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Updated on February 3, 2011


This is the second in a series of blogs addressing the topic, Healing From Sexual Abuse.  These blogs correspond to six foster parent training classes that I am facilitating at San Bernardino Valley College on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9 a. m. to Noon, starting February 01, and ending February 22, 2011.  If you live nearby and want to attend the classes, email me.

Tuesday, February 01     Becoming Part Of The Healing
Friday, February 04         What To Expect?
Tuesday, February 08     Interventions: What You Give Energy To Persists
Friday, February 11        HOLIDAY
Tuesday, February 15     Conversations
Friday, February 18        Envisioning A Future
Tuesday, February 22     Grieving The Losses

PLEASE NOTE.  Although the target population, so to speak, are foster parents, the wisdom here is for all of us who are parents and or caregivers of any kind, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE OF US WHO HAVE A GENERATIOAL HISTORY OF INTRA FAMILIAL SEXUAL ABUSE.

Intrafamilial sexual abuse is NOT rare, so DO NOT BE AFRAID to check out this blog or this class.

I do not hold anything back in these blogs, so if you are offended, I apologize, but this is a serious matter, and one which we need to talk frankly and clearly about, so we can learn to be there in a kind and straight forward way for the children who need our support in healing.

A good article from the internet about parenting abused children
by Michael V. Merrick, MS, LMSW and Betsy Allen, MA, LMSW

Those attending class in person will receive a copy of this article;

If you want to see Part one or review the first class, here is the link


As we begin this class, it is so important to remember and review the last class. The number one challenge for us is to create an emotional climate where the child feels safe even when acting out. It is important for us, as parents or parent figures, to keep the climate safe for the child, no matter how outlandish the acting out is.

It is certainly within the realm of possibility that a child who has been physically or sexually abused will NOT act out, but it is much more probable that they will. So it is not so much what to expect, but to EXPECT and prepare yourself psychologically and emotionally. BE PREPARED so you will not react but instead RESPOND.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT punishing the acting out. The challenge is to support the child regaining self control. This may require a lot of physical intervention on your part in terms of redirecting the child, holding (not restraining) the child in some cases until the child regains self control, providing a safe place for a time out, which you will rehearse and talk about before hand, and being conscious enough to reduce verbal interaction. Once the child and you are both calm, it can be useful to have some conversation whose focus will be letting the child know that you get what the acting out is all about, and then literally teaching the child a new and acceptable way to get his or her needs met.


Now there are several ways I want us to approach this question. First of all, you can read the article PARENTING CHILDREN SURVIVING SEXUAL ABUSE by Michael V. Merrick, MS, LMSW and Betsy Allen, MA, LMSW.  If you are attending class, you will receive a copy, and it spells it out pretty clearly precisely what you can expect. And that is good, except you are reading the article as if you do not know what to expect. That’s really nice and sterile because you get to remove yourself emotionally from the question and turn the question into an intellectual pursuit.

Of course, I like to challenge you! And I do want you to squirm a bit as you pursue the answers to this question.

Were YOU sexually abused? So how did you behave as a result of the abuse? How did you want to behave as a result of the abuse, but for whatever reason, you did not? What was it that the Big People told you about your abuse experience? What was helpful? What was downright unhelpful? If you acted out, what did the Big People do in response to your acting out? What did they say? What was helpful and what was downright unhelpful?

What is your best guess or notion about how children will behave as a result of the abuse? And what do you base these guesses or notions upon?  Are you aware of having a notion that some forms of abuse are more serious than others? And then that dictates what kind of acting out to expect? Do you know where you came up with your categories and assumptions?

You have, in fact, worked with children who have been sexually abused so you actually know what to expect, but, for some reason, you are still puzzled by the behavior and wonder if it is normal or an overreaction on the part of the child, for example you conclude the child is attempting to use the abuse to get undue attention.  Why do you suppose we go there?

So you have not had any first-hand experience of being abused and you have never worked with children who have been sexually abused. So put yourself in their shoes and how do you imagine it feels to be sexually abused? And how do you imagine you might act out in response to this experience?

So at this point, we want to discuss the above four scenarios. If you are here online, you can ask questions about these different scenarios in the comment section below and please be sure to check back to see my response to your question or comment.

It is safe to expect all kinds of different behavior. Again the article by Merrick and Allen spells it out pretty well and very clearly.

I think a good way to describe the behaviors one can expect is PROVOCATIVE. We are going to use provocative in two different ways: so provocative in the sense that the child’s behavior will get your attention by agitating or upsetting you or in the sense that the child’s behavior appears either covertly or overtly sexual.

Now, let us agree that throughout this class, we will catch ourselves and avoid describing a child’s behavior as "seductive." When a person is seductive, there is typically a conscious element to the behavior. Children who present in a "seductive" way, are only acting out what was done to them. So the term seductive tends to overlook that the child would otherwise NOT be what we describe as seductive in their mannerism or behavior in general. Also, if we use the term “seductive” in describing a child’s behavior, it typically will trigger in us a level of anger and rejection toward the child. THAT we don’t want to do.

When a child is being provocative, the child is basically saying to us, “Hey, I want you to know what happened to me. I can’t really talk about it with anyone....I was told that if I did, something bad would happen....No one wants to hear my story. I can tell by the expressions on their face when I start telling my story...Half the time no one believes me anyway....I feel dirty and nasty when I tell my story....No one can understand why I still love him/her so I stopped telling the story....I can’t let anyone know just how interested in sex I am after being abused, so I let you know in other ways....”

So our challenge is to find out what the child’s provocative behavior is telling us about their abusive experience. It’s similar to learning how to interpret an infant’s crying, Infants have no other way to communicate with us except by crying. And it is up to us to figure which of the many messages they are trying to communicate with this one method. They might be telling us that they are hungry, that they are in pain, that they are wet, that they are bored, that they are cold, that they are lonely, that they are sick. It can be all of those things and much much more. It’s our job, as good enough parents, to pay attention and figure out what the message is.

SO TOO, our children who have been abused will use their provocative behavior as a way to tell us what they cannot otherwise tell us. So it is important to figure out the message, and let them know that we get it. Let’s take a few minutes here for you to share with us the provocative behaviors you contend with. Then we’ll brainstorm together what the message might be. And then we will brainstorm some really powerful healing responses.

If you are “taking the class” here on hubpages, then share with us the provocative behaviors you contend with in the comment section as well as your best guess as to what the child is trying to tell you. Be sure to check back to read my response.

Let me give a few example. Let’s say the child runs up to everyone including strangers and engages them. The child is telling us, “You need to protect me because my boundaries have been so totally blown away, that I cannot protect myself.”

Let’s say a teenager cuts on him or herself. You needn’t tell them anything about the injuriousness of the behavior. They know, obviously. But you could rub moisturizing cream on the scars and gently dress any new wounds. The message to us is, “I’m scarred, I’m damaged goods, my sexuality is chopped to pieces, I am so numb I have to cut on myself to feel anything.”

It is so important to remember that being on the receiving end of abuse, attacks our autonomy to the hilt. The aftermath of abuse is an on-going scramble for control and survival. So, as care providers, as parents, it is an absolute that we find parenting tools other than control. The bottom line is it is not necessary to control adults or children to be a successful parent or leader or mentor or healer.

We will take a few minutes to talk about parenting different age groups. With children under six, there are a lot of simple physical interventions we can make to eliminate power struggles and control issues. We simply move in, physically motor when necessary, hold, contain, be with till the storm is over, redirect, soothe. Let’s zero in on some real live six and under children and brainstorm how you can do this. Again, if you are here on hubpages, share your stories in the comment section and be sure to check back for my response.

With older children and definitely preteen and teenagers, you are not going to be successful in trying to physically intervene through motoring or holding. They’re way too big to pick up! You can however turn to magic, charisma, and your internal power that potentially can draw others, including even teenagers, to follow you.

So you make it almost impossible for the preteen or teen not to follow you, or be open to you. You do this by discovering what your strengths are, what your talents are, what you are really good at. And you bring those gifts to the relationship. Those gifts are always attractive are always a draw.

And you discover what their strengths and talents are and begin inviting them to show off their strengths and talents. They will follow you when you make that invitation to them.

Now something you do not want to hear, I know, is that ultimately, if I take control of myself, then my control buttons won’t be sitting on my chest like a bullseye, and the issue of power struggles will become non existent. So, I have to take a look at all the things in my own life that I have chosen not to control: my eating, my nasty moods, my drinking, my weight, my avoidance of conflict, my avoidance of completing important tasks, my sexual behavior or lack of, my withholding of affection toward those I love, my unwillingness to dream again, my unwillingness to grieve my losses, my avoidance of the doctor and the dentist, and what else? You fill in the blanks!

So as before, let’s put some real life preteens and teenagers in the spotlight so to speak and begin exploring the behaviors to which it is important for us to respond, and then together as a group create some tools for responding to those behaviors powerfully without attempting to control the child. Again, if you are here on hubpages, present your stories about the teenagers for whom you are providing care and healing, in the comment section, and be sure to check back for my response.

Do you remember last class, we talked about giving our drill instructor hat to the Goodwill? Yes, we will say it again. There is no room for CONTROL in parenting abused children. Controlling them will not work and or only replicate the abuse experience.

So what does a healer do? A healer is typically gentle when (ad)dressing the wound. The healer is typically quite firm in setting certain constraints so the wound can heal. The healer is careful not to inflict more pain or a new wound or carelessly infect the wound. Going back to the beginning of the healing process, the healer does not deny the existence of the wound. We do that when we say things like, “Okay, so you got abused. Suck it up, move on....I did!....You going to spend the rest of your life crying over spilled milk?’re not the first and unfortunately you won’t be the last person abused.....Turn it over to God. If you do that, the pain will be taken away, but you gotta have faith and maybe you just don’t have enough faith....” Unfortunately we say those things, well intentioned at times. But when we do, we are abandoning our role as parent healer.

The parent healer is willing to cleanse the wound, redress the wound, talk about the wound, touch the wound, soothe the pain of the wound, and be patient with the healing process. Unfortuantely, it is not an overnight event. And sometimes once the wound scars, it takes many more years for the scar to dissolve. We can be a part of that process as well if we choose, or we can leave the child scarred and again suggest that they just suck it up!

Again, let’s take some time to brainstorm, using real life children, how we can become healers.
Again, if you are here on hubpages, share with us, in the comment section, your real life children for whom you are attemting to provide healing, and be sure to check back for my response and feedback.

Anytime a person has been hurt, wounded, traumatized, any time a person experiences abandonment or loss, the person will inevitably act out the experience and usually the acting out is self destructive or other destructive. It’s just how life works. It’s how we work. So it is important, as you identify your abuse as a child, that you also become conscious of how you act out the abusive experience. Some folks turn to any number of addictions to get relief from the pain. Some folks withdraw from close relationships. They have plenty of surface relationships, but none we would consider intimate. Some folks drown themselves in work, in business, in projects, and some very well-meaning and beneficial projects. So it appears to be a good way of dealing with one’s abuse. In some ways it might be, but anytime we are “acting out” our abuse, we are also splitting off from it. If I split off from my abusive experiences, I’m certainly not going to be emotionally available to listen to someone else’s abusive story. So again, there is nothing like personal healing to enhance your skills as a healer.

To be quite frank and perhaps scary, you can probably expect just about every annoying, awful, disgusting, and injurious behavior one could think of. If they don’t come through for my prediction, hey, you’re lucky.

Of course, the bottom line is not so much what they offer to us in the way of acting out, but how we can learn and hone our skills in responding to the acting out, and learning to respond in such a way that the child or teen is drawn into a healing relationship with us. I did not say a buddy buddy relationship. I didn’t even say friend. Nor did I say parent. I said, HEALING relationship.

In order to be a healer, it is important for us to be in the process of being healed ourselves. It requires great strength, an inner spirituality actually, a belief in healing power, and a confidence in the healing power you yourself possess, and the faith and the courage to give your healing power away, to let it flow out of you through your hands, through the expressions on your face, through your aura, and through the emotional climate that you so adamantly create.



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