Abuse may cause short-term injuries such as bruises that heal over time. But even once the visible damage has healed, invisible scars can continue to impact your life. In most cases, the longer you wait to leave, the worse the outcome on your mental health. The psychological impact of abuse is one of the most significant consequences of remaining in an abusive situation.
Impact on Children:
Children who are experiencing or who have experienced abuse can have many unique difficulties during childhood. For example, they may:
– Feel constant fear or anger toward the abuser and anyone similar
– Have negative perceptions of themselves, such as feeling worthless
– Display inappropriate emotional outbursts or behavioural outbursts
– Perform poorly at school and have lower educational attainment
– Struggle socially and become outcasted or easy targets of bullying
– Be unable to trust people and be unable to maintain relationships
– Tolerate abuse and be vulnerable to revictimization from new abusers
– Develop mental illnesses such as depressive disorders or anxiety disorders
– Self-harm with cutting, substance use, or harmful impulsive behaviour
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a term that describes negative, stressful, traumatizing events that occur before the age of 18 - such as abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction.
ACEs create toxic stress and this can lead to children developing maladaptive behaviours and physiological disruptions that have been linked to:
– Risky health behaviours
– Chronic health conditions
– Low life potential
– Early death
These are possible outcomes but not guaranteed outcomes. Children who are naturally resilient for various innate reasons, and children who receive personal and professional support that increases their resilience, are able to contradict outcomes predicted by the ACE study.
Pain in Adulthood:
The impact of abuse can last for years - sometimes for a lifetime. Whether abuse is experienced in childhood or adulthood or both, it can alter people's core beliefs about themselves or the world around them. Unfortunately, that's part of why abuse can predispose people to the risk of developing psychiatric disorders.
Abusive experiences can lead to:
– Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
– Various personality disorders
– Depressive disorders
– Anxiety disorders
The risk of developing other illnesses can also be influenced by abuse.
The psychological consequences of abuse can affect whether people meet their full potential or whether they go down a path that they later regret. Sometimes people end up unintentionally repeating the generational cycle of abuse, but breaking the cycle is possible and common - especially with professional support.
– Speak to your doctor and/or a mental health professional for support
– Try research-based self-help guides for depression or anxiety
– Consider exploring trauma therapy to heal and recover
Hopelessness is common when people think about the abuse they have undergone. But experiencing abuse does not mean that your life is a lost cause. You can overcome this, and you can even flourish.
Because abuse is so common, the list of survivors who have led successful lives is long. Consider celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Christina Aguilera, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, and Charlize Theron. They have all bravely, openly discussed their abusive backgrounds.
Not only are people able to have fulfilling, happy, successful lives despite their history of being abused, but many can also find meaning and purpose as a result of their tragic experiences. This is called post-traumatic growth. Whether through self-help or through working with a professional, psychological changes can happen that change the way survivors think about and relate to the world and to themselves. The world does not have to feel unsafe and filled with evil. The world is a complicated place, where good and bad things can happen, and you can make a positive impact on that.
You can become the best version of yourself not only despite your abusive background, but perhaps even because of it. You may become more driven to success than you would otherwise be. Abuse can trigger a strong instinct to survive and thrive, a desire to overcome and persevere, and a level of empathy and sensitivity that other people may not have.
Many abuse survivors end up in helping professions. Because of their experiences, they may have an intuitive understanding of a victim's experiences, be able to pick up on subtle signs of abuse that others may not see, and manage to intervene and help someone suffering in a terrible situation. Did anyone intervene in your abusive situation? If yes, do you want to give back to the community and do the same for someone else who needs support? If no, do you want to help someone the way you deserved to be helped when everyone else let you down?
The key is in how you approach your abusive situation, who helps you along the way, and how you and your supports can foster and expand your natural resilience. If you have made it this far, you are resilient, and you can continue to persevere.