Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

Child abuse is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy that has long-term consequences throughout adulthood.

(In the illustration, the alcoholic adult was abused as a child, and his son suffers the trauma of watching his parent pass out from alcohol).

We believe we are living in modern times. One implication is that our lives have vastly improved compared to the past. When I was a youngster, I loved reading Charles Dickens’ books. Those novels centered on poverty and the desperate lives of poor people, especially children. It is abundantly clear that things have improved little for some people. Many financially secure families suffer through the horror of abuse. Children are among those who suffer the most from that abuse. It is the horror of Charles Dickens’s novels again.

We now know that abuse at any age leads to mental and physical health problems.

The Potential Consequences of Childhood Abuse: Physical Illness in Adulthood

Several horrifying circumstances and behaviors cause child abuse and trauma. Some of these are: 

  • physical abuse, 
  • neglect, 
  • sexual abuse, and 
  • emotional abuse
  • abandonment 
  • parental substance use 
  • human trafficking  
  • neglect 

The sad fact is that some children do not survive into adulthood. 

Religious Rationalizations for Abuse:

I have seen cases where parents, especially the father, abuse the child. Still, the father or both parents deny it was abuse. They used the whole time saying, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

Verbal Abuse:

Child abuse occurs when one or both parents curse at the children and blame them for everything. Then there are sometimes welts and scars that can be seen. These are the cases where the scars are invisible. Why mirrors physical abuse? 

In cases of verbal and emotional abuse, the scars are not visible. Rather, the abused child was chronically sick with many viruses. In addition, many of these children become socially avoidant. Some children show their emotional scars by bullying other children in school.

Parental Abuse Against Each Other:

There are cases of child abuse when children witness the parents attacking each other physically and verbally. It is extremely traumatic for the children and just as traumatic as they were abused.

More Cases of Abuse:

  1. There was a case of a young female college student who came to therapy because she felt depressed. He took a year of therapy before she felt safe enough to talk about her being raped in college. She was at a party where everyone was drinking, and she had some drinks too. She met a guy who she liked, and they were both drinking. He took her back to her room, and she couldn’t remember much afterward. The next morning she realized she had been raped, and before she was raped, or drinks were drugged. When she told her mother about it, how mother did not believe her.
  2. There was the case of the junior high school student who was homeless and slept in the back of a truck so we had a place to stay. He ate in the school cafeteria but rarely went to classes.
  3. Where was the case of the 11-year-old boy diagnosed as having mental retardation. He grew up in an abusive home. Child therapy with the mother for one year resulted in test results. IQ test results where his IQ turned out to be in the normal range.
  4. There was a family therapy case. They came to the office without their children. There were two sisters. One was the mother of two children, one of whom was a female child. Her husband, the child’s father, would disappear from their bed at night, and she soon realized that she was raping their daughter. But she was too afraid to do anything about it.

These are anonymous cases from many years ago. Names and locations are mirrored, so there was no way of identifying who they were. And these cases were from long ago.

Childhood is a phase of development during which exposure to traumatic experiences like abuse can have long-term effects. Those effects extend into adulthood. Most people understand the psychological effects of child abuse. But a growing body of evidence shows that these experiences can influence physical health. This blog post will explore the connection between childhood abuse and physical illness in adulthood. 

Three things must be emphasized.

  • Adult survivors of child abuse are unaware they will have any physical problems.
  • Not everyone who suffered child abuse will develop physical illnesses resulting from the abuse.
  • That someone becomes ill during adulthood does not mean they were abused.

Many children who survive child abuse can develop health problems. According to medical research, prolonged exposure to stress hormones causes wear and tear on the body. Over time, this can lead to serious and deadly health problems.

Here are some of the physical health problems that research has associated with a history of childhood abuse:

  1. Chronic Pain Conditions include migraines, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
  2. Childhood abuse linked to heart disease.
  3. Childhood trauma can lead to IBS, functional dyspepsia, and other gastrointestinal disorders.
  4. Childhood abuse increases the risk of asthma and other respiratory disorders.
  5. Childhood abuse has been linked to obesity in adulthood.
  6. Adults abused as children may be at risk for autoimmune diseases.
  7. Sleep Disorders: Sleep problems, including insomnia and sleep apnea, can be more common among adults who were abused as children.

Several factors can prevent health problems from happening. These factors include supportive relationships, especially from family members. Those who suffered child abuse but did not become ill during adulthood described how a loving grandparent gained custody of the child. That grandparent raised the children, legally adopting them. 

 People who were abused in childhood also developed mental health problems. A long list of mental health problems results from surviving abuse at any age. Among these are PTSD, depression, acute symptoms of anxiety and panic, addiction, and suicide. Harmful coping mechanisms like substance abuse can compound the risk of physical health problems.

Again, it’s crucial to note that correlation does not imply causation. Many factors contribute to developing health issues, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices. These associations suggest that childhood abuse might increase the risk of these health problems. Still, they don’t prove that abuse directly causes these conditions.

If you know of child abuse, call child protective services where you live.

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