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Archive for November 17th, 2008

As many of you know, I have written quite a few articles about healing from child abuse for eHow.com. One of those articles is entitled How to Stop Dissociation After Childhood Abuse. A reader wrote me the following question in the comments:

How do I rebuild a relationship with my daughter after all the abuse she witnessed an endured in her life? I was a victim of sexual abuse when I was a child and had a turbulent upraising with alcoholic Mother and a strict and physically abusive step father. I ran away from home as a teenager and became pregnant at 16. I went on to marry the man who was the father to my daughter. He turned out to be very physically, mentally and emotionally abusive. I in turn took out my anger on my daughter, I would snap at her over small things like her getting upset over her hair being brushed. I would get very impatient and hit her with the brush over her head and yell at her. I would apologize to her but it wasn’t enough to take the look out of her eyes. The anger I took out on her is unbelievable, now that she is 21yrs old she holds so much anger towards me. I can’t go back and change these events. – mariannegagne

I told mariannegagne that I would post her question here and solicit suggestions from all of you. I will share my own advice to her in this blog entry. I would appreciate everyone being respectful to her in your responses, even if you find her message to be triggering in any way.

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To mariannegagne,

I am so sorry that you know the pain of being abused as a child. As you have experienced yourself, child abuse comes with a lot of anger. It was not safe for you to vent your anger toward the people who caused it. Different abuse survivors react in different ways. Unfortunately, you chose to vent your anger on an innocent child. It is no wonder that she grew into an adult who resents you for it. She did not deserve your anger any more than you deserved the sexual abuse.

The big difference between you and your daughter’s father is that it sounds like you have remorse for the way that you treated your daughter. You have apologized, but she probably has a hard time believing your apologies because this was not a one-time thing – it was a pattern.

If you want to repair your relationship with your daughter, then you must first understand how deeply your actions wounded her. She needs you to “get it.” She needs you to understand how painful it was to be raised by an abusive father, and she needs you to apologize for not removing her from the abusive situation. She also needs you to understand how painful it was that her “good parent” vented anger onto her that she did not deserve. She was just a little girl who wanted to be loved, and both parents used her as a place to dump out all of their own unresolved emotions. That was not fair to her. She was just a little kid. Until you appreciate the gravity of the damage you inflicted upon her, your apologies are going to ring hollow to her.

Next, she needs you to take responsibility for the damage that you did to her. Every time you took out your anger on her, you damaged her. That damage needs to be repaired. Have you considered offering to pay for her to see a therapist?

Your daughter also needs you to heal yourself. Until you heal your own emotional wounds, you are going to look for other, less healthy, ways to deal with the pain. Now that your daughter is an adult, she doesn’t have to stick around and be the recipient of this. One of the biggest gifts you can give your daughter is an emotionally healthy mother.

If you will commit to dealing with your own issues and take responsibility for the damage that you did to your daughter, then you will have laid the foundation for building a positive relationship with her. The rest is up to her.

One more thing – You will eventually need to forgive yourself for the choices that you made throughout your life. So many of your choices were driven by your own pain. No, you cannot change your choices from the past, but you have the power to make better choices from now forward. If you will transform yourself into a healthier person, your daughter will be much more likely to want you in her life again.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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