Coping with a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) as an adult can be a challenging and lifelong process.1 There is no direct or simple path to recovery, and everyone’s experience will be completely unique. There is also no set guideline for how or when someone should be moving through this journey, however, there are some common experiences that survivors of CSA may go through while learning to cope in adulthood. These include, but are not limited to:
Disclosing CSA to family, friends or partners
Choosing how, if, or when to disclose a history of abuse to someone else may be a continuous challenge throughout a CSA survivor’s lifetime. Considering the relationship between yourself and someone you are considering disclosing to, as well as determining what you are looking to receive from disclosing and if the individual your disclosing to will provide you with what you’re seeking, are all important issues to consider.
Grief is a common experience after trauma and can impact each individual differently. Grief is a long-term process to work through, and may take the form of different steps, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.2
Self-care and healing
Making the time and room in your life to fulfill your own needs and keep your body and mind strong is often an important, ongoing process when attempting to recover or cope with a past trauma. Self-care can address your physical, mental, or emotional needs.
Coping with, identifying, combatting, or learning to avoid triggers may all be common experiences for adult survivors of CSA. Triggers are stimuli that may cause an individual to remember or think about a past history of abuse. They can come in various forms including objects, emotions, experiences, places, and much more, and can remind an individual of a previous trauma.3
Memories of the abuse
Survivors of CSA will always have their memories of the abuse. Triggers may cause an individual to have a flashback of the event, in which they may feel transported back to the original trauma, causing them to forget their current reality. Dissociation, or separating one’s self from a trauma as a form of coping with the event, may also lead an individual to repressing memories of what occurred, which may cause distress later in life.4
Coping with a past abuse can be a lifelong and winding journey that is completely unique to the individual experiencing it. Although there are no guidelines for this process, if you or someone you know is showing signs of not coping in a healthy manner or is experiencing daily life-impacting issues related to negative coping with their trauma, professional medical support or counseling may be needed.
- Banyard VL, Williams LM. Women’s voices on recovery: A multi-method study of the complexity of recovery from child sexual abuse. Child Abuse Negl. 3 Mar 2007; 31(3), 275-90.
- Help For Adult Victims of Child Abuse (HAVOCA). https://www.havoca.org/survivors/grief/. Accessed December 27, 2017.
- Coping with Triggers-Chat Transcript. Pandora’s Project. https://www.pandys.org/copingwithtriggers.htm. Accessed December 27, 2017.
- Flashbacks. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). https://rainn.org/articles/flashbacks. Accessed December 27, 2017.