Childhood Sexual Abuse

Childhood Sexual Abuse: A mental health issue

English PDF | More Fact Sheets Our experiences in childhood play a big part in shaping our health and well-being throughout our lives. Sexual abuse in childhood can leave scars that can last for a long time. But many cases are never reported. Some people feel very scared about reporting abuse.

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How does childhood sexual abuse affect adult well-being?

Childhood sexual abuse can have a wide range of effects in adulthood. Some adult survivors experience few mental health problems, while others experience many mental health problems. Abuse is a kind of trauma. Trauma is a situation that’s shocking, intense and distressing. The effects of trauma include a complicated mix of factors, such as:

  • The amount of any kind of trauma you previously experienced
  • The severity of the trauma
  • How close you were to the person who abused you
  • How long the abuse lasted
  • How people you trusted reacted to the abuse, if you told them—did they believe you and support you or dismiss you?10

Here are some of the ways that experiences of childhood sexual abuse can affect well-being:

  • Trust—Abuse may impair your sense that the world is a safe place and impair your ability to trust others. This may be particularly difficult if you had a close relationship with the abuser.11
  • Self-esteem—You may blame yourself for the abuse, even though it isn’t your fault. You may have a hard time feeling good about yourself or hopeful about your future.12
  • Coping with stress—You may have a lot of negative feelings, which may make it hard to cope with everyday stress.12
  • Impulsivity—Impulsivity means acting on urges before thinking through the consequences, which can lead to risky activities.12
  • Anger—You may have a hard time controlling your anger.12
  • Dissociation—With dissociation, your mind “separates” itself from painful events to protect itself. You may have a hard time remembering what happened, feel like the world around you isn’t real or feel like you aren’t connected to your body. It’s a common reaction to pain and fear.13
  • Self-harm—You may harm yourself, but not intend to end your life. It may be a way to cope with difficult thoughts or feelings.14

These are common reactions to trauma. But they can lead to problems when they affect the way you live your life. It’s important to get help if you are having a hard time coping with past trauma.

Other problems linked to childhood sexual abuse include:

  • Mental illness—Experiencing childhood sexual abuse does not mean that you will develop a mental illness, but it is one of many risk factors. People who experience childhood sexual abuse may have a higher risk of experiencing anxiety disorders (such as post-traumatic stress disorder),15 depression,16 eating disorders,16 dissociative disorders17 and personality disorders.18
  • Substance use problems—Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are at greater risk of developing problems with alcohol and other drugs19,20,21 and may be more likely to start using substances at a younger age.22,23,24,25 There may also be a link between your response to childhood sexual abuse (such as depression, low self-esteem or post-traumatic stress disorder) and the risk of experiencing problems with substances.19,21,26 Substances may be a way to cope with difficult experiences.19,21″




Originally posted 2016-11-17 13:03:29.