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20 Things You Do as an Adult When You've Experienced Childhood Sexual Abuse

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I was 7 when you first stole my autonomy, treating this body — my body — as if it were not my own, but yours.

These are the heartbreaking words of Mighty contributor Christina Stone from her piece, “When Childhood Sexual Abuse Makes You Grow Up Feeling Suicidal.” If you can relate to her words, you are not alone.

The effects of sexual abuse in childhood can be both debilitating and far-reaching, often extending out of childhood and into adolescence and adulthood. For some, this looks like being unable to trust anyone — because intimacy can feel a lot like giving someone access and license to hurt you. For others, trauma manifests physically in nightmares, panic attacks or dissociative episodes.

We wanted to know what kinds of effects childhood sexual abuse can have on adulthood, so we asked our mental health community to share one thing they do now that stemmed from the sexual abuse they experienced in their upbringing.

No matter how childhood sexual abuse affects you now in adulthood, we want you to know you never deserved what happened to you. If you are struggling with shame and self-blame, we want you to know it was never your fault. You are worthy, you are important, you are deserving of love. We hope these words can be a small reminder of the truth when the darkness of past abuse feels thick and overwhelming.

Here’s what our community had to say: 

  1. My whole life has been affected. Hyper-perfectionist. Master over-thinker. Fear of trusting others. Anorexia because it’s the only way I can control what happens to my body and punish it for what happened to it. Severe attachment anxiety. Constant need for validation. Difficulty having/enjoying sex without being triggered. Phallophobia (phobia of the penis). Feeling dirty and uncomfortable in my own skin which makes me incapable of wearing any lotions/creams or anything sticky. I could go on but these are the main ones.”
  2. “Because my childhood was messed up because of the abuse, it sort of took my innocence in a way. Now I get in these weird moods when I get super clingy and childish. It’s pretty embarrassing to tell you the truth.”
  3. “My childhood sexual abuse caused dissociative identity disorder (DID), so the main thing I do now because of my experience is dissociate very severely. I also feel disconnected from myself, my emotions and people in general as well. I never relax around others or feel completely safe, and I feel there is an ever-present emptiness and ‘brokenness’ inside me.” — Megan S.
  4. “I have horrible, horrible nightmares. I often find myself too scared to fall asleep and end up being extremely drowsy the next morning. I’ve woken myself up with my own yelling from a nightmare as well as woken up sitting upright in a cold sweat.”
  5. “I feel unlovable. I can’t have friends and it’s hard to trust in my relationships. I always feel like I’m going to get hurt by everyone. For the longest time I blamed myself and felt disgusting and would stay in the most toxic and abusive relationships because I felt that was all I deserved.”
  6. “I have this feeling of disgust when my significant other grabs my hand to touch him, I am repulsed by it because my abuser used to make me do that to him. I haven’t been able to tell my husband this. But definitely feel the need to do so. This is the first time I have expressed this: ever.”
  7. “I’m addicted to sex. It probably does more damage rather than heal me but, yeah. It’s my coping mechanism. I have the overwhelming urge to be in control of my sex life and so I do exactly that… often.”
  8. “Sometimes, when I get really upset and overwhelmed, I go into my closet in the dark and hide behind my clothes in a little ball and muffle my own cries with a pillow while I rock. Just like I did 30 years ago.”
  9. “Because my abuser told me the abuse was my fault for seven years, whenever anything bad happens now, I immediately believe it was my fault, too.”
  10. “I flinch if I’m touched by anyone unexpectedly. Even if it’s a pat on the back or tap on the shoulder.”
  11. “I was ‘groomed’ as a child, and now as an a adult, it’s difficult for me to speak up for myself or what I want. I am the ultimate people-pleaser. This also led to me being gaslighted by a partner when I was an adult. I didn’t see it until after I was out of the relationship.”
  12. “I don’t trust any guy with my emotions, but I’m pretty much heartless and I’ve realized I use them and I’m superficial with them as a form of ‘revenge.’ I’ve never been emotionally close to a guy [because] to me, they aren’t to be taken seriously and only useful for the physical aspects. All the love and affection is given to the women in my life, not to the men.”
  13. “As an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve noticed I can be triggered during certain months (July and October) and when my kids turn the ages I was when I was being abused. I’m hyper-vigilant, paranoid, overprotective and can sometimes be irritable and angry. I’m in DBT & CBT therapy. Soon to start EMDR.”
  14. “[I] can’t watch a grownup be loving with a child without my memories tainting it. I trust no one with my girls, and had a huge problem holding a job because of it.”
  15. “I was raped for many years by my ‘cousin.’ Now I have trouble maintaining and keeping relationships, especially in my family, because I just can’t bring myself to fully trust their intentions.”
  16. “I push everybody away but I’m very clingy at the same time. I’m afraid to get too close to both females and males due to abuse from males and detachment from females. It gets hard to start getting close to anybody because I know I’ll push them away eventually and I’m always scared they’re going to leave me like everybody did when I was younger.”
  17. “I always seem to choose abusive men and stay with them because I have no self-worth and I have a difficult time saying no to them.”
  18. “I sleep holding my arms tight together in front of my chest as if I’m trying to protect myself. And if I’m touched while asleep, even if its a hand on shoulder to wake me, I scream.”
  19. “I seem to over-sexualize everything.”
  20. “I constantly question the intentions of partners. I need constant reassurance I’m not just being used.”

If you grew up experiencing sexual abuse, here are some stories you might find helpful in your recovery journey:

When Childhood Sexual Abuse Makes You Grow Up Feeling Suicidal

4 ‘Helpful’ Things People Say to Rape Survivors (and What They Should Say Instead)

Why I Am Choosing to Forgive Myself as a Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivor

7 Reasons Why I Share My Childhood Sexual Abuse Story

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