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The Hidden Effects of Childhood Maltreatment

By Debra Tullis

Violence against women is one of the primary health problems facing adults today. Many people are not aware that childhood maltreatment is a powerful risk factor for health problems in adulthood. Its victims can suffer lifelong health effects.

Maltreatment is best viewed as a risk factor for a wide range of subsequent health problems. Were you neglected, sexually abused or physically abused as a child? An important step is to face the truth about how you suffered as a child. Health effects have to be assessed within a developmental perspective. There are several avenues by which abuse can affect health.

The first avenue is physiological. Traumatic events can alter the brain and body. The human system of self defense becomes disorganized and overwhelmed. Traumatic events produce profound changes in physiological arousal. The nervous system becomes sensitized and comes to anticipate trauma. There can be dental, vision or hearing problems. An adult can suffer from headaches, backaches, chest pain, pelvic pain, chronic pain and fatigue.

A second way that abuse that affect health is behavioral. Adult survivors may engage in harmful actions or behaviors and become very self destructive. Some behavioral examples are self-injury, shame, suicide attempts, eating disorders, high risk sexual activity, compulsive spending and gambling and substance misuse. These behaviors may be used to numb feelings so the pain can be coped with. These high risk behaviors can impact health.

A third avenue is cognitive - child abuse is associated with distorted beliefs and perceptions about one's self and one's behaviors. These negative beliefs can undermine health and lead to low self-esteem, self blame and feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. It may be common for adults to have perceptions of helplessness, chronic danger and consequent hyper-vigilance. An adult may become shamed-based and feel they are worthless, unacceptable and bad. This vicious cycle can drive a victim inside a private world of suffering, loss of power, re-victimization and deep self doubt. Beliefs can certainly impact health.

Interpersonal difficulties is another avenue. Adults survivors can have difficulties in their adult relationships. Examples include difficulties in trusting others, inability to set boundaries, avoidance of intimacy and close relationships and sexual difficulties. These difficulties can result in social isolation, marital disruptions and divorce. Past maltreatment or victimization can set up an adult victim for relationship failures. This can lead to poor health outcomes.

Finally, the fifth avenue can be in the area of emotional difficulties. An adult victim can have anxiety, fear, terror, and sadness. They may adopt a position of surrendering to life and feel they are abandoned to their fate. They may develop antisocial behaviors that isolate them in relating to others. An adult may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which can significantly impact daily life. Another result could be depression and that disorder can have a devastating affect on health.

A history of childhood victimization and maltreatment can have a significant impact on adult health. It can be associated with a range of difficulties in adulthood.

Developing healthier coping skills is a major focus of personal coaching with an adult who has this history. Coaching can assist an adult in managing stress more effectively. Personal coaching can help an adult to learn to nurture and care for themselves. There is alot of power in self care. You deserve to live a most joyful and healthy life and personal coaching can assist you on your path to extreme self care and wellness.

Debra Tullis, MSW, LCSW, BCD is a life coach and a clinical therapist. She has a Masters Degree in Social Work and worked in the social service field for the last 24 years. She is Board Certified in Clinical Social Work and as an ICF credentialed coach is a member of the International Coach Federation, Coachville, and the International Association of Coaches. To learn more about Debra's services email her or visit her website Coaching for the Good Life.

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