Family Secrets: Childhood Sexual Abuse

30f6cf470f2d828e104d054e6a86f77bSpeaking with a young woman today, I heard a story I have heard far too many times.

This woman had been sexually abused as a child by a relative, but didn’t say anything out of fear and embarrassment. This relative went on to molest other children in the family until someone finally spoke out.

I’ve spoken to many individuals in the past who were molested by a family member and didn’t say anything not only out of fear and shame, but also because they thought that as long as the molester was perpetrating on them, he would leave their younger brothers, sisters or cousins alone.

In essence, they figured they would suffer through the abuse so that others wouldn’t have to.

The sad part is, in all of these cases, the molester went on to molest other children in the family anyway. In one case, there were three sisters all getting molested by the same uncle and neither knew about the other. All three reported that they didn’t say anything because they thought they were protecting the other sister from the abuse, not knowing that the other sisters were doing the exact same thing.

It was only when this uncle, after years of abusing these sisters, abused another member of the family that he got caught and is now serving time in prison.  By then at least four family members had been abused over the period of several years.

The Threat From Within

We teach our children to be cautious of strangers. We believe that the greatest threat to our child comes from outside of our homes and inner-circles.

1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men report being sexually abused as a child. Over 90% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows, loves and trusts. Family members, family friends, teachers, religious leaders and coaches are some of the biggest offenders.

There are many families who have this type of  secret, and some will even tell their children, “Stay away from uncle Bob” because they know they have a perpetrator in their family who for one reason or another is still around.

I even worked with one family who hid their family member’s pedophilic activity, partially out of embarrassment and partially out of  a family’s natural response to try to protect each other. This family member went on to molest at least three children before being sent to prison.

Why Do Children Keep Abuse A Secret

As adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse will tell you, there are many reasons why children will endure sexual abuse for years, some for a lifetime, without telling soul.

For one, children aim to please. They want to make someone they love and trust happy and are often willing to do whatever the person tells them to do.

Abusers also often coach their victims not to tell anyone. Sometimes this is done with threats of violence towards them or other members in their family. Other times it is done with the threat that the child themselves will get in trouble if they tell.

Shame, embarrassment and confusion along with countless other feelings and thoughts can keep a child from telling anyone about the abuse.

Most survivors of childhood abuse I’ve spoken to waited until they were were in their late teens or adulthood before they felt ready to share what they experienced as a child. Many reported that they were afraid that no one would believe them.

How To Help Your Child Break The Silence

We have to teach children the difference between a secret and a surprise. That may sound too simple, but as a start, it is very powerful.

  • Teach them that a surprise is supposed to be about something fun, such as a birthday gift or special party for a friend.
  • Teach them that secrets are something kids shouldn’t keep to themselves, especially secrets that involve touches of private body parts or anything that makes the child feel uncomfortable.
  • Encourage your child not to keep secrets from you.
  • Tell them that touches to private body parts should never be a secret.
  • Let them know that if someone tells them to keep a secret, especially someone older than them (including older/bigger kids), they should tell you or another trusted adult immediately.
  • If a friend tells them a secret, let your child know they should share it with you (the other child could be asking for help).
  • Let them know that it’s never their fault if someone touches a private body part and they will never get in trouble if they tell.

Abuse of all kind (i.e.,  physical, sexual, emotional and neglect) flourishes under the veil of silence. It’s beyond time that we break that silence.

 

 

Dysfunctional Relationships: Emotionally Withholding

iStock_000020769810Small_0In romantic relationships, we would like to think that it’s always going to be filled with passion and romance, but typically relationships go through phases where the passion and romance seems to die off.

Some of this is natural which is why relationships take work and both individuals have to work on keeping the fire going, but other times this can be deliberate.

Sometimes in relationships, one person will decide to emotionally withhold and this can border on the line of emotional abuse.

I’m not talking about when your partner is upset with you so he or she may not talk to you for a few days, may not want to be touched or gives you the cold shoulder until they get over whatever upset them. I’m talking about something that is much more long term and damaging to a relationship.

Thomas G. Fiffer, in his blog post  described emotional withholding as:

Coldness replaces warmth. Silence replaces conversation. Turning away replaces turning towards. Dismissiveness replaces receptivity. And contempt replaces respect.Emotional withholding is, I believe, the toughest tactic to deal with when trying to create and maintain a healthy relationship, because it plays on our deepest fears—rejection, unworthiness, shame and guilt, the worry that we’ve done something wrong or failed or worse, that there’s something wrong with us.”

How Can You Tell If Your Partner is Emotionally Withholding?

If you are in a relationship where you often feel alone, there is a good chance your partner may be emotionally withholding.

There is a difference between someone who is emotionally withholding (a deliberate behavior used to control a person/relationship) and someone who is out of touch with their own feelings due to stress, trauma or other issues.

People who emotionally withhold are purposely withholding love, affection, support and attention in order to control a relationship.

The other person in the relationship may find themselves always pursuing their partner in search of the love, affection and attention that they want. They may find themselves always trying to prove that they deserve love.

People who stay in these types of relationships often do so because it is familiar.

Maybe they grew up in a family where they never felt like they deserved love, were always rejected or felt abandoned. To them, it may feel natural to pursue love and affection, even if it’s painful, because they are not used to it being freely given and without conditions.

Holly Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist suggests:

Ask yourself how generous your partner is. How invested does he/she seem to be in your well-being, in making sure that you feel positively about yourself? Or is it the opposite–that he/she is maintaining the upper hand by ensuring that you continue to seek approval?

The person who is emotionally withholding is always trying to keep the balance of the relationship in their favor. They give you just enough to keep you interested. Just enough to keep you searching for the affection that you want and deserve so that you get stuck in this vicious cycle of searching out for their affection.

Most people are not ALWAYS emotionally satisfied in their relationship 100% of the time, but think about how much you feel emotionally satisfied versus how often you feel emotionally starved.

If you feel like you are continuously starving for love, affection, attention and support, then you may have a partner who is emotionally withholding or at the least, emotionally unavailable.

If your partner is emotionally unavailable, consider if this is because he or she is stressed, depressed, going through their own issues that need to be addressed and dealt with, or if it is more malicious and planned out to achieve a power balance in the relationship that benefits them and not you.

Being in this type of relationship can cause the person who is constantly seeking affection to have multiple issues from low self-esteem to anxiety, depression and even sexual dysfunction.

Outside support from friends, family and even a professional may be needed in order for that person to maintain healthy self-love and self-care. It is crucial that you take care of yourself and surround yourself with people who know your worth and value you.

If you are in a relationship where the other person is emotionally withholding then it’s important to remember that you deserve and are worthy of love and it should come freely.

It’s Not All Your Fault

1132x1600_12879_Bat_your_eyes_girl_2d_illustration_girl_sad_woman_portrait_picture_image_digital_artRecently I was talking to a 27-year-old female who had been arrested for the first time on various drug charges. Emotionally she was a wreck. I could tell she was really a good person on the inside, but emotionally she obviously wasn’t as stable as she could be and I immediately sensed that her childhood was filled with some type of neglect or abuse.

Why was I able to sense that? Because from my years of working with people, especially teenagers and women who have been abused and/or neglected as children, I’ve noticed that a large majority of them present very similar including being angry, shy, depressed, manic or lacking boundaries coupled with other cues such as body language.

This young lady was at some points crying, then angry, then laughing, and then crying again. Her life was “a mess” as she put it. She had two children, was in an unstable relationship (like all the other relationships she had been in), couldn’t seem to get her life together or in her words, “do anything right” and she had started smoking crack cocaine, a secret she kept from her family until she got arrested.

She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t get her life together. Why every time things would be going good, she would do something to mess it up. She was living almost in constant chaos and was using drugs to escape it. She had never been diagnosed with anything before and blamed herself for not being able to stop herself from making bad choices over and over again.

And then I asked her if she was ever abused before. I already knew the answer, I would have been shocked if I was wrong, I was hoping I was wrong, but I was right. She started crying and told me she had been molested repeatedly from the age of 8. Her childhood from that point on was filled with abuse, neglect and abandonment. No wonder now as an adult her life was “a mess”.

One of the things that happens to children and even adults when we experience abuse, neglect, trauma, abandonment or anything that is so mentally and emotionally painful that we can’t make sense of it, is that it doesn’t get fully processed and it becomes clutter in our minds, thoughts and emotions.

Our emotions and thoughts become fragmented with a lot of unprocessed feelings and those unprocessed feelings are what eventually will cause us to express ourselves in unhealthy ways, especially if we aren’t naturally resilient or have great social-emotional supports. However, even if we are naturally resilient and have great supports, chances are that fragmentation will still affect the way we think, feel and interact with other people.

That is what was going on with this young lady and until I explained to her how the trauma and pain from her past was affecting her future, she had no idea that at least some of what she was going through wasn’t totally her fault. Deep inside she is holding on to feelings of rage, insecurity and hurt from all the abuse, trauma and abandonment. All that unprocessed, raw emotion has to come out somewhere consciously or unconsciously. In a lot of people it comes out  in the form of rage towards themselves or others.

They may cut themselves, or do other things that demonstrate a lack of love for themselves such as being promiscuous, abusing drugs or alcohol and getting into abusive or neglectful relationships over and over again just to name a few. Some may even attempt suicide. Drugs, sex, self-mutilation and even suicide may be used as ways to try to control the rage they have inside.

They may turn their rage outwards and inflict hurt on others by being abusive, bitter, and pushing people away sometimes to the point where they wake up one day and realize they are totally alone and will blame other people for abandoning them even when they were the one pushing them away.

On top of that, they become so used to hiding their real feelings and emotions that they have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves in a healthy way. In return, they often end up feeling misunderstood and often blaming others for everything that doesn’t go right. Their psychological defenses will leave them blind to their own role in their interpersonal difficulties.

When someone has all this stuff going on in their conscious and subconscious mind, there’s no wonder their lives are continuously in chaos. Almost nothing they do will fix it if they remain unaware and blind to how their past is influencing their present. If they aren’t willing to try to change and get help, then it’s very unlikely that their lives will ever be all that it could have been.

Change Starts With Insight

Sometimes the toughest part of therapy is insight building, which means getting the person to see things as they really are and how they are truly affecting their lives. Many people like to place blame on others and take absolutely no responsibility for their circumstances. Even this young lady at one point was trying to blame her boyfriend for calling the police when he couldn’t find her. When the police found her and search her, they discovered the drugs so this was all the boyfriends fault according to her.

Once I got this young lady to see that she had to take responsibility for her current incarceration, I pointed out to her that it wasn’t all her fault.  Much of her current issues, the relationship instability, the drug use, the emotional instability, all had roots in her past. Once she got this she had an “aha” moment. She had never even put the two together. Even in that moment I could see the light bulb go off as some insight started pouring in.

That was amazing, but now it was time for the real hard work to begin. Now that she had insight, she had even more responsibility to start taking charge of her life and to stop letting the garbage from the past stink up her present and future.

Where To Start Healing

Immediately she said she wasn’t strong enough to do that, that she was too weak and that might be true which is why I told her the first thing she needs to do is to get into rehab. She needs to get clean and then to also find a good psychotherapist. She is going to have to be determined, patient and emotionally open because she will have to face a lot of emotional pain she’s been avoiding and she’ll have to resist the urge and the fear to do what she’s always done which is to get angry,  runaway from getting help or to sabotage herself again.

This is not something that is going to be resolved in one session, one month or even one year. This will likely be a life long battle for her, but one that is worth fighting.

She has a long road ahead of her, but if she is willing to do the work, she will have a much better life. Until she does the work and gets the help she needs, nothing in her life will make sense the way it should and she will always be left feeling like a victim. It’s not all her fault, but she now has the responsibility to take control of her life and to at least minimize the hurt from the past.

This one young lady’s experience echos that of hundred of young women I have dealt with over the last several years. Many of them due to their experiences, stressors, and predispositions to certain illness will go on to become drug addicts, alcoholics, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, etc. Some of them will be resilient and despite their past live incredible lives as relatively emotionally healthy people.

It may not be all your fault, but it is your job to take responsibility and control over your life.

Working Around Your Abyss

SONY DSCI’m always amazed at the lengths some people will go through to hide their pain. All of us have pain, disappointments, regrets, wounds, and parts of us we wish we could hide forever, but many times those very issues are the things we need to address in order to move on and live truly fulfilled and happy lives.

The other night I was watching Beyond Scared Straight on A&E and there was a kid on there whose father committed suicide when he was younger and it looked like the kid had never really talked to anyone about it or dealt with it in any sort of healthy way. Instead he turned to drugs, violence and other petty criminal behaviors as a way of acting out and dealing with what I believe must be anger towards his dad coupled with immense depression.

Most people would look at this kid and see a juvenile delinquent, but all I saw was a kid crying out for someone to see past the walls he had erected around his pain and help him navigate his way around it.

This young kid wasn’t unlike many of the high school kids I dealt with that teachers thought were just bad apples, but they were really acting out because of the pain they were holding on to, such as coming from poverty stricken, sometimes violent and unstable broken homes. Especially the boys who would hold on to their pain so tight, not wanting to show any weaknesses, and yet the pain was literally destroying them by causing them to constantly get in their own way by fighting, failing out of school or getting involved in illegal activities that were sure to lead to incarceration.

We all have stuff. We all have issues. That is something I say all the time when people open up to me, no matter if they are clients or friends. I always encourage talking about those pains because I believe that talking about them, even just a little bit, helps ease some of the tension, stigma, shame, and fear people attach to their pain.

While some people try drastic measures to consciously or unconsciously hide from, ignore, deny or cover up their pain (sex, drugs, alcohol, cutting, eating disorders, continued bad relationships, etc.), some people are so absorbed in their pain that can’t even enjoy moments of happiness when they happen. They can’t see anything except for their pain. They live in constant depression, anxiety, suspicion, and pessimism.

It may be something that happened a long time ago, yet they are never living in the moment, they are constantly living in the past and their pain. They are constantly unconsciously telling themselves stories which for the most part are untrue. Stories about themselves, their pain and their lives. Stories that hold them hostage to turmoil and they will hold on to those stories with a death grip even in the face of evidence that their stories are at least partially untrue.

The stories we tell ourselves include things such as, “My dad left because I was a bad kid”, or “My husband cheated because I wasn’t enough for him” and “I fail at everything I try”. The list goes on and on, but you can imagine how someone who is telling themselves these stories will live their lives in the present and future if they continue to believe these stories about themselves.

They will hold on to those stories, sometimes because it is the only story that they know and it’s much easier to believe in the story that you know than to try to create a better story where there may be unexpected surprises even if some of the surprises include very pleasant ones.

One of my favorite books is entitled The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish To Freedom by Henri Nouwen. It was given to me as a gift several years ago and I have since given it away, brought it again and given it away again no less than eight times.

The first passage in that book is called Work Around Your Abyss and it says:

There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You
will never succeed in filling that hole, because your
needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it
so that gradually the abyss closes.
Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish
so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it.
There are two extremes to avoid: being completely
absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so
many things that you stay far away from the wound
you want to heal.

When I first read that passage about six years ago, I almost cried because I felt like it was talking directly to me. I was holding on to a lot of pain and not doing anything about it. Pain about my fathers death, pain about our relationship, pain about the romantic relationship I was in and fear of not being completely loved and fear of failure.

Holding on to and not addressing those pains was leading to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and agitation. It was until I read this passage that I started to address and work around my abyss which slowly, but surely started to close and this passage is probably the #1 reason I have shared this book so many times with people who have shared some of their pain with me.

All of us have issues, or what I like to call “stuff”, but it doesn’t have to define us and we don’t have to wear it like a scarlet letter nor pretend like it’s not there. We define ourselves and our situations, our situations do not define us. Let’s all make a commitment to start working around our abyss so that we can start living fully and completely, the way we were all meant to live.

On Domestic Violence And Why Women Stay

abuse10Have you been watching the Jodi Arias trial? It’s a fascinating one that’s for sure.

I haven’t so much as watched it as listened to it whenever I am in the car  and while I have my opinions, I’ll save that for after the trial.

The thing that caught my attention today was the domestic violence expert, who testified yesterday, Alyce LaViolette. LaViolette is a psychotherapist who specializes in domestic violence. Although I am not sure if Jodi Arias really was a victim of domestic violence, I do know that what LaViolette said about domestic violence rings true for millions of women.

Both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, but since the majority of domestic violence victims are women, I’ll be referring mostly to women in this post. And I have written about The Cycle of Violence, Power and Control in a previous post if you would like more information.

We Need Never Be Ashamed of Our Tears- Charles Dickens

Women who are abused often don’t tell anyone, even their closes friends and family because they are generally humiliated and ashamed of the abuse. They go through great lengths to hide the fact that they are being abused, even to the point of protecting their abuser and acting out on anyone who says anything bad against him, especially when they don’t want to look like they have made a bad choice in a partner.

On top of that, there is also the halo effect operating. That’s when someone keeps thinking about the one great quality about someone, despite the many bad ones and that keeps them from seeing the total picture. They are living in two different realities and will fight to keep the shame from one reality from entering the other.

Many women are afraid to leave their abuser and rightfully so, as leaving is usually the most dangerous time in the abuse cycle, when the woman is most likely to be severely hurt or killed. Many women also stay in hopes that things will change, despite the evidence that they probably won’t. They will see that their abuser has the potential to be a great mate, only if he wasn’t abusive.

Also, I’ve learned from working with abused women that they actually get brainwashed into believing that no one else will ever love them or want them,  so they stay because they start believing they are so ugly, worthless, fat, stupid, (insert insult here) that they are lucky that their abuser even wants them.

Case Example

I have a teenage client who is dating an older man. She’s over 18 so it’s legal, but this man she is dating has a bad temper problem. He blows up on her unpredictably and has even broken his phone by throwing it against the wall when she didn’t answer one of his phone calls.

He is also extremely controlling. They have only been together for about four months, but already he has isolated her from all of her friends and has her calling him at a particular time everyday or else “he gets really mad”.

He’s even already trying to get her to move away from her family and in with him, another way of isolating her from people who love her and would potentially see her bruises.

He hasn’t hit her, yet, and she doesn’t see anything wrong with their relationship. She loves him and thinks he “just has a temper” and he blames his anger on supplements he is taking which could be true, but I think it’s a cover for his explosive temper. All of her friends are worried about her, but she see’s their concern as unnecessary and even as signs of jealousy.

To me, a professional counselor who has counseled abuse victims and abusers, the writing is all over the walls. She’s already got one foot into a domestic violence relationship without even realizing it. It’s just a short matter of time before he puts his hands on her. He’s even got her thinking about stopping therapy with me because I am a male and he doesn’t like her associating with any males, even if it’s her therapist.

I’ve been working with her on self-esteem issues, but now we are primarily working on this sense she brings it up in therapy all the time, yet doesn’t seem willing or ready to do anything about it. She’s even already thinking of getting pregnant which I am sure he is also pushing on her.

Leslie Morgan Steiner: Why domestic violence victims don’t leave

If you have a few minutes, watch Leslie Morgan Steiner’s personal account of being in an abusive relationship. I’ve inserted the video below. I attempted to show this to the client mentioned above, but after a couple of minutes she refused to listen to any more although everything Steiner was experiencing in the initial stages of her relationship with her abuser, this young lady was experiencing almost exactly.

Steiner talks about the initial stages of abuse which are:

  1. Seduce and charm the victim
  2. Isolate the victim from friends and family
  3. Introduce the threat of violence to gauge their response to potential violence
  4. Actual violence and the continuation of the abuse/power and control cycle

I try not to push clients too hard too fast, after all it’s their lives and their choices, I just try to help them see the signs that say “detour” before they drive off the cliff. However often times we are too blinded by love, our own mess or even other people’s mess to see the signs right in front of us.

Childhood PTSD AND Trauma: Part 1

BW portrait of sad crying little boy covers his face with handsImagine a four-year-old child found covered in blood, lying over her mother’s naked, dead body, whimpering incoherently. She’s witnessed her mother being raped and murdered, and her own throat had been cut, twice in an attempt to leave behind no witnesses. She’s alone with her mother for approximately eleven hours before she is discovered.

After being hospitalized she is released as a ward of the state and put into foster care with no follow up treatment for the trauma she experienced.

How will she go on through life with those images etched in her mind? How will she survive psychologically? How will her mind protect her from such traumatic experiences?

This story is unfortunately a very true story, one of several stories of childhood trauma that can be found in the book, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavaitz.

Tragedies like this occur across our nation and the world everyday, leaving behind sometimes physical, but always emotional and psychological scars.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that 30 or so years ago was reserved only for soldiers who had experienced traumatic events at war. It was later recognized that rape survivors, people who had been through terrible accidents or natural disaster, also exhibited symptoms of PTSD including flashback, hyper-vigilance and avoidance behaviors.

When it came to children however, the mental health and medical fields were slow to realize the impact of trauma on their lives.

Children were thought to be naturally resilient and would “bounce back” without the aid of any type of support or treatment. Those same children who had experienced trauma would often later develop psychiatric problems, depression and attention issues that would sometimes led to medication.

We know  now that children who have live through tragedies, are just as affected as adults, perhaps even more so. This is evident in the great way the mental health community around the nation responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD can occur in anyone who has lived through an event in which they could have been killed or severely hurt or where they witnessed someone else getting killed or severely hurt. These can include violent crimes, physical or sexual abuse, someone close to them committing suicide, car crashes, shootings, war and natural disasters just to name a few.

Approximately 40% of children by the age of 18 will experience a traumatic event, which includes the loss of a parent or sibling and domestic violence. In the United States, child protective services receives an estimated 3 million reports of abuse and neglect yearly, involving approximately 5.5 million kids. About 30% of all those cases show proof of abuse:

  • 65% neglect
  • 18% physical abuse
  • 10% sexual abuse
  • 7% psychological (mental) abuse

This of course doesn’t include the estimate 66% of child abuse cases that are never reported.

The Likely Hood Of PTSD Developing

Girls are more likely than boys to develop PTSD symptoms. Approximately 3-15% of girls and 1-6% of boys who experience a trauma will develop PTSD. The chances of developing PTSD are higher depending on the type of trauma experienced. Some of the risk factors for PTSD include:

  • How severe the trauma was
  • How the parents react to the trauma
  • How close or far away that child is from the trauma

Of course children who go through the most severe traumas have the highest level and severity of PTSD symptoms. Incidents where people are hurting other people such as assault and rape, tend to result in PTSD more frequently. Children who have healthy support systems tend to have less severe symptoms.

The age of the child during the traumatic experience doesn’t seem to effect rather PTSD symptoms will develop, however PTSD looks different in children of different ages.

What Does PTSD Look Like In Children Ages 5-12?

  • children may not have flashbacks or problems remembering parts of the trauma like adults with PTSD often do.
  • Children might, however put the events of the trauma in the wrong order.
  • They might also think there were signs that the trauma was going to happen and thus they think that they will see these signs again before another trauma happens.
  • They think that if they pay attention, they can avoid future traumas which can lead to hyper-vigilance.

Children around this age may also show signs of PTSD during their play. They may keep reenacting part of the trauma. For instance, a child who has seen a shooting may want to play video games involving shootings or carry a gun to school.

Teens (ages 12-18)

In teens, some of the PTSD symptoms may be similar to those of adults including flashbacks, reoccurring nightmares about the event, hyper-vigilance and exaggerated startle responses. Teens are more likely than children or adults to show aggressive and impulsive behavior.

What are the other effects of trauma on children?

Other effects of trauma on children from PTSD comes from research done with children who have been through sexual abuse. They include:

  • fear
  • worry
  • sadness
  • anger
  • feeling alone and apart from others
  • feeling as if people are looking down on them
  • low self-worth
  • not being able to trust others
  • undesired behaviors such as aggression, out-of-place sexual behavior, self-harm, and abuse of drugs or alcohol

For many children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months. Yet some children show symptoms for years and possibly a lifetime  if they do not get treatment.

How Is PTSD Treated In Children?

For some children, the symptoms of PTSD will go away on their own with healthy supports and when they aren’t being re-traumatized by anxious parents or the media. For others, they may need professional help including:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychological first aid/crisis management
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Play therapy
  • Special treatments may be necessary for children who show out-of-place sexual behaviors, extreme behavior problems, or problems with drugs or alcohol.

What Can You Do To Help?

Educated yourself on PTSD and pay attention to your child for signs such as anger, avoidance of certain places and people, problems with friends, academic changes and sleep problems. If you need professional help, find a therapist in your area that treats PTSD and that your child feels comfortable with.  Where to Get Help .

 

Sources: The National Center for PTSD

The Preschool Oral Sex Scandal

20130210-172259.jpg
Some things we just shouldn’t have to talk about, and this is definitely one of those things. Apparently during last June and last September, a five year old preschool girl initiated sexual contact with approximately six other preschool boys at the First Lutheran Church of Carson School, in California. And by sexual contact I am talking about oral sex.

These disturbing sexual behaviors apparently went unnoticed until last October when another preschool girl was caught with her mouth on the genitals of a four year old boy at the school. That incident was then dealt with internally.

The school is now closing after these disturbing allegations and legal complaints have been filed on the behalf of the six parents of the children for negligence and “intentional infliction of emotional stress.” California’s social-services department cited the school for supervision “deficiencies” during their evaluation of the school last Thursday.

The community of course is outraged and want answers, from where were the teachers during these times, to how did this five year old girl who initiated the “oral sex scandal” become so sexualized.

While I understand these parents outrage and the need to blame someone, I also know that it is important that they handle this in a way that doesn’t dramatize the event and traumatize their children.

Chances are, if they don’t make it a huge deal, these children are likely to move on from this situation as normal, well-adjusted kids, but if the parents make this a traumatic event, these kids are likely to develop psychological and sexual issues that may follow them throughout their life.

As far as the little girl who initiated the behavior goes, the county of Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services interviewed her family and the family of each child involved and found no evidence of abuse. This in my opinion doesn’t mean that somehow, this young girl wasn’t exposed to adult sexual activity somehow, someway, even if unintentional.

Any parent or person who spends time with preschool kids can tell you that sometimes they do things such as play with their genitals, exposed themselves, dry hump the arm chair of a sofa, a favorite teddy bear or even masturbate.

These are all natural and innocent behaviors that aren’t sexualized at all, until we as adults make it so. Children can’t comprehend what they are doing at this age, all they know is that they are playing with parts of themselves they were told to keep private.

These type of behavior can be discouraged by simply letting the child know that this isn’t something you do in public. If you traumatize the event or make the kid feel bad about it, they can develop a complex about themselves and sex that they take into adulthood.

However, mouth to genital contact certainly is not a natural act for any child, which to me says she was exposed to this adult behavior somewhere, somehow.

Perhaps someone in her house keeps adult magazines or movies around, thinking, she’s only five, she has no idea what this is. Perhaps she’s seen adults engaged in this behavior or worst case scenario, maybe she has been sexually molested by an adult or older child and she is just modeling this behavior.

In the book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, child psychologist Bruce Perry talks about a seven year old patient named “Tina” who, during their first session, attempted to touch his penis. This girl had been sexually abused for two years, from the ages of four to six by a sixteen-year-old boy, her babysitter’s son. Despite the improvements she made in therapy, at the age of ten she was caught performing fellatio on an older boy at school.

The girl in the book had been traumatized and was responding to her trauma in the way she had been traumatized, which is very possibly the same thing the five year old preschooler is doing.

While I think all the children involved will benefit better if the situation is not over dramatized and if distressful signs, behaviors and situations are addressed appropriately if they come up. I do think this young girl needs some professional help to figure out the source of her sexualized behavior or she is likely to grow up into another “Tina” who doesn’t learn how to control her impulses and deal with her trauma (if there is any) in a healthy way.

I think the take away from all of this is that we need to protect our children. As they say, “hurt people, hurt people”, the same goes for traumatized adults and children. If they are not helped, they go on to traumatize other adults and children.