A history of sexual abuse is correlated with almost every mental health problem including:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- emotional problems (e.g. shame, self-loathing, low self-esteem)
- problems in relationships (e.g. not being able to tolerate emotional intimacy, not being interested in sex, difficulties resolving conflict)
- various social problems (e.g. early pregnancy or a drop in socio-economic status).
Research also suggests a strong correlation with various physical problems like gastro issues, fibromyalgia and some immune disorders.
Examples listed above could be direct effects of sexual abuse, but they can also be ways people try to manage feelings and/or nervous systems so they can live with these effects. Some of these ‘coping mechanisms’ include:
- excessive activity (e.g. drinking, drugs, eating, exercising, sex)
- direct self-harm (e.g. cutting)
- shutting down (e.g numbing your feelings or denying your physical needs (e.g. not eating) or social and sexual needs)
Again, these reactions are not your fault and although it may feel like it, you are not alone in experiencing them.
The responsibility always sits with the person with sexually harmful behaviors. However, there are some risks that could potentially make someone more vulnerable for sexual abuse to occur again. This is called repeat victimization. Environments where people are not kept safe by their parents or caregivers are risks. Other risks could include drinking excessively or having sex more frequently with multiple partners .
These potential risks should not limit your choices of how you begin to reclaim your life. Seeking support from others or helping yourself can increase protective factors that will support you in finding safe and healthy ways to manage the potential reactions.
We can help you through this. Read about our services to learn how.