Psychological Effects on Adults Abused As Children

Written by martin b. rivers
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Psychological Effects on Adults Abused As Children
Unresolved childhood abuse manifests as anxiety in adults. (John Howard/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The psychological effects on adults abused as children range from psychosis, depression and anxiety through addictions and post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development show that failing to master early stages -- often because of abuse -- causes maladaptive behaviours and impaired emotional capacity in the adult. According to the late psychologist Dr. Harry Harlow, a child who is unloved by age 5 may never learn to love at all.

Effects on Parenting

The inability to bond, nurture or love his child may be part of an abused parent's struggles. A parent with post-traumatic stress disorder may neglect or physically or emotionally abuse a child who's in need or crying. A sexually abused parent, especially untreated men, tend to sexually abuse children. A narcissistic parent can see the child as an object for his own self-aggrandisement or reverse roles by depending on the child to meet her needs.

Effects on Relationships

Fearful of closeness, the adult abused as a child keeps people at arm's length. In relationships, he isolates, withdraws, is emotionally unavailable, doesn't express his feelings, and may be suspicious and blaming of loved ones. Ever fearful of betrayal, he does not trust. Low self-esteem, fear of ridicule and a need to please override authentic expression that may be interpreted as passivity and manipulation.


Childhood abuse undermines belief in one's self, the ability to succeed in life and to achieve goals. Erikson's model shows children who don't receive support, approval or encouragement develop into adults with self-doubt, guilt and lack of initiative. They have feelings of inadequacy, lack confidence and doubt their ability to be successful Underachieving and lethargy are often present with depression and despair, and the adult believes seeking help is futile.

OCD and Addictions

Obsessive-compulsive behaviours such as eating disorders, counting, cleaning, intrusive thoughts and criminal acts are effects from abuse. This extends to addictions of alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography and sex offending. Depression and anxiety are prevalent in adults with a history of abuse, often resulting in rage, paranoia, suicidal ideation or domestic violence. Efforts to control these impulses or avoid situations imagined or real are seen in workaholics, religiosity, blame, addictions and efforts to control.

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