For Parents – Dealing with your own emotions after disclosure of child sexual abuse

What Parents may experience after a child sexual abuse disclosure
When parents first find out about their children being sexually abused, they will experience a wide range of feelings. These emotional reactions are normal responses to a child sexual abuse disclosure. In addition to shock & disbelief, most parents may also feel guilty, worried, angry, deeply saddened, disturbed, heartbroken, lonely or even numb. Your world may seem to have fallen apart and you may feel that you don’t know whom you can trust anymore. Parents often tend to blame themselves for not paying attention to their child’s behaviors or complaints earlier on. You may feel that you have failed as parents and you didn’t protect your children. For some parents they may wonder why their children didn’t disclose to them directly but to others. Some parents also become angry at themselves or at their spouses for not supporting the family.

Some parents also feel conflicting emotions, especially if the accused perpetrator is someone you have trusted, a close friend or a family member. You may experience betrayal, confusion and disbelief. In addition to a wide range of emotional experiences, parents may also experience insomnia, change of appetite or other physical complaints.

Coping after your child’s sexual abuse disclosure:

Taking Care of yourself
As you are dealing with the police investigation, social workers’ interview or other professionals regarding your child’s sexual abuse disclosure, it is especially important to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Your child needs your care and your attention during this time of confusion and overwhelming circumstances. If you are experiencing insomnia or depression, you may need to talk to your doctor about treatment or to seek professional counselling.

Believing your child
Believing your child and standing by him or her is crucial for your child’s recovery. Children normally do not make up these accusations and no offenders will admit outright their offenses. It is therefore, very important that you need to hold the alleged offender responsible, and not your child.

Sharing your experiences with a supportive & understanding friend
As you try to deal with the sexual abuse of your child, you may start to piece together many clues and indicators of the child abuse that went unnoticed earlier. This information will help you to understand what your child has gone through and the impact on him or her. However, it may also increase your sense of guilt and you may blame yourself for not acting earlier. Instead of tormenting yourself, share with an understanding family member or friend about your feelings and emotions will help you to move on.

Showing Understanding towards your spouse
It is crucial for both parents to support each other during this critical and painful time. Blaming each other for not protecting your child will not help solve the problem. Open or secret blaming on one of the parents will further impact your child’s sense of safety and sense of security. Your child has already been violated and experienced lack of safety. Therefore, it is critical for both parents to focus on supporting the child as a team. A crisis like this may put a strain on your relationship, especially a relationship that has already been shaky or difficult.

Compassion and imperfection
As we look back to many decisions we have made in the past, we can always easily find faults and mistakes. This is especially true in the case of child sexual abuse. When we look back to the past, you may always find a clue or some indicators that you missed. When we try to make sense and reflect on our past behaviors, it is very easy to be critical and to find mistakes. However, it doesn’t necessary mean that you did not try your best or you failed to protect your child. Sometimes accidents or other unfortunate events happen regardless of our best effort. Remember, the offender should be held accountable for his behaviors. It is neither your child nor you who “caused” the abuse. Offering some compassion to yourself and admitting to yourself the imperfection of humans and this world may help you to forgive yourself and move on.

Seeking professional Help
Seeking professional counselling is important especially if your child or your behavioral & emotional reactions do not subside. Seeking professional help earlier on can be very helpful. Talk to a counsellor or a therapist for a few sessions to debrief and process your emotions regarding the your child’s sexual abuse incident as well as your confusion. A trained professional will be able to facilitate a healing and closure for you. It is important for you to be able to find strengths to support and reassure your child after these traumatic experiences they have experienced.