Symptoms of Childhood Sexual Abuse in Adults

I’ve been writing a memoir about my recovery from incest. I didn’t recover memories of incest until I was in my fifties. In the process of writing out my story, I noticed a number of strong themes. Then when I began to visit online survivors’ forums ( and survivors and friends) I noticed that many other people had the same themes, although not always in the same order or style:

  • Doubt that it really could have happened—this is often reinforced by family silence or overt accusations that the survivor is wrong.
  • Fear and hypervigilance—being afraid in circumstances that don’t really need to be so threatening to an adult.
  • Dissociation—fogginess about memories; times when we whirl away from the real world.
  • Shame—despite the fact it wasn’t our fault.
  • Mistrust in relationships—it’s especially hard to trust others when our original family betrayed us; close relationships and sexual relationships are hard to maintain.
  • Anger—often displaced onto people other than the perpetrators.
  • Passivity—sexual abuse brings a feeling of learned helplessness.

It’s a depressing list, so I need to add that it is possible to heal and get past these symptoms by facing them with help. Therapy is what helped me to learn to trust others and to believe in and love my Inner Child.

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Anonymous said...

great info here. my grandmother had a similar experience of later in life sexual abuse recall. bless you

Adam Brockman said...

Thank you for having the courage to tell your story and write out all of this information. I was not sexually abused, but I lived in a constant climate of emotional and physical abuse and neglect through most of my childhood, and I share all of the symptoms you named. It helps me to see everything laid out so plainly, because it breaks through the barrier of isolation. Thanks again for your inspiration and healing journey!

Jane Rowan said...

Thanks for your comments :-) Yes, Adam, those same feelings and symptoms tend to come up for any kind of early abuse. I am sorry you suffered from it but glad to meet you.


Ruth said...

Hi, thanks for writing to beautifully. I'm sorry that you had to go through all that you have, but thank you for sharing some of it and for inspiring me - I too am an abuse survivor. The best of luck with your healing journey, Ruth x

Jane Rowan said...

Dear Roupa,
Thank you so much for the comments you've left here and elsewhere. You are clearly a brave and resilient person. This is both a tough and an exciting journey you are starting. I am so very glad to hear that your husband is supportive--what an amazing asset! I hope you will take care and go slowly. It all does take time. And I hope you have a therapist to help, as well, because that can make the difficult passages easier and because I think it's usually too much to ask a spouse to hold it all.

Many, many blessings on you.

Anonymous said...


Squirrel Fantom said...

My stepdad was the deacon at our church and after the pastor was informed, nothing was done. They had a baptist background but were supposed to be non denominational I think. Blogs and stories and comments like these help so much in the journey of healing. I started my own blog last year coming out about this. I just started a new one that's more anonymous so that I could be more honest. I wasn't transparent and honest about a lot of things because I was scared of what the people I knew reading it would think. Thanks so much again. Even to those who leave comments, it really helps a lot.

Jane Rowan said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Squirrel. It DOES help to know one another's stories, and I like your blog. There are many, many of us out here.