Codependency causes people to feed off each other’s emotions and to lose their ability to care for themselves. Codependency is a cruel dance where one person needs the other who needs to be needed. Thus, you end up with one adult being the giver and the other the taker.

Sexual abuse in childhood can leave people vulnerable to forming codependent relationships and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Is there a way to heal from codependency after childhood sexual abuse? That is what this article shall explore.

What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is sexual activity with a child by an adult, adolescent, or older child. While most people think of penetration as child sexual abuse, glaring, touching, showing pornographic pictures, or speaking sexually to a child is also child sexual abuse.


There are several effects that experiencing childhood sexual abuse, which is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) can have on the physical and mental wellbeing of the victim. Later in life, they may form or have:

  • Unplanned pregnancies
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance abuse disorder
  • An increased risk of suicide
  • Problems with intimate relationships

Unfortunately, child sexual abuse is not rare. Every nine minutes, a substantiated claim of child sexual abuse is made by child protective services with over 65,000 children are being abused in the United States each year. Approximately one in four women and one in six men were abused sexually as children. (Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina)

The problem is enormous and has gotten worse since the coronavirus epidemic when children have been forced to remain home instead of going to school.

Who are the Victims and Perpetrators of Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Children are innocent and do not understand adult sexuality. They are naïve and do not understand they should avoid certain people or circumstances.

The victims of child sexual abuse are any children below the age of eighteen. They come from all economic and all other demographic backgrounds. There is no family that is totally safe or immune from child sexual abuse.

The perpetrator of childhood sexual abuse is usually someone the child and their families know well and trusts of either sex.


Yes, women sexually abuse children too.

The perpetrator might be a pastor, a family friend, a scoutmaster, or many people who have power over the child. Often perpetrators were sexually abused themselves as children, but that is only an explanation, not an excuse for their behavior.

A perpetrator need not be frightening to the child and often is subtle, quiet, covert, and even pleasurable to the child as it is disguised as play. Perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse often deny their behavior and blame it on their victims.

How Do Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Become Codependent?

Becoming codependent doesn’t happen in the open where everyone can see, nor does it occur overnight. Codependency begins when a child feels emotionally abandoned and they begin to repress their feelings, needs, and thoughts. Children are adept at numbing their hurt and to cope and be accepted, they hide behind false personalities and develop codependent behaviors to cope. This maltreatment usually occurs over the space of several years or even decades.

Dysfunctional families are the breeding ground for codependency. This type of family has closed in on itself, not allowing new ideas to be discussed among the members of the family and certainly not with someone outside the family unit. Some families are isolated while others make appearances such as in a church and are highly respected in the community while in private they suffer. Within the family, talking about the family to others is considered disloyal and the family will use shame and fear, keeping members in line.

Children growing up in a codependent family learn early to not trust and to protect, plus take care of any members who live with addiction or other dysfunctional problems.

In short, the child grows up believing, because of experiences with their family of origin, that they are responsible for the well-being of anyone they have an intimate relationship with.

Symptoms of Codependency


Codependency has many symptoms, but a person need not have all of them to qualify as a codependent. The symptoms of codependency vary in degrees of severity and, if left untreated, can lead to worsening symptoms.

Below is a list of the symptoms of codependency:


  • Perfectionism
  • Low self-esteem where you feel you are not enough
  • Giving up your all to please someone else
  • Absent or weak boundaries
  • Reacting instead of acting
  • Difficulty expressing oneself with your feelings and thoughts
  • Difficulty saying no
  • Denial of your own feelings
  • Denial that you are a codependent
  • Caretaking and controlling
  • Addiction to a substance or another person
  • Shame
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Despair
  • Depression
  • Having a lack of assertiveness about what you need
  • Afraid of being alone
  • Feeling trapped in a poor relationship but being unable to get yourself to leave
  • Relying on other’s opinions of you
  • Avoiding closeness
  • Trying to control others through manipulation

Codependents wake up each morning wondering how “we” are feeling rather than how am “I” feeling. Their lives are entangled around that of someone else, but there are ways to break free.

Methods to Overcoming Codependency After Childhood Sexual Abuse

People who grew up being sexually abused sometimes wake up to find themselves in a codependent relationship with someone else. They suddenly realize that they have become either the doormat or the user in the relationship and wish to change. Usually, this change is brought about by someone else’s healing or by attending a twelve-step group. No matter how the person first recognizes they are codependent, they must act if they are to escape.

The first step to escaping codependency is to leave denial behind and confront head-on the problem while acknowledging reality. If that sounds hard, it is because it is very difficult to admit to yourself that you have been trapped in a circular relationship. It is likely that this change in perspective begins as the result of a life event known as hitting bottom, where your life has become so unmanageable that you want out.


Once an awakening has occurred, it is critical to make changes. Instead of ignoring the facts, recognize them as painful but true. You may not like the facts, but with effort, you can see them as they truly are.

The second step, after recognizing there is a codependent problem, is to reach out for help. Many people start with getting professional help, such as a therapist, while others turn to twelve-step groups to help them heal. With this help, you will learn about codependency and how your childhood sexual abuse was a catalyst in forming it.

After these two steps, you will find you are experiencing hope as your guilt and denial melt away. You will learn what healing means to you and refocus your life on yourself.

This is not selfishness it is the way it should have always been.

Finally, because you have begun to care for your needs and build boundaries, you will build your own identity and recognize your dreams and needs.

Ending Our Time Together

While living in a codependent relationship, you have made someone else more important than yourself. After a while, all your thought, feelings, and actions revolve around that other person and how you can meet their needs while ignoring your own.

Sexual abuse experienced in childhood can lead to an increased risk of becoming codependent if not acknowledged and treated. One can attend twelve-step groups such as Al-Anon or seek professional help from a qualified therapist.

Sexually abusive experiences in childhood need not capture and control your life as an adult. You are grown now and in control of your destiny. Breaking free of a codependent relationship is painful and difficult, but the rewards of doing so are enormous.

“Codependents are reactionaries. They overreact. They under-react. But rarely do they act. They react to the problems, pains, lives, and behaviors of others. They react to their own problems, pains, and behaviors.”–Melody Beattie

“Many of us live in denial of who we truly are because we fear losing someone or something and there are times that if we don’t rock the boat, too often the one we lose is ourselves… It feels good to be accepted, loved, and approved of by others, but often the membership fee to belong to that club is far too high of a price to pay.”–Dennis Merritt Jones

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