For the Adult Survivor

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Survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience a wide range of reactions. It is important for you to know that what you are feeling is okay. Your reactions are your own way of coping with the crime committed against you. There is no standard response. You may experience a few, none, or all of the following:

  • Setting Limits/Boundaries: Because your personal boundaries were invaded when you were young by someone you trusted and depended on, you may have trouble understanding that you have the right to control what happens to you.
  • Memories/ Flashbacks: Like many survivors, you may experience flashbacks.
  • Anger: This is often the most difficult emotion for an adult to get in touch with. As a child, your anger was powerless and had little to no effect on the actions of your abuser. For this reason you may not feel confident that you anger will be useful or helpful.
  • Grieving/ Mourning: Being abused as a child means the loss of many things – childhood experiences, trust, innocence, normal relationships with family members (especially if the abuser was a family member). You must be allowed to name those losses, grieve them, and then bury them.
  • Guilt, Shame, and Blame: You may carry a lot of guilt because you may have experienced pleasure or because you did not try to stop the abuse. There may have been silence surrounding the abuse that led to feelings of shame. It is important for you to understand it was the adult who abused their position of authority and should be held accountable, not you.
  • Trust: Learning to trust again may be very difficult for you. You may find that you go from one extreme to the other, not trusting at all to trusting too much.
  • Coping Skills: You have undoubtedly developed skills in order to cope with the trauma. Some of these are healthy (possibly separating yourself from family members, seeking out counseling, etc.). Some are not (drinking or drug abuse, promiscuous sexual activity, etc.).
  • Self-esteem/Isolation: Low self-esteem is a result of all of the negative messages you received and internalized from your abusers.
  • Intimacy: Because entering into an intimate relationship involves trust, respect, love, and the ability to share, you may flee from intimacy or hold on too tightly for fear of losing the relationship.
  • Sexuality: You likely have to deal with the fact that your first initiation into sex came as a result of sexual abuse. You may experience the return of body memories while engaging in a sexual activity with another person. Such memories may interfere in your ability to engage in sexual relationships, which may leave you feeling frightened, frustrated, or ashamed.

Adapted from and materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.