PARENTS of survivor children need professional mental health care TOO because:
1.) You deserve a local, compassionate, objective listener who understands that disclosure is just the beginning of a very long journey for parents. You deserve to have a listener who is prepared to devote almost a whole hour every week just to hearing you out, and helping you to connect your thoughts, and helping you to consider ways to best care for yourself so that you can be strong for your child. Look for a professional who specializes in sexual trauma and/or a therapy called EMDR (google this, if the term is new to you).
2.) Survivor children are looking for someone who will be strong enough to help them, and of course, this is a team effort – he/she needs a personal therapist, too, as you are learning to be you in this new reality. And guess what? You both have acquired a form of PTSD – your child from the abuse, and you from the shock of disclosure, the shattering of your sense of reality, and the intense grieving processes we parents too often suffer alone, out of a desire to protect our family's privacy. Would you expect a soldier with untreated PTSD to seek help from another soldier with untreated PTSD?
3.) Survivor children need a model of effective self-care. Their survival has depended on adopting all kinds of behaviors and attitudes we wouldn’t wish for our darling babies: secrecy, dissembling, fearfulness, acceptance of the abnormal, low self-esteem, self-harm, etc. Survival requires so much brain energy that the unhealthy thoughts/behaviors displace the healthy thoughts/behaviors we thought we were fostering in our children. They are unable to do all the “getting better” by themselves. You have to take a deep breath of your own before you can administer CPR.
4.) When we parents fall apart (and we all do), we confirm what may be our children’s second-worst fear: that disclosure will destroy us parents. (Their worst fear is that they won’t be believed, and by the time we’ve come to this forum, most of us have already shown them that we believe what they’ve told us.) We owe it to our children to show them that we are determined to learn how to grow and survive this ourselves.
5.) We need boundaries between “our” stuff and “their” stuff. Misunderstanding boundaries – the invisible lines that make us “us,” and them “them” – is one of the universal wounds of child sexual abuse. We need to see our own fears, sorrows and rage against the abuser as separate from the emotions of our children, because it is up to us to deal with our own feelings. We need to “take it outside,” so to speak, so that our children can become familiar with their own emotions and learn to care for themselves (with all the warm, positive support we can muster, of course).
6.) Survivor children’s brains become delayed in developing the skills needed to evaluate incoming emotional feedback. For example, your facial expression of concern may look like an expression of anger, and they may assume that you’re mad (a constant theme in my home for years, and I finally understood why). Your facial expression of anger may trigger memories of the hell that followed when their abusers looked the same way. You may need to learn a whole new way of talking to your children so that they can understand you more clearly – and learn to see objective patterns between actions and emotions. So, for example, instead of “You need to remember your calming strategies,” you might say, “I notice that when you practice your calming strategies, you’re often able to complete more homework” (or just, “I notice that when you practice your calming strategies, you seem to laugh more often”). Learning to control your own behavior and speech will help your children to learn positive coping behaviors and self-talk. Here’s a support you can refer to at home – explore the drop-downs and graphics:
I’m sure I’ve left out other reasons, so please, anyone, feel free to contribute your own reasons! It is so difficult, after disclosure, for parents to think about their own needs – we want to heap all our support on our children. But that resource runs out quickly when we have inadequate support ourselves.
By the way, mental health care includes a variety of options, although it’s best for us to have regular contact with a psychologist or social worker absolutely as soon as possible after disclosure. Once a week is a worthwhile investment for several months at least. Mental health self-care supports ALSO include:
• Mindfulness meditation and/or guided meditation, especially for PTSD. You can learn these on your own, although it can be powerful to learn and/or practice in a group). Here are some resources – many of us have found this to be an excellent source of serious therapeutic help:
YouTube also has tons of long-playing relaxation sounds and/or music (ocean sounds, birds, brooks, instrumental).
• Practicing new ways of getting to sleep – and this includes EXERCISE…
….and can include meditation:
I hope this is enough to help you get started on a new path toward healing YOURSELF so that you can help your child heal. You’re his/her source of comfort and support. You need to remember or relearn how comfort and support feel, so that you can pass them on.
With the VERY best healing wishes for all of you PARENTS, and with LOTS of love,
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