your life and your present behaviour. You may use some of these common coping mechanisms:
Grieving / Mourning
As a result of the childhood abuse, many experiences were lost— trust, innocence, loving relationships with family members. You may feel a deep sadness, jealousy, anger or longing for something that was destroyed or that you never had.
Alcohol or drug abuse
Your experiences may cause you to have sort the use and abuse of substances that act as an escape from the intense waves of feelings, the terror and helplessness.
Poor relationship with food and or Eating Disorders
It can be common for the victim of childhood abuse to use food as a way of taking back control over their body, control that was denied during the abuse.
Burning or cutting are some ways for a survivor to relieve intense anxiety, triggered by memories of the abuse
Counselling for adults who suffered childhood abuse
Childhood abuse counselling offers victims the chance to talk face-to-face in a safe, secure, and non-judgemental environment. Therapists aim to help survivors come to terms with their emotional issues and realise their ability to take control of their lives. Strong emphasis is placed on personal empowerment.
Counselling for childhood abuse can offer victims help with:
- Being able to talk about the abuse perhaps for the first time.
- Validating the survivor’s experience.
- Managing the abuse from an adult perspective.
- Overcoming self-blame and shame.
- Feelings of anger towards the abuser.
- Fear of violence and coercion.
- Anxiety and depression.
- Dissociative identity disorder.
- Fear of abandonment.
- Lack of self-worth.
- Addressing behaviours that have outlived their purpose.
- Reconnecting to bodily sensations.
- Living authentically.
- Building resilience and trust.
- Restoring hope.
Take the first step to overcome the trauma of childhood abuse
To find a therapist who offers counselling for childhood abuse take a look at our list of counsellors who work with victims of childhood trauma from the City Therapy Rooms.
Some helpful information and support for adult victims of childhood abuse and trauma
Help for adult victims of childhood abuse is run by survivors for adult survivors of child abuse. They provide support, friendship and advice for any adult whose life has been affected by childhood abuse. HAVOCA
The Lantern Project
Supporting Victims of Childhood Abuse. A helpful site for adults who were victims of childhood abuse. Here is the link to a ‘reading list’ page for helpful up to date information. The Lantern Project
The Association of Child Abuse Lawyers
This organisation offers legal support and advice. Here is a very useful page of links to many other websites offering specific support and advice. ACAL links