Damage Done: Avoiding Codependency With Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse


56503713980c8203e1bb61830d7b0352Going to Celebrate Recovery has made me even more aware of how people who are suffering but who  don’t come out of denial about their past will be forever blighted. And it makes me feel even more admiring of those who DO take the steps to deal with the rubbish that’s happened.

I know people who are in great denial whose lives are being affected minute by minute. This led me to read up about adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. While it is a gruesome subject, reading does help me to understand the affected person’s behaviours in the here and now rather than just getting frustrated and angry that they can’t see how badly affected they are!

It is difficult for me to NOT take on the responsibility of making them face up to the damage done. It’s not my place to do that. If I were to do that it would be codependency and bullying. And it could lead to terrible consequences for the abused person, if they just could not face up to the truth. But, oh, how sad it is to see lives significantly affected and denial in place.

I found this article very helpful: http://www.thehealingplace.info/adult-survivors-of-childhood-sexual-abuse/

I have not reproduced the whole thing but I highlight some points that spoke to me. 

“They may not understand the connection between their childhood situation and their adult experience.  Generally, the abuse has either been accepted by the survivor as “normal” or is viewed as something that is better left in the past.  In some cases, the abuse may not be remembered.  Consequently, the significance of symptoms and problems arising from the abuse is often not recognized.”

“An abusive childhood situation interferes with the child’s natural movement toward growth and expansion of his or her experiences.”

All children have a right to have their basic needs met. Children need to feel secure in order to learn to trust their environment.  They need support for the development of dreams and wishes.  They need encouragement to be separate unique individuals.  They need a consistent sense of belonging, and of worth from their families and home situations.  Abuse denies these very basic needs.  As a result, adult survivors are often left with a deficit of emotional and practical skills for dealing with their present “grown-up” world.  As a result of having limited opportunities to naturally develop these skills, survivors will frequently develop extraordinarily complex coping mechanisms in their attempts to appear “normal.”  As a child, the survivor may have learned the importance of “pretending that nothing is wrong.”  This coping mechanism allows them to function in society in ways that never allow anyone to guess that they struggle with such pain on the inside.

“Having not been given appropriate levels of love, care, or attention when they were their true selves as children, they might feel that they will not be given love, care, and attention if they allow their true selves to be seen as adults.”

“Adult survivors may fear the intimacy and responsibility of committed relationships.” 

“They tend to blame themselves for the abuse, especially if there was pleasure, comfort, or a sense of caring attached to the incident.  They frequently feel ashamed by the fact that they could not stop they abuse.  They often do not remember the details but have only a vague feeling of discontent with another family member or friend of the family.  Adult survivors frequently report childhood blackouts in which large chunks of time are forgotten.”

“Survivors deal with the sexual abuse in a variety of ways.  They may become over-responsible, believing that they are accountable for everything and must take care of others, often meeting the needs of others before their own.  On the other hand, they may act out against others in manipulative or abusive ways, especially if that is the only way they have learned to get their needs met.”   

“Many adult survivors have difficulty connecting their current life situation with earlier childhood abuse. This denial can take many forms: rationalizing, minimizing, intellectualizing, focusing of the problems and shortcomings of others, hoping the problems will take care of itself, feelings that they can take care of their problems on their own.”

“Fear and shame about sharing family secrets. Survivors often fear that to get help is to betray and hurt their families, or that they will be punished for exposing family secrets.”

“Inability to blame their parents or other adults for the abuse. We are taught to love and honor our parents and to be respectful of other adults.”

“As survivors strip away all the old negative beliefs that have been the burdensome but familiar foundation for their lives, they begin to feel that everything they’ve ever known is shifting and nothing is certain or sure.”