Trigger Warning: This blog post contains specific information regarding an individual's trauma and survivor story. It also contains information related to self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal actions. As such, it has the potential to cause significant distress, intrusive thoughts, or recurrent thoughts. Please proceed carefully. If triggers occur and you need support, please refer to the hotlines provided on our page of Resources for Survivors.
At SHIELD, one of our most important goals is to empower survivors and help them find their voice. As such, we allow survivors to tell their stories in their own words, uncensored, with as much or as little detail as they choose. We believe it is important for us, as a community, to listen. We must never lose sight of the horrific realities of child abuse, domestic violence, and child sexual assault — and their impact on survivors.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you should call 1-800-352-6513 to make a report via the DHHR hotline. In an emergency situation, please call 911.
A child will go through several things once they have experienced some type of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse in their life. The effects of abuse don’t go away just because a child is safe now.
Many people fail to realize that once a child has been removed from an abusive environment and is considered “safe,” they still have a long road of recovery ahead of them. Children will experience a variety of emotions regarding their trauma, which often results in them developing unhealthy coping skills. If a child has been abused in any manner, of course, they need to seek medical attention — but it’s very important that they receive psychiatric attention as well.
Children often don’t understand WHAT has happened or WHY it happened to them. A counseling professional will be able to help the child understand things, as well as help them work through their emotions. Some children and teens will develop depression, anxiety, and/or other mental issues caused by the traumatic events in their life. Often, the child will need prescription medication to help them level themselves back out. Abuse is a very serious and damaging thing, and it comes with a lot of mental turmoil that isn’t always anticipated.
My name is Amanda Bowman, and I am a survivor of mental, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of my father for 7+ years. I was about 12 years old when I was removed from my abusive environment and placed in a safe house until my mother could retrieve me.
I felt complete and utter relief the day I was removed. Little did I know, I was nowhere near the finish line. The road ahead of me was going to be as rough as the road I just put behind me. I wasn’t prepared for all the things I was about to feel, all the questions I suddenly had, or all the counseling I was about to go through. And I don’t think anyone around me was prepared to travel this road to recovery with me, either.
None of us knew that the abuse was going to be followed by such an unpleasant transition into what life should really be like for a child. I’ve been in counseling for 11 years now, and I still have issues on a daily basis. However, I can now use the coping skills I’ve learned to conquer tough situations and triggers that I have to face.
I have also been on antidepressants and antianxiety medication for 8 years now. When I hit my teen years — about 15 years old — I could understand what happened to me. I could understand that my innocence was gone and that I wasn’t like my friends. I could understand that my father hurt me in sexual ways that made me embarrassed to have boyfriends.
Once I realized and understood the things that happened to me, I fell into a deep depression and was in and out of Chestnut Ridge (a mental health facility) for suicide attempts and hurting myself. Through this process, I developed more coping skills and an internal balance — once I was placed on the proper medication to help what was no longer in my control.
Thinking back to the day I was removed, I never saw any of this coming. Back then, I never could have even imagined hurting myself, but all of a sudden, it became a go-to coping mechanism because I couldn’t bear the sight of myself. My whole life changed the moment I understood the things that had happened to me.
From personal experience, I would like to share five things that I, my mother, and other family/friends did not expect to come up in my day to day living following the trauma.
1) Difficulty Expressing Love
Expressing love is one of the biggest things myself and many others have trouble doing after experiencing abuse. Because I was not shown proper love and affection during those years, I never learned how to express proper love and affection.
I have been with my fiancé for four years, and to this day, I still have trouble explaining to her my true feelings or reciprocating affection that is generously given to me by her. It’s not that I don’t want to show her my love — it’s that my mind won’t physically let me do it.
And I have trouble understanding why someone needs to be shown love. I catch myself thinking, “If I said I love you, that’s all I should have to do,” which is not ok. I am now learning how I can express the FEELING of love and become a better partner to my fiancé.
2) Trust Issues
Trust is another big issue for victims recovering from abuse, including myself. For me personally, the man who was supposed to love and protect me most is the very man who hurt me and scarred me for life. I was supposed to be able to trust him. He was supposed to help me grow into a healthy, happy woman, yet he did the exact opposite.
From the earliest time of my life, my trust had been betrayed. To this day, I struggle to trust men. I always think they have ulterior motives to hurt or use me. I struggle to trust in people and their words because I can remember my dad telling me he loved me, yet he beat and raped me anytime he felt the urge to.
So when people tell me they love me today, how could I possibly believe them? I struggle with trusting people even now.
3) Urges to Self-Harm
Unfortunately, nobody sees self-harm coming. Nobody ever thinks their emotions will get that out of control. Nobody ever thinks it’s really that bad. But it is. After being abused, you can easily develop a feeling that hurting yourself is the only outlet you have to numb the pain you’re feeling.
Sometimes children, teens, and adults will cut or burn themselves to cause physical harm to their body. Pinching yourself, starving yourself, and scratching yourself are other self-harm methods that often follow abuse.
I have personally battled with all of these self-harm methods and have managed to overcome them with counseling, medication, self-coaching, and strict mindfulness. I struggled with cutting myself up until two years ago, when I finally realized I don’t have to punish myself and my body for things that were out of my control.
4) Unhealthy Attachments and Lack of Boundaries
Boundaries and attachments are not always communicated about or properly explained to a child recovering from abuse.
Boundaries are completely crossed when somebody makes you feel physically or sexually uncomfortable and/or forces themselves upon you. As a child, you learn what you are shown. Because of personal boundaries constantly being crossed by your abuser, you may develop a sense of confusion about what a boundary even is. This, in turn, can cause you to develop unhealthy attachments.
Personally, I have crossed several boundaries in my life because I never realized there was a stopping point until someone expressed that to me. I developed unhealthy attachments to people. Because I didn’t want them to leave me or hurt me, I would pour myself out and love them with all I had just to make sure I wouldn’t be alone. I have mastered the boundary issue, but I am still working on not forming unhealthy attachments to this day.
5) Negative Body Image
As I’ve grown and as the years pass, I’ve become more and more ashamed of my body and my own skin. In the past, I always felt “dirty” and could never shower enough to feel clean. When I was thin, I would always look in the mirror and see fat. When I saw other girls who were super pretty, I would get upset because I wanted to feel pretty too, but I knew I was ugly.
To me, my body didn’t feel like it was mine. It had been tortured and violated so much that I dissociated myself from it.
When somebody physically and/or sexually takes advantage of your body, it takes something very important from you. To this day, I struggle with my body image. However, it is a work in progress, and I have definitely seen improvement in the last 5 years.
These five things are just some of the common yet unexpected aftereffects of abuse and trauma. Hopefully, as more survivors share their stories, we will gain more insight into the feelings that come after abuse. Then we can better educate ourselves and others about the long-term effects of abuse and what it takes to overcome them.
These five things are all things I have faced and overcome with the help of a great support team and willpower. The road from trauma to recovery is a tough one to travel, but I’m living proof that it can be done.
You can find other Survivor Stories here.
If you are a survivor and would like to tell your story, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also private message us on Facebook or Twitter. You can share as much or as little of your story as you like, and you can stay as anonymous as you want.
If you are a survivor in need of support, please refer to the hotlines provided on our page of Resources for Survivors.
Amanda Bowman is 23 years old. Although she was born and raised in West Virginia, she currently resides in Idaho. She graduated from Keyser High School and earned an associate’s degree from Potomac State College. Her long-term goal is to be a mortician and earn a bachelor’s in Psychology.
Amanda has a fiancé of 4 years, and together they have a 4-year-old daughter. She currently works as an infant teacher for 12 wonderful little babies. She also volunteers for the Idaho Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers. In her free time, she enjoys learning, writing, music, and movies.