Thursday, June 27, 2013

Letter for Parents with a Sexually Abused Child

Dear Fellow Parent,

If you've just found out that your child has been sexually abused by someone you know, life is suddenly very stressful. What should you do? Who can you trust? How can you help your child? How can you cope with your own feelings of anger and betrayal?

I've been in your shoes, twice (three kids one time and one kid another time). I don't have pat answers for you, but I feel lots of compassion for you and your child/children.  Most likely you feel like you're in the middle of a nightmare that simply cannot be true. You knew children are abused, but not your child. Not like this. Not by this trusted person.

Chances are, you feel like you've failed your child. How did you not notice sooner? How could you have trusted the perpetrator? We all struggle with these thoughts when our precious child is harmed so seriously by someone we trusted. People who get pleasure out of sexually abusing children are good at what they do. They gain our trust and take advantage of that trust. It's what they do. They seem nice to you and your children. They are often helpful in some way. They often do fun things with the children, as they slowly but methodically prepare the way for future abuse. They are experts at fooling good people.

You will be more able to help your child if you let go of guilt.  No one can protect their child from all harm all the time. No one can function well if they refuse to trust anyone. Admitting to your child that the offender was sneaky and had you totally fooled, will help your child accept his own experience of being tricked. You can reassure your child that if you had known you wouldn't have let this offender get close to the family. It will enable your child to begin feeling safer again.

Helping your child while your own feelings are in a major upheaval isn't easy. I found it helped to get psychotherapy for myself, as well as for the child. It helped me to have a safe place to process my emotions. Taking care of myself helped me to do a better job of taking care of my hurting child. The more I'd dealt with my own anguish, the better I was able to listen to my child and to be present with them whenever they needed me to be there for them. The more I learned about sexual abuse and recovery, the more I was able to validate my child's feelings and thoughts.

When our family went through this time of trauma, I learned many things by experience. I learned that I didn't feel like disciplining my child or holding them accountable to our routines. All I really wanted was to shower my child with love and reassurance. But, my kid still needed a parent and needed both rules and routines upheld. My child felt safer with the normalness.

I also found that some new, temporary rules were needed to deal with my child's coping behaviors. It was no longer a good idea for my child to have a sleepover with anyone until he was far enough along in recovery he wasn't likely to offend another in the same way that he were offended. Instead of sleepovers at a buddy's--we had some living room sleepovers with one or both parents and siblings (since no parent or sibling had been the abuser). Like many sexually abused children, a couple of my kids began cutting themselves. I made a new rule that they weren't to close and lock their bedroom door--and if they did, they knew I would check them for new cut marks. When two of the children reverted to stormy tantrums--we agreed that I would not touch them unless they asked me for a hug, it helped the child to feel safer and more control of his body. We did not allow anyone in the family to keep tickling a family member who said no, because tickling is one grooming behavior that abusers can use to step over a child's boundaries and condition them to feel less powerful.

Marriages are sometimes destroyed when a child is abused. Mine held together. How? I believe God helped us and we each learned big lessons in honoring our differences. We expressed grief, anger, sorrow, fear, and hope in different ways because of our different genders and personalities. We both learned that their isn't only one right way to deal with tragedy. We learned to be honest, painfully honest about ourselves and to be gentle and compassionate with one another. We learned to trust, respect, and love each other on an even deeper level than before.

Your beliefs about God will be put to the test by this experience. You and your child will wonder where God was during the abuse. Why didn't God protect? Your feelings and questions are normal. I can share with you, that even though I felt tempted to quit believing in a good God, the whole experience actually brought me closer to God in the end. I was less niave about sin and more attached to God. I actually became more aware of God's goodness than I was prior to the abuse. God was there for my children and I while we walked through the valley of darkness.

You have ahead of you several very rough years. It's going to take awhile to settle into a new normal. But I want to reassure you that you and your children can not only survive this time but you have a good future ahead. You and your child will grow. Strength comes from having a realistic understanding that the abuser cannot rob you of the opportunity to grow and change for the better. You will find that your child has a great capacity to heal and so do you. Both you and your child may find that your compassion for others grows bigger.

I wish you all the best on your difficult journey. When you feel like quitting, I urge you to focus on making it through the next minute, hour, or day. When you feel like yelling at God, go ahead and let God know that. God can handle your anger and fear. When you feel like a horrible parent, give yourself the same care you'd give to a friend if they were going through what you're going through. When you don't know what to try next, pray, talk to a good psychologist and read about sexual abuse recovery. At first things may seem to get worse before they get better...but be assured things really will get better for your child and for you.  Hang in there--you and your children really will return to smiling and laughing after you walk through your grief and recovery.

A mom who has been there

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Liar, Liar, Wish Your Pants were on Fire

I saw a t.v. show recently with an excellent example of a skillful liar. The scene had a straight talking friend and a liar. The friend asked a direct question about whether he was involved in a dangerous situation. The liar gave a clever non-answer of "Wouldn't I tell you if that was so?" The friend tried with another direct question, "Are you saying that you knew nothing about this problem?" They practiced liar responded vaguely again, "I believe that is what I implied."
What he implied? Yes. A statement of truth? No. Make the friend feel like a heel for asking the original question? Yes.

It reminds me of so many conversations with the abusers of my past.

Someone who abuses and lies is no fun to live with. Most of us want to believe and trust others, so it can take a long time for us to acknowledge when someone is lying to us or about us on a regular basis. Unfortunately, by the time we understand the compulsive lying, we've already stomached a lot of lies.

Some clues that another is lying:
1. Won't give you a direct answer. Instead, the liar gives you an answer that implies something or steers you toward believing something they are intentionally not saying.
2. The story changes as it is retold.
3. She speaks so many words about something trivial that you never manage to finish asking the question you wanted to ask.
4. He blends some true details with some sound-like-it-could-be-true details.
5. She changes the subject--frequently --leading everyone far away from the serious concern.
6. You hear him say things regularly to others that totally misrepresent what you know to be the truth. If he'll lie regularly to others, he'll lie to you too.
7. If she regularly says "you don't trust me" or "you offend me" or "of course, you would think that" or "I can't believe you'd think I was lying,"then be wary. The liar is focused on getting the spotlight off of himself and onto you.
8. He leaves you in a state of confusion frequently. You tried to ask a question and what you get back is so convoluted or condescending that you suspect that you are not qualified to ask any questions and you drop the subject.
9. When nothing makes sense she may be hiding the truth.When she is speaking it all seems to make sense, but after she leaves the room you are completely unsure what she just said. She sounded helpful or honest, but what the heck did she just say?
10. His version of the story sounds so sincere it hurts to keep pressing for answers. If the story doesn't line up with known facts, it is the story that is fishy. For example he says he needs you to pay because he has no money, and half an hour later you see that he has lots of money in his wallet.
11. When she keeps telling you that "they" messed up, you should wonder. "They made a mistake, why would I go to a hotel?"
12. If someone says, "You don't believe me? Then call my boss!",  that's a dare he doesn't want you to accept. Take it literally, call and check.

It would be so much easier if their pants really did catch on fire or their noses would grow.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Should you Call the Police?

When your child is sexually abused by a friend or relative the blow crushes. I know because I've been there. You're  forced to deal with broken relationship with someone you trusted, as well as dealing with your child's trauma. It feels awful.

It takes strength, but for the sake of your child and the other children in your community, you need to report to the proper law enforcement the crimes that have been committed against your child. It doesn't feel good when you do it.  You feel shame that you weren't able to protect your child. You feel sad and torn because it doesn't feel loving to report someone you love to the police. You are struggling to cope with it--you might have nightmares, you might feel intense anger that you don't know how to accept, you might feel fearful and wonder who else around you isn't trustworthy. You might feel like your whole world is falling apart and you just want to hide your head under your bed covers. You may feel desperate to help your child but feel totally unequipped for the situation and clueless about how to help him or her. You might fret over whether your child is telling you an accurate story about what happened--what if you're falsely accusing another? Take comfort in knowing that it is very rare for children to falsely accuse another of sexual crimes. Also take comfort in knowing that both you and your child have experienced trauma and shock and that by facing the truth you will both eventually heal.

At first, telling the truth to law enforcement may seem to only make life more difficult and painful. The offender will probably deny what they did (at least initially) and will accuse your child of lying or misunderstanding. The friend or relative will reassure you that they would never harm a child. If the perpetrator does eventually confess his abusive actions, he likely will claim that he would never do this again and that you should show your forgiveness by dropping the court case or allowing the perpetrator to have continued contact with your child. Other relatives or friends may also pressure you about "making too big a deal" about his "mistake." They may be angry with you for "rocking the boat." They may blame you for ruining the perpetrator's life. Remember that abuse isn't a mistake and abusers don't voluntarily give up abusing without intensive professional help. It may also help to remember that experts believe that by the time a sexual abuser is caught he is on his 6th-7th victim.

From my personal experiences as an abused child and as a parent of abused children, I know that reporting the crime to the proper authorities will help your child heal. He will feel believed. He will feel safer. Keeping silent about the abuse, on the other hand, can increase your child's sense of shame, lack of security and safety. Sometimes parents wonder if  not talking about the abuse will help the child forget and be less traumatized about the whole incident. However, hiding the abuse doesn't make the child have permanent amnesia about what happened--it just makes them feel worse about what happened and much worse about themselves. You have the opportunity to be your child's advocate and to help them navigate a difficult experience with your love wrapped around him or her.

In addition to helping your own child, you are doing your community a service when you report the abuse. It might protect other children from the same fate at the hands of your child's perpetrator. Silence guarantees that your relative or friend will have the ability to continue abusing--and getting away with it.

Furthermore, reporting the crime that has been committed also gives the relative or friend who perpetrated crime against your child the opportunity to tell the truth and to receive help for his or her problem. He or she won't thank you for doing it--but in the long-run, you're giving him or her the opportunity for a better life.

Sometimes parents want to preserve the relationship with the perpetrator--they don't want to face the loss of a sibling or parent or friend. But keeping the secret can never erase the damage that was done to your relationship, no matter what you say or do. Trust has been broken. It seems surreal to call a friend or relative a "perpetrator," but if that is what they do in secret then it is the only appropriate terminology. A friend who abuses children, isn't the friend you thought they were--and exposing them is a difficult but necessary tough-love type of decision.

A relative who abuses your child will not get better with a family chat--they need at least 2-3 years of intensive psychotherapy to have even a chance of resisting the urge to abuse more children in the future.  To try to continue on as if nothing really happened only opens the door for your child to be re-victimized and reinforces the abuser's belief that he or she is entitled to treat children however he or she wants. The abuser is driven by a conviction that his or her own pleasure is all that matters. Getting in trouble with the law and receiving help from psychologists is the only way that an abuser might learn to care about how his or her abusive actions affect others.

It isn't easy, and many people don't understand how abuse works or how powerfully secrecy works against the victims--but years down the line, you and your child won't regret your call to tell the police about the crime committed against your child. Together you and your child will face the flood of emotions and sort out the confusing thoughts and will emerge as stronger and more loving people.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

He Said He Loved Me

He said he loved me
He opened car doors and gave me flowers
He said I was the only one who understood him
He said he wanted me to marry him

He said he loved me
He hit our walls and gave me bruises
He said I didn't understand him
He said I should never leave him

He said he loved me
He talked at me, not with me, for exhausting hours
He said I wasn't helping him, just as no one else ever had
He said he needed me

He said he loved me
He told me he was right and gave me threats
He said I must never say no to him, or else
He said he knew how to blow up my car

He said he loved me
I heard his words and hung on
I ignored his actions and paid prices
I said I would never leave him

I loved who I thought he was
I loved who I hoped he could be
His behavior pushed me down and took all I had
His version of love made us both become less

He didn't really know about love
His behavior was harmful to us both
I never could help him or fix him
I learned finally to say good-by

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft