For those who experience neglect and abuse during their childhood, the effects can be long lasting. Even many years later, adults may still be suffering from the consequences of what happened to them during their youth. There are many kinds of abuse, and while most people think of physical violence or inappropriate sexual contact, in fact emotional abuse, neglect and witnessing of violence within the family are equally prevalent.
Which Factors Affect The Consequences of Neglect and Abuse?
Not everyone who has experienced abuse during their childhood will have the same ongoing effects. However, while for some their outcomes are less adverse, others have debilitating and chronic long-term problems. Some of the major factors which influence the lasting effects include the duration of the abuse, its frequency and whether several types of maltreatment were experienced. Recurrent incidents of abuse which were experienced over an extended period are much more likely to result in ongoing problems as an adult, and this is also true for those who suffered from multiple forms of abuse. Some of the other relevant factors include:
- The age at which the abuse occurred – those who of a younger age are more likely to experience later problems
- How severe the mistreatment was – the more severe, the more chance there is of a negative outcome
- The kind of abuse experienced
- The victim’s perception of the experience and whether they feel shame, stigmatisation or self-blame
- The relationship between the victim and their perpetrator – negative effects are more likely to be experienced in the long term if the perpetrator was somebody with whom they experienced an emotional and intense relationship
- Whether action was taken to ensure the child’s safety
- Whether the victim received therapy
What Are The Long-Term Consequences?
Although some people believe that those who were abused as children usually go on to mistreat their own families, in fact this is usually not the case, however there are a number of other consequences which go on to affect the lives of victims well into their later life.
Evidence has shown that many survivors of childhood abuse go on to become victims again in later life. This is especially true in the case of women who may suffer from long-term low self-esteem and are therefore more likely to be victimised in adulthood.
Physical Health Conditions
Those who were neglected or abused as children have a greater chance of suffering from long term health problems like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, gynaecological problems, strokes, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and hepatitis. This may be because of the impact of the stress experienced early in life or possibly because abused children go on to engage in more high-risk behaviours like drinking alcohol, taking drugs and smoking as they get older.
Mental Health Conditions
Those who were abused in childhood are more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, psychosis and personality disorders. They are also more likely to attempt suicide than those who were not abused.
Those who suffered from childhood abuse are more likely to be obese as they approach middle age, and those who witnessed abuse or neglect as a child have a greater chance of having an eating disorder.
There is a strong link between neglect and abuse in childhood and substance abuse as an adult. An increased risk of alcoholism and drug addiction exists among adult abuse survivors when compared to the rest of the population, and this may be due to victims self-medicated to cope with the anxiety and depression arising from their childhood experiences.
Those who witnessed violence or experienced abuse as a child are more likely to engage in violence and criminal behaviour themselves as they may have come to associate this type of behaviour as a way of solving problems.
Risky Sexual Behaviour
All childhood abuse survivors, but especially those who experienced sexual abuse, have been shown to be more likely to behave in a more risky manner when engaging in sexual activity. Those who were abused as children are more likely to became pregnant unintentionally, contract a sexually transmitted disease at a young age or engage in prostitution. This is thought to be because victims are poorly equipped to prevent unwanted advances and lack self-esteem.
Those who were neglected or abused as a child are more likely to be homeless as an adult. This may be because adult abuse survivors also find it difficult to get a job due to lower academic achievement because of a traumatic home life as a child. The higher chances of mental health difficulties, violent behaviour and substance abuse also contribute to the difficulty in finding stable housing.
It’s clear to see that the implications of child abuse are long ranging and can persist for many years, even long after the experiences are well in the past.