Don't Pass Your Fears To Your Child

I was sexually abused as a child, and am now the mother of a very young daughter. I need to learn how to foster her self-esteem and not put onto her the negative things that I think, say and feel, particularly with regard to men.

You sound as if you know intellectually that what you think, say and feel about men is not the truth about most men, only about a few. I assume that it’s your emotions that are stuck in the past, coming from the time when you were sexually abused. The most important thing for you to do for your daughter is to work on your own issues. You need that allows you to work through the feelings and memories of the abuse, so that they will be resolved and will not be projected onto the present. If you can’t afford a private therapist, you can get help at the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre after a waiting period. The more you work on your own self-esteem and your own attitudes to men, the better role model you provide for your daughter.

In the meantime, you must learn to recognize when your emotional reactions are coming from the past rather than the present and are inappropriate to the present situation. Whenever this starts to happen, close your mouth and take a time out so that you will not say things to your daughter which will allow her to see the world in a distorted way. You might want to keep a record of what you do and say which might influence her negatively, in the hope that monitoring it will allow you to become aware of it and therefore reduce it. You might develop a habit of checking out your perceptions of men with a friend who has not been abused, to correct your bias. Of course, your friend may be naive about dangers, just as you may be seeing danger where there isn’t any.

Another helpful thing you can do is to develop some healthy friendships for both you and your daughter with men of all ages, so that you can have a corrective emotional experience, and she can have a positive one. Most men do not look at children sexually, and many men can provide for your daughter a healthy and safe experience of the masculine. If you’re not sure about your judgment, talk about your male friends with your therapist or with female friends who have good judgment.

In terms of your daughter’s self-esteem, you need to learn some practical techniques for increasing it. Parenting courses and books usually have some ideas. Sexual abuse usually occurs in a context of verbal and emotional abuse as well, so it may be second nature to you to put your daughter down or to undermine her self-confidence and independence because of your fears. You have to stop yourself being overprotective. Self-esteem is esteeming the real self. A child with self-esteem believes she is lovable and is loved for who she really is rather than having to measure up to someone else’s standards. She also believes she is competent to handle most of the challenges of her life. Some important ways to develop your child’s self-esteem include (1) spending time playing with her, letting her take the lead; (2) listening to and accepting her feelings; (3) encouraging her to develop her own unique interests and ideas; (4) allowing her to make decisions about her life at an appropriate age level, (5) helping her develop competence to protect herself; and (6) separating behavior from character when you discipline her – affirming that she is a good person who can achieve control over her behavior.