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Why does the survivor think I knew?

“I know you knew, Mom. How could you not have noticed when it was so obvious? You chose to deny it and keep your illusion of the perfect family instead of protecting me.”  


Very few survivors go through disclosure and healing without going through a time of blaming one or both parents for the abuse. Often this takes the form of being sure the parent knew what was happening at the time. The survivor may even say that they told a parent about the abuse and the parent did nothing. Of course, sometimes that is the case. But often it is not.  


Parents who already deeply feel their failure to protect their child can feel very defensive when their child voices these kinds of accusations. Parents may feel that the survivor’s rage or blame is landing on them instead of the one who did the harm. And they may be exactly right about that.  


It’s not fair, but it is a real and common phenomenon. It’s not something that your child is choosing to do. Even if your child is now grown, they are experiencing the beliefs and feelings they had when they were a child who was being violated. After having their natural trust and innocence betrayed at a young age, their brain has been re-wired to mistrust those closest to them.  


Parents who can connect with their child on these terms can play a powerful role in healing. There are three things in particular that are painful for parents to say but are important for survivors to hear:


  1. “That must have hurt.” Listen with a focus on understanding and validating their feelings, regardless of whether they are rational or based on the facts you remember.

  2. I’m sorry.” 

  3. “I am committed to protecting you and supporting you.” Voice your regret that you did not protect them in the past, as well as your commitment to standing by them in the future, whatever that looks like in their current situation.


Once your child trusts that they no longer have to prove their worldview or defend their experience, it opens the opportunity for your child to eventually move past their anger, and perhaps to even be able to communicate with you about your own memories and feelings. 


“I told my daughter I failed her, I told my daughter I hated myself for letting her down. I told her everything she needed to hear because she needed her pain to be validated. It is not a child’s job to think in the mind of an adult, but it is an adult’s job to think in a child’s mind.” 


Additional Resources

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