September 6th, 2007
Posted By:
Categories: Trauma

For the past several days, I have been discussing how to handle talking with an adopted child who was conceived through rape or incest. Several readers have contacted me with questions that I did not cover in this series, and I am working my way through answering those questions.

One reader asked the following question, which relates to the child’s own rape rather than his birthmother’s rape:

Are you going to cover rape/incest that happened to a child that is too young to remember? I know of two families that adopted toddler boys, unrelated, from the foster care system. The boys were raped 1-3 years old, by fathers.

advertisement

If you adopt a child who was raped, even when he was very young, you must discuss his history with him. This is because the child already knows, and he will have to work through the fallout, whether you talk with him about it or not. If you talk with him, he will know what demons he is fighting. If you do not, then he will still struggle with the same issues but be perplexed about the source of these issues.

One particularly traumatizing event happened to me when I was only 28 months old. I can tell you in great detail what happened, down to my abuser’s hairstyle, what room it happened in, and how the room was furnished. I remember in great detail what happened afterward, too. My abuser told me to clean myself up. I went into the bathroom, stepped up on a stool to reach the sink, and tried hard not to look into the mirror while the enormity of the shame suffocated me. I tried to wash away the filth of what happened, and I was completed disgusted by it all. I told myself repeated, “It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen.” I walked back into the den, where my father and grandmother were happily chatting. I picked up my little stuffed white poodle and hid in a dark corner on the floor next to the couch. I told myself repeatedly that I was invisible.

I can go into much more detail, but this is not the place for that. My point is that this is a memory from when I was only 28 months old. Many people would assume that I would not remember the event and, therefore, not be affected. I did not “forget” what happened. Instead, I used an enormous amount of mental energy to repress the memory so I could act as if nothing had happened. I lived my childhood repressing hundreds of similar events, so I had no memory of the abuse in my day-to-day life.

When I hit puberty, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to die. I was suicidal throughout my teen years, and I developed an eating disorder at the age of 12 that I still wrestle with today. I had no conscious memory of what was fueling these feelings. I just knew that I was “different” and believed I was fundamentally unlovable. I was in my thirties when the flashbacks started and my life finally started to make sense.

Don’t subject your child to decades of trying to understand why he feels so different and unlovable. Instead, find him a qualified therapist with experience in working with abused children when your child enters adolescence. The onset of puberty will trigger many reactions to the abuse that your child suffered. This is the time to talk with your child about what happened and to help him work through his issues.

Related Topics:

++++++++++++

For information/instructions on how to subscribe FREE to your favorite AdoptionBlogs, please visit this link.

6 Responses to “Rape/Incest & Adopted Child: Too Young to Remember”

  1. Kelly says:

    I’m with you Faith. Kids know. One child was raped, orally and vaginally, when she was 2 by a relative, and she can tell you what happened.

    The words are not appropriate, but the memory and trauma are there.

    Don’t dismiss a child’s abuse just because they were young. It affects them deeper than you can imagine.

    You and I being survivors can understand this!

  2. Faith Allen says:

    Yes, which is why I am glad that we are both speaking out. We need to dismantle misperceptions like the one that says that abusing a very young child does not affect him. It affects him profoundly.

    Take care,

    - Faith

  3. AngelaW says:

    There is a myth that children rarely retain memories before age 3.

    One of my earliest memories was when I was 21 months old. My younger brother’s birth was very traumatic to me.

    I have an earlier memory from 18 months old. And maybe a memory from 12 month to 16 months of age. I don’t have enough detail from this memory to tie it down to a certain time frame.

    I am not the only person with memories from this young an age. I have friends who have “young” memories too.

    The only reason that I can tag these memories with a specific age is because of my family. I told my mother the memory. We discussed it and she told me how old I was at the time.

    And all of these memories are anchored by strong emotions and trauma.

  4. Faith Allen says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I, too, know others who have memories from very young ages. It might be true that secure children living in loving homes do not have specific memories before age 3, but trauma memories are definitely retained.

    I have even read about people recovering memories of abuse from infancy. Because there was no language to attach to the memories, they experience their flashbacks physically. It’s really tough.

    Take care,

    - Faith

  5. Julia Fuller says:

    Great Blog Faith, you covered this very well, with great reasoning.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.