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Should adult survivor talk to her parents?

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

I was molested by my 14 year old cousin when I was 7 years old. My parents found out somehow and promptly put an end to it. Being so young, I never understood what was going on but I knew it was wrong. After that, we just never talked about it, even when my aunt started bringing my cousin to family events again no one brought it up and I was too scared to complain about my discomfort around him.

Today I'm in university, about a 20 hour drive away from home and being surrounded by relationships, sex, and parties everywhere has caused some of the memories of what happened to come back in the form of flashbacks. It has gotten to a point where I never want to leave my dorm room because I don't feel safe and the added stress from school isn't helping at all.

I started seeing a counsellor at my school and she said I should confront my parents about it and let them know that it still bothers me to this day and tell them how it has effected my life and my relationships with my friends. But I'm scared it will cause another rift in the family which I don't want as well as change how my parents look at me, I was raised in a religious household and anything sex related is something not talked about unless it is negative.

How should I bring it up to my parents? The only person I've talked to about it is the counsellor I've been seeing.

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Daughter,

Thank you for contacting Stop It Now! I’m so sorry to hear that you were sexually abused. It’s great that you have reached out and have already taken positive steps toward your own healing.

Family Barriers
It sounds like you are concerned about how you can talk to your parents about the ways that the sexual abuse from your cousin when you were younger is still affecting you today. Although your parents already know about the abuse, and I’m glad they stepped in and put an end to it, it seems like this topic was never something that was really fully addressed as a family.

Healing
I’m really glad that you are already working with a counselor. Talking to a professional enables many to work through the traumas of their past, while gaining an understanding on how this effects their current thoughts, feelings, and interactions. Being away at school causes many people to experience an increased stress levels, and it seems like the environment you are in coupled with the memories of your past, is causing you to become more anxious.

The Value of a Specialized Professional
Although you are working with a counselor at your school, I’m wondering if you have thought about perhaps seeing a therapist who specializes in Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. A person who has that specific training and knowledge to work with adult survivors may be something you want to look into for your own personal healing journey. Many find that this kind of specialized treatment a great way to start their road to recovery, and I would encourage it especially during this stressful time that you are experiencing now.

Moving Forward
As for speaking with your parents, I think this is something that you should choose to do on your own terms, not because your counselor said you should. When considering bringing up your story of sexual abuse to your parents again, it is best to think of your well-being first and foremost. Understandably, this is something you will likely want to talk to your parents about again at some point, but make sure that you are doing so when it is right for you, not because someone else has told you it would be best for you.

It is common for people in a similar situation to experience feelings of anxiety or fear, and that is perfectly normal. However, you don’t need to suffer with flashbacks and anxiety about leaving the dorm room – counseling with a therapist who specializes in sex abuse can help. You deserve and need to heal at your pace, and that is why I again would encourage you to seek professional, specialized counseling. This person will understand the barriers so many people in situations similar to yours face when talking to their parents about such a difficult topic. They will also be able to give you strategies to manage the flashbacks you are experiencing, and tools for handling the various stressors and anxieties you are facing daily. Healing treatment can be a source of personal strength and growth for you, and you deserve that.

At Your Own Pace
Ultimately, this is your story and your life. You get to decide when you want to talk about it, and how you want to broach the subject. Perhaps a neutral place like the safe environment of a therapist’s office, or a church with a pastor you know and like would be the best place to talk about this difficult subject. It may be that you want to call your parents on Skype and talk to them about it right after reading this email, or maybe after several months of seeing a specialist, you and your therapist will decide together that the time is right, and with the help of their strategies, that will be when you bring it up. I encourage you to take the time to help yourself heal, and then bring it up when you are ready.

International Links
As we are based in the United States, some of the links included will have US-only based services. Please look for resources within your own community, and through your school as well. You may find the following resources beneficial to your search:

I’m glad that you have reached out, and it’s great that you are taking strides to control your own life. It sounds like you are a really strong person, and I encourage you to keep actively pursuing your own personal journey of recovery and healing.

Take Care,

Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: July 16th, 2015