Before the games even started, there was news that USA Gymnastics officials failed to report allegations of sexual abuse by coaches to authorities. And, Kayla Harrison, who recently won her second gold medal for Judo in Rio, was sexually abused by her former coach for more than three years, starting at the age of 13. (The coach is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence.)
Many young athletes who are abused by their coaches feel like they have no choice other than to quit their sports in order to escape the abuse. But, Harrison serves as a reminder that no matter how much pain you may be carrying with you from your own history as a victim of abuse, it’s possible to heal, to achieve, and to build the life you deserve.
Breaking the Silence“Sexual abuse is such a difficult subject because it does things to the mind and to the development of a young person that you can't really see. There are no scars on me, there's no injury, you can't physically see that I'm wounded. But when you're 10 or 12 years old, and you go through something like that, it changes you. It changes you as a person. It leaves scars all over your heart,” Harrison said, in an interview with ESPN and ABC News.
Those who have never had the opportunity to address their traumatic experiences may actually still have open wounds on their hearts instead of scars. These emotional wounds can lead to severely low self-esteem and low feelings of self-worth and eventually to addiction, mood disorders, PTSD, and other mental health issues.
Many adult survivors of abuse often try to ignore or downplay the impact that sexual abuse has had on them. If they tell anyone at all, they may try to soften the horror of their story with “It wasn’t that bad. Many people have had it worse.” It’s important to note that whether a child is sexually exploited physically or emotionally is it sexual abuse, even if no physical touching was involved. Sexual abuse comes in many different forms; all abuse is bad, and all abuse can have a profound impact on your emotional life and your behaviors as an adult.
How Childhood Sexual Abuse Affects You as an Adult
Mental health and behavioral issues are very common among childhood sexual abuse survivors. Sometimes, survivors can reach adulthood without having experienced many problems, only to have symptoms triggered by a major life event such as death, birth, marriage, or divorce.
Survivors can often develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and experience all of the symptoms that go along with it, including…
- Agitation, irritability, and hostility
- Self-destructive behaviors (addiction, cutting, etc.)
- Social isolation
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Fear, severe anxiety, and mistrust
- Emotional detachment
- Unwanted thoughts
Feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt and self-blame are also common. Many survivors develop the belief that they caused the abuse to happen and that they deserved it. These beliefs often lead to depression, anxiety, and the tendency to become involved in unhealthy and exploitive relationships.
It’s Never too Late
We’re so glad that Kayla Harrison’s accused abuser was brought to justice and she received the support she needed to overcome the pain and devastation caused by his actions. Too many survivors of sexual abuse aren’t nearly as fortunate in that regard.
If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it’s important to know that it’s never too late to find the help and support and you need. Even if the abuse you experienced happened decades ago, even if no one believed you then and you fear that no one would believe you now, even if you’d made a lot of decisions in the wake of the abuse that you regret—you didn’t deserve what happened to you, it wasn’t your fault, and you can begin to heal from the pain and live a more fulfilling life.
There are many ways that The Meadows can help, from 45-day inpatient programs to 5 - day workshops. Call us at 800-244-4949 for more information.