In the U.S. alone, the number of adults who were sexually or physically abused as children is in the millions. According to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, somewhere between 12 and 40 percent of our population are victims of some sort of sexual abuse. Twelve percent of girls report being sexually abused between 9th and 12th grade. And it isn't just happening to girls. When non-sexual physical abuse is added to the mix the numbers escalate precipitously. The tragedies associated with this kind of physical and sexual abuse are innumerable. and a brief look at some of the common traits found in adult survivors of abuse is a helpful and sobering starting point.
Survivors of childhood physical and sexual abuse tend to have significant or chronic pain throughout their adult lives. The pain can be gastrointestinal or musculoskeletal, with particular hot spots in the back, pelvis and head. Other physical ailments associated with abuse include eating disorders, obesity and sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, allergies, asthma and, of course, addictions.
There is a wide range of psychological and emotional problems that tend to follow victims of childhood physical and sexual abuse well into adulthood. Some of these symptoms mirror the kinds of struggles war veterans have with post traumatic stress disorder. Other effects fall under the larger umbrella of depression and anxiety. Worse yet are the behaviors related to self-injury or even suicide attempts. Victims of childhood abuse are often incapable of having intimate relationships, and when problems emerge in their lives they are more apt to mishandle them by lying, stealing or running away.
Negative and Distorted Views
The internal world of abuse victims even years after the abuse has ended can be torturous and filled with negative and self-directed thoughts. Most common among these thoughts are shame, feelings of isolation, depression, mistrust of others, anxiety,unfocused anger and a lack of peace. One study cited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests as many as 80 percent of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21.
Cycle of Violence
Perhaps most tragic of all is the fact that victims of childhood physical or sexual abuse are much more likely to become perpetrators of the same behaviors to which they fell prey as children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services believes as many as one-third of abused children will become abusers. And it isn't only other children they will abuse; they may also abuse drugs and alcohol. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that two-thirds of the people in drug and alcohol treatment programs were victims of child abuse.
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