#MentalHealthWeek: Maltreatment in childhood and its impact on mental health in the growing years

Dr Kedar Tilwe, a Psychiatrist and Sexologist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, shares his insights about the impact of being abused in childhood, onto the adult life, and ways to avoid it

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All of us are aware of one of our innate instinct is to protect and care for children, courtesy of the amazing work of Darwin, Lorenz and recent research, which almost confirms the biological basis of the 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, and others. Moreover, hauntingly one in four adults, may likely 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 life.

Consequently, both prolonged and brief exposure to adverse experiences can have an impact and leave life-long emotional scars. They 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, absent 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 like Alcoholism, self-harm, anti-social behaviour, promiscuousness, among others.
  • There is an increased vulnerability for precipitation of psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Personality disorders in such people
  • 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

The solution

Not all people who suffer abuse in childhood have difficult adulthood, but many people continue to suffer silently under the burden. 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 your self-esteem and confidence:


Remind yourself that you were not responsible, and more importantly, accept that you have the right to lead a happy life

Channelise your resentment

Re-directing your anger towards a more socially acceptable cause or activity is perhaps the most constructive way to deal with it. To 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

*Reference: [1] https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/child/en/