3 Ways to Protect Your Child From Feeling Shame
Sammi, an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, shared this about her experience:
Losing my innocence at the age of six and being the victim of a date rape at the age of fifteen was something I hid from everyone who knew me. I always felt as if I was to blame for allowing this to happen to me. I never talked about it to anyone. I just hid it with alcohol. I would just hide from the world and live in depression.”Sammi, Survivor
Too many survivors of sexual abuse have the same experience as Sammi: they feel shame about what happened, and this shame leads them to make unhealthy choices and suffer in silence for years. These survivors blame themselves for something someone else did, and they say nothing. But things don’t have to turn out this way. As a parent, you protect your child from sexual abuse, but if something happens, you can do a lot to ensure that your child doesn’t suffer in the silence and isolation of shame.
Have Open Conversations About Sex
As a parent, if something happens to your child, you want them to come and talk to you about it. Laying the foundation for talking openly starts early. Have frequent, age-appropriate conversations about sex and healthy sexual development with your child. This will communicate to them that it’s safe to talk to you about questions or concerns they might have. If something like sexual abuse happens, they’ll be more likely to open up. If kids feel like sex is a shameful topic that is off limits to discuss, they’ll project those same feelings onto sexual abuse.
Be On Your Child's Side
If you suspect or find out that your child has been sexually abused, don’t ever blame the child. Make sure they know that you are on their side. Sexual abuse can lead to strained relationships with family and friends, especially if the perpetrator is someone close. If your child feels like you don’t believe them or you side with someone else, shame will set in fast.
If You Find Out Something Happened, Do Something
Expressing to your child that you believe them and that you don’t blame them is a good start, but back up your words with actions. Report the abuse and get your child the help and support they need. That often means finding a therapist. If you act, you send the message that there’s no shame in coming forward and that there’s help available.
In his bookHealing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw explains that when you internalize shame, you feel like “nothing about you is okay. You feel flawed and inferior; you have the sense of being a failure.” As a parent, your goal is to help your child experience success and self-acceptance, not disappointment and self-defeat. With support and encouragement, your child will see themselves in the positive way you do.
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