For any child, no matter their personality or coping skills, abuse is a traumatic event. But when does the experience of child abuse cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Let’s take a look at some of the factors.
Many trauma experts believe that younger children are more likely to develop PTSD as a result of child abuse. Because younger children are not mentally developed enough to understand what’s happening to them nor do they have the coping skills to process the trauma, they are at higher risk of developing PTSD even in adulthood. This is one of the reasons many trauma survivors focus on processing their childhood abuse experience as they try to heal.
Child abuse survivors who have weak social support are more likely to develop PTSD. As is the case for adult trauma survivors, children who are abused need at least one person who can provide them the assistance they need—someone to believe their abuse claims, someone to talk to, and someone who can provide the security they need to feel safe. This social support foundation can come from family, friends, or the broader community. Just having a trauma counselor can go a long way in decreasing the likelihood that the child trauma survivor will develop PTSD.
Child abuse survivors who are homeless, extremely poor, facing discrimination, or who are housing/food insecure are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not just one or even two stressors that can become a factor in PTSD, but it is a piling on of stressors that can potentially lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Relationship with the abuser.
For some child abuse survivors being abused by someone they trust can have more of a negative impact on how they process the event. In that case, child abuse survivors who have been traumatized by close family members or friends are at a higher risk for developing PTSD. That’s not to say that being abused by a stranger wouldn’t eventually cause post-traumatic stress disorder—it all depends on how the child trauma survivor views that relationship and how it impacts the way they relate to the world and themselves.
No matter how young or old, each child has a different level of coping skills. A child abuse survivor’s coping skills will play a big role in whether they eventually develop post-traumatic stress disorder. The good news is that no matter what level of coping skills a child had at the time the abuse took place, they can further develop them by working with a trauma counselor. It will be these coping skills that can help stop PTSD in its tracks.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is rarely caused by one factor. In the case of child abuse, survivors often develop PTSD when a variety of factors create a piling on of stress in their life.