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Parenting While Traumatized

How to heal and become a successful parent.

by Michelle Hurtt, MS, CTP

Parenting is not an easy task. Many books have been written about it, it has been the topic of discussion on TV shows, businesses have been created specifically to teach mothers and fathers how to effectively parent. So imagine how much more difficult it must be to parent while traumatized. A story follows about a woman who experienced this very thing.

As Kathy’s (not given name) classmates in high school prepared to go off to college, her focus was on becoming the best wife and mother she could possibly be. After all, according to her family, she was “not college material” and not as smart as her older sibling who was being groomed for college. Unfortunately, Kathy was groomed for other things, namely abuse. She was sexually abused by a close family member from the age of eight years old. She did not know until many years later that the root cause of her inability to concentrate and poor performance in school was as a result of the damage caused by the abuse.

As Kathy grew into adulthood, married and bore a child, additional symptoms surfaced, but she remained unaware of the connection between these symptoms and the traumatic experiences she suffered as a child. She became depressed and withdrawn, often sat staring into space, and was emotionally numb, which meant that she was not emotionally present for her one child and could not provide the nurturing every child needs. She slept a lot in spite of the nightmares she often experienced. Constantly on guard, she avoided being around people as much as possible and felt uncomfortable in her own skin.

She prayed, read self-help books and psychology books in an effort to learn what was wrong. She also listened to other people’s stories and something clicked while she was watching a TV show where a woman shared her personal story. Then, and only then, did she begin to understand what was wrong, for this woman too was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, causing her to experience similar symptoms as Kathy, known to be signs of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Kathy was then able to make the connection and sought help.

According to Darkness to Light Child Sexual Abuse Statistics (2013), “about one in seven girls and one in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.” Because most survivors of childhood abuse may not be aware that they have actually been traumatized—and, hence, unaware of the often longstanding effects of such trauma—they are unable to make the connection between what is happening to them in the here-and-now and what happened to them so many years ago, and may think of themselves as “crazy.”

Please know that you who are struggling are not crazy. What is happening to you is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Know too that the guilt and shame that you feel belongs to the abuser who should be ashamed and feel guilty. As a child, how could such a thing be your fault?

If you are a survivor of childhood trauma and are experiencing some of the symptoms described here, know that you are not alone. Seek help, if you have not already done so. If you choose to seek help, search for a therapist who specializes in the treatment of trauma. A good trauma therapist will work with you holistically. With this type of therapy you will be able to regain your voice, identify trauma-related symptoms and triggers, learn positive responses to use when triggered, learn how to set healthy boundaries, learn new parenting skills and develop a self-care plan. It can change your view of self, others and the world around you. You will begin to love the child within and be better able to show love to that child you are meant to parent.

On your pathway to healing there will be ups and downs, good days and bad as you grow in the knowledge of self and begin to heal. You will need a great desire to change, a desire to truly “know thyself,” love self and the belief that positive change can happen in your life.

To say parenting while traumatized is challenging is an understatement. However, with the needed support, motivation to change and willingness to learn, trauma-survivors can begin to heal and become successful parents.

Michelle Hurtt, MS, CTP, is certified as a trauma practitioner, mental health therapist, and writer, and is seeking certification as a parent educator. She is a survivor of childhood abuse.