Mental health

U : Ubuntu

Maltreatment in childhood affects
mental health in the growing years

Many people who suffer abuse as children have difficult adulthood as they continue to suffer silently under the burden of maltreatment. Let’s look at some of the ways to rebuild self-esteem and confidence in such people.

Dr Kedar Tilwe

What is Past is Prologue…’ – William Shakespeare (The Tempest)

All of us are well aware of one of our most ‘innate instinct’s’ to protect and care for children; courtesy of the amazing work of Darwin, Lorenz and recent research which almost confirms the biological basis of this response. However, according to recent estimations by the WHO, abuse faced by children includes physical, sexual and emotional neglect. Adding to the pressure on already sensitive minds, are the spectres of bullying, parental discord, dysfunctional families, substance abuse, peer pressure, etc. Even more, hauntingly 1 in 4 adults are likely to have suffered from some form of abuse in their childhood*.


THE CONSEQUENCES. The memories, understandings and resulting response patterns that we develop as children form the bedrock of our personality, expectations and the script according to which we choose to live our adult life. Consequently, both prolonged and brief exposure to adverse experiences in childhood can have a huge impact, and leave life-long emotional scars. These severely affect a person’s mental and psychological health and well-being.


Blaming oneself for the event or its repercussions can result in a negative self-image, lowered self-confidence, absence of self-esteem and complete lack of self-worth.

• The shame, guilt and trauma of betrayal associated with the abuse, can lead to social isolation, inability to trust people and impede the formation of meaningful, fulfilling long term relationships.

• Sometimes, psychological coping mechanisms may be insufficient to deal with the stress and consequently result in a person resorting to rash and impulsive self-sabotaging behaviour such as substance abuse (e.g. alcoholism), self-harm, anti-social behaviour, promiscuousness, etc.

• There is an increased vulnerability for precipitation of psychiatric illnesses such as Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Personality disorders in such persons.

• Often, those who have suffered maltreatment in childhood have a higher probability of perpetrating the same behaviour towards their family or loved ones, in later life.


Not all people who suffer abuse as children have difficult adulthood; however, many persons continue to suffer silently under the burden of maltreatment. They must understand that they are not responsible for what happened, nor do they have to endure that anymore. Let’s look at some of the ways to rebuild self-esteem and confidence in such people:

ACCEPT: Remind yourself that you were not responsible, and more importantly accept that you too have the right to a full and happy life

CHANNELIZE YOUR RESENTMENT: Re-directing your anger towards a more socially acceptable cause or activity is perhaps the most constructive way to deal with it. So harness all that negative energy and put it into something you enjoy doing

REACH OUT: You don’t have to suffer alone; enlist your support system and include them in your recovery process allowing them to help you in any way they can

PROFESSIONAL ADVICE: Seeking guidance from an individual, expert, or an accredited organization can provide you with a non-judgmental, secure base and comfort zone, which is often necessary to allow you to heal. Learning essential life-skills and coping techniques can hasten the recovery


Yes, the past may be prologue. But you are in charge of the script of your life, so make it a good one!


Reference: [1]


(Dr Tilwe is Psychiatrist and Sexologist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, Navi Mumbai)
(Photo from Pexels)


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