The mind and body are connected, (See Mind-Body Connection) and when the mind is stressed, so is the body. When a child discloses that he or she has been sexually abused, mothers experience a great deal of stress both immediately and continuing into the future. The shock and emotional reactions are acute initially and may affect physical energy, ability to perform daily tasks, appetite, and sleep patterns. Stress has an effect on the body, effect on the brain, and an effect on the immune system.   

Hans Selye (1956) developed a model of stress that showed specific stages and physical responses as stress becomes chronic. Stage one is the alarm stage, sometimes referred to as the fight-or-flight stage. When faced with danger, your body releases chemicals, such as adrenaline, that prepare you to either fight the danger or run. Stage two is known as resistance, the stage when a person must either cope with the stress, to reduce its negative effect on the system, or continue to stress the body's resources and deplete hormones and neurochemicals. Stage three is known as exhaustion. The body has depleted its resources and cannot continue to function.

When stress is chronic, and the system's balance has been compromised, long term  physical damage may occur. The function of the immune system has been reduced. Physical illnesses and chronic, life-threatening diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, may occur. The mind, emotions, psychological state, brain chemistry, and immune system are all connected. Effective coping strategies can bring the system back into balance and reduce the risk of illness and disease.  
Mothers will experience stress for some period of time following disclosure of their child's abuse. Stress may continue at an acute level, particularly investigation, social services, and legal and court processes occur. This stress may become chronic, exhaust the body's resources, and reduce your body's defenses against illness.    

It is important that you find ways to reduce your stress. Stress can be counteracted in many ways. (See Counteracting Stress). A few examples are: diet, exercise, assertiveness, journaling , poetry, meditation, prayer, music, and recreation. Ways to cope with negative thoughts also improve the immune system and help you stay well. (See Coping With Thoughts).Examples include: mindfulness practice, positive self-talk, and learned optimism.

The most destructive emotions you may have are the anger, rage, and possibly hatred that you feel towards the offender. Anger and hostility have negative effects on your health and contribute to a number of illnesses and disease. Learning how to manage your anger will be important. Forgiving yourself is essential. Later - forgiveness for the offender will be a gift you give yourself so that you can be free of destructive emotions.

Mothers need to understand how important they are! Support from mothers is the best predictor of recovery from childhood sexual abuse and fewer long- term consequences. It is, therefore, imperative that mothers cope effectively with the stressors they experience, and take good care of themselves. Getting sick following disclosure places you in a vulnerable position emotionally and reduces your ability to provide support to your child.

Mothers, children, and others who experience trauma and life-altering events in their lives do better if they have a quality known as resilience. Resilience can be built by developing new, healthy habits in your physical, mental, and emotional life (See Building Resilience). 

Growth and new beginnings will occur later. Do not lose hope that things will get better. Tomorrow is always a new day. You can find joy in today (See mindfulness.) Love your child, love yourself, and live one day at a time.     


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