Supporting adults who have been abused

Abuse in childhood can be so devastating that it may lead to vulnerability in adult life. Each abusive situation is unique and it is impossible to predict how children involved will cope when they grow up.

Some will come to terms with what happened and move on to reach their full potential; others may have their life chances irreparably damaged by the abuse, and may never recover from the effects. Some of the lasting effects of childhood abuse that may be seen in adults are depression, fear of others, inability to cope with situations of conflict, self-harm, abusive behaviour, misplaced guilt, very low self-esteem and / or an inability to relate to partners or children. However, none of these patterns in a person ;s life are exclusively linked to abuse.

Adults who become targets for abuse because of their vulnerability may suffer the same damage in their daily lives as adults who were abused as children. In both cases, it is important for them to find people who will take what they say seriously and act to support them. Where abuse has occurred, the person may find it difficult or impossible to react to situations that others might see as normal ; or completely innocent e.g. sharing the peace in church services, safe hugs and other physical gestures shared between friends. Images and examples used in the service around selflessness and submission and obedience to the will of God, which many Christians take for granted, may have been twisted and manipulated in the context of abuse to wield control and fear rather than the reassurance of grace and mercy.

It is important to recognise the vulnerability of those who are coping with an abusive past, and to ensure that pastoral care is kept within respectful, well-defined boundaries.