Coping Mechanisms of Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

Recognizing coping mechanisms in child sexual abuse survivors

Keeping an eye out for the coping mechanisms of a child sexual abuse survivor is very important. Many victims of sexual abuse can turn to drug abuse, violence, alcoholism, depression and anxiety.  Some can even result to suicide attempts if not properly cared for. Feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and fear can be outward signs of inward pain and torment.

It is common for survivors to internalize these feelings. This trauma will be significant in their development both behaviorally and emotionally. However, building strong-bonded relationships will ensure that the survivor of child sexual abuse feels safe. Being consistent and identifying the right times to talk to them about their feelings will combat these insecurities. 

Noticing the different kinds of coping mechanisms

Recognizing that some sexual abuse survivors will have different coping mechanisms and knowing how to be a resource can be complicated. Different survivors can experience different stages or types of coping mechanisms.

There are three most common coping mechanisms: suppression, emotional insulation, and rationalization.


Suppression is when the survivor hides from their experience in attempt to forget about it. This can create long term struggles and cause them to release their feelings in unhealthy or destructive ways.

Emotional Insulation

Emotional insulation can be expressed with withdrawal from the situation. Because the pain was to much for the survivor to bear, they will disassociate themselves from the experience. This will prevent acceptance which will stunt their healing process.


Rationalization is when survivors of child sexual abuse turn to seeing the situation as a complex one. They will try to rationalize it whether it be through anger, empathy, or even shame. All of these coping mechanisms can be equally energy consuming.

Retouching on helpful points on how to be supportive will put yourself in perspective in order to be helpful to the survivor’s healing process. Being aware of such consequences is important, but also being patient with the survivor can be constructive long-term. 

Knowing your boundaries

Relating with a survivor of child sexual abuse can be tough. Setting boundaries as a confidant can help from overstepping sensitivity in the victim. With any survivor, keeping away from triggers such as suggestive graphics will keep the victim from feeling like they are reliving the situation. Often times, it can be physically unsettling for the victim to talk about what happened because of shame they might associate with it.

Although it can be difficult not to, showing too much emotion when talking about the situation can create an upsetting environment. It is important to hide feelings of sadness and anger because it can be a poor example on how to cope positively. It will also be a key in setting a tone and associations in which the survivor will attribute for the rest of their healing process.

Creating an open and inviting environment will show the survivor that they can feel free to express themselves. But being overbearing can do the opposite and push the victim away. 


In conclusion, there are many steps you can take to show your loved one that you are there for them. Brushing up on tools to make sure you’re making the right moves for your child’s healing and growth can make all the difference. Focusing on their emotional safety as well as their physical safety is important to creating a supportive, comfortable, and most importantly, therapeutic environment. Whether it’s taking them to a support group or understanding their coping mechanisms, being an involved loved one is a great place to start.