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What can PTSD look like in survivors of abuse?

Survivors of child sex abuse face a complicated path forward, one littered with physical and mental obstacles all stemming from their traumatic experience.

While the exact challenges are unique to each individual, one common long-term effect is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Common symptoms of PTSD

It’s important to keep in mind symptoms can vary drastically from one person to the next. No two people will experience quite the same thing.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says symptoms of PTSD in child sex abuse survivors might include:

  • Agitated behavior
  • Nightmares
  • Replays of the trauma, during which aspects of the abuse may be expressed

It’s also not uncommon for survivors to avoid things that remind them of the abuse, or be hyper-sensitive to those things. Anxiety is also possible. These impacts can lead to further complications such as substance abuse, depression and difficulty connecting with others.

All told, survivors may face after-effects that significantly disrupt their day-to-day life.

Why PTSD can develop

Child sex abuse is a traumatic event for a number of reasons, the VA explains. First, it is often a negative experience, one that is confusing, scary and shocking. This negative experience is also now tied to an adult – someone the survivor, as a child, was told they should trust.

Children may also go on to believe the abuse was their fault, or that something is wrong with them and caused the abuse. Some also come away thinking the only way someone will love or care for them is if they behave similarly. Children might also face difficult thoughts about their sexual orientation.

For survivors, moving forward means approaching these obstacles head-on. It means confronting all those negative feelings – guilt, shame, confusion, betrayal – in an attempt to find some closure. While this is never an easy journey, survivors should know they are not alone.

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