Child Abuse and the Coping Strategies

Contents:
  1. Multi-type Childhood Abuse, Strategies of Coping, and Psychological Adaptations in Young Adults
  2. Result Filters
  3. Understanding the ways children cope with threats
  4. Coping strategies used by survivors of childhood sexual abuse on the journey to recovery.
  5. Supplemental Content

Thinking about the abuse triggers the feelings that are attached to the memories, so the child learns ways to not remember or think about the abuse. There are multiple strategies children develop to do this.

Multi-type Childhood Abuse, Strategies of Coping, and Psychological Adaptations in Young Adults

All the strategies we are going to talk about work the same way. The purpose of the strategies is to avoid the feelings which are linked to the memories of the abuse. All strategies make sense when they are first developed. Anything can be used as a strategy. Numbing Strategies Common emotional responses to child sexual assault are long-term depression, sadness, anxiety, intense fear of feelings or memories of the abuse, and anger.

Thinking strategies These strategies involve thinking about things in ways which help us avoid painful feelings.

Relationship strategies Many men who have survived child abuse find that being in relationships triggers bad feelings. Feeling phobias All these strategies work in pretty much the same way. The frequency of sexual problems was the lowest Table 1.

Result Filters

Results on the CISS revealed that, when confronted with a difficult, stressful, or disturbing situation, participants most frequently used problem-oriented coping strategies, followed by avoidance strategies, and emotion-oriented strategies Table 1. Significant associations were found between all types of abuse Table 2 , which indicates that the participants exposed to one type of abuse were also exposed to other types.

The smallest significant correlations were found between sexual abuse and neglect, and between witnessing family violence and neglect, whereas the highest correlation was between sexual and emotional abuse. We found significant positive correlations between emotion-oriented coping and all investigated indicators of difficulties in psychological adaptation, which means that the participants who used this stress coping strategy more frequently had problems in psychological adaptation in adult age Table 3.

No association was found between avoidance coping strategy and difficulties in psychological adaptation. Pearson correlation coefficients between measures of difficulties in psychological adaptation and coping strategies. To explore the relationship between childhood abuse and stress coping strategies, we calculated Pearson correlation coefficients for each of the abuse types and each of the coping strategies Table 4. A significant positive association was found between emotion-oriented coping strategies and neglect. A significant negative association was found between avoidance coping strategies and physical abuse, as well as between avoidance coping strategies and witnessing family violence.

Neglect, emotional, and sexual abuse in childhood was associated with somatic symptoms and sexual problems in adult age. Neglect, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse were also associated with trauma symptoms. Pearson correlation coefficients between abuse and measures of psychological adaptation. To explore whether coping strategies and childhood abuse can predict difficulties in psychological adaptation in young adult age, we performed a hierarchical regression analysis to determine the contribution of each variable to explaining the difficulties in psychological adaptation.

Predictive variables were types of abuse and neglect in childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, neglect, and witnessing violence , as well as different coping strategies problem-oriented strategies, emotion-oriented strategies, and avoidance strategies. Sexual abuse and emotion-oriented coping were found to be significant predictors. Significance was reached for sexual abuse and emotion-oriented coping.

Hierarchical regression coefficients for predicting difficulties in psychological adaptation. Exposure to sexual abuse in childhood and coping strategies were significant predictors of difficulties in psychological adjustment. Other researchers have found even lower prevalence rates than the present study. The reasons for these differences may partly lie in methodological differences. Further possible explanation can be found in research on the effect of traumatic experiences on memory 1.

It suggests that self-assessment of abuse may result in underestimates of prevalence. A number of individuals who were victims of sexual abuse in childhood do not recall these experiences and thus answer negatively to the question about the abuse 7. Different criteria for classifying abused and non-abused participants can also explain the differences in the prevalence rates between our study and previous ones 1 , 2. In our study, childhood maltreatment experiences were assessed with frequency ratings on a range of items that vary in severity.

These continuous scores can also be used in sophisticated multivariate analyses, as was the case here. However, there are some disadvantages of this approach. It does not distinguish between frequent maltreatment of a less severe nature and infrequent maltreatment of a more severe nature. Participants with quite different maltreatment experiences may receive similar scores. Continuous scores also limit the ability of researchers to distinguish easily between abused and non-abused participants, or to identify those who experienced multi-type maltreatment.

One solution to this problem is to create a cut-off between high and low scores on the Child Maltreatment Scales for Adults. Thus, we used the mean score as the cut-off for classifying participants as abused or non-abused.

Understanding the ways children cope with threats

Because multiple victimization appears to be the norm 4 , 36 - 38 , we wanted to see what kinds of victimizations tend to occur together. We addressed this question by examining how different kinds of victimizations were associated with one another. Our findings showed significant associations between all types of abuse and neglect. The highest levels of association in this study were found between emotional abuse and other types of abuse. This is in accordance with the findings of O'Hagan 39 , who points out that emotional abuse always accompanies other types of abuse and that children suffer emotional damage when they are physically punished, neglected, sexually abused, or forced to witness family violence.

Few studies have addressed the relationship between abuse and choice of coping strategies. They suggest that a flexible and rich repertoire of strategies facilitates coping with different life challenges and complex traumatic situations Our results showed significant positive associations between emotion-oriented coping strategies and neglect, which is in accordance with the results of Shipman et al These authors found that neglected children used less effective stress-coping strategies than non-neglected children.

Furthermore, we found significant negative associations between avoidance coping strategies and witnessing family violence, as well as between avoiding coping strategies and physical abuse. Based on these findings, we suggest that although avoidance is generally considered ineffective and a maladaptive coping strategy in the long term, it can also be seen as a useful strategy for coping with physical abuse and witnessing family violence.

Coping strategies contribute to lowering the level of victimization and alleviate the consequences of the abuse experience. This can affect whether or not victimization leads to different forms of psychological disturbances Consistent with the findings of previous research 21 , 22 , 42 - 46 , our results showed that problem-oriented strategies resulted in better psychosocial adaptation than strategies of problem avoidance or emotional regulation of the situation.

Folkman and Lazarus 43 explain this by the fact that people feel better when they solve the stress-causing problem. In addition, planning to solve the problems can improve the relationship between the individuals and their environment, and lead to modifications in cognitive judgments and more positive emotional outcomes. In this study, there was no significant association between avoidance strategies and difficulties in psychological adaptation.

This supports the findings of some authors 43 , 46 , 47 that avoidance as a coping strategy has a relatively short-term adaptive effect and usually does not have positive emotional consequences in the long term. Our results show that maltreatment in childhood was associated with trauma symptomatology and self-depreciation in young adulthood.


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Neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse were the types of maltreatment most strongly related to trauma symptomatology and self-depreciation. This supports the findings of some studies 1 , 4 , 48 - 52 that emotional abuse is associated with numerous difficulties in psychological adaptation. The present study shows that the consequences of neglect are as grave as those of other types of abuse. We found an association between neglect and somatic symptoms, as well as between neglect and sexual problems. DePanfilis and Zuravin 53 argue that child neglect is more likely to be repeated than other types of abuse, and therefore its consequences are at least equal to those of other types of abuse.

Previous research has found an association between neglect and trauma symptoms 54 , 55 , depression 49 , 56 , and anxiety 57 , but not between neglect and somatic symptoms or sexual problems. Differences between the results of this study and previous research can be explained by the fact that this study also found some overlaps between different types of abuse. It is possible that participants had been exposed not exclusively to neglect, but also to other types of abuse, the consequences of which were somatic symptoms and problems in sexual functioning.

Previous studies have shown an association between witnessing family violence and anxiety, as well as between depression and trauma symptoms 4 , However, we did not detect an association between witnessing family violence and trauma symptoms in our population. This may be due to the negative association between witnessing violence and avoidance coping strategies. In our sample, use of avoidance coping strategies was associated with a lower amount of violence witnessed and thus milder consequences on psychological adaptation in adult age. As expected according to other studies 59 - 62 , the present study found that depressive symptoms in young adults were the most common consequence of sexual abuse.

It also found anxiety and trauma symptoms to be among the long-term consequences of sexual abuse in childhood. Based on these findings, one can presume that adult individuals who were sexually abused in childhood are more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction, ie, sexual identity problems and disorders in sexual functioning.

Indeed, several studies support a relationship between sexual disorders and sexual abuse in childhood 15 , 55 , 63 - Furthermore, our study confirms previous findings 15 , 69 , 70 about the association between sexual abuse in childhood and somatic symptoms in adult age. These results indicate that child abuse is a traumatic experience with long-term negative consequences. Moreover, the observed cumulative effect of experiencing different types of childhood abuse on symptomatology in adult age can be greater than when the consequences for each type of abuse are considered separately In the current sample, exposure to sexual abuse in childhood was a significant predictor of anxiety, depression, trauma symptoms, and somatic symptoms in young adult age, which is consistent with findings of previous studies 15 , 60 - 63 , Although previous research 64 , 66 - 68 has shown that sexual abuse in childhood can predict the level of disorders in sexual identity and functioning, this was not confirmed in our study.

Consequences of sexual abuse are the most studied and controversial aspect of research on sexual disorders. Some researchers 72 argue that exposure to sexual abuse in childhood has inevitable consequences on victims; however, a significant number of children exposed to sexual abuse have no symptoms whatsoever. It seems that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Some victims of sexual abuse will have few or no consequences, others will experience moderate symptoms, and still others will suffer serious consequences Consistent with findings of some previous studies 73 , 74 , we identified emotion-oriented coping as a significant predictor of difficulties in psychological adaptation.

Problem-oriented coping was found to be a protective factor for anxiety and depression, as well as for sexual problems. Previous research has generally indicated that problem-oriented coping strategies are more useful for well-being than emotion-oriented strategies Although some studies have found that avoidance coping is associated with negative psychological outcomes 74 , our study did not find this strategy to be a significant predictor of difficulties in psychological adaptation in adult age.

One limitation of this study is that it did not control for additional variables that can affect the psychological adaptation of adults who were victims of childhood abuse. Previous studies point out the importance of numerous cognitive, developmental, familial, and environmental factors that can protect from, or otherwise influence, abuse-related psychological difficulties The effect of coping strategies on psychological adaptation is very complex and depends on the type of stressor and personal characteristics of the individual Complex theoretical and analytical models are therefore needed to fully understand the effect of coping strategies on various aspects of physical and mental health.

Another limitation is that the Child Maltreatment Scales for Adults cannot detect whether the various forms of abuse occurred concurrently or in different periods of childhood.

Coping strategies used by survivors of childhood sexual abuse on the journey to recovery.

This study is also limited by the fact that abuse and coping strategies were explored retrospectively. Retrospective recall may affect the individual's perception of events and relationships in childhood 2 , At the time of answering, some participants may have forgotten or may not think about the events that have occurred in the past. This is also characteristic for repressed memories of traumatic experiences.

Up to one-third of all incidents of sexual abuse are not retained in memory.

Supplemental Content

A close relationship between the abuser and the child at the time when the abuse occurred increases the likelihood of not remembering the abuse Indeed, the self-reporting nature of this study is an important limitation. Some participants may have exaggerated negative childhood experiences due to current psychological difficulties, such as depression.

Another limitation is the size and type of the sample. The study was performed on a convenience sample of students, and at least one study with students reported a lower prevalence of maltreatment than a study with a clinical sample It should be examined whether the prevalence of abuse among students in this study relates to demographic or family issues not covered in our survey instruments. The preponderance of women in our sample made it impossible to examine results by sex.

Both are trauma responses. Adult and child survivors can move between being hyper-aroused and hypo-aroused. They can also experience strong emotions at the same time. Often they stay hypervigilant, checking for possible threats. Children are often unable to fight or flee.

Coping Technique: The Feel Better Bag

This makes them more likely freeze or dissociate. The younger the child the more likely they will dissociate in response to trauma. The process of dissociation enables them to divide their experience. The child can then separate aspects of the experience from their awareness. How can you support someone who have been triggered or overwhelmed? If you are a family member, friend, colleague, or practitioner supporting someone who is triggered or becomes overwhelmed please see here. Childhood trauma and stress response. Working clinically with complex trauma clients.

Trauma-Informed Care and Practice. Modality, Evaluation and Treatment. Working with Self-Harming and Suicidal Clients. Sub Pages Module Ad.