As a licensed clinical social worker I have experience working with many different types of people and have heard many stories – some quite shocking. Yet I am still taken aback when I hear adults recount their stories of childhood abuse or neglect. Even with shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil bringing horrific stories of abuse right into our living rooms we still find it hard to believe that many children suffer crippling abuse throughout their childhoods.
I want to share with you 6 types of childhood abuse that you should be aware of. Some of these types of abuse are well known – other types less known. All are devastating and can leave life long scars that impact life as an adult. If you or someone you know was abused during childhood and believe things like “it didn’t affect me”, “I deserved it I was a wild kid’, or “it’s all in the past now”. Please STOP IT!
The pain of childhood abuse DOES affect you now.
No child, no matter how wild, rambunctious or naughty deserves to be abused.
An unexamined, buried, and suppressed past is never forgotten and often ends up being your present and future. It does not go away.
1. Dysfunctional childhood due to Neglect
This is the most common type of dysfunctional childhood. These children were neglected, ignored, or abandoned by their parents or care takers. Kids who were neglected in childhood grew up with a lack of food at home, dirty clothes, no access to toiletries for hygiene, unpaid bills that resulted in no utilities, dirty apartments or houses, no health care treatment, absent parents or parents who provided little guidance or rules among other neglectful acts. Kids who were neglected in childhood often had to fend for themselves – stealing food, clothes, and toiletries. Staying out at all hours,’crashing’ with friends. Many ended up on the streets or in jail
2. Dysfunctional childhood due to physical abuse
This is one of the most well-known types of dysfunctional childhoods. Kids who were physically beaten were often blamed for their parent’s inability to control their frustration and anger. These kids were told that they were ‘bad’, “evil’, “disobedient’ and the like. It was common for kids to be spanked or whipped and there is still a debate going as to whether spanking is okay today.
During childhood if you lived in fear of your parent(s) because of regular beatings, whippings or spankings you most likely experienced abuse. And the fear and trauma experienced during childhood often continues to impact adult life if not faced.
3. Dysfunctional childhood due to sexual abuse
This is another type of well-known abuse. Any type of sexual contact directly or indirectly by an adult with a child is abusive. According to recent studies most children are sexually abused by someone they know not by a complete stranger. Many children keep secrete sexual abuse and end up carrying it with them into adulthood.
Sexual abuse does not only happen to girls. The number of sexually abused boys is growing as more admit to being abused. Sexual abuse manifests and impacts adult life in many ways – difficulty forming intimate relationships, engaging in promiscuous behavior, sexual addictions, or sexual avoidance among others. The emotional impact of childhood sexual abuse during adulthood can be devastating if healing is not sought.
4. Dysfunctional childhood due to emotional abuse – “toxic parents”
Sometimes kids were not overtly abused like with physical or sexual abuse but were instead the victims of emotional abuse. This can include verbal (emotional outbursts, yelling, cursing, etc) abuse by a parent, playing psychological games, humiliation, anger outbursts, and other types of manipulative and “gamey” behavior by a parent or caretaker.
Adults who were emotionally abused during childhood may feel misunderstood because the abuse they suffered was not overt. Our culture barely acknowledges neglect of a child, physical, and sexual abuse. Often people who were emotionally abused minimize their abuse and say, “well at least I wasn’t beaten” making examination of the effects of this type of abuse harder to treat.
5. Dysfunctional childhood due to alcohol and/or substance abusing parents
Children who grew up with one or both of their parents abusing alcohol or substances can sometimes face the same issues as children who were neglected or emotionally abused. Adult Children of Alcoholics is a self-help organization based on the same principles of alcoholics anonymous and encourages survivors to check their lives and begin actions that heal.
Intense feelings of guilt, shame, desires for perfectionism, and rescuing or enabling behavior continues well into adulthood. Many kids who grew up with one or both of their parents abusing substances often become the parent to their parent – abandoning childhood altogether Many do not know how to have fun and can be overly responsible.
6. Dysfunctional childhood due to witnessing domestic violence between parents
If you grew up watching your parents physically fight or one parent regularly physically or emotionally abuse the other parent you experienced abuse. Witnessing regular abuse in your home during childhood affects children. Many children who witness this type of violence lived in fear and were afraid that their parent would be killed. Many felt powerless and were confused about love (this is true of all abused children).
Adults who saw regular violence by a parent or to a parent continue to be affected in adulthood – many have issues with anger, problem solving, forming relationships, and trust among other issues.
I know there are other types of abuse out there. But the main point of this article is to say: The effects of abuse during childhood impact adulthood. The past is never far behind us it’s with us NOW. The good news is that you can have a healthy, satisfying, and nurturing adult life. But it will not happen automatically. It REQUIRES action on your part. There are many kind and caring counselors who welcome the opportunity to help you heal.