One of the deepest sources of pain for sexual abuse survivors is the lack of support from family members, especially from parents. Over and over again, survivors of abuse have expressed the feeling that as destructive as sexual abuse is, it’s the abandonment and betrayal of their parents that hurt the most.
Conversely, when a child is believed and supported in childhood, the effects of the abuse are significantly diminished. Many parents don’t learn about the abuse until their child is grown, but understanding and support remain important even for adult survivors.
We asked survivors to share their stories and feelings about their abuse and the rejection of their parents. This is a collection of their thoughts, from their hearts, in their own words. For their full stories, you can read here.
I want more than anything for my mother to HEAR me…Just HEAR me. I was told to shut up. From that I learned that I didn’t have a voice. I was never safe in my own home, nor was I ever protected. I was stripped of MY innocence. What could I have done so bad to deserve that abuse? I still can’t get my mother to see the pain I’m in.
I’m beyond angry and hurt but if they are at least WILLING to HEAR and VALIDATE my feelings, that could be the first step to the truth and a new beginning. My mother doesn’t love herself, nor is she willing to get past denial. After all I have been through—as I sit here and type, I bawl my eyes out—I only wish my mother could UNDERSTAND that it’s not the sexual and physical abuse I endured that causes me ALL the pain. It is her DENIAL as well. Maybe it’s the child in me wanting a mother’s love but raping and beating didn’t break my heart. Her DENIAL, LIES and BETRAYAL did.
Don’t Tell Me To Be Strong–YOU Be Strong
When I was little, you let me know that I could never go to you with a problem. You would yell at me whenever I asked, “Mom?” If I even had the courage to go on and ask you or tell you what I wanted to, you’d yell at me, “Ahh, great, just great! Don’t you think I have enough problems?” I was seven, Mom. And since I was seven, I’ve been trying not to be a problem, Mom.
I didn’t want to be bad, I didn’t want to cause you anymore problems, so when the babysitter’s friend started molesting me and forcing me to give him oral sex, I was nine, and I was confused, but I wanted to be good for you, Mom. I didn’t want to be the problem.
And when I spoke up, where were you? When I talked to that detective, that night, I didn’t cry on your shoulder, you cried on mine, you asked me to forgive you. I was exhausted, I just wanted to sleep…You never asked me if I was okay, or if I wanted to talk about it sometime, or if it was even okay for you to touch me at all, you just drenched my shoulders in your tears. I was the strong one for you. You had been devastated by the truth that your child was the victim, but instead of helping me, you asked me to make you feel better… so I did… I told you it was okay, that you were okay.
You have never let me talk to you about it because you get too emotional about it. Suck it up! It happened to ME! I WENT THROUGH IT, and YOU can’t EVEN stand to hear it? How DARE you expect ME to be STRONG when YOU can’t even LISTEN to ME!
I will not go to you for support because you haven’t shown me I can trust you, you haven’t shown me you care about what I went through. You haven’t shown me it’s okay to talk about it. You have protected yourself from any possible damage it may cause to listen to me. You kept your distance away from me and my demons to protect yourself. You are selfish and I don’t want to be near you either. You never created a safe environment for me to show you my wounds. Why would I want a hug from you? Or for you to play with my hair? Or for you to rub my back? You have hurt me and you touching me at all makes me sick.
My mother used to be one of my best friends. I disclosed everything to her shortly after the memories of the abuse started resurfacing as an adult. I expected her to believe and support me. I was shocked when she didn’t.
She never blatantly accused me of lying because she had decided that there must be something mentally wrong with me. It was easier for her to believe I was crazy than to believe that my father had molested and raped me until I was twelve.
I’ve made tremendous progress with my healing in a relatively short period of time. But it feels like I’m having to heal from so much more than just the abuse. For the first time ever, I’m seeing my mother’s role in all of this. I don’t believe she knew what was happening. But she saw a depressed, withdrawn five year old who would fly into rages toward her father, only her father—a five year old who had insomnia and night terrors almost nightly—a five year old who was suicidal and hurting herself.
My mother did nothing then. But I’ve forgiven her for that. I’ve begged HER to let go of the past and make different, healthier choices right now. To be my mother now, to see, hear, believe and support me now. Her response was that she would never stop supporting him, even if he was a demon from hell. She said she made vows that she will always respect and honor, even if he did rape me for years. She said she believes that is the right choice, that God will support that decision. Really? Really? I love this woman so deeply and I mean so little to her? I’ve always meant so little to her?
Her reaction to my disclosure, her disbelief, her twisting reality around, her not caring about me has been the hardest, most devastating aspect of my healing process. At times, her rejection feels even more traumatizing than the actual abuse. I’m learning that just like my father, I lost her decades ago when she decided it was easier for her to just stop looking at me. My heart is so completely broken.
What would it mean to me if my mom supported my healing? Made an effort to understand my pain? Stopped telling me I was crazy? I would feel safe and protected, the way I was never able to feel as a child. I would know that I was worth being saved, even if she didn’t see it then. I would feel loved. My inner child, that child who endured a horrific crime would finally be able to hold her mommy’s hand and feel comfort.
Don’t Expect Me To Make The Decisions–You’re the Adult
I had been fantasizing about my disclosure for years. I had dropped subtle hints to teachers and trusted adults, which were either ignored or which went right over their heads. What I wished for more than anything was someone to say, “I will protect you as best I can, and I am proud of you for the courage it took to say these words to me. I will be here for you if you need me, whether to talk or not talk, to cry or not cry, and to know you are safe.”
I decided to disclose everything to my mother, but I knew that my “father” was also home. I was late coming home and when I walked in the door, I was bombarded with angry faces and words, so I shouted out, “You want to know why I’m home late? I was trying to decide whether to go to the police because dad has been sexually abusing me for years!”
After a moment of shock, he denied everything and she accused me of lying. After relaying details that I felt could not be the product of “making something up”, he finally admitted to it and she grabbed a knife and started to go after him with it. I stopped this attack by yelling, and much of what comes after is a blur.
She could not make a decision to “break up the family” on her own, and they told me that I would decide what happens next. As a seventeen year old, what I wanted was safety and validation and love. At the same time, I didn’t want my siblings or extended family to blame me for causing a family riff. I told them I just wanted to be left alone, wishing she would say that she had decided to leave him, but knowing unless I could say the words that wanted to come out so badly, “LEAVE HIM! LEAVE HIM! LEAVE HIM!” Nothing would change. I could NOT, in fact, make these words come out.
I am an orphan who went from having a huge extended family to having maybe six family members who I can trust and who expressly support me. I refuse to feel ashamed and I refuse to keep the secret although it has made others’ lives uncomfortable to have this information “out there”.
Sexual abuse of a child is an uncomfortable subject. I get that. But sexual abuse of YOUR CHILD is something that YOUR CHILD will deal with on some level for the rest of his or her life. Wishing it away does not work. Making the subject feel taboo (even in subtle ways) is something that can scar YOUR CHILD perhaps as much as the abuse itself. If you can’t find a way to open yourself up to the needs your healing child has, please find someone to help you learn how to do so. Your support or lack of support can make a huge difference in the adult your child becomes.
Pay Attention to My Pain
I was sexually assaulted at age eight by a babysitter’s teenage son and molested repeatedly over several months after that. From the time that I told my mother about the sexual abuse, not only did she not ask me what had happened to me, but completely moved on, and eventually moved our family across the street from the babysitter’s family for her own convenience. I had to be in close proximity to the abuser and his family, who teased and mocked me.
My father knew I wasn’t being treated well at home, and did I nothing to help me. When I looked to him for support because of the sexual abuse, he blew me off, like I was asking him for something trivial.
Both my parents EXPECT me to keep in contact with them and GIVE the privileges other grandparents have. They mostly seem inclined to blame me for being estranged from them, or behave as if we are on some kind of two-way street. No way, not when it comes to my children. From where I’m sitting at this time in my life, that would not be wise for me or my family, especially since they have still failed to earn my trust, by making no effort to change.
Don’t Blame Me
My dad had the privilege of knowing my vulnerabilities and weaknesses and unfortunately used this sacred knowledge to his benefit when he wanted to hurt me…He accused me of being cold and unwelcoming, of shutting him out throughout my teenage years. His tone was much like a little boy who felt rejected, spitting and spewing and crying on his own offspring.
He didn’t have the capacity or maturity to see that his teenage daughter’s “coldness” was a defense mechanism to try to block out unwanted sexual behavior. “DO I HAVE TO SPELL IT OUT?!” I wanted to scream. “You are an over sexual, drunk freak unleashing all your anger and sexuality on your children. Why do I have to teach YOU what is appropriate? You are the parent. You are supposed to know better!!! You are confusing me and hurting me, dammit. Leave us alone, you damn freak!!’
Finally, finally, I got the courage to start asking my mom questions, looking for that shred of leftover childhood hope that somehow she would rescue me. My wish was that we could travel back in time and she would rescue me from him. She responded with, “I told your father not to drink so much.” And “Well, I wasn’t going to divorce Daddy.” Then in the same conversation, “Absolutely not—that never happened.”
It’s not about “getting over it” or maintaining a relationship with sick people. It’s about me putting all my energies towards healing myself whether THEY understand, support, disavow, condemn or even, still love me after the truth is spoken. When my mind was still open and I was still vulnerable to needing comfort from my mom, she said, “You wanted it.” God. That one hit my soul. She’s my mom after all, she knows me best, maybe I really did “want it’” as a toddler… Thankfully, I have now had much time away from her to know that her statements are utterly impossible.
So, why do I have to teach THEM? Why do I have to open up my heart and mind for MORE poisonous confusion? Sexual abuse is the ultimate betrayal between a parent and a child and it cuts to the core. It’s not about “getting over it” or maintaining a relationship with sick people. It’s about me putting all my energies towards healing myself whether THEY understand, support, disavow, condemn or even, still love me after the truth is spoken.
Sit With Me In My Pain
My experience is a little different but my needs are still the same. I was sexually abused by both parents and it was very hard to begin the healing process. I felt I was crazy and that no one would believe me.
A lot of my memory of the abuse had been pushed back. When it started to surface, my whole world came crashing down. I had to completely leave my family and had no support system. That was when my mother’s best friend said: “I believe you and I’m here”. That was the beginning of my healing journey. She became my parent figure and it made a world of difference to know someone was on my side. It’s so important to have someone to say, “I believe you. It is not your fault. We will work through this together. They can’t hurt you any more.”
Tell Me I’m Worthy of Protection
All I ever wanted from my mom was love and nurturing but all I got was hate and blame. I told my mom what was happening when I was twelve. She said, “Oh well” and went to bed, never doing anything to help me at all. My Grandma told the cops. They believed me, but my mother told the detective that my grandma and grandpa put words in my mouth, so he didn’t believe me.
When I turned twenty-one, I moved to a YMCA self sufficiency program to get away from the abuse. I longed for that love I never had, so I moved back. Things always got better for a short time and started again. On Easter, my mom made the comment that she would never let anyone abuse her granddaughters, my brother’s kids. But it was okay that the man she is now married to and lives with hurt her own daughter?
I have no contact with father’s family now and see my mom twice a year but only when I’m with someone. It’s been hard because my real mother and father never loved me so how can anyone? Everyday, I feel like a nothing.
Accept Responsibility For Failing To Protect Me
My mother told me at eighteen that her father had abused her. My reply was, “Then why the heck did you send me there on my own for holidays then?” My mother has never accepted any responsibility for my childhood, in fact she says that I abused her emotionally from the age of eleven months.
I was so angry at her. She knew what her father was like. And then to dismiss my words as she had been hurt more than me, because she married my father instead of getting me aborted like her mother wanted. It was your choice to have me, not mine, so it ain’t my fault. I was the child not the adult. I couldn’t speak to her for months without sniping at her because of her disbelief and denial of blame.
She doesn’t like the fact that I do not blame my father as much as I do her. Well sorry, Mother Dearest, but your influence hit hardest and lasted longest. You deny my facts and experiences because they do not reflect what you want it to, and then still try to control me. The time for your dominance is over and I guide my life now and it is a lot less stressful now that you are not in it very often.
Carol Anne Derry
Don’t Tell Me To Get Over It
You would never cast off a cancer survivor and tell them to get over it once it’s “stopped”, however parents not supporting their own children are leaving them to fend for themselves in a life long cancerous battle.
It would mean the world for me to have my family support me in this struggle. It would mean Christmases and birthdays, Easters and weddings. It would mean spoilt grandchildren and life lessons and stories passed down.
I have not only lost one set of parents through this abuse. I have lost two families and all of my family history. To have my family’s support would be far more than just physical or emotional comfort and belief. It would be a gaining of the past and an opening and welcoming of the future.
Don’t Pretend That Nothing Happened
My father abused me for years. I tried to tell my mom and she got so angry and told me to shut up. Even though my father abused me, I had a better connection with him than with my mom. Even to this day, when I think about it, I get that feeling in my stomach and I hate myself.
If parents really want to help their children, they must not go on as if nothing happened! At sixteen, I ran away, They found me after two days and when I tried to tell my mom again, she only listened for a day a two. After that, everything went back the way it was. I didn’t have friends and was doing bad at school. I squeezed a whole bottle of hand cream into my mouth and swallowed it. After that, I took a few pills at school. Still nothing came of it.
I’m 45 years old. I’m married with three children, and it took me that long to realize MY MOM DOES NOT LOVE ME. I keep that for myself and it hurts. If parents really want to help their children, they must not go on as if nothing happened! Don’t smother the child with love all of a sudden. Just show you care, and be there for them. Just maybe if I had that…
Don’t Ask Me To Have a Relationship With My Abuser
My parents have continued to show support and love to the ones who did the abusing. One was an older neighbor and the other was my deaf sister. Before I was age twenty, they had been informed twice I had been abused. Both instances left them blank faced and not one physical touch of comfort or one word of support or love.
I can’t say I expected my parents to respond immediately, but twenty plus years later, I did expect some words of acknowledgment. An apology possibly for what they didn’t see or know—any words expressing sorrow at my loss of innocence would have met my needs.
I had never asked for side taking or any act of correction be given to those people. But I remain shocked and dismayed when the end result is the old man finished his life with my parents still caring for him and his wife until passing and that my sister remains in contact with my parents while I have been removed. I have been removed due to the fact I set a boundary with my abuser and since I won’t forgive and forget I am now being punished for it. I guess forgiveness would come quicker if any had ever been sought or asked for.
I lived for forty-four years ignoring the topic and doing my best to not make any waves. After a few instances of being rejected for not loving my abuser unconditionally, I took a stand and wouldn’t allow the topic to remain silent any longer. That act sealed my fate.
Don’t Treat My Abuser Better Than You Treat Me
My uncle came to live with us when he was ten and I was eight. He was my mom’s half-brother and he made my life a living hell. He had me do things that were forbidden by my parents, then I’d have to submit to whatever he wanted so he wouldn’t tell. Sometimes he’d still tell and I’d still get in trouble. In August of 1984, he took that a step further. That’s when he started to initiate sex with me. Initially, I didn’t think anything of it, so I submitted to it. Then it was used as a form of manipulation.
In March of 1985, my uncle wanted to go back home to his mom (my grandmother). Not long after that, I told a classmate what my uncle did. I thought it was all fun and games. That spread throughout the school and the next thing I knew, I was sitting in the principal’s office telling them everything that my uncle did and that’s how my parents found out about it.
I lied and said that it only happened once because I was afraid that I’d get in trouble. My uncle was so good at manipulating me, to the point that my parents considered me a natural-born liar.
The next year, my uncle was failing at school again and my mother wanted to bring him back into the house. My sister and I protested but we lost. My mother told me that what he did wouldn’t happen again and I still had to love him. I was so angry.
The sexual abuse did stop, but he still physically and verbally abused me. I would tell my parents about the abuse, but he would say something else and I’d get in trouble for lying.
When it comes to my father, he questions my sexuality. According to him, I need to be out there with the women getting my groove on. It hurts that my parents don’t believe me when I say that I’m not gay.
When I was twenty-two, I finally told my mom the truth of what my uncle did. She seemed so nonchalant about it. In fact, she said, all I can say is I’m sorry. Truthfully, I feel better not speaking to her. I love her, but need to keep my distance because it does not bring peace to my spirit. Until she can understand what she allowed me to suffer and more importantly, admit that she screwed up, we need to be apart. I’ve made it this far without her support, so she can stay out of my life.
Tell Me I Didn’t Deserve It
I told my mum directly after my abuse happened. I was crying, so she asked me and I told her. She told me never to tell my father because he was mentally ill. After that, great silence—never speaking to me.
I was the one who was treated like I was bad. I wasn’t the abuser, I was the victim. One time she faced me with my private notebook where I wrote the story of what happened to me. She grasped me by my hair, dragged me and demanded to know who the boy was. I was screaming and crying, trying to get away from her.
How dare you do that! You didn’t listen to me!! I told you when I was young!!! I was the one who was treated like I was bad.
It makes me so angry to be treated so unjustly. I wasn’t the abuser, I was the victim. I’m so alone. My mum does not respect my feelings and my dad does not even care. I have no worth and nobody can care or love me. When I’m suffering or in pain, I have to go through it alone. At the same time, they expect that they have the right to be in my life in the time they choose. Not me, I have no rights.
SURVIVORS OF ABUSE NEED:
1. TO BE BELIEVED
It might seem easier to pretend that nothing ever happened, and you might think that pretending it never happened is protecting your child from more pain, but that communicates that either you don’t believe that it happened or that you don’t care.
Questions like “Are you sure?” communicate that you don’t believe him. If you struggle with accepting this, don’t share your difficulty with your child. It’s not his or her job to help you through your denial.
Believing your child means action. It means reporting the abuse and leaving the abuser. It means your child needs nurturing attention—not just for a day or two, but for a lifetime. Sexual abuse is LIFE ALTERING. There is no going back to the way things were. With care and support there IS healing, but there is no going back.
2. TO BE ASSURED HE/SHE ISN’T BAD
The child needs to be told that he or she isn’t bad, the things that happened to them are. Children who are sexually abused feel dirty and shameful and “bad”. Abusers also manipulate the victim to take the blame. There is nothing a child could do to deserve for something like this to happen to him or her. No matter what a child does before or after the abuse, the child didn’t do anything to “bring it on himself.”
When something so traumatic happens, the child absorbs the trauma into his or her body and soul. The pain is stored there until the emotions are expressed. The child needs someone to “witness” the badness of what happened to them. Often, when their pain is not heard or is invalidated, they act out with undesirable behavior, which is their only means of expression. That sometimes leads to the parent labeling the child as “bad”, which causes more harm.
Your child is not bad. Your child needs to be understood and loved.
3. TO BE HEARD
Some victims don’t feel comfortable talking about the abuse, but need to know that their parents will listen with compassion and understanding if the time comes that she does want to talk about it. Other survivors of abuse want to talk about it over and over. Both reactions are normal.
Don’t expect your child to be strong and “just forget about it”. Your child actually lived through the trauma. As difficult as it is to hear about the experience and pain, your child has the hard part and she is a child, you are an adult. YOU be the strong one and listen.
4. TO KNOW HIS/HER NEEDS COME FIRST
Abuse tells the child that it’s his or her job to make someone else feel better. It’s important that your words and actions don’t reinforce that lie. No matter what is going on in your life, no matter if this is difficult to hear, your child needs to know that he doesn’t have to hide or minimize his needs because “it would be too much for you.” It’s not your child’s job to take care of your needs; it’s your job to care for your child’s needs.
5. TO FEEL PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY SAFE
Children need to be kept away from their abusers—no matter who the abuser is. Part of the grooming process of abuse causes the victim to feel protective of the abuser and his or her feelings. Even if a child “misses” the abuser, it’s not safe or healthy to spend time with the abuser.
Survivors of abuse shouldn’t be manipulated or coerced into maintaining a relationship with the abuser or be pressured to forgive. They need to process their own feelings and need an environment where it’s safe to express any feelings about the abuser that he or she wants to.
6. AMENDS TO BE MADE
Denying responsibility only contributes to your child’s pain. You may have been fooled,, you may not have known, you may have felt that the situation was out of your control, but it’s a parent’s job to be their child’s protection. Failing to protect is abandonment, whether you meant to or not and abandonment is often the most painful form of abuse. Whether your child acknowledges your role in their abuse or not, you owe your child an apology without any excuses attached to it.
As harmful as sexual abuse is, as long-lasting and as damaging its effects, having a parent’s understanding and love makes the healing process so much easier. A parent has the ability to prolong the pain or to substantially ease it.
In the comments below, please share your experiences and feelings about your parents’ response to your abuse. If you have anything else you’d like to add to the list of survivors’ needs, please share that too.
Straight Talk To Parents About Protecting Their Child From Sexual Abuse
Confessions of a Child Molester’s Wife
Peace and Protection From Abuse
Forgetting About Abuse: Who Does That Really Serve?
What If My Family Rejects Me? Part 3