Sex and Sexuality for the Developmentally Challenged, continued

Sex and Sexuality for the Developmentally Challenged, continued 

SOME PROBLEMS COMMONLY FOUND IN INDIVIDUALS WHO WERE SEXUALLY ABUSED AS CHILDREN

Note: because this list is so extensive, don’t fall victim to “medical student disorder,” the tendency to think that any “symptom” necessarily indicates some disease.

General hyperarousal –- Difficulty modulating emotions

Anxiety

  • Hypervigilance; exaggerated startle response
  • Phobias; conditioned fear responses to trauma-related stimuli
  • Constricted; fear of loss of control
  • Flashbacks, accompanied by feelings of panic
  • Cowering in corners

Depression

  • Crying a lot, often for no apparent reason
  • Suicidal thoughts, attempts, obsessions
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about death
  • Feeling desperate
  • Limited tolerance for happiness
  • Loss of hope for the future
  • Loss of interest in the future

Anger

Anger issues; inability to accept own anger or inability to be discriminating in the expression of anger

  • Irritable, getting angry over really little things
  • Violent fantasies
  • Giving and provoking abuse; toleration of abusive relationships

Difficulty controlling their thinking

  • Feeling in a fog or that everything takes a lot of energy
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Humourlessness; rigid control of one’s thought processes
  • Depersonalization; dissociation; psychic numbing
  • No memories available from a particular period of time
  • Feeling different, crazy, unreal compared to others; creating/living in fantasy world(s)

Difficulty controlling behaviour

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Compulsive spending, gambling, stealing, working, etc.
  • Loss of sense of agency

Low self-esteem and a negative self-image

  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of shame
  • Need to be invisible
  • Need to be perfect, or perfectly bad

Interpersonal or relationship problems

  • Isolation and alienation from others
  • Inability to trust
  • Feeling “marked”; feeling of carrying an awful secret

Desire to be someone different

Problems with intimacy

  • Sexual issues
  • Sex is “dirty”
  • Sexual dysfunctions and sexual compulsions
  • Aversion to being touched
  • Promiscuity
  • Ambivalence in relationships
  • Feeling that it is necessary to work for love/acceptance
  • Abandonment issues
  • Problems with acceptance of one’s physical self

Eating disorders

Alienation from the body

  • Failure to care for self
  • Manipulating body size
  • Getting into a lot of accidents
  • Self-destructive “carving”
  • Wearing a lot of clothing, even in the summer
  • Extreme requirement for privacy when using the bathroom
  • Avoidance of mirrors

“Boundary problems”

  • No sense of being able to place limits on others’ behaviours
  • Pattern of being a victim, especially sexually

Control issues

High risk taking; inability to tolerate risks

Drug and alcohol abuse

Sleep disturbances

  • Fear of being alone in the dark; nightmares; night terrors
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Feeling tired and without energy most of the time

Physical illnesses

  • Getting a lot of stomach aches, headaches, etc.
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Swallowing and gagging sensitivity; feeling of suffocating

Because children sometimes handle depression differently than adults do, children who have been or are being sexually abused often express their feelings of depression and hopelessness in some additional and/or typical ways:

School grades going down hill

Acting out

  • Sexually
  • Aggressively
  • Self-destructively
  • Suicide thoughts/gestures/attempts
  • Risk-taking
  • Slashing themselves, “carving”

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