Long-term emotional impacts can accompany a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Although not all survivors will experience these issues, there are some common emotional themes experienced by those who do. These issues may be present all the time, or they may only occur from time to time. Large life events, such as marriages, divorces, births, and deaths may occasionally trigger these to occur or to worsen.1,2
Guilt and shame
Guilt and shame are two common emotions that can occur after CSA. Some individuals may feel as though the abuse was in some way their fault, or as if they could have prevented it from happening or continuing. These feelings, along with potential embarrassment, may prevent a survivor from disclosing what has happened.
Many survivors may feel as though the abuse was their fault or like they could have protected themselves or others. They may feel like they are to blame if they didn’t report the abuse sooner, or at all. Feelings of self-blame can often accompany shame and guilt, however, it’s important to remember that the abuse is never the fault of the survivor. Ever. CSA is a result of the perpetrators desires, and there are many valid reasons why an individual getting abused chooses not to disclose what has happened.
Minimization is a coping style used to repress or minimize negative experiences. Survivors of CSA may minimize or downplay the experiences of abuse by trying to forget the memory, or by convincing themselves that the abuse wasn’t as bad as it actually was. Minimization can be dangerous by not allowing individuals to deal with things. This can prevent survivors from disclosing abuse or seeking treatment, while still allowing the trauma to affect both the emotional and physical health of survivors.
CSA can make an individual feel as though they are not in control of their body and experiences. A survivor may also convince themselves that they deserved the abuse and that they are worthless. These feelings, along with other negative emotional impacts, can affect an individual’s self-worth and self-perception, leading to low self-esteem.
Difficulty with intimate relationships
Many of the negative emotional impacts of CSA can prevent an individual from creating and maintaining intimate relationships. Not being able to disclose a history of abuse to a partner, low self-esteem, and physical, sexual-related health effects, such as a lack of sexual desire or arousal, can all impact the quality of an individual’s intimate relationships.
Not all survivors will experience these long-term emotional impacts of CSA, however, if you or a loved one are experiencing any quality of life-impairing emotional issues, it is important to seek additional support. This support can often come in the form of counseling, individual or group therapy, and more.
- Hall M, Hall J. The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse: Counseling implications. American Counseling Association. https://www.counseling.org/docs/disaster-and-trauma_sexual-abuse/long-term-effects-of-childhood-sexual-abuse.pdf?sfvrsn=2. Published 2011. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Putnam, F. W. (2003). Ten-year research update review: Child sexual abuse. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 42(3), 269-278.
- Dube SR, Anda RF, et al. Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. Am J Prec Med. Jun 2005; 28(5), 430-8.
- Krayer A, Seddon D, Robinson CA, Gwilym H. The influence of child sexual abuse on the self from adult narrative perspectives. J Child Sex Abuse. 2015; 24(2), 135-51.