What are the effects of sexual abuse?
"But my abuse happened years ago. Can it really affect me now?" Most likely it does. The long-term effects of sexual abuse can be quite pervasive, touching many different aspects of your life.
Relationships with others are frequently affected as survivors often have difficulty trusting others. This leads to difficulties in establishing and maintaining satisfying relationships, especially intimate relationships. Some survivors avoid dating relationships, while others have frequent, sexually intense relationships. Survivors may question their sexual orientation, especially if they were exposed to frequent sexual experiences by a perpetrator of the same gender. Women who have been abused by men may fear men and turn to other women for comfort and intimacy, and the same is true for men. In addition to dating relationships, relationships with friends are affected. The survivor's deep seated feelings of shame and guilt makes it difficult for them to believe that anyone would really want them as a friend.
Survivors are affected on an individual level as well. Many survivors struggle with feelings of inferiority and self-loathing. As a survivor, you may struggle with depression, have strong urges to harm yourself, or perhaps have difficulty expressing anger appropriately. Additionally, survivors may have unexplained physical problems or symptoms associated with their emotional state.
Many survivors try to deal with their pain in ways that can become problematic. One common reaction is to compulsively seek or avoid sex. Eating disorders are also common among survivors of sexual abuse, as are drug and alcohol addictions.
A survivor's relationship with God can be affected in far reaching ways. "Where was God when this was happening to me?" is a question that all survivors ask themselves, although they may be afraid to voice their spiritual doubts and struggles to the rest of the Christian community. Abuse that has been perpetrated by a member of the Christian community or in connection with the church can cause a survivor to doubt God's love or even God's reality. Many survivors feel angry with God, and feel disconnected from their faith, even though they may appear deeply religious to others.
However, it is important to remember that not all survivors are affected in the same way, nor does each survivor experience all possible symptoms of abuse. The way a person experiences the effects of sexual abuse is influenced by their own unique personality style, the particular circumstances of their abuse, their relationship to the person who abused them, and many other factors.
However, regardless of how have been effected by abuse, healing is possible!