Sexual abuse occurs when a person in a position of power (an adult or another child) forces or coerces a child into any sexual activity. It includes both contact and non-contact perpetration.
Childhood sexual abuse is not limited to physical contact and can include things like showing pornography to a child. Some perpetrators use physical force, but many others use less obvious forms of coercion like emotional manipulation, gift giving, threats or blackmail. Sexual abuse affects individuals regardless of gender or sexual identity.
Often, people who have been sexually abused feel guilty for not having been safe enough to tell someone at the time. Often people feel shame, believing that they allowed the abuse to happen. No child chooses to be hurt, and whether you told someone or not, this was not your fault.
Is what I'm feeling normal?
The short answer is yes. People who have survived childhood sexual abuse experience many different physical and emotional reactions ranging from minimally invasive to severe. Wherever you fall on that spectrum is normal for you. Each person has an individual experience, but below are some common reactions.
Sleep disturbances and nightmares. Difficulty falling or staying asleep, repeated nightmares.
Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness with work-related things or other activities, difficulty staying focused on what you're doing.
Intrusive memories and flashbacks. Sudden and upsetting memories about the event, reliving it or feeling like it's happening right now.
Hypervigilance. Excessive feelings of fear, constantly scanning for danger.
Volatile emotions. Sudden irritability, crying or anger. Difficulty staying composed.
Disorientation or dissociation. Feeling like you're in a fog, losing track of time, being unable to remember significant parts of an event.
Physical symptoms. Chronic physical ailment like headaches, stomach aches or fatigue.
Low self-esteem. Feeling ashamed, powerless, dirty or stupid (which you are not).
Anxiety. Feeling anxious all the time, panic attacks.
Depression. Burying things inside, feeling hopeless, not enjoying things that should be fun and rewarding.
Isolation. Difficulty trusting others, withdrawing from friends and family.
Relationship difficulties. Difficulty maintaining or entering into friendship, work or romantic relationships.
Sexual problems. Fear of sex, flashbacks or feelings of numbness during sex, frequent anonymous sex or excessive masturbation.
Addictive behaviors. Excessive use of alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping, gambling, work, or exercise to numb or distract from troubling thoughts or memories.
These reactions and more are totally normal. Working with an expert therapist at CVTC can help to alleviate them.