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This Hits Too Close to Home 
Generational Sexual Trauma

"How can I deal with her stuff if I can't deal with mine?"

--anonymous mother, quoted in Defending Black Girlhood podcast, season one

 

For some parents, hearing about their children’s sexual trauma is a double hit. If you carry any kind of sexual trauma in your own past, learning of your children’s story hits a spot where you are already vulnerable, a spot of your own that you may have buried long ago. You may come from a family that has carried many generations of sexual trauma. Sometimes whole communities or people groups have been forced to carry a heavy legacy of sexual trauma, as a result of widespread sexual assault during war, enslavement, or genocide.

 

If you find yourself in this situation, it is doubly important that you seek help for yourself. It is important for the mental survival of yourself and all your children. Your reaction and your ability to support your children will make a big difference in their ability to heal. This is true whether your children are still in the home or whether they have been grown and gone for years.   

 

But it is doubly, maybe triply, hard to be supportive when you are carrying your own burdens as well. Boundaries between yourself and your children, your story and their story, can easily become blurred. If your children don’t know about your past, you will face the decision of whether or not to share it, and if so, how much.  

 

Parents who carry past trauma, perhaps in the form of PTSD, can have many reactions to their child’s disclosure, sometimes all at once or bouncing from one to the other.  

  • Numbness, unable to take in the information

  • Feeling frozen, unable to react in any way

  • Denial, the brain’s defense against pain that is too great to bear in the moment

  • Anger, including anger at your own abuser displaced onto either one or both children

  • Intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, etc of your own abuse

  • Dissociation, feeling out of your body or feeling you are someone else, feeling you are back to your younger self at the time of your own violation

  • Cravings or addictions, even if you have been in recovery or haven’t been addicted before

 

Even if you have worked on your own healing in therapy in the past, witnessing your child’s suffering takes your own challenges to a whole new level. You will need all the support and guidance you can get.  

 

You need to save yourself so you can save your child.  

PTSD Treatments

Find a Therapist

Coping Skills

Healing Tookit

A word to those whose children are still minors: It is important to let your child’s therapist know that you are a survivor of sexual trauma, even if you don’t want to go into details. It will clue the therapist to extra needs that both of you may have. 

 

Additional Resources