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How Can Emotions Help In Identifying Child Sexual Abuse

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A silhouette of a child sitting on a beach with one arm raised towards the sea.
Image for representation only.

“The mind of a child is fragile. Their emotions touch their future and your words shape their destiny.”In our daily life, we come across responses or reactions that we, as individuals, express after hearing about a situation or discovering something unusual. For example, when we watch a horror movie, our first instinct is to close our eyes because we are scared, or when we give a bar of chocolate to a child, he smiles because he is happy.

These responses are known as ’emotions’ that drive our characteristic behavior every single day. With the concept of mental health trending, it has become necessary for everybody to be aware of their emotions or feelings. Emotions are sculptured along with our soul, i.e., they are inscribed in our conscience. Thus, they come to us in the form of instincts as well. As we grow older, we learn how to differentiate. However, as a child, these feelings are new, and hence, confusing to identify. 

As adults, we have a habit of underestimating children’s reactions and mark them as insignificant. This may be due to various reasons:

  1. Parents are protectors. We wish to protect our child from all the horrifying events and tragedies. In this process, we often neglect the need to be aware of all emotions, negative as well. When the child faces such trauma, they get confused because of their inability to identify the emotion which they were never taught about.
  2. Children often react differently than adults. For this reason, adults do not always understand the connection between the child’s behavior and the traumatic experience. For instance, depressed children are often active and restless, while depressed adults are sluggish and move at a slower speed. Moreover, children suffer from extreme mood swings, from jubilant at the one extreme to deeply sorrowful. This behavior alienates and confuses adults, which may lead to their assumption that children “get over things easily”.
  3. Children tend to repress their thoughts and feelings, behavior which can even be intensified by the adults’ attitude. They don’t wish to upset the adults and believe in “protecting the protectors”.

Feelings, mood, effects, and emotions may seem starkly similar; however, they are different. To understand each one of these, let us go through them one by one. Emotions are a response to stimuli. As mentioned above, emotions are our reactions to something unusual or regular.
Feelings are senses which exist in both physical domain and emotional context. For example, the snow feels cold. Feelings last longer than emotions. For example, when a child makes a mistake, we might experience an emotion of anger at that instant but, even with the emotion of anger, we do not let the child feel unloved. 

The mood is influenced by physiology, environment, and mental state. It lasts longer than emotions and is a collection of many inputs. A child can be in a good mood for a week or a month because of winning a race at school. Thus, the period of mood is uncertain. Effects can occur as a contributor to mood and emotions but can also exist without their presence. Some examples include displeasure, tension, and relaxation, energy, and tiredness. 

Why Is It Important To Express Thoughts And Feelings About The Events Of Sexual Abuse?

  1. Most children benefit by knowing that other children suffer from the same reactions and feelings that they do themselves, or learning from adults that other children have the same reactions, concerns, fears, and fantasies. This gives the child the feeling of being “normal”.
  2. The adult can also clarify possible misunderstandings the child might have of the event.
  3. When a child speaks of the traumatic experience and puts the circumstances into words for the listener, a chronological overview of the event is created. This can then form the basis of a cognitive structure and impose a sense of order on a chaotic situation, giving the child a feeling of having the problem under control.
  4. Children use a great deal of energy and strength to repress frightening and overwhelming feelings. Talking about these things seems to diminish the impact of these distressing feelings and thoughts, thus reducing tension. Children usually find it a relief to talk about difficult problems, and therefore gladly use this avenue.

There are times when a child is unable to find the right words to express his thoughts or emotions. This inability in clinical terms is known as Alexithymia, which further gives rise to many disorders like autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

Why Is It Not Possible To Simply Forget?

Children who have suffered from extreme and/or repeated traumatic experiences are particularly susceptible to the development of pathological symptoms. Their life quality can diminish if their psychological traumas are not treated.  Since the traumatic experience is so dramatic, extreme, sudden, and possibly even life-threatening, and is so intensely experienced via the senses, it is imprinted on the child’s memory. This deeply embedded event is a disturbance that the child carries with them at all times, resurfacing even when the child does not want to think about it. Memories of the event can control the child’s thoughts and feelings, emerging under varying circumstances, such as when the child should be concentrating at school or when they should be falling asleep. 

Emotions are the soul of our souls which are very important to talk about. They help us in figuring out the appropriate steps we must take in a situation. This goes for the children as well. Only when the children will be aware of the emotions, they would dare to solve and manage gruesome situations.

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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