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Over the last several years I have been conducting research on the impact of trauma & abuse as it relates to adult dysfunctions and negative future outcomes. Trauma & abuse that has not been effectively resolved will impact the way we view our world, social/familial interacts, intimacy, vocation, mental health, etc.

Often many individuals with a history of childhood abuse and trauma will re-experience symptoms related to the abuse in adulthood. The exact reasons are still unclear, however what we do know is if there is adequate services and support following the traumatic experience the likelihood of symptom re-emergence is significantly reduced. I mentioned that to lead us into the story of Amanda. Amanda struggles with the challenges of unresolved negative feelings and self-image surrounding sexual abuse in childhood. Individuals unaware of Amanda’s past view her with hostility, unable to curb her promiscuous behavior, having a lack of sufficient boundaries, and cognitive stagnation (she behaves and thinks as a teenager although she is in her latent 30s).

To cope with issues surrounding her abuse like some survivors she developed an addiction. However, her addiction did not include drugs or alcohol, but sex. As a result of her untreated addiction she has not made any significant gains in her life, simply experiences loss. She expresses desires to be in a committed, long term relationship, but she tends to get in the way of herself. She has received many significant “flags” throughout her life suggesting her behaviors are interfering with or preventing her from finding true love, yet her behavior only escalates.

As an example, Amanda was encouraged to abstain from intimacy for several months because of vocalizations she made to her doctor suggesting she no longer “felt much of anything during intimacy”. The following day Amanda experienced what she perceived to be a crisis and engaged in previous self-defeating behaviors. This time the outcome was a little different than previous outcomes. Several weeks later she began to experience severe abdominal pain, difficulty sitting, and a low-grade fever that became more pronounced over time. Amanda had developed an infection as a result of a broken fingernail that had become lodged within the inner folds of her rectal orifice. Doctors believed the fingernail, had been lodged in there for 3 weeks, tearing the folds, leading to infection. Upon receiving treatment for the infection and a resolution to her pain, she once again returned to previous self-injurious behavior.

Trauma and abuse in childhood & adolescence can “look different” to each person that experiences the event(s). Therefore, it is essential to receive early treatment to prevent and or minimize symptoms that are both seen and unseen. It is also important to refrain from making impulsive judgments and assumptions about others and their behaviors, which could be attributed to pain or trauma.

Contributing Author: Terri Allen, Director of Nursing Services.