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Effects of Child Abuse


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Effects of Child Abuse
The effects of abuse result from the abuse itself, from the family's response to the situation, and from the stigmatization that accompanies abuse.

The symptoms can include post-traumatic symptoms, precocious sexualization, depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, sexual dysfunction, dissociative symptoms, eating disorders, substance abuse, suicide (attempts and actual), prostitution, regressive behaviors such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, runaway behavior, and academic and behavior problems.

Factors that influence the outcomes in cases of childhood sexual abuse include the age of the victim, the frequency and extent of the abuse, the relationship of the victim to the abuser (incest has the worst outcomes), the use of force, the presence of severe injury, and the number of different perpetrators.

The response of the victim's family has a tremendous effect on the outcome. Supportive responses from the victims family and friends can go far to lessen the impact of the abuse while negative responses (seen commonly in cases of incest where one parent tries to protect the other parent) will compound the damage done.

Effects of child abuse include
Academic difficulties; Aggressive behavior; Alcohol and/or other drug abuse; Anxiety; Attention problems; Bad dreams; Bed wetting; Behavior problems; Chronic pain; Compulsive sexual behaviors; Concentration problems; Dangerous behavior such as speeding; Dehydration; Depression; Dissociative states; Eating disorders; Failure to thrive; Fear or shyness; Fear of certain adults or places; Frequent injuries; Insomnia; Learning problems; Lying; Malnutrition; Oppositionality; Panic attacks; Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches; Repeated self-injury; Risky sexual behaviors; Running away; Self neglect; Separation anxiety; Sexual dysfunction; Sleep disorders; Social withdrawal; Stealing; Stuttering; Substance abuse; Suicide attempts; Suicide; Thumb-sucking or any age-inappropriate behavior; Truancy.

Children Blame Themselves for Their Abuse
Children suffering abuse develop a range of maladaptive, anti-social and self-destructive behaviors and thoughts by trying to cope with the abuse - by trying to understand the situation and why the abuse is happening.

Think of it like this: a person is robbed and beaten while walking down the street at night. In trying to deal with the situation, the person thinks, "I shouldn't have walked down that street," or "I shouldn't have been there at that time of night," or "I should have walked with more confidence," or "I shouldn't have made eye contact," or "I should have given in quicker," or "I should have fought back," or any number of other ideas. The point is the person feels a sense of control over the situation if they can blame themselves or something they did for the attack. Instead of the world being a dangerous place where violence occurs at random, the world becomes a safe place within certain behavioral parameters.

Children experience the same kinds of thoughts when they suffer abuse, except they are much more immature and often make much less sense because the violence is occurring in their own family, and nothing makes sense in that situation. And the abuse suffered by children occurs much more frequently.

By coming up with ideas about what they did to cause the abuse and what they can do differently to avoid the abuse, children also develop a range of maladaptive behaviors which can become pathological problems.

In addition to distorting children's thoughts, abuse also forces children into a position of having to 'hide the family secret'.

This prevents children from having real relationships and has life-long effects. And because our ability to form healthy social relationships is learned, abused children are deprived of many skills necessary to navigate the social world. Their entire concept of a relationship is distorted. This leads to problematic relationships in life and even on the job.

Another disturbing aspect of abuse is the experimental restraint it puts on children. If a
child fears doing anything new because of the chance that it will lead to a violent attack or because an abusive parent keeps extremely tight control over them, the child will lose his or her sense of curiosity and wonder at the world and will stop trying new things and exercising his or her mind. That child will never achieve his or her intellectual potential.

Another aspect of abuse which cannot be ignored is the physical stress it puts on a child. Multiple exposures to violence and trauma cause high stress. When a person experiences this stress over and over again, there are permanent physiological changes.

These changes can be seen as over-reactions to stimuli, as in being easily startled especially by things that remind the victim of the original event; generally being emotionally numb; craving high-risk, stimulating, or dangerous experiences or self-injury; suicide, difficulties in attention and concentration; cardiovascular problems; and immune system suppression.

There is a long list of outcomes for children experiencing abuse. They range from mild, almost unnoticeable personality effects to full-blown breakdowns in healthy functioning. The point is that abuse increases a child's risk of developing a number of health and psychological problems.


["Child Abuse: An Overview" was written by C. J. Newton, MA, Learning Specialist and published in the Find
Counseling.com (formerly TherapistFinder.net) Mental Health Journal in April, 2001.


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Child AbuseWatch (abusewatch.net).