In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal insights into why a mother goes into denial when her own daughter speaks up and tells her that her stepfather, father or someone else has sexually abused her.
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Now, let’s talk about insights into the reasons a mother goes into denial when her own daughter speaks up and tells her that her stepfather, father or someone else has sexually abused her.
In an interview with David Letterman’s Netflix show “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction”, daytime TV show host Ellen DeGeneres exposed the details of her experience with sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, Ellen’s story is horribly too common: a girl being abused by her stepfather (or a mother’s boyfriend or biological father) and when she reveals to her mother what happened, her mother refuses to believe her.
For Ellen, the abuse began when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy.
“He told me when she was out of town that he’d felt a lump in her breast and needed to feel my breasts. Anyway, he convinced me that he needs to feel my breasts and then he tries to do it again another time, and then another time.”
A few years later, Ellen told her mother but she didn’t believe her story.
“He said I was lying, and then she stayed with him. So that made me really angry.”
“I should never have protected [mom.] I should have protected myself and I didn’t tell her for a few years and then I told her. And then she didn’t believe me, and then she stayed with him for 18 more years. And finally left him because he’d changed the story so many times.”
“I didn’t really let it get to me. Until recently, I kind of went, ‘I wish I would have been better taken care of. I wish she would have believed me.’ And she’s apologetic, but, you know.”
So why would a mother not believe her own daughter when the daughter painfully and fearfully turns to mom for help and rescue stating that stepdad sexually abused her?
The insights and reasons I’m about to share with you are not justifications but rather explanations of why so many mothers engage in denial and refuse to accept the painful truth that their daughter has been sexually abused or molested.
I have many clients who have experienced sexual abuse by their stepfather over many years. In fact, I have noticed a pattern whereby many of these girls were first molested starting around age 8 or 9 and it would continue till around 14 or 15 when the girl would eventually physically fight back against the stepfather. In between that time, the girl would go to her mother for help, but the mother would go into denial and refuse to believe her story, sometimes the mother would even lash out at her daughter – the victim. The young child would thus be left on her own to undergo more and regular abuse and molestation.
There are 2 traumas for the child:
1. The sexual abuse
2. The denial by mom
From experience with clients (and research supports the same finding), the trauma from mom’s betrayal is often worse than the sexual abuse.
“Indeed, studies indicate that a mother’s denial of the fact of incestuous abuse may, in addition to aggravating the trauma of the abuse, have more damaging psychological effects than the abuse itself.” – Christine Adams, Mothers Who Fail to Protect Their Children from Sexual Abuse: Addressing the Problem of Denial, 12Yale L. & Pol’y Rev.(1994).
Here are eight reasons why mothers engage in denial and thus refuse to believe that their daughter was molested or sexually abused by the stepfather, father or her boyfriend.
If the mother accepts the story to be true, she must also accept that she made the wrong choice in a stepfather or husband. And to her that represents deep shame as well as overwhelming guilt for having selected this man and for having brought him into the house where he rapes or molests her daughter.
2. Annihilation of the family
If she accepts the story to be true, she must also immediately end the relationship or divorce him; she must choose between her daughter and her husband; these words of the need to choose have actually been spoken by a mother to her daughter. “The Real” co-host Jeannie Mai was sexually abused by a 16 year-old male cousin when she was 9 years-old and her mother refused to believe her. The abuse lasted for years. Twenty-one years later, Jeannie confronted her mother Olivia, “Did you love him more than you loved your daughter who was trying to tell you something?”
“I loved him more than I love you because at that time I think he has no parents, you have mother and father…but him he had nobody” responds Olivia.
3. Fear for Survival – Dependence
If she accepts the story to be true, she must divorce him and possibly fend on her own; she might be fearful of not being able to survive financially or take care of the other siblings.
4. Public Shaming
If she accepts the story to be true, she must contact authorities and be willing to follow through with the long legal process of pressing charges, going to court and making her daughter testify. She must be willing to speak up herself. One client whose mother believed her daughter, went to the police, and the small town turned on the girl and her mother believing the dad to be ‘pure and innocent.’
5. Identity, security and escape from trauma
If she accepts the story to be true, it may trigger her own memories and pain if she too, was a victim, sexually abused or molested as a child; she may feel unable to cope with the triggering of the trauma; her own sense of security and identity is also shattered realizing she trusted the wrong man.
“Denial is an unconscious defense mechanism used to allay anxiety by denying the existence of important conflicts or troublesome impulses” – Stedman’s Medical Dictionary
6. Self-loathing and anger
If she accepts the story to be true, then there is a strong chance that she will blame herself and will be overwhelmed with self-loathing and guilt for having failed to protect her daughter, as well as triggering anger and betrayal towards her husband/boyfriend.
7. Capacity for courage and self-efficacy
If she accepts the story to be true, then she must be willing to engage in the confrontation with her husband or boyfriend, and she needs to be willing to fight for her daughter. She must believe in her own capabilities to overcome the emotional overwhelm and all the consequences of the annihilation of the family. She must be willing to believe at all costs, the words of her daughter over any denial by the man.
8. Capacity for resiliency
If she accepts the story to be true, then she also realizes that the family will be broken and ended, and the relationship with her daughter will change forever, fearing that her daughter will resent her for having failed to protect her. Whereas, if she believes that the story isn’t true then she hopes that things will stay the same in the dynamics of the family.
Accordingly, there are many reasons that unfortunately a mother may choose to live in denial and not believe her own daughter’s story. I have many clients who revealed to me that their mother had experienced abuse herself or grew up in an alcoholic family or had a very, low sense of self-worth which contributed to the choice of marrying or entering into a relationship with a man who is also abusive or sexually abusive.
“I know now that one of the hardest things to do is speak up after being sexually abused. I love my daughter, and I wish I had the capacity to listen to her when she told me what happened. I live with that regret, and I wouldn’t want that for any other parent. If someone in your life has the courage to speak out, please believe them.”
– Betty DeGeneres (2019), mother of Ellen DeGeneres.
When watching the interview that Ellen gave to David Letterman, Ellen revealed with her tears that she is still hurting from the abuse and the betrayal to this day.
When working with clients to help set them free from the sexual abuse and, the anger and resentment towards mother for failing to protect the child, as well as failing to believe her and therefore betraying and ‘abandoning’ the child, I use a special process I developed called Subconscious Rapid Transformation Technique – SRTT. The process helps the person to release all of the painful emotions and trauma as well as to change the subconscious beliefs that the child carries without reliving the trauma; the child subconsciously blames herself for the entire event and for having been abused; she carries deep shame and feels unsafe, alone, anxious, abandoned and betrayed by her mother and the world.
If you need help to overcome abuse or some other trauma in childhood and its effects, book a one-on-one session with me.
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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”
Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist
Anointed “The Woman Expert” by WGN Chicago, Patrick Wanis PhD is a renowned Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert who developed SRTT therapy (Subconscious Rapid Transformation Technique) and is teaching it to other practitioners. Wanis’ clientele ranges from celebrities and CEOs to housewives and teenagers. CNN, BBC, FOX News, MSNBC & major news outlets worldwide consult Wanis for his expert insights and analysis on sexuality, human behavior and women’s issues. Wanis is the first person ever to do hypnotherapy on national TV – on the Montel Williams show.