Childhood sexual abuse is devastating to those who experience it. In adulthood, the lingering long-term consequences are many. These can include low self-image, anxiety, depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, complex PTSD, trouble establishing and maintaining relationships, adjustment issues, feelings of low self-worth and a sense of unease about one's identify or place in the world.
Long-term counseling with a qualified therapist can be helpful. The most effective therapy should be from a therapist who understands the impact of childhood trauma and its lasting effects through adulthood.
Because of family dynamics, it is not uncommon for those who have experienced child sexual abuse to also have experienced emotional abuse, neglect and / or physical abuse. This just adds to the layers of trauma to address in therapy.
When a person experiences traumatic events early in life, part of their sense of self remains at that point in life. In essence, they are emotionally stuck in that point in time. You may have heard of the 'wounded inner child' concept. When such a person experiences everyday stress, it can be overwhelming and difficult to function for someone with a history of trauma.
Nurturing the inner child can be helpful. This can be done by imagining talking with a child who is scared or stressed. If a child is scared or stressed, a competent parent would be gentle, patient, loving and understanding. Nurturing one's inner child can include being gentle, patient, loving and understanding with oneself. This can be as simple as saying things to oneself such as “everything is going to be OK” or “it's OK to be scared” or “I'm going to take care of you.”
Expression of feelings is also important for someone with a history of abuse or trauma. He or she learned early on in life the lesson that their feelings and well-being were not important. It can take time and emotional work to understand that he or she is a person of worth who has feelings that matter. Practicing expressing feelings through writing, art, music and talking to someone supportive and non-judgmental can be helpful. It is human to be scared, lonely, or stressed, and it can take some work to feel comfortable expressing this without being overwhelmed.
It can also be helpful to learn to treat oneself. Someone with a low sense of self-worth may struggle with this and not feel that they deserve such things. Taking steps to treat oneself in different, positive ways can communicate to oneself that he or she has value and is important. Treating oneself can include simple things such as taking a pleasant walk, nurturing a hobby, enjoying a snack in moderation, watching a movie, reconnecting with an old friend or any healthy activity that makes one feel good or special.
Coping with childhood sexual abuse can be complex and take a lot of emotional work. However, dealing with life's stressors by nurturing the inner child, expressing feelings in healthy ways and treating oneself can help people function more effectively.