America's population of adults who were abused as children is larger than commonly believed, and they are often successful, career-oriented people who have kept their childhood secret to themselves, according to a prominent psychologist.
Diana Everstine, research associate of the Mental Health Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., and co-author of "People in Crisis: Strategic Therapeutic Intervention," spoke during Brigham Young University's ninth annual Health and Wellness Conference last week at the conference center.Everstine told a group of health professionals that it is important to look for warning signs that an adult patient was abused as a child, because they often do not seek therapy with the intent of dealing with the childhood trauma.
"The serious ones rarely come in with that as the presenting problem. Oftentimes these people don't see themselves as abused," she said. "A lot of these people lived through it when there were no reporting laws and we viewed child sexual abuse very differently."
Some adults who were abused sexually or physically repress the memory. Some actually do not know they've been abused, and others were close enough to the abuser that they incorporated his rationalizations for the crime into their own minds.
There are, however, a variety of signs that may indicate a person has been abused. They may have a history of relationships with abusive partners, they often describe themselves as numb, they may exhibit self-destructive behavior, they may be sexually promiscuous and have explosive tempers, and they are sometimes driven people who can't accept success.
"The stereotype that these people are living on the fringe is not true. A lot of them are very successful, hard-working, driven folks," Everstine said. "You should be suspicious if you see warning signs. Investigate but don't always assume this is the case. Abuse victims come in very unusual packages sometimes."
More than 250 professionals discussed crisis intervention and emergency psychology during the two-day conference, which was sponsored by BYU's Department of Health Sciences.
Everstine, along with her co-author and husband, Lewis Everstine, said that the stress of today's society has forced clinicians, human service workers and police officers to handle psychological crisis situations.
If those people don't deal well with such incidents, it can damage those who need help.
Everstine said abuse victims in particular may mistrust authority figures because abused children often believe that other adults knew they were being harmed and did nothing.
"If nobody stopped it, the abuser must have been right or very powerful, and the other adults who didn't stop it must have condoned it," she said.
Signals that may indicate a person was abused as a child:
- Has frequent panic reactions.
- Enjoys being a loner.
- Acts tough, as if he needs no one.
- Can't cope with change.
- Is easily offended.
- Allows people to take advantage of him in exchange for control.
- Suffers from free-floating anxiety.