Abuse, whether physical, verbal, or emotional maltreatment can leave us with psychological wounds that are more difficult to heal than bodily injuries. As survivors of abuse, we may find it challenging to cope with the intense, frequent negative feelings that can plague us long after the abuse has ended. Asa result our ability to find peace and happiness in life may be affected. Distressing memories, blocks to intimacy, anxiety and trust issues are common in people who have experienced abuse. With the assistance of a therapist we can overcome, or minimise these.
Types of Abuse
Many forms of abuse are in fact abuse of powers, in which a person repeatedly attempts to control or manipulate the behaviour of another person. Psychological or emotional abuse can include a chronic pattern of humiliation, coercion, criticism, accusation, or threats to our physical safety. Childhood neglect is also a form of psychological abuse. All types of abuse we experience can cause psychological distress and pain. It is not uncommon for those of us who have been abused to experience more than one type of abuse. Those of us who have been sexually abused may also experience concurrent emotional abuse. Abuse can occur within any relationship construct, whether social, professional, or familial. It can in fact occur between strangers. Any form of abuse in an intimate relationship, from physical to psychological, constitutes intimate partner violence. In fact, psychological abuse appears in almost every case of physical aggression between intimate partners and is often a precursor to physical violence.
Psychological Repercussions of Abuse
While abuse in any form can have a negative impact on an individual’s life, significant emotional or psychological problems do not necessarily result from every case of abuse. The severity of the psychological repercussions can vary depending on many factors, such as how well the victim was associated with the person who committed the abuse and whether the abuse was recognised or dismissed by the friends and family of the person who was abused.
Those who have been sexually, psychologically, or physically abused as a child often experience emotional difficulties that can affect their academic performance and social skills. In adulthood, they may have trouble maintaining healthy relationships and productivity at work. As survivors of abuse, they are at a
heightened risk of developing depression and are likely to encounter one or more of the following psychological issues:
As survivors of abuse one may feel intense anger at their abusers, and at those who knew about the abuse and indeed failed to intervene. They may be angry at themselves for being abused, particularly when they believe they could or should have stopped it. Anger is of course a natural and normal response to one’s abuse and survivors can learn to manage their anger in a constructive manner that will bring about healing.
Those who have experienced abuse may be afraid of people or situations that remind them of their abuse experiences. They may be scared to be alone, frightened of strangers, or fearful of sexual intimacy (depending on the nature of the abuse they have experienced). Panic attacks, compulsive behaviours, disrupted sleep and other indications of anxiety are common in abuse survivors.
Survivors of abuse may experience mood issues such as irritability, depression and mood swings. They may experience a lack of feeling, confusion, numbness, and out-of-body experiences during or after the abuse to help them avoid the pain and fear associated with the abuse. In some instances, survivors may repress their memories of the abuse and may not have any conscious memory of their abuse.
Posttraumatic Stress (PTSD)
In the aftermath of the abuse one may have flashbacks, nightmares and be hypervigilant. A survivor is likely to avoid certain settings and situations that remind them of the abuse.
Sometimes survivors will self-medicate, with alcohol and/or or engage in self-harm, such as burning or cutting themselves. Other times, people may seek out scenarios in which the abuse is repeated, neglect their personal health and hygiene, or sabotage any potential for success. These behaviours are often representative of low self-esteem, which is a common symptom of abuse.
Shame and guilt are so often experienced by survivors of abuse who believe that they in fact deserved to be abused, were responsible for it, or failed to stop or prevent it. Dealing with these beliefs in therapy can help survivors to transform these feelings.
Learning to trust others following abuse can be challenging, in particularly with regards to intimacy.
There are a variety of techniques the client can learn in therapy that can ease their feelings of alienation, guilt and shame. For clients who may fear vulnerability and exposure, the safe, confidential one-on-one sessions may be a more beneficial setting for them.