Childhood Sexual Abuse and Anxiety

#MeVsAnxiety, Articles

The prevalence of sexual abuse cases in Nigeria has led to conversations about the various factors have contributed to it, from victim-blaming to toxic masculinity, poor sex education, sexual objectification and the failure of the government and legal institutions to adequately prosecute violators and provide justice for victims, amongst others.

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) occurs when an adult or older adolescent engages a minor in sexual behaviour and activities, through coercion, deception or other means.

As a result, survivors might experience emotional reactions such as shame, guilt, distrust and fear. It could lead to dissociation, self-harm and self-esteem issues, as well.

Survivors of CSA might also experience acute anxiety, phobias and anxiety attacks.

Consequently, it could lead to severe psychological disorders and impairment of social behaviour.

Other signs might include intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks, which are symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (a type of Anxiety Disorder).

 A study was carried out by David Canton-Cortes et al, on 168 female college students who were survivors of CSA. 

Here are some striking results from the study:

1. Characteristics of CSA survivors generally depend on the nature of the abuse. 

2. Secondly, childhood emotional level of security impacts the extent of psychological disorder in adulthood 

3. Some negative feelings associated with CSA include stigmatization, powerlessness, betrayal, and traumatic sexualization: ‘a process by which premature and inappropriate sexual exposure contributes to the formation of odd and intense emotional associations to sexuality’

4. The existence of other forms of maltreatment was found to correlate with negative feelings triggered by CSA. 

5. Ideal intervention techniques for CSA survivors should be targeted at reducing any negative feelings identified like stigmatization, self-blame etc. 

6. Several sexual abuse cases date far back to early childhood years for a lot of individuals.

We have conducted a survey aimed at identifying how rape culture has contributed to fear and anxiety amongst women, as they have had to face the harsh realities while creating methods to protect themselves from sexual assault and abuse.

We’ll be sharing some more comprehensive results in the coming article. 

The Journey to Recovery for Sexual Abuse Victims

Firstly, it’s very important to seek help and open up to individuals or organisations that can aid you on your path towards healing. While this is not easy to do, it’s a major step that will help. 

Secondly, pay attention to trigger warnings when engaging with content such as social media posts, movies, TV shows, articles, books and more. You can also filter out triggers by muting certain words and phrases on social media.

If you find yourself in a situation where unhealthy conversations about sexual abuse are being had, you can take your leave. 

Furthermore, you can adopt healthy practices such as exercise, journaling, art and more. They form positive outlets that can help you de-stress and improve your physical and mental health.

Also, intervention techniques such as trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help in treating mental health issues and Behavioural problems associated with sexual trauma.

Treatment can also help survivors overcome negative emotions, dangerous coping mechanisms and help to build healthy habits.

If you or anyone you know has experienced childhood sexual abuse, please contact organisations such as Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF), Stand to End Rape (S.T.E.R) or Mirabel Centre.

Lastly, if you deal with any form of an anxiety disorder (or suspect that you do) and would love to get some help, please contact Working & Anxious or Mentally Aware Nigeria

References:

Cantón-Cortés, D., Cortés, M. R., & Cantón, J. (2019). Pathways from childhood sexual abuse to trait anxiety. Child Abuse & Neglect, 97, 104148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.104148

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