Damaged Goods Syndrome

When children are sexually abused, they incorporate within their self-esteem the belief that they are no longer whole or perfect or worthy. They are now damaged, worthless, and unworthy of love and good things coming to them. This sense of "damaged goods" can set up a dynamic of self-sabotage and self-harm that can remain for many years, if not their entire lives. "Damaged goods" is the feeling the child victim has that they are damaged. The extent of this belief will be impacted by the perpetrator's statements, the belief and support of family and friends, and variables about the abuse itself: how long, how severe, how it occurred, what kind of support the child received.

"Damaged goods" can be feelings of guilt and responsibility for the abuse or the consequences of disclosure. After the disclosure, the victim may feel that she is not worthwhile and will not be wanted by anyone again. He or she has struggled with confusion and ambivalence prior to disclosure, and following disclosure, some or all of the things she feared came to pass. Perpetrators almost always deny the abuse. They are often believed. Many professionals and agencies get involved with the family, and if the perpetrator is a family member, the child may be removed from the home. Victims experience a range of emotions and act out in predictable ways. They later engage in self-destructive behaviors and experience a range of emotional and psychological problems and health effects.

While sexual abuse is incredibly damaging, victims are not "damaged goods." If intervention is immediate, and appropriate therapy is offered, children can re-formulate beliefs regarding unworthiness. Support and validation are essential to the child's psychological healing. For adults who are unable to remember childhood sexual abuse due to repression, the recovery process is longer. The healing of sexual abuse, similar to trauma of any kind, requires the victim's willingness to seek help and engage in the process. Awareness of the connections between past abuse and present experience is an important part of the recovery process. Becoming aware of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that perpetuate the pain is essential to healing.   


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