Silva Neves Specialist Psychotherapy in Central London W1 & EC1



Sexual Trauma: Survivors of childhood sexual abuse #01

Sexual abuse in childhood

Childhood sexual abuse has tremendous long-term emotional, psychological, sexual and relational effects on the survivor. Healing from childhood sexual abuse is possible.

The impact of child sexual abuse in adult survivors are:
  • Low self-esteem or self-hatred
  • Depression
  • Guilt, shame and blame. Survivors often feel guilty because they think they attracted the abuser, or they made no attempts to stop it. They can also feel a lot of shame because they experienced physical pleasure when erogenous zones were touched.
  • Sleep disturbance. The trauma of sexual abuse may create a lot of anxiety, which disturbs sleep. The bedroom may also be a traumatic place if the abuse occurred in the child's own bed.
  • Lack of trust for anyone. Many survivors were betrayed by the very people that were supposed to love and care for them (family, teachers, etc.) who insisted they loved them even whilst abusing them. It is not surprising that learning to trust someone as an adult can be extremely difficult.
  • Re-victimisation. Many survivors find themselves in abusive relationships or dangerous situations.
  • Flashbacks. Many survivors re-experience the sexual abuse as if it were occurring in the present moment. This is usually accompanied by images of the abuse. These flashbacks are often triggered by an event, every day actions such as the touch of a hand, or smells that remind the survivor of the sexual abuse.
  • Dissociation. This is a process where the mind detaches itself from the experience because it is too much to process at the time. This loss of connection to thoughts and feelings is a coping mechanism, but it can affect the survivors' life by repressing feelings.
  • Sexuality and intimacy problems. Many survivors have to deal with the trauma that their first sexual experience was an abuse. Survivors can have sexual dysfunctions such as vaginismus (impossible to have penetrative sex), erectile dysfunction, sexual shame. Gay men who have been abused by men in childhood may also experience a lot of shame about their sexual orientation. Heterosexual men that have been abused by men may feel that their masculinity has been compromised. Survivors also experience difficulties being intimate with their partners as adults.

    'I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival' Audre Lorde


    Adult survivors of sexual abuse use coping mechanisms to attempt to soothe their trauma. Some of the coping mechanisms are:
  • Grieving for a childhood that they never had: innocence, nurture, warmth, safety, positive relationships with family members. During their grieving they may experience deep sadness, jealousy and intense anger. These feelings may go inwards (self-hatred and depression) or outwards (blaming their partners, projecting anger onto others, pushing people away in order to avoid intimacy).
  • Alcohol and drugs. Substances can act as an escape from intense feelings, especially when experiencing terror and helplessness.
  • Eating disorder. A compulsive control of food intake can be a way to take back control over their body, the control that was denied in the abuse.
  • Self-harm. Burning or cutting the skin are some ways for a survivor to relieve intense anxiety triggered by memories of the abuse.

    As a psychosexual & relationship therapist and a trauma therapist, I often work with the trauma of sexual abuse, and I have seen change and healing happen before my eyes.
    It is important not to stay silent. It is important to heal. Healing is possible. When it happens, it is the most precious gift that you can give to yourself and an act of love to your body.

    'Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten' G.K.Chesterton







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