Resources for Survivors

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How can abuse affect me?

Experiencing any form of childhood trauma and abuse can impact on an adult's quality of life in fundamental ways. It can make basic day-to-day activities, such as eating, sleeping, working and study difficult. Trauma and abuse in childhood can also affect your mental health, physical health, and your relationships with the people around you.

However research has established that recovery is possible. With the right help and support survivors can live healthy connected lives. Understanding the effects of trauma and abuse can help survivors connect their past experiences with their present challenges, and find pathways to a healthier future.

Effects on Feelings

Survivors are often out of touch with their feelings - confused by emotions or reactions they cannot explain. They have often been raised in environments in which a child’s normal expressions of upset or discomfort were punished or ignored. They may have been taught to attribute the negative emotions associated with childhood trauma and abuse, such as shame and anger, towards themselves. This confusion often persists into adult life, and can result  in heightened experiences of:

  • Anxiety
  • Grief and sadness
  • Shame, self blame and guilt
  • Alienation
  • Helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness

Like everyone, survivors have a right to “a life worth living” (Linehan 1993), but instead survivors often live with chronic distress and pain. For many survivors, these emotions are so much a part of their day-to-day life that they don’t realise that there are alternatives. Unable to readily regulate their emotions they may seek to do so through alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, or other compulsive behaviours. Many survivors also harm themselves out of a sense of despair. All of these 'coping strategies' make sense in the context of childhood trauma and abuse.

Learning about emotions – what they are, where they come from, and how to respond to them – is a crucial part of finding a path to recovery. Survivors can learn new, effective ways of regulating the intensity of their feelings, so that they don’t need to use alcohol or drugs and/or cut themselves to express their emotions. For many survivors, learning about the psychological impacts of their trauma or abuse helps them to understand why they have struggled for so long, and how they can move forward.

Acknowledging these feelings, understanding where they come from and why they are so intense is an important part of any survivor’s journey.

Effects on relationships with others and self-esteem

Survivors often find it difficult to trust others. As children they might have been betrayed by the very adults who were meant to nurture and protect them. As a result, survivors often find it difficult to form and sustain relationships. A large survey of adult survivors of child abuse in Australia found that survivors had a higher rate of failed relationships and marriages, and reported lower levels of social interaction (Draper, Pirkis et al. 2008).

When children are abused they come to believe the messages their abusers deliver, such as: 'You are worthless' and 'You have no value'. Of course, these messages are not true, but children accept and internalise them. These messages become ingrained  that, when a child who has been abused or traumatised grows up, the adult survivor will often experience feelings of low self-worth or poor self-confidence. Rebuilding self-esteem is a gradual process, but a crucial one.

Effects on physical health

Childhood trauma and abuse doesn’t just affect the mind - they can affect the body too. Children who feel perpetually in danger grow up with a heightened stress response. This in turn heightens their emotions, makes it difficult to sleep, lowers immune function, and, over time, increases the risk of a number of physical illnesses. Adult survivors are at increased risk of chronic pain and fibromylgia, gynaecological problems, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, headaches, cardiovascular disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. They are also more likely to smoke and drink more than other people in the community, and be less physically active. These factors can all affect health and wellbeing in later life.

Click here to watch Cathy Kezelman’s interview with Julie Mc Crossin from physical health forum held by MHCC  “Presentation at MHCC forumphysical health issues in mental health” October 2011

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Testimonials

“Blue Knot Foundation has a key role to play in the building of community capacity in care provision to those who have experienced childhood abuse and trauma in any environment.”

NIALL MULLIGAN Manager, Lifeline Northern Rivers

“I think Blue Knot Foundation is a fantastic support organisation for people who have experienced childhood trauma/abuse, for their families/close friends and for professionals who would like to learn how to more effectively work with these people.”

Psychologist Melbourne

“It's such a beautiful thing that you are doing. Helping people to get through this.”

ANONYMOUS

“It was only last September when I discovered the Blue Knot Foundation website and I will never forget the feeling of support and empathy that I received when I finally made the first phone call to Blue Knot Helpline, which was also the first time I had ever spoken about my abuse.”

STEVEN

"At last there is some sound education and empathetic support for individuals and partners impacted by such gross boundary violations.”

TAMARA

Contact Us

Phone: 02 8920 3611
Email: admin@blueknot.org.au
PO Box 597 Milsons Point NSW 1565
Office Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm AEST

Blue Knot Helpline
Phone: 1300 657 380
Email: helpline@blueknot.org.au 
Operating Hours: Mon-Sun, 9am-5pm AEST

For media comment, please contact:
Dr Cathy Kezelman AM
0425 812 197 or ckezelman@blueknot.org.au

For media enquiries, please contact: 
Christine Kardashian, Group Account Director
0416 005 703 or 02 9492 1007 or christine@launchgroup.com.au