Impact of childhood abuse on mental health. Find best counselling centres in Mumbai.

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Opening A Pandora’s Box- People Who Have Faced Abuse in Childhood

Whenever we think of the term abuse a lot of emotions come crawling in our mind and it can be terrifying, numbing, or a freezing thought. We tend to avoid talking about the topic as much possible, thinking that if we start talking about it, it might bring up too many emotions or feelings which we DON’T want to experience AGAIN. Thinking about merely revisiting that space is traumatic.

People who have faced abuse in childhood may have an impact on their body and mind even today, because abuse of any kind is like a scar on our body, just not visible (in many cases) but whenever we sense it, we remember it. It is like a nightmare which we want to forget or a memory that needs to be hushed.

Abuse has many shades to it, and it can appear like neglect or isolation on the surface. We may not have heard a person being abused when surrounded with caring and safe people. Isolation is one of the precipitating factors for abuse to take place because perpetrators pick up on isolated individuals who don’t have adult supervision and try to build trust in the minor, this as per research is called “Grooming”.

It can be furthermore jarring for a child who have not expressed, and it would feel like the world is collapsing and they need to deal with it alone. Their thoughts could sound like, “What if I tell my parents and they don’t believe me?”, “What if I am blamed or shouted upon?”, “What if they tell me that it’s my fault?”, “I will be held responsible if relations break”, “I can’t disappoint my parents”. These thoughts come up because the child is already having trust issues and is feeling isolated and from the family/adults around, which stops the child to raise this concern.

Abuse of any kind can change a person’s behaviour and can lead to developing behavioural and thought patterns. Person might start protecting themselves and the loved ones extensively, making them appear distant and unapproachable. Usually this happens when the person also has a younger sibling or someone who could potentially face the threat from the abuser, and they look overprotective towards them.

Like mentioned above, abuse is complex, people go through Emotional, Physical, and lastly Sexual abuse and it makes the individual see the world and people around them differently.

If a person has been emotionally, physically or sexually abused in childhood by someone from the family and if this has not been addressed to an elder, then either the person might be overly distant and hate them, but will still have to maintain relations because it’s a family member OR if the person has informed about the abuse to a trusted elder and if no action has been taken then the person might tend to normalize it by saying “…but isn’t it common it has happened so many times to me that it just feels normal”, and would also generalize it for oneself and others too while growing up.

The one abused may grow up to accepting people who may have violated their respect as they tend to normalize abuse even in romantic relationships, as it is something that they experienced growing up. Many individuals in an abusive relationship may confuse abuse with “Love” as they grew up internalizing what they heard around them and might believe that they deserve it.

When we see individuals with such characteristics it is important to understand that they are not doing this because they are liking it. They are being in such relations because they haven’t experienced anything otherwise. Like for most of us change can feel scary and we tend to live in the familiarity even if it is extremely uncomfortable. We might think- “Yes, change is difficult but living in such an environment is even more difficult”. Yes, you are right, but they don’t have the insight for this as this is their “Normal”.

Characteristics of a survivor:

  • Person having multiple unstable romantic/sexual relationships
  • People distancing themselves from forming any relationship.
  • Having issues trusting anyone apart from themselves or few close ones as it can feel like moving a mountain to trust someone again
  • People might be emotionally unavailable
  • Fear of being in a relationship because it might involve getting intimate emotionally and sexually which could be agonizing for them, as they would either hate the thought of intimacy or their body might just reject the act. This could also appear like a condition. This happen because your body is trying to protect itself.

If an adult who may have faced abuse in childhood is triggered in present could have Mental responses like having nightmares, the person might have a flight, fight, or freeze response. Physical responses to trigger may look like stomach related issues, sweating, panic or anxiety attack, immobility (freeze) and shivering.

Issues in Attachment Styles- insecure, anxious, and avoidant attachment can be seen in relationships which cause difficulty in maintaining a healthy relationship with their partner or people around them.

To change such patterns, know that trauma doesn’t leave your body, it can have similar impact even today as before, hence working on it will help. One can seek professional help from a Mental Health Professional (MPH) who will be empathetic and understanding towards it. There are MHP’s who are specially trained in this sector.

Lastly, how can we provide space and support for an individual to come and just talk without being judgemental or interrogative? How can we provide system of safety and support for survivors? How do we assure that we believe in them?

Let’s learn to really listen and be empathetic towards people it may help everyone around us.

Also read, How to raise awareness for children’s mental health? Find the best child psychiatrist/psychologist near you.

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