For Parents: A Blog Series For Parents of Children Who Have Been Sexually Abused

Part 1: This is going to be a series of blog posts that speak to parents of children who have been sexually abused. Firstly, if this relates to you, I want to say that I am so sorry, my heart goes out to you and your child. No parent ever wants to hear that it has happened. Also, I want you to know that it is not your fault. You did everything you could to protect your child at the time. My parents where probably one of the most cautious people, and yet it still happened to me in my own home. What’s important now is to focus on your child and how to help them feel validated, heard, and understood.

Now, I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor. All of these insights and tips are things I had wish I had known as well as my parents had. My goal here is to help families have the healing process be as uncomplicated as possible. This is a grave and serious topic in which the healing process often takes years. This first post in the series is about understanding the signs and symptoms of trauma in your child. I believe this is important to start with because oftentimes symptoms of trauma can be mistaken as behavioral problems or mental illness. Some children have been misdiagnosed (including myself) and/or put on medication for something that was a symptom of trauma. (The next blog post will be about deciding whether to or not to introduce medications to your child. That post won’t be a concrete yes or no opinion, but rather things that are incredibly important to keep in mind if choosing this route. Trust me, knowing these things will save your child, time, etc. Stay tuned for next week’s post regarding medication.)

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at breakingagreements@gmail.com

One thing to know about kids before going into this is that they do not have the vocabulary, education, experience, understanding, or knowledge that you do. However, I am not saying children are not smart. In fact, I personally believe that children use certain parts of the brain more than we do. They have such a fresh perspective of life which allows them to be more open to learning without judgment. Yet, this also is what can become a problem if they have experienced abuse. Depending on the situation and who the abuser is, children sometimes see the abuser in a different light than the rest of the world. This is because predators are like con artists. Most of the time, it is someone the child knows. They are manipulative and will create this false perception of what the abuse is. Meaning, oftentimes abusers will try to create a situation where the child depends on them or trusts them so that it taints the child’s perspective of what is really going on and therefore wouldn’t tell another adult because they’d fear hurting the abuser or breaking or losing that bond. I know it is painful to read and hear, but this is important to know when you are trying to talk to your child.

There are many reasons why children do not say anything. Most don’t. The reason above is one of them, but there are a few other reasons. One of them is that the abuser may live in the household, or is a relative. It’s hard for children to speak up against someone in the family or community that may be highly thought of by everyone else. Another reason is that children may not understand what happened. I was six years old when I was abused, and I did not know or understand what rape was. Therefore, I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of what occurred to directly tell my parents right after it happened. I just knew something “bad” happened.

When a child doesn’t report the abuse, that doesn’t mean there are no other clear signs that may appear. Many times, these symptoms show up as behavioral problems or acting out. If the parent doesn’t know what occurred and then punish the child for these actions that are just trauma manifestations, this affects the child on so many levels.

I am not saying that all of these actions mean that your child has been abused, but if you suspect or know they have, then look out for these symptoms because they are not your child “Acting Out.”

Avoiding physical touch of any kind. If your child seems agitated or resistant towards hugs or honestly anything along the lines of that, do not tell them to “toughen up,” “you’re fine,” or tell them that you are safe and not going to hurt them. Right now, they don’t need rationalization, they need their boundaries respected. (Trust isn’t rebuilt by words, it is rebuilt by action.)

I had a VERY difficult time with physical touch, even from my parents. This is one of the few photos my parents got where I wasn’t freaking out or crying about hugging or being hugged.

Avoiding certain people, places, groups, or events. This includes church, school, tutoring, dance classes, or sports practice. Sometimes the people, places, or things that a child survivor avoids may not be directly related (yet oftentimes is) it can also be a trigger that reminds them of the abuse, not even tangible triggers but also, emotional ones. So, instead of immediately reacting when your child seems to be defiant, become observant because learning about the fears is how you will learn how to help your child. There were so many times where my parents thought I was being difficult and was punished for it, when in fact I was terrified to go certain places or see certain people out of pure fear. (This was mostly within the first year after the abuse, where I’d get panic attacks yet seemed like tantrums. Again, this is not blaming them, they didn’t know right away and had no background or experience in mental health.)

Behavioral changes. Eating less or more, suddenly seems shyer, jumps at sudden movements or sounds, being more agitated, doing obsessive-compulsive behaviors, controlling, tantrums, avoidant actions, and most of all: seeming more on edge, highly sensitivity, and dissociating (which looks like daydreaming.) The body doesn’t feel like a safe place to live after rape. It’s constant extreme discomfort, unease, and yet there’s no escape. In ways to compensate, the child will try to make everything feel safe around them. This will appear as children exhibiting disordered eating habits, saying that certain clothes feel “too tight” or “too loose,” being startled at loud sounds, or extreme responses or freeze responses when people exhibit strong emotions. The year after the abuse, I would take up to three showers a day. At the time, my parents thought it was absurd and obviously, didn’t allow me to when I tried. So just keep in mind to look out for behaviors such as that. The mind isn’t the only thing that is affected. After trauma, the body is still constantly in alert, fight or flight mode. Many kids appear and are highly sensitive, especially to other people’s emotions. (In some cases, if the abuser was someone the child knew, they may have had to scan the abuser’s emotional state and try to respond or act a certain way to not get hurt. That is why many trauma survivors can sense the emotions of others well but often neglect their own.) I have ADHD and PTSD, so it was hard to tell the difference between having a hard time focusing, and dissociating. Internally, there is a clear difference. But if you find your child zoning out often, especially in moments of high stress, it can be either or. This is where professional help is important. Also, here is an article that talks about ADHD and Trauma.

After the trauma as kid, I rarely stayed in the present moment. This picture is was taken a few weeks after the abuse.

Chances are, your child has a limited vocabulary regarding the topic of sexual abuse. They are not going to know how to explain what happened. From personal experience, having parents asking open-ended questions felt frustrating because I could not find the right words to describe it. On the other hand, I have read many articles that said to ask open-ended questions. So, it all depends on the child. Try both and observe how they respond. In my case, it was difficult to put my thoughts into words, and I’d shut down, cry, and become frustrated. If this relates to your child-Instead of asking broad questions like, “Why do you feel sad?” Try asking either more specific questions (even if they say reply “no” to the question, it narrows the answers down and helps the child narrow it down in their mind) or by asking physically related questions, such as where did you get hurt, etc. Oftentimes, they’ll be able to answer the more physical related questions regarding how they felt, instead of the emotional aspects of the abuse. Here is a link to discussing the abuse with your child, based on their age. 

Here is a helpful description of a common way children will try to say that they have been abused. This is from Dr. Laurie Braga’s testimony where she talks about certain techniques she uses when interviewing children of sexual abuse. (Link to interview)

In the course of your interview of thousands of kids, three or four hundred alleged victims of sexual abuse and one hundred confirmed victims of sexual abuse, have you noticed a common pattern of disclosure of the sexual abuse event by children?

Yes. I have seen a common thread, a common pattern of how children disclose. They typically will start off by saying — either by saying nothing happened or they will say something happened, but they will either say the least of what happened, or they will say something happened, but it was just some other kid, or something happened and that they saw it. Then they will gradually, as they become more comfortable, they will begin to open up more and say what happened, actually what happened to them, “This is what actually what happened to me,” and gradually, as they become more comfortable, they will build up to the worst of what happened to them, especially anything that they feel personally responsible for, as if they themselves were a partner in the crime and did something real bad. Then after having disclosed, if they [are] then met with openness and comfortableness, from someone else, say their parents, then they will continue to open up and continue to tell what happened. If they are met with, “I don’t want to hear this stuff,” or they are with a person who is in an adverse position to them who is sort of saying to them, “Well, this didn’t really happen, did it?” they will then retract what they said, take it back and say, “No, it didn’t really happen,” or of they don’t completely take it back, they will say the things that are the easiest and not the hardest to talk about.”

It is important to address the trauma before coming to conclusions about any other mental health disorder. If a child is diagnosed with anxiety, depression, etc instead of addressing the trauma & PTSD that may be causing the anxiety, more symptoms will surface overtime because the real issue at hand is not being addressed. Anxiety and depression are symptoms of trauma and they are also diagnoses. An individual can have both or may have had one or the other before the trauma. But, just from personal experience, make sure you address the trauma first, and then co-existing disorders. Because even if you think one of the symptoms is “solved” (like anxiety & avoiding certain places or people) another one will surface. It will be like playing that game, “wack a mole” because the root of the issue isn’t being addressed. The trauma needs to be treated mentally and physically (I talk about the importance of healing the body in this post.) They must learn to emotionally regulate the emotions evoked from the trauma because (not to come across as extreme here, but this occurs all the time and also is from my personal experience) later on as the child gets older, they will try to learn to emotionally regulate these feelings themselves and sometimes, they are not always the best ways: substance abuse, co-dependency, eating disorders, hypersexuality, self-harm…)

If you are struggling to understand your child, I suggest taking them to see a therapist, social worker, etc. Try: “psychologytoday.com” if you have insurance. You can select your insurance, zip code, and trauma specialization in the search bar. Another tip if you decide to do this is to give time for your child to speak. In some cases where the child is quiet, many therapy sessions end up revolving around the parent’s perspective. Even though that is important too, talking for your child will end up being a disservice in the long run. It can lead to veering off the path of what may be going on within your child’s mind that they are hiding and that you are unaware of (and they also may be unaware.) It is the therapist’s job to help the child find ways to talk about the abuse.

This topic will go into next week’s post where I discuss the pros, cons, and things to know when thinking about medication. *This is not a all for medication and this is not an against medication post. It will be discussing things to keep in mind when considering it.

Resources Used: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/terror/techniques/bragatestimony.html

http://www.nccpeds.com/powerpoints/interview.html

https://systemsofcare.ou.edu/file.ashx?id=a5f6ade6-3a60-48bf-b26a-6872a810eb0d

Why You Are Not Your Thoughts.

Has anyone else been struggling with panic, paranoia, or just anxious, unwanted thoughts? That your thoughts have been playing on a loop? Maybe it’s because I decided to take a break from drinking again (for how long? a week.. or forever.. I haven’t decided yet,) only to realize that it’s a lot HARDER than I remember from the last time I did it. Yet, that’s another post for another day.

I found this book at The Chakra Shack, in Laguna Beach, California. I didn’t think I needed it back then. Honestly, I didn’t REALLY realize I needed it until I decided to quit this past weekend. Coolest store by the way, if you’re into crystals and shit.

Or maybe it’s because it’s that time of the month, I burned myself from this innocent looking, sloth heating pad I got from Urban Outfitters, or that the 800mg of Advil still doesn’t take away the needle stabbing pain from my IUD. (But completely worth the pain because hormones and pills…. or hormones in the form of a pill are things I try to stay clear from.) The mind and body are more connected than we may realize. Which is why I’ve learned that if your body isn’t at it’s best, your mind will suffer. Anyway, back to the point of this post: this morning I remembered I wrote this on my old blog back in January 2019. I hope it helps you if this is something you’ve been battling. (The trick is, to not battle with it. You’ll see what I mean as you keep reading.)

Sloth Heating Pad From Urban Outfitters.

You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are, well, just thoughts. For so many years, I let negative thoughts hold such power over my mood and actions. Whether it was a negative thought about how I perceived myself or an unsettling memory from when I was a kid, I would let one thought push me into a downward spiral and taint the rest of my day. I believed that I had no control over this. There was this strong belief that those thoughts were a reflection of me.

If you or someone you know struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder or any form of addiction, you may have noticed that they will get hooked on one thought or urge. It’s can feel like the individual is blind sighted by anything else but that thought. And the more you (or they) try to not think about it, the more you do. (Ever heard of the saying: Don’t think of the pink elephant?) It’s beyond frustrating and can leave one to think that there’s absolutely no hope in changing their present mood or actions. This can apply to those who suffer from depression as well. There may be a hopeless feeling or thought that they feel they cannot let go of. If you can resonate with any of these scenarios, I want to tell you this:

Your thoughts aren’t you. You are not a bad person for thinking those thoughts. Furthermore, your thoughts don’t have to dominate your emotions or actions. You are not a victim to your thoughts. And most importantly: your thoughts don’t have permission to make you give in to an urge or addictive behavior. That stupid little thought doesn’t have power over your arms or legs. You do. (Now I get it, easier said than done, but bear with me.)

Now, it is impossible to control the thoughts that may arise from time to time. But it is in your power to chose how you respond to them. 

For example, someone who may suffer from depression may think a negative thought about themselves. Such as:

“I should be able to do more like everyone else.”
“Why is it so hard for me to have hope and stay motivated?”
“I feel so guilty for burdening everyone around me.”
“I’m a jerk.”
“I’m always sad. It’s easier for others to be happy.”
“I am a bad person because I did x, y, and z back in 2010.”

Then, along with that thought probably comes with hundreds of reasons that support that belief to be true. The more we focus on that thought, whether negative or positive, our brain will try to find all the evidence it can to back that thought up.  And man, anyone who is thrown into a sea of thoughts like that is bound to be depressed.

So, right now, I want you to imagine you are standing beside a stream in the woods. As you hear the rushing water cascade down from the forest’s peak, you look down and notice thousands of fish swimming down the stream. Some are grey, camouflaging with the stones that lie at the bottom of the stream. Swimming alongside the grey ones is a bunch of bright blue fish.
Think of these fish as your thoughts.
You cannot control how many grey ones are swimming in the creek just as much as how many blue ones are there. Now, as all of the fish are swimming down the stream, you reach down to pick one up. You get to decide on which fish you pick up. It not in your control over which fish passes you down the stream at that moment in time, but- it is your choice of which color fish you pick up and look at.

Also, it is completely in your power to decide how long you are going to hold and observe the fish, whether it is for five minutes, or the rest of the day. (Don’t ac

tually do this! ) You can also just notice that grey or blue fish as you let it swim by past you instead of picking it up at all.

That’s how it is with your thoughts. Sometimes there will be negative thoughts about yourself that arise through time to time. That doesn’t mean that thought is true. It’s just a thought. The reason why it may feel true is that for most of your life you’ve just focused on that thought and created the evidence to support it.

Now, I know that there are genetic and biochemical factors and components for depression, OCD, and addiction. I’m not saying this is a cure-all concept or idea, but it can definitely save you from going into a downward spiral for the rest of your day.

For example last night, I ran into someone I knew years ago. I used to have this belief that they thought I was a chaotic mess. This morning, as I was folding my laundry, a negative assumption of how they may have perceived me passed through my mind. Immediately, (as I unconsciously picked up the grey fish) I began to go back to that scenario of running into them last night and picked apart all the reasons and evidence of why they may have thought negatively about me when we ran into each other.

Suddenly, I stopped myself. I let myself get hooked onto the thought and the storyline of how this person might think that: I’m too whimsical, unorganized, and can’t keep up with life. After I became aware, I told myself “that’s just a thought.” Because really, there are tons of thoughts that were going through my mind at that moment, I just chose to delve into that specific one and the storyline of what they thought of me based on past interactions from years ago. Swimming alongside with that thought were other thoughts such as the moments of laughter I had with the friends I was with that night or that I ran out of coffee this morning and need to go pick some up.

***I think that a lot of us may have felt a certain way about ourselves based on one or two experiences in life, and then have continued to believe that story and perception of ourselves as well as projecting that belief onto people who we meet in the future.

Even as intuitive as you may be, we never truly know what the other person is thinking.
Even if that person I ran into did think that way about me… It doesn’t mean I actually am a mess. I could have spent the rest of the day believing and living as if I am chaotic or disorganized. I could have stopped folding my laundry. But I didn’t. I chose to pick up the other fish and create my own story of how I see myself.  And I had a fucking great day.
Also, constantly focusing on the thoughts of how we perceive ourselves, how the people around us to is going to drive anyone crazy. Try observing something outside of yourself. It gets you out of your mind.

Next time a negative thought about yourself or an urge to *drink, smoke, blah blah ..etc..etc..* arises, just watch it like a fish down the stream. It may stand out to you more than the others, but this is because you are used to giving that specific thought more attention. Over time, the thought will not seem as true, threatening, or loud once you practice observing it and not believing it.
Sometimes, the thoughts may seem intrusive or you may feel like the words are shouting out at you. But remember, the response is in your power. Instead of picking up the thought and finding evidence for it. Just respond like this:

“Hmm, interesting. Anything else you (the thought) would like to say before I move on?” “Yeah I know it would feel great to __ right now. But I’m not going to.” 
When the thoughts are strong: the trick is to respond curiously and almost neutrally. Because the more you argue about giving into an addictive behavior or stream of negative beliefs about yourself, you are still giving tons of energy and attention to that thought and it’s going to wear you down.

Trust me. The more attention you give something, negative or positive, the more it will come to fruitation. So, if you are trying to stop the thought or argue with it—don’t. Just let it know you see it, and then try to observe all the other thoughts/fish that may be swimming in the background of your mind.

The present moment is all that matters. What you did 3 minutes ago or 10 years ago doesn’t have to be the determining factor of how you live right now. You are a good person. Don’t let one event or a few interactions with others affect the rest of your life.
Even if someone did straight up say to you that you are a *insert negative noun* -it’s just one of those grey fish in someone else’s mind. That thought of theirs..it just doesn’t matter. Because it’s just an opinion. 

And you know what? Maybe I do act disorganized, whimsical, and have a hard time keeping up with life. But that doesn’t mean I AM disorganized, whimsical, and have a hard time keeping up with life. I can be organized and grounded when I feel like it….. And the same goes for you!
So fuck those grey fish. They are only as real as you believe them to be.
Next time you catch yourself picking up a grey fish and are about to fall down a staircase of negativity. Just watch this video before you continue your day: (A video my dad made me watch in the midst of a panic attack at some point during high school haha.)

TRAUMA AND THE BODY

Let me first start by saying Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a brilliant, brilliant man. He’s an author who has dedicated tons of his research towards PTSD. You may have heard of his book, The Body Keeps The Score. After reading this book a while back and listening to many interviews with him, I was not surprised when I found out his approach to treating trauma is done through bodywork, such as yoga. In fact, yoga addressed many trauma wounds that talk therapy was not able to reach or heal.

 Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talked about the two most common therapies that are used in a New York Times Magazine post: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. He stated that the purpose of this therapy is to “desensitize” the patient to the fear, which isn’t effective therapy for trauma because desensitization is not the same thing as healing. The other therapy commonly used, CBT,  is where the patient will look at their thoughts and see the illusions with a rational perspective. However, again, he pointed out that this is another ineffective therapy for trauma because “Trauma has nothing to do with cognition, it has to do with your body being reset to not interpret the world as a dangerous place.” Trauma needs to be reset in the primitive parts of the brain, which talk therapy, or CBT, cannot reach.

Most therapy uses the “top-down” approach, which addresses the “evolved” part of the brain, otherwise known as the neocortex. This is where you’ll talk and learn to observe your emotions and thoughts. Now, of course, this is helpful, but trauma is stored in the body through sensory. You cannot rationalize with that part of you that goes into “fight or flight”. This is why therapies such as EDMR, brain spotting, somatic therapy, yoga, and hypnosis really help propel one’s recovery from sexual abuse.

This is also why addiction is hard to break when it is just approached by addressing emotions. We must understand that aside from emotions and genetic factors, the limbic system in the body is highly activated. You cannot rationalize with surfacing addiction urges, just like you cannot rationalize with PTSD triggers. This is why this “bottom-up” therapy approach can help with addiction, especially if trauma related. I talked in my podcast (Episode 2) this past week about how to deal with this part of the brain, which is the limbic system.

I thought that by avoiding certain people, places, sounds, or experiences would prevent me from being triggered. Yet, after trauma your entire nervous system is still on high alert, meaning your body is still acting as if you are still in the trauma. If you are someone, or know someone that experiences frequent flashbacks, nightmares, or can’t seem to be brought down to earth, then here are some suggestions that have helped me, and still to this day continue to. The “bottom-up” approach to healing trauma is essential. It really gave me a glimmer of hope when I felt like I was failing talk therapy that I had been going to for years.

Types of Therapies That Address The Body:

-Trauma Sensitive Yoga

-EDMR

-Somatic Therapy

-Brain Spotting

-Neurotherapy

-Hypnosis

-EFT (tapping)

-Accupressure

-Massage

-Acupuncture

Books, Videos, and Resources:

The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

Episode 2: Breaking Away From Old Thought Patterns, Behaviors, and Addiction.

Gentle & Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Sequence for Grounding and Upper Body Release (Video)

Stay With Yourself

I can’t tell if my head is throbbing because I’ve been crying for days on end or extreme dehydration from sweating out the remaining water in my body during hot yoga this past week. I’m writing this post on a Friday morning. Whereas I usually already have a blog post written and published by then. My world seems like it’s crumbling down. It feels like I’ve washed ashore, coughing up all the saltwater from the sea.

Last weekend I filed an emergency PFA. Right now, it’s too fresh to talk about in-depth and I want to speak about it when I’m in less of an emotionally charged state. What I will say is that it hit me hard with heavy emotional parallels from the past. I haven’t felt such an inherent sense of sadness in a long time. I can understand why most people don’t report because the court process is the most overwhelming experience. I honestly would’ve given up if I wasn’t so concerned about being protected.

I left work early because I couldn’t stop crying. Last night, I began to romanticize in my mind three glasses of wine and Xanax. Or the field trips to multiple liquor stores throughout the week because of the embarrassment of about what the cashiers would think of my frequent trips if I continually went to the same one. I’ve come too far from those habits to go back to them. Right now, I need to be that dependable person that I needed when I was younger. I cannot worry like my mother did, about what others would think, losing relationships, causing ruined relationships. Instead, I need to take my power back and become that person I would be in a heartbeat for someone else.

If you’re like me and tend to escape the chaos through substances or getting another tattoo, try pausing and using these tools below instead.

“Stressors” from Feb 2020

Write: Just write down a list of stressors, they sound irrational but it’s a cathartic release. I learned this from my woman’s studies professor who would have us write what we were stressed about before class.

Do Some Fucking Yoga: The waves of sadness and frustration washed ashore through each vinyasa flow. Pigeon pose will also aid in the release of emotions.

Focus on Health: Instead of red wine, I’ve been drinking a ton of GT’s cranberry kombucha. Instead of relapsing or living off of only green juice and cigarettes, I’ve been making berry smoothies and salads. Lot’s of Liposomal Vitamin C and Zinc to support immunity. Also GABA and L-Theanine for stress. If you don’t know about amino acids and their functions I suggest reading Julia Ross’s books.

Cry: It’s detoxifying, healing, and extremely embarrassing when it happens at work.

Take a Walk in Nature: Listen to podcasts (I personally like Aaron Doughty’s and That’s So Retrograde). Repeat mantras and affirmations (there are tons of YouTube videos.)

Make the promise to never abandon yourself. There are so many “should’s” that cloud our minds as well as concerns about people’s opinions. But you can’t let that stop you from protecting yourself. No one has the right to release their anger physically on you, no one has the right to tell you and decide if their actions and words are making you uncomfortable. Go with yourself.

If you are struggling with dark thoughts and feel like there is no escape, here is a link to a post I wrote on my old blog about moving through the darkness.