Child abuse can take the form of any act of emotional, physical or sexual abuse perpetrated against a child. Child abuse can also take the form of neglect: ignoring the child's emotional and or physical needs. Child abuse can take place inside and outside of the family.


Sometimes it is very difficult to be sure whether or not you actually were abused as a child. Abuse can be a loaded word. Many of my client's discount their own experiences because someone else may have "had it worse". What matters is how your experiences impacted you.

Some examples of childhood abuse follow to help you think about your own experience. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Emotional Abuse:

* name calling
* fault-finding
* criticism of or preoccupation with a child's weight or body
* emotional coldness or unavailability
* using the child to meet the parent's emotional needs, as a confidant or "best friend"
* harassment, rejection based on gender non-conformity or sexual orientation

Physical Abuse:

* Hitting with hands or objects
* Kicking, Biting, Burning
* Not letting a child eat, drink, or use the bathroom

Sexual Abuse:

* Any form of physical sexual contact with a child
* Can include non-contact abuse, such as exposure, voyeurism.
* Trafficking and child pornography.
* Exposure to adult sexuality and violations of privacy.
* Abuse by peers or siblings also occurs


There may be clues in your present day life as an adult that can help you identify childhood abuse. Childhood trauma can cause the disruption of basic developmental tasks such as self-soothing, seeing the world as a safe place, trusting others, organized thinking for decision-making and avoiding exploitation.

Disruption of these tasks in childhood can in turn result in attempts to cope with what has transpired, which may be interpreted in the mental health system as "symptoms." Unfortunately, the very survival tactics used to cope with the abuse can later get in the way of productive and satisfying adult lives.

The following are examples of how childhood abuse might impact you as an adult. Again, this list is not all-inclusive.

* Relationship Problems--difficulty with communication, trouble setting healthy boundaries, repeating unhealthy patterns in choices of partners and difficulty with intimacy.
* Social Alienation--feeling different from others, not accepted, stigmatized, social phobia.
* Low Self-Esteem--self-doubt, self-blame, shame, feeling like an imposter.
* Difficulty with Feelings--trouble in recognizing, managing and appropriately expressing feelings, depression, panic attacks, anxiety
* Body issues--disconnection/dissociation from body, distorted body image, coping mechanisms that can harm the body (self-injury, eating disorders, abuse of alcohol and drugs), see sexual problems.
* Sexual Problems--sexual inhibition or compulsive sexual behavior, flashbacks to abusive experiences during sexual contact, inability to achieve orgasm, pain or numbing during intimacy.
* Physical problems-- migraines, chronic pain, arthritis, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome
* Other Symptoms of Trauma--feelings of fear, agitation, amnesia for events or parts of your life, numbing of bodily areas, nightmares, dissociation.

The impact of childhood abuse does not end when the abuse stops. If you were abused as a child, the long-term effects can interfere with your life today. The good news is that you can heal. It is possible to live a full and authentic life. You can experience wholeness, satisfaction in your work and healthy love and trust in your relationships. Understanding the connection between your abuse and your current behavior is the first step towards healing.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Young is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience. She has been in private practice in Chicago, Illinois since 1992. She incorporates aspects of psychodynamic, relational therapy and dialectical behavior therapy into her approach to psychotherapy. Her career focus has been on treating trauma and its aftermath.

She is also an EMDR trained therapist and has completed the Illinois 40-hour Domestic Violence Training. She has coordinated a program dedicated to providing education about and treatment for intimate partner, interpersonal and community violence in the LGBT communities.

Dr. Young received her doctorate in clinical psychology (Psy.D.) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in 1990.

Areas of expertise:

• Survivors of childhood abuse
• Intimate partner violence
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Eating disorders
• Post traumatic stress
• Dissociative disorders
• Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues
• Gender identity
• Relationship issues
• Personality disorders
• Self-injury
• Adult children/partners of alcoholics