June 22, 2021

10 Signs Your Loved One May Be Hiding Childhood Sexual Abuse

You’ve noticed something off about your spouse or loved one. Sure, they’ve exhibited odd quirks in the past — we all do from time to time — but lately something has been … different.

All of us have struggled with when and how to confront a loved one about problematic behavior. We envision all sorts of explanations, such as secret drinking or similarly self-destructive behavior. But what if it’s something more? 

For victims of childhood sexual abuse, there are often telltale signs of their heartbreaking experience. These are 10 of the most common signs, as derived from a 2011 article hosted by the American Counseling Association and a committee opinion piece from the same year appearing on the website of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

  1. Depression is the most common symptom of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Victims often internalize their abuse, which can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and self-recrimination.  
  2. Anxiety is also a typical long-term symptom seen in abuse victims, with many reporting panic attacks, chronic stress and various types of phobias. The fear stemming from that childhood trauma can linger decades after the abuse ended.
  3. Rage and other bouts of uncontrollable anger are also quite common.
  4. Body image issues are also reported, with some victims complaining of their appearance and exhibiting various eating disorders.
  5. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon, with victims of childhood sexual abuse reliving the trauma through flashbacks and intrusive memories of the experience. This is seen in soldiers as well.
  6. Chemical dependency is also seen in survivors of long-term abuse. They are four to five times more likely to abuse alcohol or illegal drugs.
  7. Physical symptoms of psychological pain are also reported, though it is not always clear if the trauma is the root of the pain or is simply exacerbating physical symptoms. Known as somatic pain, it is more common in female survivors. Common somatic symptoms include abdominal or pelvic pain, gastrointestinal issues, a reduced pain threshold, gynecological problems and difficulty swallowing.
  8. Dissociative disorders are also seen in childhood sexual abuse survivors, with them using it as a coping mechanism whenever they feel endangered.
  9. Sexual difficulties are also frequently reported. These can manifest in many different forms, such as sexual dysfunction, disinterest, fear of sexual activity or even recoiling at another’s touch. It can also veer in the opposite direction, with some victims engaging in inappropriate sexual activity or risky sexual behavior. Victims are statistically more likely to have had more than 50 sexual partners and to have contracted a sexually transmitted disease.
  10. Trouble forming relationships with others is also reported, as victims often struggle with a distorted self image, can’t properly establish boundaries with other people and a general distrust of others.

Remember that none of these signs are “proof” that a loved one has endured childhood sexual abuse. Each person internalizes trauma differently. Some victims may display the classic signs of abuse, while others’ pain is much harder to detect. Some of these behaviors may have been with the victim since he or she was first abused.

If you fear that a loved one has endured the horror of childhood sexual abuse, please consult a trained professional before confronting them, to avoid making matters worse.

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Josh Gillispie