Sexual Abuse Recovery
Sexual abuse is the term applied to a single event, multiple events, or to an environment in which an individual has been inappropriately violated, sexualized, or exposed to sexualized content or behavior without the ability to properly consent.
The ability to consent can be limited by age/maturity, force, threat, dependency, mental status, or impairment, among other factors. People often underestimate the factors involved in sexual abuse, believing that abuse occurs only when there are multiple violations or when a violation is severe (e.g., rape, intercourse). In fact, sexual abuse is identified in conditions raging from premature exposure to sexualized themes (e.g., pornography), to intrusive environments where appropriate privacy was not respected (e.g., a family member entering the bathroom while another is bathing), to bodily violations.
Significant damage to the developing personality occurs whether the abuse happened "only" once, or multiple times. Many factors, beyond frequency and intensity, determine severity, including, for example, how trusted the perpetrator was at the time of the abuse.
The damage resulting from sexual abuse can take many forms. Some of the more common manifestations include:
- chronic depression
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- low self-esteem
- a sense of being "damaged goods"
- a chronic feeling that one is "bad" or "guilty"
- a compulsive need to be "good," or to be a "people pleaser"
- a belief that one exists only as a sexual object
- an inability to trust
- difficulties with emotional intimacy
- sexual dysfunction, ranging from the absence of sexual desire, to promiscuousness or compulsivity. Often both extremes occur across the individual's life, though at different phases of their development.
- a history of repeatedly entering into "bad" relationships
- drug or alcohol addictions
Most individuals who have been sexually abused find that the destructive effects of the abuse improve significantly through engagement in psychotherapy that directly targets the abuse and its effect upon core developmental issues.