Problem-Solving Strategies

Following the disclosure of a child's sexual abuse, you are responsible for decisions regarding your child's safety and protection. Your support of your child will minimize the long-term consequences of abuse. Decisions will need to be made during the post-disclosure process. Many problems will arise. These problems may relate to you, your child, other family members, or external agencies. Resolving problems in a thoughtful manner will help you feel more in control of the situation, and less a victim. Some helpful problem-solving strategies are included on this page. 

Two things to hold in your mind as you think about problem solving strategies:
  1. The attitude you bring to the task of resolving a problem will affect the quality of your decisions. The one thing you can control is your attitude. If it is negative, the likelihood of a negative solution is high.
  2. If you have worked at solving this problem before, and you use the same thought process, you will come to the same conclusion, and you will have to solve it again. Solution: Think outside the box. Think creatively.

Everyone reacts to events differently - different feelings, different thoughts, different attitudes, different opinions, different interpretations of the event and of the actions of other people. It is important to recognize that these reactions may be automatic. Slow down the process and look at the event and what happened next. 

Usually you interpret the event in a certain way. Someone else may interpret it in a very different way. When something happens, learn how to slow down the process and look at your reaction first. Then evaluate your interpretation. What was the reality that drove your reaction? Or was your reaction based on conjecture and assumption? 

Patricia Wiklund outlines 4 stages of problem solving in her book Sleeping with a Stranger (1995). 

  1. "I don't see a problem." You do not recognize that a problem exists. Someone else may actually tell you that they see one, but do not perceive it as a problem.
  2. "I can't do anything about it." You see that a problem exists, but you do not see that it can be resolved. You see it as an unsolvable problem. Nothing anyone can do will make a difference.
  3. "Someone else can do something about it." You see the problem as existing and that it has a solution. You see someone else in charge of the solution. You do not perceive yourself to have the capability, knowledge, strength, or influence to make a difference in this situation. You are disempowered.
  4. "I have to do something about it." You see it is a problem, it is serious, and it has a solution. You know that you are empowered to do something in the situation to make a difference. You can solve the problem.

By evaluating your position in the above stages, you can identify where you are in the problem-solving process. Once you do that, you can determine how to get unstuck. It is easy for mothers of sexually abused children to get stuck in the 3rd stage, to disempower themselves by looking to someone else to solve the problem.You do not have to allow someone else to define your life.

How you define, interpret, view, and assign responsibility for a problem affects how you will solve it. What you believe and what you know about the problem will lead you to conclusions and solutions that either work or do not work. Wiklund (1995) presents a rationale and process to follow in solving a problem. She suggests that you:  

  • Name the problem. What is it?  You have to define a problem before finding a solution. For example, if your partner is the perpetrator, and you see his problem as not being sexually satisfied, you will solve the problem in a different way. If you name the problem as his being sexually abused as a child, you will solve the problem in a different way. How you define a problem leads you to the solution. If your definition is not accurate, your solution will not work. 
  • Name the results. What do you want to see at the end of this process? Pay attention to the difference between short-term and long-term results. Something that works in the short-term is not necessarily a long-term solution. This is important because decisions with long-term results are usually harder and require more change. These are the ones you may resist because they are costly. Know what you want. Then determine whether that is possible. Then work on a solution.  
  • Name your beliefs. What do you believe about the problem? Sometimes what you believe about a person, an event, a situation is an assumption. It may not be true. It may not be based in fact. Assumptions do not work. It is important to work on problem solutions with facts, not assumptions. You may also draw conclusions from what you observe. These may be logical and appear true. However, sometimes these conclusions are wrong as well. Sometimes what you see is based on your belief of what you should be seeing. In other words, the thought process is at fault. You see what you want to see. Not assumption or conclusion, just magical thinking. Look at the event, examine the meaning, and draw a conclusion - based in reality.
  • Name what you know. What is it that you know that you know? Regardless of what someone else says to you, you know it. Collect the information that you need to solve the problem. Do your homework carefully. Get information from a variety of sources because some sources may be biased. For example, as a mother dealing with your child's sexual abuse, gather information from social services and lawyers, listen to family and friends, find available supportive, knowledgeable resources, and learn everything you can. Then come to your conclusion regarding the solution. Think the problem through. Be logical, rational, and thoughtful, not emotional and impulsive.
  • Name your dream. Dreaming is part of creativity. In order to creatively solve the problem, you need to tap into a new thought process. Brainstorm and think outside the box. Look for the new, unthought of solution.



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