Sexual Abuse In Childhood

Self-Therapy For People Who ENJOY Learning About Themselves


This is the first of a series of articles on the general topic of childhood sexual abuse.

Our focus will be on adults who were sexually abused as children and who did not receive adequate parental or professional care afterwards.

This first article aims only to introduce the topic through some general statements. If you have a personal or professional need to learn more you will definitely want to read later articles.


I will be using female pronouns throughout this series. I will, however, make my statements and examples generic enough that you can easily understand what I am saying by simply changing pronouns.


Sexual abuse is "unwanted sexual contact."

The age of the person involved must be taken into account when we define the word "unwanted."

For children, all sexual contact except "exploration among equals" is unwanted and abusive.

(Even inappropriate "leering" by an adult - without touch - is sexually abusive to the child.)


A child who has to deal with sex is overwhelmed by it. Children do not have the bodies or the minds to cope with intense sexual energy.

Making a child deal with sex is like demanding that they "learn calculus or die!"

Since handling it is simply impossible for them, they often just "wait to die."



The feeling of being overwhelmed as a child usually leads to "splitting." It's as if the child breaks into two pieces mentally.

Half of them has one "life" and the other half has another "life." What they are robbed of is a whole life.


The "Day Child" / "Night Child" Split: This child either knows what happens during the day
or what happens at night, but NEVER BOTH.

The safer day disappears when the sun goes down; the terrifying night finally disappears when the alarm clock goes off.

The "Mind / Body" Split: This child either knows what she thinks or what she feels, but never both.

She usually focuses on what she thinks because her feelings are just too strong for a child to handle.

Each time the feelings break through she feels abused all over again - just by the intensity of the accumulated and unexpressed terror, anger, and sadness.


If the childhood abuse was overwhelming and the child had to "split" to survive, the only way the adult will ever know about her childhood abuse is through flashbacks.

What is a flashback?: A flashback is a momentary, split-second recollection of the abuse.

Sometimes this split second awareness is visual: SEEING something mentally that seems like a dream but feels SO real.

At other times it is auditory: HEARING something that was originally heard during the abuse.

Often it is kinesthetic: FEELING something that was originally felt during the abuse.

A flashback is "triggered" by ordinary events in adult life. The most common trigger comes when an adult is having sex and her partner moves in a way which reminds her of the abuser's movements.

But these triggers are very unique to each person, and they can be either one-of-a-kind events (like a scene from a movie) or very frequent occurrences (like walking past a certain kind of tree).

"Triggers" cannot be avoided. They are too commonplace. We can ignore the SIGNIFICANCE of the trigger for a while (by saying they "mean nothing"), but they will continue to haunt us until we face the memories that prompted them.

The terrorized child will not be ignored for long. Once she notices she has grown into a powerful enough person to begin to protect herself, that little girl will keep telling the grownup over and over about her memories - until she finally gets the safety and protection she has needed for so long!


There are many more people who need good therapists to help them overcome the ravages of childhood abuse than there are therapists capable of providing the service.

In these articles, I hope to give you at least some of the tools you will need to deal with sexual abuse while our society and mental health professionals try to catch up.

If you know you were sexually abused, GET PROFESSIONAL HELP!

On something this complicated, there is only so much you can even hope to do on your own.

Even when you are receiving excellent help from a therapist, there will be a lot for you to do on your own.

Enjoy Your Changes!

Everything here is designed to help you do just that!

next: Shame: What You Can Do About It

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 26). Sexual Abuse In Childhood, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: March 30, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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