The impact of abuse in childhood

Abuse in childhood can mean neglect, or it can be physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The effects of such abuse may last a short time or can impact heavily on many aspects of your adult life. They include poor physical or mental health, low self-esteem, difficulties with relationships or intimacy, self-harming and trauma symptoms. A longer list is give at the end of this post.

In the end, though, this is not only about symptoms and labels. It is about how you feel as a person.

Abuse online and in the media

When an adult has experienced abuse as a child, this is sometimes called historical or non-recent abuse. In recent years, there has been much more awareness and discussion of this, especially on-line and in the media. It may be helpful to know that others have come forward, been heard and received support. But it is also important that you don’t compare your situation to the high profile cases we see on the news. All abuse is potentially damaging. If you faced abuse in childhood, you deserve support if you want it, just like anybody else.

Talking about abuse in childhood

If someone abused or exploited you, it may still very feel difficult to talk about it a long time afterwards. ​ The same applies to any situation where you feel you were mistreated by a parent, carer or someone you trusted. You should not feel pressured to talk about your experiences. It is your decision.

If you do decide to talk about being abused, it is natural to be worried about this. For example, you might fear that your feelings will become overwhelming or confusing. Or you may worry that no one will believe you. Possibly you want to protect another person. Or maybe you secretly think you were to blame. There is often shame attached which needs to be named and worked through.

But it is possible to heal emotionally and to take back control of whatever is stopping you lead the life you want. This will almost certainly be gradual and take time. Counselling along with improving self-care can be part of that process.

If you are considering counselling…

Counselling gives you a safe and private space where you can begin to talk about how you have been affected by your experiences. My approach to therapy already takes account of the need to work with childhood trauma. This is central to what I do as a counsellor. That means that from my point of view, therapy is just therapy. We do not need to do anything different or special if you tell me you were abused.

Feelings of anger, guilt or shame are quite usual. It is important that we address these. However, it is up to you whether or not you explain what actually happened. Counselling also gives you the opportunity to think about whether you want to talk to anyone else about the abuse, such as relatives, friends, advisers or the police.  

Perhaps most importantly though is the therapeutic value for yourself. The goal is that you feel better about yourself and more able to live the life you want. If you think therapy might help, please contact me. If paying for it is difficult, ask me about a reduced fee, so that you can get the help you want. 

Difficulties associated with having been abused as a child

Poor physical health, especially chronic or long term conditions Self harming behaviours
and suicidal thoughts
Disturbing or confusing thoughts, feelings and memories Finding relationships or communication difficult
Emotional difficulties such as anger, sadness, mood swings or shame Difficulties with intimacy or sex
A negative view of yourself or low self-esteem Behavioural problems
Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or trauma symptoms such as flashbacks or dissociation
Difficulties with substance use or addiction

Further information

NSPCC – information about ‘non-recent’ abuse

Other people’s experiences of child sexual abuse shared with the Truth Project, which is part of the UK’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)