3 Ways the Long-Term Emotional Effects of Abuse Can Manifest
If you suffered abuse as a child, you know the emotional cost of abuse can last far beyond the weeks and months after the actual experience. Speaking from experience, there are many long-term effects of abuse which can interfere with an abuse survivor’s ability to have a productive career, close relationships, and a meaningful life.
Sometimes, these effects serve as a warning sign that repressed trauma is lurking under the surface, waiting to be brought into the light and dealt with in a healthy way.
Some of these long-term effects have such a profound and long-lasting impact, they’re worth looking at more closely. In this article, I’ll dive into three specific issues that arise as a result of abuse in the hopes it can help other survivors move forward.
Imagine a young girl who experiences regular sexual abuse by her father.
The man who raised her is supposed to love and protect her. But instead of providing care, he’s violating her. How is she supposed to stand up to that?
Children and even teenagers look up to their parents, so if a primary caretaker is abusing them, they accept the message that they’re not worthy of genuine love.
One of the women I got to know through therapy was raped for years by her father, her uncle, and two in-laws. They told her they couldn’t help it because she was so beautiful. In other words, it was her fault. The message they gave her about her core identity was that she was there for them to screw. They gave her no choice in the matter.
When an adult takes control of a child or a weaker person, the abuser takes away the victim’s power. If you’re the one being abused, you end up feeling like you’re not worth anything; you’re just being used for sexual pleasure, and used brutally.
You conclude that you have no more worth than an object—because if you were a worthwhile loving human being, you wouldn’t have been used like that.
Caretakers are supposed to help children grow, thrive, and develop their confidence and skills. When caretakers abuse children rather than care for them, the opposite effect occurs: abusers teach their victims that they have no worth.
After the abuse I suffered as a young boy, I developed a pattern of self-sabotage based on the belief that I didn’t deserve anything good. For years, I had financial failure after failure; I had a long history of alcoholism; I repeatedly ran from relationships or challenging jobs. Eventually I woke up to the fact that I was sabotaging myself.
It was devastating to realize how I had taken over from the abuser and started abusing myself, subconsciously. I had to challenge deep-seated, learned behavior. I had to unlearn all of my negative beliefs and challenge everything in my mind.
I had to remember the truth of who I was.
This can be a common experience among abuse survivors. Victims will uncover mental challenges where they hit walls, and must examine deep-seated learned behavior.
These learned behaviors can perpetuate “self-abuse.” One woman I knew from a therapy group would get into relationships that she described as always starting off wonderful. In a matter of months, she’d tell us the guy had begun slapping her around.
This woman continually was attracted to abusive men, and not only that, the codependent behavior she’d learned made her provoke them. None of the men had any right to hurt her—let’s make that clear. But because of her own negative beliefs about herself, she would bait these men until they snapped and confirmed her fears.
Both this woman and I realized we had to take some personal responsibility for the sabotage we were bringing on ourselves. I remember concluding that I had to stop looking outside myself to get healed. It had to come from within me.
#3: The Soul and Heart are Broken
When you are abused, especially by a loved one, the heart gets broken. Emotions suddenly become dangerous, because you’re feeling so much pain. You can’t allow yourself to be sensitive to pain, which means you shut down your ability to be sensitive to anyone. You lose the power to feel love, compassion, or empathy.
After the summer I experienced abuse, my major goal was not to feel. Alcohol became my friend, but it ultimately became my enemy. The methods I used to deaden my feelings made me disconnected and insensitive. When you stop feeling negative emotions, you end up stopping yourself from feeling everything. You lose the ability to be emotionally intimate and feel sensitivity for a person you love.
Healing Starts with Looking Inside
Worthlessness, self-sabotage, and brokenness—those are not the end of your story. You are far more resilient than you realize. Inside you is a spark that will help lead you towards healing, if you listen to it. I believe that when a decision is made to heal, the universe will help you towards that end in ways you could not imagine.
But that healing isn’t going to come from something outside of us. We must look inside for true healing began, the first step of which is exploring what happened to you.
I know it’s terrifying to dig into what happened. Rather than be vulnerable, we prefer to turn to rage, apathy, pride, or self-medication to deal with the demons inside.
But when we bring those demons out into the light, they begin to dissipate.
When I finally began to shine the light on my inner darkness and confront the trauma in my past, the healing it produced was invigorating. Eventually, I discovered the power of writing to help me choose my thoughts. By paying attention to my thoughts, I could take control of my mind and begin to heal myself of the negative beliefs I held.
You can do the same. All it takes is that courageous first step to look inside.
For more advice on dealing with the long-term effects of child abuse, you can find Resilient People on Amazon.