Chris is one of those guys who’s easy to like. He’s friendly, always has a warm smile, and is happy to be the listener in most conversations. He’s a quiet guy who focuses well on tasks at work. His boss thinks highly of what he does, though he’ll admit he doesn’t see management potential, because Chris doesn’t appear to have as much self-confidence as most people.
Chris came to see us because his marriage is in trouble. After a string of rough relationships, he met Elena, and they’ve been married for three years. She tells Chris he’s not “emotionally available,” and he’s not sure what that means. He has a tough time grasping what she expects from her, even though it’s not the first time he’s heard that from a woman.
What his boss and wife don’t know is that when Chris was six and seven years old, his mother’s boyfriend abused him. Not sexually, but emotionally and sometimes physically. The man wasn’t part of his life for long, but their time together left Chris with scars that aren’t visible. In simple terms, he’s afraid to open himself to other people. He tries to do everything he can to please those around them and smiles even when he feels dark inside because he doesn’t want to make others angry or disappoint them. The abuse occurred for a relatively short time, but it informs how he reacts to every situation and every relationship.
If you were abused as a child, whether it was physical, emotional, sexual, or involved neglect, you need to know three things. First, you’re not alone. We know that one in four children are on the receiving end of some kind of abuse or neglect at some point in their lives. Second, you weren’t to blame for what happened to you. And third, the issues you struggle with today as an adult may be rooted in your long-ago abuse.
Every April, we observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month to call attention to and build awareness of abuse. But there’s another story that doesn’t get as much attention, and that’s the lingering effects abuse victims live with well into adulthood. Chris is an excellent example. His difficulties with relationships, his lack of confidence, and many other aspects of his personality are common symptoms of abuse.
People who were abused or neglected as kids are far more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions as adults … everything from heart disease and cancer to obesity and high cholesterol. They’re more likely to have mental health conditions such as depression and eating disorders, and have a greater tendency to attempt suicide. They’re at higher risk for substance abuse and more likely to become violent criminals.
Fortunately, Chris isn’t in a hopeless situation. Far from it. While his scars may never heal, through counseling he can learn strategies to reduce the control the abuse has had over his life. The more he understands how the abuse has affected him, the better he’ll become at interacting with Elena and the others in his life.
If you or someone you love was abused as a child, there is help, and there is hope. Why not make an appointment with one of our professionals today? The sooner you begin to understand the effects of the abuse, the sooner real healing can begin.
More about Mike here.
Other relevant articles:
When the abuse ends but the symptoms do not.