Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

April 18th, 2012


April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The first Federal child protection legislation was passed in 1974 and growing awareness of child abuse and child welfare continued to develop through the 80s and 90s. My practice includes adults who are survivors of child abuse who grew up during these time periods. While much of Child Abuse Prevention Month is focused on the well-being of today’s families, it’s a good opportunity to share information and resources for adult survivors too.

Child abuse shows up in a number of different forms: physical, sexual, emotional, and now child neglect is recognized as a form of abuse as well. The common thread among these is the emotional harm that children go through. Adult survivors have the task of understanding and making sense of their history and finding the things that help them heal. Here are a few resources.

Knowing You are Not Alone

It can be extremely helpful to read the memoirs and stories of other adults who have survived abuse. You get a chance to see how they have navigated these waters, with their own mistakes and triumphs.

Good Self-Care

There’s an acronym I like to share with clients called SELF: Sleep, Exercise, Laughter and Food. These are the foundations of self-care. Some symptoms of depression and anxiety can be alleviated by consistent self-care, and the ones that cannot be alleviated will help give you (and a therapist, if you have one) a road map for where to work on things.

Trustworthy People

It’s good to be around people you like and can trust. Sometimes this is easier said than done. When you’ve experienced abuse, trust and safety can be hard to come by. Therapy can be a good place to work on this. A well-trained therapist will strive to provide a safe environment for trust to develop between the two of you. Finding a support group can be a good addition or alternative. Also, getting involved with an activity, perhaps sports or volunteer-related, can be a nice way to develop connections that are focused on a common interest.

Spending Time With Yourself

Learning mindfulness meditation, practicing yoga, going to a prayer service, walking in nature. All of these cultivate the relationship with yourself and help to tolerate and understand your own thoughts, emotions and sensations.

It’s Not Your Fault

Part of the emotional harm that comes from child abuse is thinking that you are responsible for what happened to you. It’s just not true. You may have found ways to adapt and manage pain that are no longer serving you, and part of the work in therapy is unraveling these adaptions and finding new, creative ways of living.

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