The Effects on Adults Who Were Abused as Children

Updated April 17, 2017

The physical and emotional damage caused by child abuse can be devastating, and it can negatively affect one's adult life years later. The effects of abuse are indeed long-lasting, and often adults who were abused as children will require counselling to aid in their recovery.


Depression is a major effect of child abuse that often persists into adulthood. Children who were abused are often made to feel like they are worthless and that they do not deserve to have things that make them happy -- that feeling can easily persist throughout one's life. Low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of hopelessness are all symptoms of depression, and these symptoms can have disastrous results if they go untreated for long. Overall, depression plays a major part in whether or not an abuse survivor remains a victim for life in his or her own mind.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder. It can develop as a result of a frightening, threatening or highly unsafe traumatic experience. Adults who suffer from PTSD can re-experience the traumatic events in their minds, and therefore avoid things that "trigger" memories of the event, making them hypersensitive to some normal life experiences. PTSD has most likely existed for as long as there have been human beings to suffer emotional trauma, but it has only been recognised as a formal diagnosis since 1980. Studies of post-traumatic stress disorder have revealed that over 40 per cent of all people have suffered a traumatic event at some point, and up to 8 per cent of people will develop the disorder.

Relationship Difficulties

Adult survivors of child abuse, especially those who were sexually abused, often have difficulties in relationships. They may find it difficult to commit to relationships or to trust others, and they often feel lonely even when they are not alone. Survivors of sexual abuse also find it difficult to express themselves sexually. In fact, sex may feel like a chore or an obligation as opposed to something that should be enjoyed. They may also exhibit inappropriate or compulsive sexual behaviours. This may all be accompanied by feelings of guilt, anger or disgust even when there is no apparent reason to have these feelings.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders may also appear in adult survivors of child abuse. Everyone feels anxiety at some point, but having anxiety disorders means feeling full of anxiety at all times. Sufferers of anxiety disorders may always feel that an unavoidable disaster is around the corner, even when they know that their anxiety is worse than a situation realistically warrants. Physical symptoms may accompany a severe anxiety disorder, including fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, trembling and sweating. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders may also have trouble falling or staying asleep.

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