If someone is abused, it can affect every aspect of that person’s life, especially self-esteem. How much abuse damages a person depends on the circumstances surrounding the abuse, how often and how long the abuse occurs, the age of the person who was abused, and lots of other factors.
Of course, every family has arguments. In fact, it’s rare when a family doesn’t have some rough times, disagreements, and anger. Punishments and discipline – like removing privileges, grounding, or being sent to your room – are normal in most families. It becomes a problem, though, when the punishment is physically or emotionally damaging. That’s called abuse.
Abused teens often have trouble sleeping, eating, and concentrating. They may perform poorly at school because they are angry or frightened or because they don’t care or can’t concentrate.
Many people who are abused distrust others. They may feel a lot of anger toward other people and themselves, and it can be hard to make friends. Some abused teens become depressed. Some may engage in self-destructive behavior, such as cutting or abusing drugs or alcohol. They may even attempt suicide.
It’s normal for people who have been abused by the people they love to not only feel upset but also confused about what happened to them. They may feel guilty and embarrassed and blame themselves, especially if the abuse is sexual. But abuse is never the fault of the person who is being abused, no matter how much the abuser tries to blame it on them.
Abusers often try to manipulate the people they’re abusing into either thinking the abuse is their fault or to keep the abuse quiet. An abuser might say things like: “This is a secret between you and me,” or “If you ever tell anybody, I’ll hurt you or your mom,” or “You’re going to get in trouble if you tell. No one will believe you and you’ll go to jail for lying.” This is the abuser’s way of making a person feel like nothing can be done so that he or she won’t take any action to stop or report the abuse.
People who are abused may have trouble getting help because it means they’d be reporting on someone they love – someone who may be wonderful much of the time and awful to them only some of the time. So abuse often goes unreported.
What Should Someone Who’s Being Abused Do?
People who are being abused need to get help. Keeping the abuse a secret doesn’t protect a person from being abused – it only makes it more likely that the abuse will continue.
If you or anyone you know is being abused, talk to someone you or your friend can trust – a family member, a friend, a trusted teacher, a doctor, or an adult who works with youth at school or in a place of worship. Many teachers and counselors, for instance, have training in how to recognize and report abuse.
Telephone directories list local child abuse and family violence hotline numbers that you can call for help. There’s also Childhelp USA at (800) 4-A-CHILD ( 422-4453).
Sometimes people who are being abused by someone in their own home need to find a safe place to live temporarily. It is never easy to have to leave home, but it’s sometimes necessary to be protected from further abuse. People who need to leave home to stay safe can find local shelters listed in the phone book or they can contact an abuse helpline. Sometimes a person can stay with a relative or friend.
People who are experiencing abuse often feel weird or alone. But they’re not. No one deserves to be abused. Getting help and support is an important first step to change the situation. Many teens who have experienced abuse find that painful emotions may linger even after the abuse stops. Working with a therapist is one way for a person to sort through the complicated feelings and reactions that being abused creates, and the process can help to rebuild feelings of safety, confidence, and self-esteem.