When children are exposed to abuse, they learn to protect themselves through denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, turning off their feelings, acting out, and self-blame. Using these coping mechanisms during childhood has long-term consequences, which can include lack of trust, a fear of change, difficulty in adjusting, difficulty knowing or showing one's own feelings, being easily stressed, coping by using substances, food, and one's own body, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.
The aftereffects can be grouped into three basic categories: physical, behavioral, and emotional.
- Urethral, mouth, vaginal and anal injuries
- Scrapes, cuts, burn marks, and other physical injuries
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Bedwetting and soiling.
- Nightmares and sleep difficulties
- Compulsive masturbation
- Sexual acting out and promiscuity
- Running away
- Suicide attempts
- Difficulty touching or being touched
- Feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, and depression
- Inability to trust
- Difficulty with intimacy and relationships—romantic, friendly, and even family, including with one's own children
- Isolation, withdrawal, and poor communication skills.
For all abuse survivors, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not uncommon. These can include amnesia; nightmares; dissociation; numbing through substance abuse; avoidance of trauma-related external reminders; persistent negative beliefs about oneself (e.g., “I am bad” or “I am damaged”); feelings of guilt and shame; irritability; hyper-vigilance; problems with concentration; and flashbacks.