No matter where we come from, our pasts play a large part in moulding us into the adults we become. Growing up in a foreign country can make us into natural travellers or being part of a small family will encourage us to find large groups of friends. Our childhoods don’t define our futures by any means, and we all have the ability to make our own destiny, however, the experiences we have during our formative years do leave their mark. For the children who experience abuse during their childhood or youth, moving past this trauma can be an incredibly difficult and lengthy process, however, the remnants will stick around for a long time. There are countless adults who are living with the trauma of their past in the UK, but are we giving them the support or consideration they need?
We’re by no means claiming that every adult who experienced abuse as a child is in need of support. Many go on to leave their trauma in their past and find ways to heal; however, this is not true for everyone. Some adults notice the effects their past has left of them many years after the abuse has ended, and it that demographic that we need to show our support for.
In England and Wales, 7% of adults suffered sexual or physical abuse during childhood, while 9% experienced a level of psychological abuse. That means there are thousands of adults who are trying to formulate fulfilling lives after going through a horrendous situation, but do we stop to think about them as often as we should? Sometimes, it can feel like the conversations surrounding abuse victims focusses in on victims in the immediate aftermath of abuse, or those who are still suffering. Do we recognise that this situation continues to affect them for many years? And if we do, then why does it come across that we’re not doing much for them?
The guilt, badness and shame is always on the head of the abuser - don't take it onto your shoulders.
Child abuse takes many forms but will always have an impact on the mental health stability of the victim, and as with any mental health issue, there isn’t an easy fix. Some adults may never have spoken to anyone about their abuse and never reported the perpetrator; which paves the way for a whole range of unresolved emotions and a lack of closure about the experience. Survivors may have traumatic nightmares, issues with anger management or experience strong flashbacks, which will affect their ability to maintain stable relationships if not treated. The impact of childhood maltreatment can continue for so long, and can manifest in many different ways. Most adults show symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but they can also experience cognitive distortions (where you view the world in a distorted, dangerous way) or emotional distress (such as depression or anxiety). Common life events, like death, birth, marriage, or divorce may trigger the return of symptoms for a childhood sexual abuse survivor; even if they have been coping with their trauma for many years. There are so many ways adults can be suffering because of abuse, years after it ended, and we need to improve our understanding of it all.
Hence, it is of the utmost importance that we take a closer look at how we’re showing solidarity with the adults who experienced abuse as children. As practitioners, it is our role to facilitate change for people in vulnerable situations – but when do we determine the end of the vulnerability? Survivors may have gone on to have good jobs, happy families or any range of successes, but that doesn’t mean they have processed what happened to them properly. Therefore, we are the social work sector, the voices for the voiceless, should ensure that we’re providing safe spaces for them to work through residual feelings or cope with the side-effects of the trauma. Let’s shout from the rooftops that help is not just for those being currently abused, but that survivors have someone with them every step of the way throughout adulthood.
Always see yourself as a survivor and not a victim.
By Elena Jones, One Stop Social Team.
While you're here...
One Stop Social has a whole range of useful resources for those working with survivors of domestic abuse, no matter the age. So whether you’re helping someone cope immediately after abuse or supporting an adult years later, we’ve got you covered! Don’t forget to get in touch with our team if there’s a resource you’d like us to share with our community!