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Childhood Abuse

Childhood abuse can consist of many different experiences. Adults who have lived through experiences of abuse are often referred to as adult survivors of childhood abuse. Statistics are difficult to obtain because of the secrecy and shame that often surround such abuse, but we do know that child abuse occurs in all races, religions, and economic classes.

Childhood abuse can be classified as physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse. While each consists of different experiences, each involves a violation of the child's trust in an adult or authority figure—for example, a parent, babysitter, sibling, older friend, coach, teacher, or clergy member.

What are the effects of Childhood Abuse?

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. 

Physical Effects

  • Urethral, mouth, vaginal and anal injuries
  • Scrapes, cuts, burn marks, and other physical injuries
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Bedwetting and soiling. 

Behavioral Effects 

  • Nightmares and sleep difficulties
  • Compulsive masturbation 
  • Sexual acting out and promiscuity
  • Running away
  • Suicide attempts
  • Difficulty touching or being touched

Emotional Effects

  • 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.

How to get help

Surviving childhood abuse means getting help with its aftereffects. People can recover from abuse, but getting help is very important. Treatment for childhood abuse can take time as the typical states of recovery include denial, acceptance of what happened and the resultant grief, rage and anger, and finally, resolution. Resolution consists of placing responsibility where it belongs, freeing oneself of blame, learning to feel safe, creating a positive perception of oneself, and forgiving oneself.

Few people can do this on their own. Rarely are even close friendships enough to help by themselves. It takes time to heal and it is courageous to confront these painful and difficult experiences. Counseling is often the most effective way to overcome these effects. Therapy with a counselor you feel comfortable with can help you to:

  • Create a safe place to explore the destructive and hurtful childhood experiences;
  • Allow you to not be alone and break the secrecy;
  • Give you a place to overcome the feelings and conflicts that have not been resolved;
  • Teach and allow you to practice new coping skills;
  • Create a place to explore who you are, develop a positive self-image and sense of yourself
  • Cope with the feelings of hopelessness and anger when they surface;

It takes time to heal from painful experiences that have been dormant for so long. Be patient with yourself, give yourself time and space to recover. Call or stop by the Counseling Center to schedule an appointment with one of our counselors. Additional information is available from the Child Help Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.

The Counseling Center located in Humanities 150 is open M-F from 8:30am until 5pm (EST) and closed when the university is closed. If you would like to make an appointment with a counselor, schedule an appointment online, stop by our office, or call 410-617-2273.

Contact Us

Humanities, Room 150
One flight up the turret entrance
Phone: 410-617-CARE (2273)

Call to schedule an appointment
Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.


REACT Online

REACT is an online video that explains how to help yourself or someone you care about cope in healthy ways after a distressing life event (such as a trauma, assault, or loss).