Having the support of a loved one is crucial when you are healing from a manipulative relationship and sexual violence of any kind. I know that I am lucky to have a good relationship with both of my parents and to feel close enough to them to feel like I can tell them something this difficult. After telling them what happened, I interviewed them to hear about what their thoughts and initial reactions were since we were not able to have the big talk in person.
When I first discovered the magnitude of the trauma that I experienced from my previous relationship, the first thing I wanted to do was tell my parents. But at the same time, how in the WORLD do I tell them something like this?! After discussing my ordeal with my therapist, I initially decided that I would wait until Thanksgiving break before telling them what happened so that I could tell them in person. I wanted to be able to figure out what to say and how to say it before telling them. I had already told a couple of friends and was planning to tell the rest of my roommates so that I would at least have them to support and help me until I was able to tell my parents.
Two days later, I decided I HAD to tell them now, and it would have to be over Facetime. My anxiety levels were skyrocketing and all I could think about was how badly I wanted to call my Mom for help. My roommates and best friend sat in the room with me, holding my hand, while I told my parents what happened. It was very difficult, but my anxiety depleted significantly immediately afterward. I do not regret telling them at all.
I wanted to ask both of them about their thoughts and feelings on the matter as well. Here’s what they both said about the experience:
1. Before I told you what happened to me, did you have any suspicion that anything like this had happened?
Dad: Not specifically. I just knew something was not good and got the spiritual promptings that made me uncomfortable with your relationship. As your kids become adults you don’t want to micro-manage their lives, but it’s hard to not be a parent as well. I was caught in the struggle of saying something and voicing my concerns and letting you figure things out on your own.
Mom: I wouldn’t have called it “manipulation” but I knew you were not yourself and you seemed to be pulling away from your family, shutting down easily, and not talking to me like you normally would. I didn’t suspect sexual assault, but I wasn’t comfortable with you staying at his home, going on vacation with him, or staying in the basement with him. I also had a lot of anxiety around him.
2. Even though it was very difficult for me to tell you, did you appreciate that I told you when I did over Facetime instead of later in person when I was originally planning to? And was it okay that I did it over Facetime instead of in person or over the phone?
Dad: It was totally fine to be told over Facetime and I don’t regret that at all. I think the only negative of not being in person was not realizing the magnitude of what had happened. I’m actually glad you told us when and how you did.
Mom: In person would have been ideal, but because you didn’t realize what had actually happened to you until after you went to school, I am grateful you didn’t wait until you saw me again in person to tell me/us.
3. What were your initial thoughts, feelings, reactions?
Dad: My initial thoughts were feelings of sadness that you had gone through what you had, but also a sense of, “so that’s what I was struggling with.” Being the “fix it” person that I am, I probably focused too much on, “okay, it happened, you recognized it, now let’s move forward and figure out how we’re going to make your life work from here.”
Mom: I was sad for you. Hurting for you. Sad that you would have to deal with the after-effects of what had happened. Angry that he had taken advantage of you and mad that I couldn’t protect you. I wished that I had known sooner and could have interfered and not allowed him to come to our home.
4. Was it difficult for you to hear? Would you rather hear more details or fewer details than what I told you?
Dad: My kids (and probably in many ways, my daughters specifically) are the most treasured aspects of my life and it kills a dad to hear of anyone hurting your daughter emotionally, physically or sexually, especially the latter two! It is definitely not an easy thing to listen to and you physically hurt for your daughter. I hated knowing that you had gone through that. It’s hard to know if I wanted more or fewer details. I guess the way you told us with more details later was probably a good thing. The details are the more painful part. I always want my kids to be fighters, so a small piece of me was disappointed to know that you “had allowed” the little things get into bigger things, but I also recognize that Satan is incredibly crafty and that Alex was a master manipulator so I’ve had to take that into account as well.
Mom: It was difficult to know. I didn’t want to know more details because it would be painful to have a mental picture of what you went through, but I did wonder if I should know more so that I would know better how to help you and understand better what you went through.
5. Would it have been hard for you if I had decided to not tell you at all and tried to deal with this on my own?
Dad: That would have killed me and I would have hated that!! It speaks volumes about your character and our relationship (and means the world to me!) that you would feel comfortable having Mom and me be part of your struggle and your journey even though I know it was not easy to share this with us!
Mom: Yes, that would have been very hurtful to not be trusted to help you. I would have been offended to have you not want my help and support.
6. Was there anything else I could have done or said differently that would have made it easier for you to hear what happened?
Dad: I don’t know. I guess if I knew you had the presence of mind to get out of the situation or at least to break up with Alex, recognizing that what he was making you do was not who you are, would have made me feel like you were at least a little in control. Again, I have always wanted you to own your life and own your happiness and not let anyone else dictate that for you. I know you have learned and grown from this incredibly and maybe this is what it took for you to be able to be the “master of your destiny.”
Mom: Not that I can think of. I appreciated you addressing my questions, such as clarifying the timeline so that I could understand how everything fell into place, why you were acting the way you were, reacting to me and my efforts to interfere at different times, etc.
7. Was there anything I said fairly well that made it easier for you hear this difficult news?
Dad: I think you presented things pretty well. I’m not sure I have a big critique of what you said. You did a good job overall. You did tell me that I could share this news if it helped me. My first thought was that I didn’t want anyone to know. Then, I ended up sharing with my sisters based on that, and I think I hurt you in the process. I had thought you kind of wanted your story shared with family, even though I struggled to know why. I think I misunderstood you. Fortunately, they did not share with their kids or spouses because they have had people close to them, including one of your cousins, go through very similar things, and they knew the sensitive nature of what you had been through.
Mom: You explained manipulation well so that I could understand your mental state while you were being manipulated and I could better understand why you “didn’t seem yourself” and why you are not dealing with anxiety and situational stresses. It helped me support you better.
8. Did it help you to have me to check up on you the next day to see how you were doing?
Dad: Yes. You’ve been pretty open and transparent and I think that has helped, and I love and appreciate your openness with us as your parents!
Mom: Yes. I appreciated your concern for my feelings and reactions. I appreciated you being open and available to answer questions and concerns.
9. Was it helpful for me to let you talk to a couple close friends that I approved of about what happened, or did you not need to talk to anyone about it?
Dad: Kind of referencing back up to question #7, at first I wasn’t sure why you’d want me to, and there are very few friends that we have shared this with. The few that I have talked to about this, have been helpful. It is amazing to me how many people know someone who this kind of thing has happened to them. *Names omitted* were particularly helpful, understanding and empathetic having had experiences within their own families. There is still so much I don’t fully understand on your road to recovery, but these conversations have helped as well as your openness.
Mom: At first I didn’t think I would need to, but then I thought of at least one close friend who had gone through something similar and talking to her was VERY helpful and supportive as I was trying to sort through my feelings. It was nice to feel like I had a couple of friends who understood my emotional struggles and I didn’t need to keep it all to myself and suffer in silence.
10. Was there anything you would want to tell other parents who have kids who have gone through similar situations as me?
Dad: Mostly to just trust your conscience and the Spirit, BUT that still ties in with my concern from question #1–you don’t want to and you can’t micro-manage your adult kid’s lives, so they (and you experienced this) don’t want to hear that “I don’t like your boyfriend” or “something is not right about that guy.” It creates the urgency to have open dialogue and trust with your kids so that you can discuss these kinds of things. This has been a growing experience for Mom and me and it influences the conversations we have with your sister about making sure guys treat her appropriately and with our boys that they need to be respectful and have boundaries with girls. Sexual abuse, assault, etc are much more prolific than I think we realize and it puts an incredible amount of responsibility on everyone to not violate people’s trust or personal boundaries. It will destroy lives if not safeguarded.
Mom: I would tell them to let them talk to a therapist. They need professional help. Don’t take the situation lightly. Take it seriously and deal with it now so that they can heal as quickly and as thoroughly as possible now so that it doesn’t affect the rest of their life drastically. Keep open communication. Try to be understanding and encouraging and supportive. Ask them what their triggers are so that you can avoid them. Give them space and time to heal.
11. Was there anything you would want to say to other survivors who are nervous to tell their parents what happened to them?
Dad: I know it can be hard, especially if someone doesn’t have a loving and supportive relationship with their parents, but survivors need to have that support. I would absolutely encourage immediate and open dialogue with parents so they aren’t struggling with this alone. If a parent is not a good or safe option for any reason then talk to a grandparent, a close friend, religious leader or counselor so you are not fighting the battle or trying to heal alone! Support is critical!
Mom: If they have a close relationship with their parents, they should know that their parents will want to know so that they can love and support them through the healing process. If they have a strained relationship with their parents, they can always seek out an adult they trust and love to talk to.
12. Was there anything else you wanted to add?
Dad: I don’t think so, other than pulling together everything stated above. Survivors have been through a traumatizing experience that will never fully go away, BUT they can let that define their lives and be a permanent victim or they can heal and grow and become fighters and find ways to make the world a better place. The best survivors are those like Elizabeth Smart who advocate for others and teach forgiveness, healing and fighting for others and turning trauma into victory. That’s what I want for you because you have so much talent and an incredible spirit that has so much to give the world. I love you!!!
Mom: I think you have been an incredible inspiration to many as you have made strides to heal! Your blog has been an inspiration to many and has helped you heal in the process. There is no doubt you will continue to heal and help others and you have learned so many valuable lessons by talking to your therapist, the bishop, and your parents, and you will use this trial in your life to launch you into a life full of potential and with relationships that will be very healthy in the future. LOVE YOU!!!
After I told my parents, I allowed them to talk to one or two friends that I knew personally and loved like family because I knew that my Mom, especially, would need to process the news a little better. I told them that they could always talk to me about what happened, but I know they wouldn’t want to always bring up such a difficult topic for me, hence the ability for them to process the news with a close friend. Not all of you need to be as open or as proactive as I was when I told my parents. It is completely up to you how much information you are comfortable sharing and if you would rather them keep it to themselves instead of talking to another friend about it as well. Remember, you are in control. You decide who gets to know, how much they know, and how involved they get to be in your healing.
I love both of my parents dearly, and they both had a lot of the same reactions and answers. However, you can tell that there is also a difference between the two. My Dad has had a harder time than my Mom understanding the concept of manipulation and overall grasping the idea that healing is going to take some time. In his mind, it seems like he thinks that when a person is being manipulated by a master manipulator, you still have control over your actions and choices. Which is absolutely not the case. I have tried many times to explain to him how manipulation feels from my point of view, but I don’t think it’s helping. It has been difficult, but we’re working on it, and he tries to just have faith that I’m doing my best. It’s not easy to have him not understand and occasionally not have the patience for my healing process, but that’s just something that we all might come across when telling our story to loved ones.
Everyone’s experience of telling their parents or loved ones is going to be different. Some may be completely understanding and loving, and some may not be able to understand at all no matter how well you try to explain it to them. As difficult as it may be, it is important to at least tell one other person what you are going through who at least tries to understand, is patient with you through the rough patches, and helps point out and cheer for you for how far you’ve come in your healing. You cannot go through this alone. Healing from this psychological and physical abuse is very hard and having as much support as you can gather together will help ease your anxiety and help you deal with those pesky bad days.
It is sad, but you may be amazed at how many friends and possibly family members may be able to relate to you in some way. Having the support of your loved ones can make all the difference.