I was abused as a kid. If the statistics are true, many of you reading this article were also abused. In the US, approximately 7.4 million children are abused every year, either psychologically, physically, or sexually — and that figure is probably underreported.
Abuse isn’t something people like to talk about, especially the abusers. A beaten child is taken to the emergency room covered in bruises, but the nurses are told, “She fell down the stairs.” Maybe that was the story told about your abuse, and instead of your abuser being charged with a crime, they were protected, allowing the abuse to continue.
Why doesn’t the abused person speak up? In my experience, it’s because there’s incredible confusion about who is to blame. Most abusers endear themselves to the children they target before abuse starts, and the child starts out genuinely loving that person. As abuse begins and continues, the “trusted” perpetrators tell lies about the harm they’re inflicting: “This is love. You made me do it. I couldn’t help myself.”
Victims of abuse often end up blaming themselves. In my case, I believed I had committed an unforgivable sin and carried that guilt with me for decades.
Not only do we need to speak up on behalf of the abused children who have no voice of their own, but we also need to help heal the wounds that linger for adult survivors.
I could have started my journey of healing sooner, but I went years without realizing that healing was even an option. I thought my condition in life was my fault and that I’d be that way forever. The message that healing is possible never entered into my mind.
If you’re an adult survivor of abuse like I am, I want to help you get to a place of healing much quicker than I did. But first, we need to discuss some of the effects of abuse that can linger into adulthood. Why? Because sometimes abuse victims will repress what happened to them, so they don’t realize the root cause of these side effects.
The Effects of Abuse in Later Life
Abuse can come in many forms: psychological, physical, sexual, neglect, or some horrible combination. The effects of abuse are even more varied.
Roughly a third of abused children continue the cycle by abusing their own children. Abuse survivors are more likely to have unprotected sex and commit crimes.
The shame and fear that typically affect abuse survivors show up in any number of ways. For instance, my given name is Frederick, and I’d always gone by “Freddy” as a child. In the aftermath of abuse, I developed a stutter and could no longer introduce myself as “Freddy”; I ended up switching my name to “Rick.” I also wet the bed for years and was afraid of other boys, especially if a fight threatened to break out.
Even when a child grows up and seems to be doing well, a self-destructive streak may follow them. I became a successful businessman, but I made a series of bad decisions throughout my career that I believe were driven by a buried sense of shame. When something good came along — whether that was a beautiful relationship or professional success — deep within me, I would think, I don’t deserve this. Then I’d ruin it.
With abuse during childhood, a child’s brain gets rewired. We begin to “think wrong,” and that leads to a lot of bad decisions. Survivors experience shame, along with a profound sense of worthlessness. They believe if they had real value, the abuse would have never occurred. Since it did occur, their feeling of worthlessness is confirmed.
Some survivors of abuse self-mutilate, believing that they need punishment for doing something wrong. Some ruin their marriages with affairs or deviant sexual behavior. They’re unable to experience true satisfaction in an intimate relationship because of scars in their past, so they pursue satisfaction elsewhere, only to encounter the same problems. Some people self-medicate, trying to cover the pain with drugs and alcohol; alternately, they might experience bouts of rage when the pain explodes.
In the most tragic cases, people commit suicide.
It’s Easier for the Truth to be Repressed
Abuse is tough to talk about, a fact that I know very well. For years, I avoided feeling anything. It felt safer to be numb than to deal with what happened.
But still, the events that happened were determined to deal with me. The night terrors were a message that something had happened. Although I couldn’t pinpoint what it was at the time, the dreams stirred up profound terror and pointed to something.
Denial is a powerful coping mechanism among survivors of abuse. It’s too painful to face the fact that abuse happened, so it gets buried or denied. We tell ourselves that the abuse — whether physical, sexual, or verbal — was somehow our fault.
None of that is true. It was not your fault. This is vital for you to know.
You may have a list of excuses in your mind to downplay a harmful experience that was inflicted on you. You may recognize a series of destructive patterns in your life and write them off as your own bad choices. You may experience a daily fight with negative emotions and ignore their possible source. But hear the message your subconscious is shouting at you: If you feel you might have been abused, chances are you were.
If you suspect you may have experienced abuse, it’s important to explore your feelings about that in a proper setting. I was fortunate to eventually find a safe, therapeutic environment in which to finally face some of my past trauma. I believe that as long as abuse remains repressed, survivors will be plagued by damaging effects.
My Promise to You: Healing Is Possible
Pain, shame, worthlessness — those are not the end of the story. We are incredibly resilient people. But that healing isn’t going to come from something outside of us.
I can’t tell you how many healing seminars I went to. I got body work, massage, Reiki — but none of that worked. I kept looking to be healed, not to heal. Finally, I started examining some of the hard issues of my past, looking at the patterns of abuse and my patterns of self-destruction. Once I began to look inside, true healing began.
The first step towards healing is to explore what happened to you. It’s terrifying to go there. I spent my life looking for ways to avoid self-examination. The demons we try to keep buried always leak out, however, and usually at inopportune times.
When that happens, it triggers negative responses, which prevent us from being open. Rather than be vulnerable, we turn to rage, apathy, pride, or self-medication, and those demons grow more powerful. Thankfully, there’s a way we can remove their power.
When we bring our demons into the light, they dissipate. That’s the first step: confront the trauma in your past. I know how scary that sounds, but trust me, when you muster up the courage to do it, the healing that’s produced will be life-giving.
From there, you can begin the journey of healing yourself from the effects of abuse.
For more advice on healing from abuse, you can find Resilient People on Amazon.