Being abused does not necessarily cause psychological or medical illness to occur. However, being abused does make it much more likely that one or more psychological or medical illnesses will occur.
Victimized people commonly develop emotional or psychological problems secondary to their abuse, including anxiety disorders and various forms of depression. They may develop substance abuse disorders. If abuse has been very severe, the victim may be traumatized, and may develop a post-traumatic stress injury such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or acute stress disorder. If abuse has occurred from a very early age and has been substantial, a personality disorder may occur such as borderline, narcissistic, or histrionic personality disorders or in some cases, a severe dissociative disorder such as dissociative identity disorder (commonly known as multiple personality disorder).
Sexual disorders may be present. Sex may be experienced as particularly undesirable, or physically or emotionally painful. Alternatively, sexual promiscuity may be observed with the increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy that such behavior carries.
Severe abuse can even lead the victim to contemplate suicide or carry out suicidal impulses. Abuse can result in poor self-esteem, which can lead to a lack of close and trusting relationships or to body image issues (particularly for sexual abuse victims), which in turn can result in eating disorders, which can be seen as victims’ attempts at self-control in one small part of life when they otherwise feels completely out of control and vulnerable.
It is important to note that abuse alone is not sufficient to create psychological disorders. Abuse can be a very strong factor contributing to their development, however. Developing a psychological disorder, such as depression, does not mean that you were necessarily abused, and being abused does not mean you will develop depression.
Depression – you may feel that nothing can help. But this is untrue. Deciding to do something is the most important step you can take. Most people recover from bouts of depression, and some even look back on it as a useful experience which forced them to take stock of their lives and make changes in their lifestyle.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – a severe form of dissociation, a mental process, which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity.
Eating Disorders – Boys, girls, men and women from all types of background and ethnic groups can suffer from eating disorders. Eating disorders are a way of coping with feelings that are making you unhappy or depressed.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
Self Harm – often a way of coping with painful and difficult feelings and distress. Someone may harm themselves because they feel overwhelmed and don’t know how else to deal with things.
Stockholm Syndrome – sufferers come to identify with and even care for their captors in a desperate, usually unconscious act of self-preservation.
Substance Addictions – People can be addicted to many different substances, from alcohol and illegal drugs to prescription medicines.
Suicide – The factors that lead someone to take their own life are complex. There’s rarely one single trigger, although there may be an important ‘last straw’.
Many coping or self-regulation strategies work in some ways, but also limit people in other ways. For example:
Ignoring painful feelings may reduce one’s conscious experience of them. But it also prevents one from learning how to manage them in smaller doses, let alone larger ones – which makes one vulnerable to alternating between feeling little or no emotions and being overwhelmed and unable to cope with them.
Avoiding getting close to people and trying to hide all of one’s pain and vulnerabilities may create a sense of safety. But this approach to relationships leads to a great deal of loneliness, prevents experiences and learning about developing true intimacy and trust, and makes one vulnerable to desperately and naively putting trust in the wrong people and being betrayed again.
At the extreme, getting really drunk can block out painful memories and feelings, including the feeling of being disconnected from others – but cause lots of other problems and disconnections from people.
Some people suffer more painful experiences than others, and abuse is one of many possible causes of extreme emotional pain (others include life-threatening illness, death of a loved one, physical disfigurement, etc.).
Some people get more love and support from their families and friends than others, and families in which abuse occurs tend to provide less of the love and support needed to recover from abuse. But families in which abuse does not happen can also experience significant problems, and can make it hard for family members to deal with the inevitable painful experiences in life.
Finally, because everyone needs caring relationships and love, emotional neglect can be more devastating than abuse, particularly in the earliest years of life.