There can be serious trauma that follows childhood abuse.
Research has shown at least 26 per cent of Canadians experienced childhood physical abuse, Statistics Canada noted in 2014. The majority of childhood abuse survivors (65 per cent) reported being abused between one and six times, while 20 per cent said they were abused seven to 21 times.
And in a majority of these cases, most survivors (67 per cent) didn’t tell anyone the details of their abuse, including family and friends.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Dr. Jillian Roberts, founder of Family Sparks and an associate professor at the University of Victoria, said adults who experienced childhood abuse often experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as adults.
“These symptoms include nightmares and flashbacks of the abuse,” she explained. “Adults also avoid situations that reminded them of the abuse and this avoidance behaviour can be very problematic.”
Licenced marriage and family therapist Dr. Susanne Babbel previously wrote in Psychology Today that child-abuse trauma can be lingering. She added child abuse can result in PTSD for a number of reasons.
“The degree of the threat, the developmental state of the child or even the response to the abuse can all play a role. For instance, an elevated heart rate post-abuse has been documented as increasing the likelihood that the victim will later suffer from PTSD,” she wrote.
Roberts added some adults can also become hyper-vigilant, often expecting something in their life to go wrong.
Coping with the trauma
Coping isn’t always clear-cut either, as some people are able to manage their PTSD, while others have a harder time accepting their past. For starters, Roberts said all survivors should know they did nothing wrong.
“A hundred per of cent of the blame goes to the abuser,” she explained. “In order to process the traumatic experiences, it is often helpful to speak with a trained mental-health professional.”
Look into benefits and resources
Some companies offer employee assistance programs or extended health benefits that cover counselling. “Alternatively, you can speak to your family doctor and seek a referral to a therapeutically oriented psychiatrist,” Roberts said.
“It can be helpful to go to counselling with your loved one or loved ones in order to receive couple-based or family-based therapy.”
Avoid indulging in drugs and alcohol
It is common for adult survivors of childhood abuse to seek comfort and numbing in drugs and alcohol, but this could also be detrimental for people who can’t control their intake.
Avoid turning to drugs and alcohol for comfort, Roberts said. Instead, reach out to a person you can talk to.
Find yourself closure
Experts like social worker Robert Taibbi previously wrote that finding some type of closure can also help survivors heal.
“You want to begin to heal some of the trauma by trying to create closure, expressing what you could not express at the time,” he wrote in Psychology Today.
He recommended writing a letter to someone, addressing what you couldn’t say in the past.
“Then write a second letter, from them to you, saying what it is you most want them to say — that they are sorry, that it wasn’t your fault, that they loved you. Make the letters as detailed as possible, and allow yourself to write down whatever comes to mind.”
Step out of your comfort zone
Taibbi also suggested stepping out of your usual comfort zones. “Speak up rather than being passive, open up and lean in rather than being closed and isolated, focus on the present rather than constantly looking ahead to the frightening future, or experiment with letting go of anger and control.”
Roberts added trauma can result in survivors feeling terrible about themselves, as well as making meaningful relationships with others. “They may also struggle to understand how to set healthy interpersonal boundaries.”
Don’t lose hope
Roberts said it is important to know that there is hope. “Approximately one out of four people experience abuse and many of these people survive and have healthy and positive outcomes.”
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.