Managing Trauma Impact

Question

I have a hard time with touch due to sexual trauma in my childhood, but I Have two kids who are always touching me. Is there a way to cope with all of that touching?

Answer

Having a hard time with physical touch after sexual trauma is normal. Even if the present touching is not sexual in nature, it can trigger past traumas when you were touched without your permission. To manage this, try to notice what physically happens to your body when someone touches you. Feelings can include shortness of breath, feelings tense, racing heartbeat, dizziness, or blurry vision. Once you notice how your body reacts to physical touch, you can better figure out how to self-soothe and manage these reactions. Next, try to establish clear boundaries of what you are and are not comfortable with. Setting boundaries is a healthy way of respecting yourself and your space. Depending on the age, boundary setting may look different. In this particular scenario, this is a great time to teach about consent and educate your children on how to set their own boundaries. A simple, age-appropriate thing you can teach your children is to ask for permission before touching or embracing someone- whether it be yourself, another family member, or a playmate. You can also model the same behavior by asking your children if it is okay if you touch them, not forcing them to hug/kiss friends or relatives, and respecting their decision if they do not want to be tickled or held. You can also help create empathy in your child by saying things like “I know you were just being silly, but when you sneak up on me and touch me when I am not ready it scares me.” This can give your child insight into why you are setting the boundaries that you are, without giving too much of your trauma history away if you are not ready to disclose it yet. Once boundaries are established, encourage yourself to explore differences in feelings of discomfort vs. feelings of danger with someone you trust. Slowly testing your limits may allow you to create new boundaries that may meet your child’s need for physical touch, while still honoring your feelings and limits. Being a parent is hard work. Resist feeling guilty and comparing yourself to others. Take it one step at a time and remember that you are doing the best you can.

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