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Still Suffering

Question:

How long would you say that it would take for a person to recover from repeated sexual abuse when they were a child? I was sexually abused by my brother, cousin and his friends, and this went on for at least 2 years. I bottled it up inside – I was afraid. I’m still afraid. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at age 15 and am still suffering at age 23.

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Answer:

Recovery from abuse is variable; different people take different amounts of time to work their way through the issues. How much progress any given person will make depends in part on how early and for how long the abuse occurred, how resilient their personality is, and whether or not they are able to access supports (caring family, friends, therapists) as they work on healing. Sexual abuse damages trust in other’s motives, but it can also damage self-esteem (one’s picture of one’s worth). When it occurs at an early age, it can interfere with developmental processes. Abuse can lead to depression and anxiety, which can lead to drug abuse (in some cases), and also interfere with learning lessons one is supposed to learn as a teenager. Abused people are more likely than non-abused people to have anger issues (either to express it too easily, or to have difficulty expressing it at all) and to develop issues around their sexuality (to enjoy it less, to be more promiscuous, etc.). All of these issues (and more as they occur) need to be attended to as one works on recovery.

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p> You were victimized as a child and did not have a way to defend yourself. Bottling up your reactions made sense in that context. As an adult today, you have more options. If you haven’t done it already, it would be a good idea to find a therapist you feel comfortable working with and get to work on your present day suffering. Becoming more conscious about how the past abuse affects you today will help you to make better choices, and may also help you to feel better as well. It can be expensive to do this, I know, but it often ends up being a worthwhile investment in your present and future happiness.

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