JILL put it bluntly: ''I don't think I've ever experienced a meaningful relationship in my life. Men who claim to care about me are really only after one thing - sex.'' Jill, in her late 20s, has gone through a lot: numerous relationships, moving from one country to another, drugs and alcohol. Nothing seems to make her happy. All her romantic relationships seem to be of the wrong kind, and when there is a chance of a healthy one she seems to sabotage it. Jill's destructive behaviour and thinking do not come out of a vacuum. It has a lot to do with a childhood trauma. She was molested by a neighbour when she was five. Today, she still remembers being taken to the doctor and being told never to play outside alone. Later, her parents never talked about the incident, hoping Jill would forget. But Jill remembered what happened. She also remembered thinking she must have been a bad girl who had done something wrong. Her parents' taboo on the subject only confirmed this to the little girl. She felt ashamed and guilty. Jill has been carrying this burden since then. Her childhood trauma, guilt, and burden of secrecy are reflected in her adult behaviour. Jill's case is far from unique. Victims of childhood sexual abuse and incest show significant symptoms in adult life: Poor self-esteem - sexual abuse victims often believe they are responsible for causing the act. If people close to them do not help to clarify the matter - which is commonly the case - the victim will take the blame and become self-critical. Feeling out of control - people can be disabled by anxiety, a sense of helplessness and emotional paralysis. Although they are dissatisfied with their lives, they feel incapable of changing them. They feel defeated by life and see themselves as victims. Psychic numbing - this is a survival mechanism sexual abuse victims adopt during the assault. They focus on other things rather than the actual experience. Later, many victims apply psychic numbing in daily life, detaching themselves from reality or unpleasant emotions. In the long run this causes difficulties in relationships. It is not unusual for such people to use drugs or alcohol to numb themselves. Promiscuity - people engage in sexual activity as a way to seek emotional comfort or connection with others. However, in most situations, such desires are not fulfilled. Many believe sex is all anyone wants from them or all they have to offer others. Promiscuity is sometimes their way of maintaining control: that is, having the decision-making power of who to have sex with, what kind of sex to have, and when to leave. Depression, fear of commitment, poor choice of partner, and eating disorders are common to victims of sexual abuse or rape. Obviously, these symptoms are not absolute guidelines to determine whether a person was sexually abused. Other psychological problems can also produce similar symptoms. Sexual abuse has a definite negative long-term impact on a person. It can change a normal, well-adjusted person to one who is confused and chaotic. Sometimes people can block off such a memory for years. Individuals with a history of sexual abuse need to give themselves a chance to recover instead of running away from it. Recognising they did not bring on the abuse has to be the first step. Healing of past wounds has to take place and deep secrets must be revealed. The process can be painful and even disruptive for some. It can be a long and delicate process for many individuals, and for this reason professional help is highly recommended. Cathy Tsang-Feign is a licensed psychotherapist and author of the new book Self-Help For Foreigners. Her office is at the Vital Life Centre: 877-8206.