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Incest: Help for (non-abusing) Parents

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If you have recently learned that your child is a victim of incest, you may be experiencing a range of emotions. You might feel…

Shock

  • If you had no idea that incest was occurring, you may be very surprised to hear what has happened.
  • You may have difficulty figuring out how to respond to your child or to the abuser.

Anger

  • You may feel angry at the abuser for hurting your child.
  • If you weren’t aware of the abuse, you may feel angry at your child for not telling you.
  • You might feel angry at your child for disclosing the abuse.

Sadness

  • You may feel sad for your child, for what this means to your family, or for yourself because you need to deal with this situation.

Anxiety

  • You might feel anxiety about responding the “right” way to your child.
  • You might feel anxiety about how this will impact your relationship with your child or the abuser.
  • You may worry that this has legal consequences for you.

Fear

  • Depending on your family circumstances, you may be afraid that the abuser will find a way to harm you or your child.
  • If the abuser was responsible for supporting the family, you may be afraid of being on your own.

There is no “wrong” way to feel. What is important is that you are able to support your child and help them through this situation without blaming them. Remember that abuse is never the victim’s fault!!

Once you and your child are safe and the abuser no longer has access to your child, you can both begin the process of healing.

To support your child in their healing process, you need to take care of yourself. Good self-care is not selfish. It is essential to take care of yourself so that you can support your child.

  • Manage your emotions.
    • You may consider talking to a counselor.
      • After many incest situations, the family may be in counseling. You might also consider individual counseling. The advantage of individual counseling is that the focus can be entirely on you and it will give you the opportunity to work through your feelings and concerns about the situation without needing to worry about how your child will hear those concerns.
      • Local rape crisis centers often provide counseling or can connect you with a provider. Call (800) 656-HOPE or go to http://centers.rainn.org/ to find a center near you.
    • Develop your support system
      • Reach out to friends and family who are supportive and who you feel comfortable talking to about your family situation.
      • Consider joining a support group for non-abusing parents of incest victims.
    • Keep a journal.
      • It may be helpful to write down some of the feelings that you are experiencing.
    • Practice meditation or relaxation exercises.
      • Relaxation techniques or meditation may help maintain your emotional balance.
  • Set limits.
    • Make sure that you spend time doing activities that have nothing to do with the incest situation.
    • Set aside time as needed to cope with the incest situation, whether that means dealing with the legal situation, counseling appointments, visitation or other tasks. When that time is up, move on to other activities.
  • Make sure that you are involved in some activities that don’t revolve around the incest situation.

You may find that supporting your child is a challenge. Victims have a wide range of reactions to abuse. Your child…

  • Might want to talk about the abuse all the time.
  • Might not want to talk at all.
  • Might not want to talk to you, but may be confiding in someone else.
  • Might be angry at you for not protecting them.
  • Might be angry at you for ending the abuse.
  • They might be experiencing a range of other reactions. It is difficult to predict how a victim will respond, and it may change over time.

Remember that there is no “right” way for a victim to respond to abuse. The process of healing from incest can take a long time, and can be very frustrating. Sometimes it can feel like there is no progress at all! This can be especially frustrating for people who are trying to support the victim.

If you or your child is still in an incest situation, do not hesitate to ask for help.

  • You can call Child Protective Services (CPS) for your area.
    • You can find the number for CPS in RAINN’s mandatory reporting database. Information is listed by state.
    • You can also find the number for Child Protective Services in the Blue Pages of your phone book.
    • Your local police department can help you contact CPS.
      • If you believe that the child is in immediate danger, call 911!

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