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If you think you may have been molested, raped, or sexually exploited as a child, there’s a good chance that you were. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
But here’s the tricky part: adults who suffered sexual trauma in their childhood may not recall any specific instances of abuse. That’s because the brain has the ability to repress memories that are extremely stressful or unpleasant. Psychologists call this dissociative amnesia.
Here are common signs of sexual abuse in childhood.
Along with repressing memories, victims of sexual abuse may dissociate from reality as a way to cope with their experiences. They may daydream, obsessively read, or partake in other activities that distract them from the pain of their every day life.
2. Risky behavior
Self-destructive habits are another tell-tale sign. Promiscuity, drug addiction, and/or alcoholism are common in people who have suffered from sexual abuse.
3. Personal neglect
Sometimes, victims will intentionally make themselves physically unattractive as a means of protecting themselves against future abuse. This may come in the form of excessive weight gain, a lack of person hygiene, and/or wearing unflattering clothes.
4. Issues with intimacy
An inability to form emotional bonds with others is also a common sign. Because sexual abuse often leaves a person feeling objectified and dehumanized, they often have a hard time trusting others.
Although the victim may not remember the abuse, he or she may have nightmares about a friend, family member, or acquaintance displaying inappropriate behavior.
Unexplained bouts of sadness or a generalized feeling of discontent is also a major symptom. Trauma often leaves its imprint in the form of emotional and psychological disorders.
Living in a state of fear is a symptom that most all victims of sexual abuse report having. It’s understandable, given the pain they have been subjected to.
If you believe you have been sexually abused, help is out there. If you would like to speak to someone about your experiences or concerns, please call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.