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How surviving child sex abuse can affect adult relationships

The trauma of sexual abuse is far-reaching and can affect a survivor for decades. Some may manage the personal, physical and mental health effects for the rest of their life. But these impacts do not only point inward.

For many who overcame abuse, the incident can affect their relationships with other adults.

Three prominent themes

The specific health repercussions of child sexual abuse are talked about a lot, with conditions such as PTSD, depression or anxiety often developing as a result of the trauma. At its core, there are often three main experiences at play, according to a paper published in The American Journal of Family Therapy. They are:

  • Betrayal
  • Powerlessness
  • Stigmatization

These possible feelings need to be taken into account when considering how the abusive experience may affect a survivor’s adult relationships.

How abuse can specifically affect relationships

The mental and emotional effects of child sexual abuse can damage a survivor’s ability to establish a healthy adult relationship with someone else. As the American Counseling Association explains, this can include:

  • Difficulty trusting a partner
  • A fear of intimacy
  • A fear of being perceived as different or abnormal
  • Negative passive behaviors
  • Difficulty with sex and sexual relationships

One study also found the more severe the abuse, the harder it was for a survivor to adjust to an intimate relationship.

Everybody is different

The American Counseling Association makes an important point. While research does show a connection between child sexual abuse and some of these behaviors or feelings, that does not mean every survivor will experience these symptoms. Some survivors may experience some of these things, or even none at all.

Whatever the case, it’s OK. It’s important for survivors, no matter what they may struggle with, to remember: Nothing is wrong with them and what happened was not their fault.

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