Most of us professionals have never heard about this type of abuse let alone treated it. Working with survivors of child sexual abuse takes a lot of skill and compassion. Women who have been sexually violated by their mothers present with a complex constellation of symptoms. They worry they won’t be believed and this stems from the fact that the sexual abuse is often wrapped up in “normal” caretaking duties. Memories are often fuzzy but the feelings are not. When they are around their mothers they are often overwhelmed with fear and they are frozen. Many survivors report fear that their mother, even into adulthood, will try to do it again especially if substances are involved or they will harm someone else sexually. Survivors have expressed that they have told another adult, even therapists, and they weren’t believed. Nothing shuts a sexual abuse survivor down more than not being believed. When clients do finally disclose the abuse they are often consumed with a lot of terror that it often freezes them.
In consulting I can help you learn how to sensitively approach your clients whose mothers have sexually abused them and give them the space they need to explore without judgment. I can also help you get comfortable hearing about it because it’s very activating in a different way. Hearing clients stories around sexual abuse from childhood is very triggering even for the seasoned therapist amongst us but mothers who sexually abuse is activating in a different way because motherhood is so revered. And unlike when working with other types of abuse the mother (who has been abusing) often carries intense shame and guilt that she will be angry and push the child away. The child (who has been abused) will feel rejected. The mother will often com back and establish connection that will sometimes be safe and other times be sexually violating.This cycle of engagement and disengagement is traumatic in and of itself, and is often very confusing for survivors. The cycle is something you need to be able to recognize and provide support to your clients around.
What I can help you with is how to manage your own activation during these sessions so you can stay regulated as you work with your clients. I will give you tools that I use with my clients such as how to establish psychological boundaries (especially important if your client remains in contact with her mother, and the other parent, especially if the other parent stayed), supporting clients with expanding their window of tolerance to manage difficult emotions when they come up, dealing with the shame spiral that often often keeps clients frozen, helping clients learn about their triggers and how to best support their nervous systems so they can regulate, and more. These tools will be helpful for your clients (and you as you support them) in feeling safe in their bodies (maybe for the first time), being able to express themselves with an empowered voice, and become more embodied especially as they learn to regulate themselves. This will aid them in processing and renegotiating their trauma.