A big obstacle to recovery is that often survivors of
sexual abuse do not know that the problems they have are related to
past experiences of sexual abuse. In fact, in my research 60% of the
participants did not link their mental health problems to their history
of sexual abuse. They were completely unaware of the significant impact
sexual abuse had in their emotional, physical, and mental life.
they thought something is wrong with them and with their way of
thinking. They became angry and frustrated with themselves for being
depressed without obvious reasons, having anxiety attacks that don't
make any sense, and for being 'utterly defective'. What some
professionals easily overlook is that the 'average' person does not
link her/his emotional state today to experiences they had 30 years ago
and which they might have partly forgotten.
professionals do not take a thorough personal history and ask if the
person has experienced any forms of abuse, survivors will not know the
right questions to ask that give them access to the help they need.
More often than not they don't really know what they might need. Their
lack of understanding the origins of their problems was compounded when
they approached public mental health services' for help. Research has
shown that public mental health services don't always inquire about a
person's history of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse.
invisibility of sexual abuse is a tragedy. Without understanding the
link between sexual abuse and psychiatric disturbances, survivors end
up blaming themselves for being weak, stupid, crazy, unlovable,
defective, and many other negative characteristics. Often enough it
leads to self-hate and self-harming behaviours that in turn re-enforce
negative self perception. Survivors' mental health spirals downwards
and recovery is seriously hindered. They might spend years and years in
mental health care without little or no improvement.
invisibility of child sexual abuse in society and in mental health
settings combined with survivors' childhood conditioning of being
silenced, their coping strategies of avoidance and dissociation,
family's and friends' limits of knowing how to deal with survivors'
pain and disorganised life, and the inability to link the problems
survivors have to their experiences of abuse prevent people not only
from being effective in seeking professional help but also from
themselves from future emotional, physical, or sexual harm.
abuse harms a person in many different ways. How deeply a person is
affected by sexual abuse depends on a number of variants. In general we
can say that the impacts of abuse depends on the age of the child, the
relationship between child and perpetrator, the frequency, the
duration, the severity, the presence of threats, and the availability
of support and care. Most survivors who seek help struggle with
cognitive contamination, impaired social functioning, impaired memory
processing, negative self-relations and identity, learned helplessness,
physical health problems i.e. irritable bowl syndrome, sleep
disturbances, disordered eating, mood disturbances, abuse of drugs and
alcohol, to name just the most obvious.
Although the above
mentioned symptoms are not always due to sexual abuse, it may be useful
to ask yourself, whether any forms of sexual abuse, physical abuse,
emotional abuse, or neglect have occurred. When you have been abused
and you can make the link to your problems, you can start dealing with
the abuse and begin your journey of recovery.