The impact of abuse on children doesn’t end when the abuse stops. There is an increasing awareness of the many effects of child abuse, many of which last a lifetime. According to the website Adults Surviving Child Abuse, “Approximately 35% to 70% of female mental health patients on being questioned self-report a childhood history of abuse (Briere, 2004).”
A child’s world revolves around the parent(s). Children depend on the parent(s) for safety, security, love, understanding, nurturing and support. “Child abuse violates the trust that is at the heart of the child’s relationship with the world (Walker, 1994),” states the article Impacts of Child Abuse. “When this primary relationship is one of betrayal, a negative schema or set of beliefs develops. This negative core schema, that a survivor adopts, can fundamentally affect an individual’s capacity to establish and sustain significant attachments throughout life. Survivors often experience conflictual relationships and chaotic lifestyles, frequently report difficulties forming adult intimate attachments and display behaviours that threaten and disrupt close relationships (Henderson, 2006).”
For survivors of childhood abuse, frequent crises may be the norm in their lives, including:
- problems with maintaining employment
- relationship problems
- financial problems
Why would problems like these be common among survivors of abuse? The article explains, “Many survivors function in ‘crisis mode’, responding with stopgap measures which fail to resolve the underlying issues. This can be both exhausting and dispiriting and can contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (The Morris Center, 1995).” The article cites a study by Draper et al. (2007), which found that child abuse survivors demonstrate:
- Poor mental health: They are almost two and a half times as likely to have poor mental health outcomes.
- Unhappiness: They are four times more likely to be unhappy even in much later life.
- Poor physical health: They are more likely to have poor physical health.
The study also found that childhood physical and sexual abuse contribute to:
- Medical diseases: It increases the risk of having three or more medical diseases, including cardiovascular events in women.
- Relationship problems: It causes a higher prevalence of broken relationships, lower rates of marriage in late life.
- Isolation/social disconnection: It causes lower levels of social support and an increased risk of living alone.
- Behavioural health effects: It is associated with suicidal behaviour, increased likelihood of smoking, substance abuse, and physical inactivity.
Read the entire article to learn more about the research that shows high prevalence of mental and physical health and addiction issues among survivors of childhood abuse.
So, does this mean there is no hope that a survivor can have a healthy and happy life? Certainly not! The article goes on to say, “If you were abused as a child, the long-term effects can interfere with your day-to-day functioning. However, it is possible to live a full and constructive life, and even thrive — to enjoy a feeling of wholeness, satisfaction in your life and work as well as genuine love and trust in your relationships and more. Understanding the relationship between your abuse and your current behaviour is the first step towards ‘recovery’.”
What does this mean for the church and for individuals?
- If you are a survivor and haven’t sought help to deal with the lingering effects of abuse, it’s not too late. Find a trusted professional who can point you in the right direction to get help and deal with the trauma you experienced.
- If you have abused a child, work with a professional, confess the abuse and get your family and child the professional help he/she needs to deal with the trauma experienced.
- If you are a care provider of someone who has been abused, be aware of resources and be ready to refer individuals to resources in your community so they can get the professional help they need.
- If you are a congregation supporting abuse survivors, walk with them, listen to them, believe them and support them as they work through past trauma. Encourage them to seek out professional support and know what is available in your community.
Finally, together, we all need to strive to end the silence around abuse that allows children to continue to suffer alone and causes adult survivors of abuse to bury past hurts for decades — and sometimes a lifetime.
As difficult as it can be for individuals, families, and churches to confront abuse, especially when it occurs among us, bringing abuse out into the open is key to prevention and healing.