As a therapist that specializes in the treatment of trauma, many of the clients I work with, experienced child abuse growing up. Something that I have found over the years is how many of my clients do not realize that their childhood experiences are considered abuse. So how come child abuse is not the issue that initially brought them in?
The Types of Child Abuse
I think that much of the general population may not know exactly what child abuse is and about the different types. There are four types of child abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. According to the CDC, 2020, to be considered physical abuse, the child must be younger than eighteen-years-old and his or her caregiver had to intentionally injure the child. This type of abuse can result in internal injuries, bruises, welts, and fractures. The abuse can be physically inflicted on the child by shaking, biting, submerging, strangulation, and burning him or her and the child’s skin may show signs of external injury resulting from these.
Emotional abuse is considered non-physical abuse and it involves behaviors that are harmful to the child’s well-being and self-worth (CDC, 2020). If the caregiver struggles with acknowledging and validating the child, then the environment he or she is raising the child in is lacking support. Emotional abuse can be verbal, such as putting the child down and threatening and ridiculing the child along with inhibiting the child’s movement.
Neglect, another form of abuse, is when the caregiver is not sufficiently meeting the child’s basic emotional and physical needs (CDC, 2020). The parent may be struggling to provide the child with the bare necessities, such as education, shelter, and emotional development.
The last form of abuse, child sexual abuse, is when a child is forced or pressured to engage in sexual acts (CDC, 2020).
The Effects of Child Abuse
Child abuse can have physical, behavioral, psychological, sexual, and reproductive consequences on a child’s health. First, the child may show physical signs of abuse shortly after it is inflicted in the form of bruises, burns, scars, welts, fractures, eye damage, and disability. The child can also experience chronic pain, lacerations, and abrasions. There are also sexual and reproductive consequences that are the result of the abuse, including being exposed to and contracting sexually transmitted diseases, problems with reproductive health, pregnancy that is not wanted, and sexual dysfunction. Child abuse can also have behavioral consequences for the child. Along with alcohol and drug abuse, the child is at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder, such as emotional eating or restricting one’s food consumption. Emotional eating can develop into a method for self-soothing and food restriction can give the survivor a sense of control over his or her life even though these effects can be detrimental to the child’s health. The abuse can also increase the likelihood of the child engaging in more risk-taking behaviors or becoming more violent and aggressive since the child may be using that to deter others from bothering him or her in the future. Child abuse can also negatively affect the child’s psychological health. Cognitive impairment can develop, including having difficulty paying attention and there is also an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety.
Child abuse often has long-term consequences that last into adulthood. Some of these consequences that I commonly see are depression, interpersonal issues, relationship issues, trust issues, low self-esteem, and difficulty with boundaries. Oftentimes, adults that were sexually abused as children grow up feeling like they are different, that something is wrong with them, they are damaged, that it was their fault, or that they should have done something. They may struggle with romantic relationships in their adult life where they will pick people that are abusive or struggle with being in a relationship because of difficulties with trusting people. Child sexual abuse can also lead to confusion since the adults in their lives that were supposed to be the ones to protect them and keep them safe become the perpetrators. It damages one’s sense of safety that can carry into adulthood. Also, when someone grows up with negative core beliefs that they are damaged or something is wrong with them, they will interact in the world and view themselves through these lenses.
Risk Factors to Child Abuse
There are several risk factors that can increase a child’s vulnerability to victimization by predators. A child with some type of disability can make him or her more at risk of being sexually assaulted because of the physical and mental barriers he or she may face. If they are physically challenged, there is more reliance on their caretakers and greater loss of independence. Furthermore, there may be communication barriers and not having the vocabulary to communicate the abuse or if there are emotional and behavioral problems, people may be less prone to believe them. Other factors that increase a child’s vulnerability are a child who has family problems, low self-confidence, low self-esteem, and who is at a younger age. Also, perpetrators will pick children who are isolated and easily accessible since these will be the children that are more easily groomed.
If you are reading this and feel like anything in this post pertains to you, please know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is possible to heal from the wounds from our past. If you are somebody that may have experienced these things as a child and want help processing it, I would suggest individual therapy, group therapy and EMDR. I would suggest utilizing Psychology Today to find a trauma trained individual therapist. Group therapy can be very healing because you feel accepted and are surrounded by a group of your peers that have had similar experiences.
Growing Yourself Back Up by John H. Lee
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect |Violence Prevention |Injury Center| CDC. (2020, April 07). Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/fastfact.html