Child abuse – whether physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect – is likely to have permanent consequences. The wounds of abuse are grievous, inflicted when we are most vulnerable.
The extent to which we heal varies from one victim to the next, as does the rate at which healing takes place. This makes perfect sense. Victims are violated at various ages, for varying lengths of time, in countless evil ways. They have unique internal resources, and varying degrees of external support (sometimes none).
All these are factors in recovery. We must not, therefore, gauge our progress by that of others.
The “Inner Child”
Experts often refer to the wounded “inner child”. This is not to suggest that victims develop multiple personalities, though some may. It is an abbreviated means of saying we remain sensitive to issues relating to abuse, and – at an emotional level, at least – retain a strong recollection of the trauma inflicted on us.
Misplaced “Coping” Strategies
Unable to defend themselves against abuse, some children adopt desperate strategies in the effort to cope with it. These childhood strategies may continue into adulthood, becoming a hindrance where they once served a legitimate purpose.
Dissociation is one such strategy. The child, in effect, imagines himself or herself elsewhere while the abuse is taking place. This is the “out of body” experience. Dissociation may later be triggered by events which recall (or mimic) the abuse. Though meant to be protective in nature, dissociation can produce serious gaps in a victim’s memory.
Repression is another strategy. The victim mentally “walls off” memories too painful to acknowledge. Repression can last for decades. Eventually, however, repressed memories will out. Distressing as that may be, it is not likely to occur until the victim is stronger than at the time the egregious events first took place.
Certain problems commonly develop as an outgrowth of abuse. These can cause as much pain (and shame) as the abuse which gave rise to them, especially when victims are unaware their problems stem from abuse.
Typical problems can include low self-esteem, issues involving hygiene, anxiety/depression, drug and alcohol addiction, self-injury, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders.
These are complex problems, not easily resolved. Understanding their origin is only one step in the process of overcoming them. Exiting abusive relationships (and learning to make better choices) can be as difficult .
Counseling can be of great assistance in clarifying matters for victims.
Do we ever heal from abuse? I believe recovery is possible. That is not, however, to say we are restored to our original state.
Abuse leaves behind a residue of pain and sorrow. Even when our lives are no longer governed by those emotions, we may be reminded of the abuse at unexpected moments. This is not a sign of weakness on our part. It is a reflection of the gravity of the violation to which we were subjected.
But abuse is not the central fact about us. The central fact is that we are children of a loving God, precious in His sight…no matter what we may have endured. Our grief is His grief. When we can no longer go forward in our own strength, He carries us.
Victims are not “damaged goods” in God’s eyes. To the contrary, Christ’s willing sacrifice on the cross attests to our incalculable value. In the long run, our realization of that contributes — perhaps more than anything else — toward our recovery.
 The victims of child abuse do not deliberately choose abusive partners, as adults. Victims may not recognize the warning signs of abuse (assuming those are present) or may not feel themselves deserving of a loving partner.
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