written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C
The news was atwitter this past week with the story of the judge, who has since apologized, sort of, for stating that the 14-year-old girl, Cherice Moralez, who killed herself after her teacher molested her was “older than her chronological age” and that “It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about,”… “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred.” (cnn.com) I do not know this case, or this girl. I am not going to comment on this family’s pain other than to try to use their situation to create better understanding of all children who have experienced sexual abuse.
I have worked with people who have been molested for quite a while now and while many people know the company line is to say that it is never the victim’s fault, I do find that as adults it can be difficult to understand why we say that. It is true that 2 out of 3 teen victims know their abusers. In cases where a child knows his or her abuser, it is much more often the case that a child or teen was tricked into performing sexual acts rather than, as this judge envisioned a “forcible attack.”
Child abuse is difficult to think about, so many of us, when given the option, simply choose not to. It is not until we have someone close to us that is affected that we begin to examine our own underlying belief about abuse. I am glad when adults share what they really believe about their child’s abuse with me so that we can address the questions about whether a child participated in his or her own molestation, rather than continuing to hold onto a belief that a child might have done so, a belief that can unknowingly be conveyed to the child through actions, body language and words. In this article, I would like to address some of the questions that survivors and parents of survivors have brought to me over the years which may be difficult to answer unless you have had some time to reflect upon it:
“Why didn’t the child tell anyone that he/she was being abused? Doesn’t that mean she/he might have wanted it?”
Children do not tell about abuse for a variety of reasons. Most often an abuser is someone known to the child. The abuser often tells the child that they (the child and the abuser) will be in BIG trouble if the child tells anyone. Abusers are often very good about convincing children they are participating in the wrongful behavior, even when a child says they do not want to. Sometimes an abuser suggests or threatens that if a child tells they will be removed from their home, the abuser will be fired and will not be able to take care of his family, no one will believe the child didn’t want it, that the child misinterpreted the abusers actions, and on and on. It is not difficult to convince children, even teenagers, that they are in control of whether the abuser is in trouble or not. It is a normal part of development to believe that the world in some senses revolves around us so, when an abuser presents the case that his or her world, as well as the child’s parents world and even other relatives, revolves around the teens choice to tell or keep quiet, it becomes easier to understand how a child, even a teen, especially a teen would keep quiet. Should a teen figure out he or she has been tricked, the shame of feeling tricked can keep them quiet as well.
“Yes, but my child was a teenager when this happened, he/she should have known better.”
This is probably the most common issue I hear from parents, family and friends of teens, and even the teen themselves who are abused by adult caregivers. It can be difficult to understand how teenagers who have learned about abuse, and whose parents have told them since childhood to tell if someone is abusing them would still keep from telling. I have even had adolescents who have tried to convince me that they were a party to their own abuse and that they are guilty of participating. I understand how teens and their parents can feel this way and when they do here is what I say. “Think about you two years ago. Were you different?” If you take a moment to think about the difference between a fourteen and sixteen year old, anyone who has had a child either of those ages knows there is a difference. A sixteen year old will absolutely tell you they are different from how they were two years ago, they have different friends, they know more, they have different interests or have increased their skill in an ongoing interest. Then I ask, “Do you think in two years you might be different from the way you are now? If so, what will the differences be?” Of course we all know we will be different in two years. We will have two more years worth of experience and information. We will have two more years of practicing independence, understanding relationships, etc. Last, I point out the difference in age between the abused and the abuser, say it’s fifteen years and say, “So this person had fifteen more years than you to figure out the stuff you are figuring out now. They had fifteen years more experience in relationships and getting what you want in relationships. They had fifteen more years to figure out how to talk someone into giving them what they wanted. Oh yeah, and how many serious relationships have you had?” What people often fail to realize is that for the child, this is their very first introduction to sexual relationships and they are simply outmatched by someone who has honed their skills of manipulation to lure the child into believing that they are on even cognitive ground and therefore in an equal relationship. This cannot possibly be the case when you think about it. While some teens are very good at acting mature and responsible, they do not yet have the ability to determine who is and isn’t trying to trick them and they cannot possibly have the understanding of adult relationships that only comes with experience.
“She/he always seemed older in a sexual way.”
Yes, I hear this one too and my response to this is simple…how does a child come to seem older in a sexual way in the first place? Often it does not take much looking to see why this might seem true. Is this a child that was previously sexualized by another abuser? Is this a child that has been taught that her (could be a he but I find this argument most often to be about girls) looks and looking sexual is something that is rewarded in her family? Has this child been exposed to a lot of media that encourages young girls to act in sexual ways? Does this child live in a family where you do not get noticed unless you are acting out making it easier for her to get tricked by someone who treats her special? Were these circumstances also the child’s fault, or do these circumstances explain the ways in which this child was made into a target for a predator? Just because a child has learned to act in a certain way, or dress in a certain way, it does not mean that the child has the same cognitive abilities of an adult. It does however, give manipulative abusers a heads up that they are an easier target.
While we don’t like to think about these things, it is important before we make a statement that impacts an average of 1/3 of the people in the room, that we take the time to arm ourselves with knowledge. Yes, approximately 28% of the population in the United States will be sexually victimized by the age of 17. Knowledge is power and if you want more knowledge, try some of these links:
If you want to learn more about protecting your child from abuse try my posts:
And, if you believe anyone you know is suicidal like Cherice Moralez, please look up my posts:
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Today’s post is about making peace with your inner critic. You know, that little voice inside that says meaner things to you than you would ever say to anyone else. That voice that immobilizes you sometimes into inaction, emotional instability and self-doubt.
First lets lay the framework to help think about this issue from a different angle than you may be used to. Think about when you go to a restaurant. If it is a restaurant you have never been to, what do you do? Maybe take a peek at the menu? Ask your friend or a server what they recommend? Think about the multitude of internal suggestions that can come up just from looking at a menu. First you might ask yourself what you are in the mood for. Then you might look at the prices and have a conversation with yourself about that. Then you might think about the nutritional value of the meal you are thinking of. You might remember a time you had a meal like the one you are considering on the menu and were happy, or unhappy with the way it tasted. Really, there is almost an endless number of ways our minds can go simply by sitting down and looking at a menu. And, if this is true for most of us about ordering a meal, just imagine the number of internal conversations that go on about parenting!
To simplify things, I am going to call the different internal suggestions you receive parts. The part of you that does the budgeting for your family asks about the price of the meal. The part of you that asks about the nutritional value, we could call the health conscious part (or it could be your inner critic depending on the tone). Another part would be the memory bearer for a specific occasion when you had a similar meal, etc. We all have parts. All of us. When I say we have parts I do not mean that we are all suffering from multiple personalities, rather I am stating that we all have learned experiences that come to mind in relation to each situation we encounter throughout the day. There are some “parts” that we all have and one of them is the inner critic.
When it comes to the inner critic, most of us try to do what we have been told to do with bullies… ignore, stand proud, pretend they don’t exist, etc. but we all know that doesn’t really work with bullies most of the time and with an inner critic it can be even worse! You can’t get away from your inner critic. It’s you! Oftentimes, ignoring it only makes it like your children when you are on the phone, louder and louder until you are forced to take notice. Instead, let’s look at making peace with the inner critic.
I know it’s hard to believe, but most often, when we look inside to the purpose of the messages we get from an inner critic it has something to do with protecting us from a sad, mad, or disappointed feeling. It may have something to do with protecting us from criticism, anxiety or upset. For a moment, reflect upon what the purpose of a particular message that you get from your inner critic that you would like to change.
If possible, take a minute to put aside all of the criticisms you have about the delivery of the message and practice looking for the helpfulness of it. Believe it or not, the true intent of the underlying messages from the inner critic tend to be something like:
- I never want you to feel that hurt/disappointed/angry/used again.
- I don’t want people to treat you badly.
- You deserve better.
- Stay alert and attuned to what you are doing/ what is happening.
- Trust your instincts.
- Be true to yourself.
The packaging of that message tends to sound like:
- What’s wrong with you?
- How could you be so stupid?
- Don’t do that anymore, you’re just going to get hurt.
- How could you have trusted that person?
- What a mess you have made of your life.
Remember that the underlying message or your critic is a loving one, it is the packaging of the message that hurts. This understanding sets the groundwork of the conversation that you can have to help turn your inner critic into a loving inner guide.
To get in touch with an inner critic and begin the process of trying to turn it into a helpful voice, there is a process I would suggest. Before you go through the process, I recommend you read through it to get an understanding of the intention of the exercise. In this exercise, you will get in touch with your inner critic and have a conversation with him or her about changing the tone of the conversations you have. If you have difficulty doing this exercise, please do not push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take this idea to a therapist that is familiar with Internal Family Systems work (IFS) and they will guide you through it. Some people will feel more comfortable making this a writing exercise. That is fine, however, make sure that you are taking a moment to breathe first and that you have tuned into your inner world.
Getting in touch with your inner critic:
Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet grounded to the floor. Relax your shoulders, and take a few deep breaths. If it feels right to you, you can close your eyes.
Determine a particular message that your critic sends your way. For most of us, it won’t take long for a thought to pop into our head that reminds us of something critical we have said toward ourselves.
Continuing to breathe in and out, gently look inside your mind and ask yourself what the purpose is of this message. Find the loving message that is underneath the criticism. It may help to think of a particular time your inner critic said the message to you. When you think about what the circumstances are when you receive the message, it helps you to identify what the message was about.
Take a moment to absorb the loving message hidden in the criticism.
Do your best to thank you inner critic for sending you that loving message.
Ask your inner critic if next time they want to give you that message, they could try to give it to you in a way that is easier for you to hear.
Communicate to your inner critic the way you might like to hear the message next time.
Promise your inner critic that rather than ignoring the loving message, you will take note of it, you will acknowledge the message, but that ultimately you will need to take everything into account and decide what is best.
Ask your inner critic if there is anything you need to do for it to trust you more, so it can take some time off from all it’s hard work.
When you are done with this exercise. Reflect on what, if anything, that your inner critic said you would need to do to earn more trust. If your inner critic suggested something, reflect on whether that thing is do-able for you.
While I have been talking about the inner critic in the singular, many of us have multiple inner critics. One or more may have the voice of a parent or early caregiver. Another may have the voice of a shamed earlier version of you that did not know how to cope with a particular difficult situation like the ending of a relationship whether it be via break-up, abandonment or death, a traumatic memory, a feeling of being isolated and overwhelmed by a life circumstance or something else. This exercise will help you as the inner criticisms arise to examine them and to make peace now that you are an older, wiser person and know you can choose a different perspective.
Making peace with your inner critic will help not only you but the people around you, especially your children because, as I’m sure you can figure out, the voice of our inner critic also tends to become the voice of our children’s inner critic as well.
- The Art of Breathing (help4yourfamily.com)
- Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)
- To Parents Who Worry Their Children Will Harm Others (help4yourfamily.com)
- Finding the Right Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
This post is just for moms (sorry dads). I’m working on a new project just for you. How would you feel about a weekend for you (no kids) and a small group of other moms to come together for some rejuvenation and to breathe some fresh air into your most important job- being a mom? I am looking for a location in Maryland to do just this.Think about the last big project you undertook. Maybe it was moving into a new place, or an assignment from work. Think about how much time you dedicated to the planning of the project. Think of the time you took to map out what your intention was with the project. When was the last time you sat down and really took some time to think about what you want for your life, and who you want to be in relationship to your children? A mom’s weekend retreat would give you time and motivation to focus on just such an idea.
If a weekend like this sounds interesting to you, please take a moment to answer a quick survey. I am in the process of making it happen and want to give you something you will truly enjoy.
Thank you for any help you are willing to give. Feel free to use the comments section below to make suggestions if you are not up for taking the survey.
All the best,
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Do you ever get tired of the constant routine of getting upset because your child has not done an agreed upon task or said something insulting to or about you, or bothered you while you were on the phone…again? It always seems to end in the child apologizing, you telling them why they shouldn’t do that, threatening with a consequence next time, only to find that they do it again when you are distracted and you just have a redo. Sorrys start to feel hollow when they are said about the same thing one hundred times.
Even though it’s my job to tell you that accepting what we would call a “repair,” (i.e.- I did something damaging to our relationship and now I am trying to fix it by saying ‘I’m sorry’) is best for your relationship with your child, I understand that this can feel more and more difficult to do as a parent when you feel stuck in a rut and like your children get to breeze by with a sorry and no real consequence.
If this sounds like a familiar routine in your house, might I recommend a little trick I like to call “quick jobs.” It’s a list of quick tasks a child can do around the house to help out when they have done something wrong. It’s not a “your grounded forever” kind of thing, it’s not something that has a child doing an extra 20 minutes of chores. These are for the day-to-day grievances, the ones kids say “sorry” for but you have to wonder after a while, “are they?”
Here is a quick list of tasks. You need the list, or this will just be another good idea that you will forget when the time comes (if you are anything like me). You can have fun making them up next time you are trying to straighten the house:
- Dust the bannister
- Clean all the door knobs in the house
- Take the laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer
- Help finish the dishes
- Clean off one surface in the house (the dining room table, the end table next to the sofa)
- Clean out the sink in the bathroom
- Wipe down the outside of the dishwasher, oven, or pantry
Quick jobs are for when you are irritated and need a little something extra. When you use them you can say, “I realize your sorry but I would really know it if you ________.” If a child decides not to do it, you can point out that perhaps they are not so sorry after all and that is a bigger discussion.
For today let’s just focus on a quick fix that helps set things right again and teaches children how to really “repair” when they have done something they wish they hadn’t.
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Whenever it’s time to bring up the topic of sex, I think about that old Salt and Peppa song, Let’s Talk About Sex.
Let’s talk about sex baby,
let’s talk about you and me,
let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be,
let’s talk about sex…
let’s talk about sex!
I guess I’m aging myself here. Anyway, people would be surprised how much I talk about sex with adults even though my main client population consists of families and children. While I spend plenty of time talking to the adolescents and adults I see about sex, more often, I find parents who bring their children to see me are asking me about it as well. Let’s face it, having a highly spirited child, or a child with an attachment issue, depression or any other mental health issues is draining and often the relationship you have with your spouse/partner can fall down a notch on the priority list.
I was inspired to do this post because of Christine Moers, mother of several biological and adopted children who has dedicated her past month of blogging to a month she has named “Sexuary.” I’m a huge fan of Christine and think she has amazing, funny, honest advice for parents.
Before I tell you what Sexuary is, let me say this. Sex is important in a relationship. It is not the most important part, but it is important. As one couples therapist said to me a while back, “Good sex will never fix a bad relationship, but lack of sex or bad sex can ruin an otherwise good relationship.” I completely agree and have seen this in my practice.
Here are some common mistakes I see parents making when it comes to sex:
- Not talking about it to each other…ever.
- Believing that sex is not important to their spouse without checking to make sure they are correct.
- Allowing their spouse to believe sex is not important to them.
There are a bunch more, but this post is not about the problems, it is about finding solutions and bringing couples closer together. Happy parents make happy children and I want your family to be a happy one.
So, for anyone who has questions about having more sex, better sex, any sex, or anywhere in between, I’m going to direct you to Christine’s posts (linked below) so you can read about Sexuary, which is picking the month of your choice to try to have some intimate contact every day. She does an amazing job walking you through the process of bringing this up with your partner, making a plan of action according to where you and your partner are, etc, even if your kids are not helpful, even if you haven’t had sex with your partner for months, or even years, even if you think your partner does not like, or want to have sex…
I would love to hear what you think about her posts:
The Kind of Partner Everyone Needs (welcometomybrain.net)
Sexuary- What the Heck Are You Thinking? (welcometomybrain.net)
Sexuary- Closer Than When We Started (welcometomybrain.net)
- Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager
- Naming Patterns Changes Patterns
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Putting together something fun for you!
- Quick Jobs for Kids
- Staying Strong as a Couple
- Letting Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be
- Add a Little Awe to Your Life