Recently, I have seen too many studies to link here, talking about how the effects of child abuse are being confused for ADHD, or lead to a variety of mental health issues, or even physical health issues. Just today, I saw this quote in an article about a male support group in Canada:
Many of the men in the group, including Schottmann and Allan, have struggled with addiction. Allan points to a 2004 Health Canada Survey that found 93 per cent of those seeking treatment for addictions report being sexually abused.
All of these things started coming together in my head, along with my own experience, and I realized something. When a child is abused, there is an unnatural disruption in their normal development. For me, I was so busy trying to survive what was happening, and pretending that it wasn’t happening, that I developed some really unhealthy habits. Dissociation, depression, withdrawal, and becoming numb were how the little kid I was made it through what was happening. That’s all well and good, but it’s impossible to develop into a healthy adult when that is how you’re developing.
Think about it. I’ve seen people genuinely surprised by studies that seem to show that the same effects are seen in adults who were emotionally and physically abused as children as those who were sexually abused. We know that depression, bipolar, addiction, anxiety, violence, and myriad other problems that we see in adults can be attributed mostly to these adults simply being maladjusted, and unprepared for the stress and responsibility of adult life. Gee, I wonder if being abused as a child forced them to grow up without the normal development cycle?
Again, I don’t want to speak for every survivor, but in my case, the depression and suicide attempt in my twenties was absolutely a result of my not knowing how to be an adult. When things got stressful, I shut down, just like I did as a kid being abused. I hadn’t learned anything else! So yeah, it doesn’t surprise me at all that many survivors would turn to drink, or substance abuse to cope with stress. Or that they would struggle with depression and feelings of worthlessness.
We were never given the chance to develop in a nurturing, caring environment in the way that children are meant to develop. Once that environment ceased to exist, we were left to our own devices to figure out how to cope, not how to develop. We’re developing late, and that can be messy, ugly, and chaotic. It can even lead to very tragic lives.
The good news, though, is that this is a development issue. That means that all those things we didn’t learn as a child, can be learned now. Again, it won’t necessarily look pretty at times. We’ll struggle, the same way that children struggle, and we won’t have the safety net of caring parents to keep us safe, but we can still learn.
Keep developing. There’s a good, healthy, adult life out there waiting.