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Traumatized children who have been abused frequently have issues with setting and enforcing boundaries. They might have lived in a home in which their boundaries were not recognized or respected. As a result, your foster or adopted child might have issues with knowing what boundaries are OK to have and how to enforce them. For this reason, it is crucial that you, as a foster or adoptive parent, respect your traumatized child’s boundaries.
What does respecting boundaries look like? One way is by stopping a behavior as soon as the child asks you to. As an example, let’s say you are tickling your foster or adoptive child. The child is enjoying it, laughing hysterically, and then asks you to stop. You need to stop IMMEDIATELY.
Why does this matter? Because you are communicating that you respect your foster or adopted child’s boundaries. He has the right to determine when it is OK for you to “play” with his body through tickling him, and he also has the right to tell you when to stop.
I have lived much of my adult life trying to undo years of emotional damage done to my son by my ex-husband. And if I am to be honest, I also have to deal with emotional damage brought on by my own anger.
The ex and I separated when DS was three. Prior to separation I found out he cheated on me, and had a baby with someone else. Not exactly a set up for a peaceful divorce.
My ex was a “yeller”. He would scream and rant about anyone or anything. He’d yell at movie characters while sitting in the movie theatre. He’d scream at other drivers; when I would drive he’d reach over and bang on my car horn. He yelled about all things political, all perceived injustices done to him (too many to name). The world was out to get him.
I am working through each aftereffect covered in the Incest Survivor’s Aftereffects Checklist. Today, I am addressing this aftereffect:
20. Pattern of being a victim (victimizing oneself after being victimized by others), especially sexually; no sense of own power or right to set limits or say “no;” pattern of relationships with much older or more powerful persons (onset in adolescence); OR exaggerated sense of entitlement; revictimization by others (adult sexual violence, including sexual exploitation by bosses and “helping” professionals)
Boy, can I speak to this aftereffect in spades! Many trauma survivors struggle with being “walking doormats.” They don’t know how to say “no” and wind up letting other people take advantage of them all the time. They walk around like they have a bull’s eye tattooed on their heads that says, “Sucker!” People who like manipulating others are drawn to these “walking doormats” like flies to honey.
When I entered into therapy, my “homework” from day 1 and pretty much every week until I ended therapy was learning how to set and enforce appropriate boundaries. I had no boundaries as a child – I never felt entitled to anything that was “mine,” not even my own body. Having the option of saying “no” was a foreign concept to me.
If you are parenting an adopted child who has been sexually abused, be prepared for issues as your child begins to date. Of course, dating is fraught with all sorts of issues, but those issues are much more troublesome when the child involved has been sexually abused.
Some sexually abused children will become sexually aggressive when they begin dating, if not before. What you might not be prepared for is the sexually abused child who has been compliant and seems to have a good head on her shoulder who starts having sex.
The problem is that sexually abused chidren have no sense of boundaries. Sex was taken from them, not given, as part of the sexual abuse, so the sexually abused child never learned how to say no. In fact, the sexually abused child never learned that saying no was even an option.
So, you might have an adopted child who is compliant and has good values.
Over on one of our polls, an interesting discussion has been going on regarding the importance of structure when parenting a traumatized adopted child. John made some good points in this discussion that I would like to elaborate upon:
Angela, the problem part of that approach seems to be an intentional lack of structure. Huggy touchy feely, is great and a key part of what is needed, but will not convey safety, or reliability to a damaged child, safe has to come first. Unfortunately, kids who come from foster care desperately need structure. They measure you against, can that person keep me safe? For them, that means considerable structure that you don't set aside, no matter what. If you don't get to safe, all the huggy in the world will just bounce off the defensive shield. John
PS With some kids, you don't get to safe, just as Linny talks about.