I have found in my research that often survivors do not know that their problems are related to experiences of sexual abuse in their past. In fact, in my research six of the ten participants did not link their psychiatric disturbances to their history of sexual abuse. They were completely unaware of the significant impact sexual abuse had in their emotional, physical, and mental life.

Instead they thought something is wrong with them and with their way of thinking. They became angry and frustrated with themselves for being depressed without obvious reasons, having anxiety attacks that don’t make any sense, and for being ‘utterly defective’. What some professionals easily overlook is that the ‘average’ person does not link her/his emotional state today to experiences they had 30 years ago and which they might have partly forgotten.

Without knowing that sexual abuse could have caused their problems survivors will not know how to ask for the help they need. Indeed, it did not even occur to them to talk about their past abuse. Their lack of understanding the origins of their problems was compounded when they approached public mental health services’ for help. Research has shown that public mental health services don’t always inquire about a person’s history and thereby missing sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse.

This invisibility of sexual abuse is a tragedy. Without understanding the link between sexual abuse and psychiatric disturbances, survivors end up blaming themselves for being weak, stupid, crazy, unlovable, defective, and many other negative characteristics. Often enough it leads to self-hate and self-harming behaviours that in turn re-enforce the negative self-understandings.

When health professionals do not take a thorough personal history and ask if the person has experienced any forms of abuse, survivors will not know what questions to ask that give them access to the help they need. More often than not they don’t really know what they might need.

People in my research spent years and years in the public mental health system without any improvement. In the contrary, they deteriorated and lost hope after some years of no improvement. They where given medication and occasionally they were able to speak to a psychiatric nurse or social worker. However, abuse focused therapy was not given and people remained unwell and struggled coping.

Combined with childhood conditioning of being silenced and passivity not linking abuse and psychiatric disturbances prevent people not only from being effective in seeking professional help but also from protecting him or herself from possible future emotional, physical, or sexual attacks.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Gudrun Frerichs is the founder of Psychological Resolutions Ltd. and works as a psychotherapist, trainer, and researcher helping people to grow strong and fulfil their potential and their dreams.

Gudrun offers a wide range of services – from individual consultations, to self-development courses and seminars both online and face to face. She specializes in assisting survivors of sexual abuse who are ready to overcome the effects of sexual abuse and achieve recovery.

Gudrun has written prolifically about the recovery from sexual abuse and from dissociative identity disorder on her blogs: Sexual Abuse Help and Multiple Voices. She is the author of e-products, audio programmes and tele-seminars designed to empower people achieve the recovery outcomes they aim for. Gudrun developed the ‘Accelerate Recovery’ and ‘Successful Relationships’ series to address the needs of her many clients.

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