After a child discloses sexual abuse
, it is common for the mother to struggle with negative thoughts
that frequently intrude into the conscious thought process without warning. Similar to any grief process, the intensity and frequency of these thoughts will be greater immediately after the disclosure. Awareness
of thoughts and coping
strategies to deal with thoughts will help you maintain health. This will increase your availability to your child, who depends on your support and comfort in order to heal and recover from the abuse. Mind, emotions, and body
are connected. Those negative thoughts will result in negative emotions
. Negative emotions will set off a series of hormonal reactions
that will affect the immune system
and overall health
. Mayer (1983) created a list of some of the more common negative thoughts that mothers have after discovering a child has been sexually abused. These are similar to the following possibilites that are organized by emotion.
Some of these common thoughts involve denial
- My daughter is lying.
- I can't believe it happened.
- It didn't happen.
- Maybe it only happened once.
- Maybe she saw something on television or heard someone talk about this and then made it all up.
Some of these common thoughts are about guilt, shame, and self-blame
- I should have known.
- Where was I?
- I should have been there.
- It's my fault.
Some of these common thoughts are filled with anger, hate, and revenge:
- My husband (or whoever perpetrator is) is a _____________.
- He should rot in hell.
- I hope they put him in prison for 50 years.
- I wonder if I could get away with killing him.
- He deserves to die.
Some of these common thoughts involve fear:
- He'll kill me if I report this.
- I don't want my child to have to go to court.
- What will other people think of me?
- I can't leave my husband (or make him leave). I'll never be able to make it on my own.
- I know I should report this, but I don't want _____________ to know about it.
- How can I live without him?
- If I tell, will he come after me?
- If we go to the authorities, will he try to get back at my child?
Some of these common thoughts involve helplessness, giving up, and being a victim:
- I can't deal with this.
- There's nothing I can do.
- It happened to me, and I'm okay.
- I can't manage the anxiety if the case goes to court.
Continuing to think these thoughts will result in increased negativity, confusion, and ambivalence . You may get stuck in the process and find yourself getting more and more depressed, tired, and unable to cope.
Ways to cope with these thoughts include mindfulness, positive self-talk, and learned optimism. Becoming aware of your thoughts, thinking about your thinking, in itself will create change in your thought process. Practicing mindfulness will increase your actual presence in your life and will increase calm and a sense of joy in daily living. Optimism is something that can be learned. It takes practice to learn new skills, habits, and ways of thinking. Be patient with yourself during the process.