It is normal for mothers
to struggle with negative thoughts after the disclosure
of her child's sexual abuse
. It is also important to realize that thoughts, feelings, and physical response are connected. What you think affects how you feel. How you think and feel affects the biochemistry of your body and your immune system. Disclosure and the post-disclosure process
are stressful. Mothers are considered secondary victims
to the abuse, and disclosure is a traumatic
event. If the perpetrator
was a husband or partner
, the mother is a primary victim of betrayal
, as well as a secondary victim of the sexual abuse. Stress
results in negative effects to the brain
, and immune system
. Chronic stress elevates the damage caused by these biochemical changes. Counteracting stress
with lifestyle changes and managing negative thoughts
will help stabilize emotions and reduce negative physical and mental health
. Practicing mindfulness
will alert you to your negative thinking patterns.
Some common thoughts after discovering your child has been sexually abused:
- "I should have known." This thought is similar to the "why didn't I see it?" thought. The answer is that offenders are very smart, and sexual abuse is a secret. No one wanted you to know. Also, mothers are not all-knowing. The child's symptoms may or may not have been concerning. I'm a bad parent.
- "It's my fault." The answer is that it is always the fault of the offender. Always. People make choices, and choices have consequences. You are not the offender.
- "It's a mistake." This thought is similar to the thought "No way, this isn't true." You are still in the denial stage of grief. Almost all mothers come to the point of believing. For some, it takes time, and this may mean that the child is not safe in her care. Believing it happened is essential to preventing its re-occurrence.
- "The abuser should be killed." Maybe so. That is what was done in ancient times. However, the justice system will provide consequences to the offender if enough evidence is gathered. It is important that you let the legal and justice system do their jobs, and you do yours. You are not responsible for the abuser's punishment.
- "I can't do this." Most mothers can get through this process if they have support and assistance. You will need to gather information, get support from friends, family, and agencies, and practice your coping skills.
- "I can't report to the authorities." Some parents decide not to put their children through the investigation if the abuser is a stranger or non-family member. The problem: the abuser will abuse again. If the offender is a family member and you do not report the abuse, you are colluding with the abuser and maintaining the secret. The child is at risk because of your unwillingness to provide support and protection. If or when law enforcement, Child Protective Services, or professionals find out you knew and did not tell, the child will probably be removed from your care.
- "I can't tell anyone." It is hard to tell friends or other family members. However, if you keep remain quiet about the abuse, you are unable to have the support and assistance that will help you get through the process. Instead, you will feel alone and isolated, with more acute and longer lasting emotional response.
- "My child hates me." She may hate you for telling the authorities. She may hate you for not telling the authorities. She may hate you for keeping her safe from her father, brother, uncle, teacher. She may hate you for not knowing. The only answer to this thought is: "I will do my best to be supportive and help her through her feelings. This isn't about me, and it makes sense that she's angry at me."
- "My child's life is destroyed." If a child discloses the sexual abuse, is believed by the mother and other significant adults, and is protected from further abuse, the consequences of the abuse are greatly reduced. With support, some children get past this experience with no residual effects. If the abuse was severe and lasted a long period of time, it will cause more serious consequences but not destroy her life.
- "She shouldn't have to go to court." Many mothers want to protect their children from having to go to court and testify. If the child had a formal taped interview, he may not have to go to court. It is very difficult for children to face their abusers in court. However, not going to court may mean that the offender goes free and is able to reoffend. Laws about this issue are in transition at this time.
- "What did my child do to bring this on?" Nothing. The child is never at fault. The abuser has more power and is completely responsible for the sexual abuse.
- "I want to die." Many mothers feel desperate and hopeless. Get help. Your children need you. WIth support and effective coping strategies, you will be able to get through this.