In a counseling session, Rebecca shared her shame over having given in to sexual coercion from a man she barely knew. As we dug deeper, we discovered how her mom’s relationship with her in childhood affected her ability to say no as she got older.
There might be things happening in your family that you don’t realize are setting your daughter up for sexual coercion later in life. Here are 5 things women say that can be traced back to their families’ behavior.
“I didn’t want to crush his ego.”
Sharon falsely felt responsible for managing her boyfriend’s emotional well-being. I asked her how she first learned she was responsible for other people’s emotional needs. She told me about her mother, who visibly withered when confronted. Sharon learned that her own needs had to take a back seat in order to protect her mom’s fragility. She later was drawn to a boyfriend who had a similarly fragile self-worth. When she experienced sexual coercion, she believed her own needs were less important than preserving his dignity.
It can be hard to hear negative feedback about our behavior. But instead of taking criticism to mean you are a bad person, allow your daughter to see you stay strong and confident as you listen to her critical words. It will give her permission to say no even when she knows it might hurt the other person.
“I didn’t know I could say no.”
Michelle walked away from her sexual encounter in disbelief at her own inability to resist her date’s sexual advances. As we talked, she revealed that in her house growing up, she was never allowed to disagree with her parents. Even when she was unjustly accused, her parents told her she was being disrespectful if she tried to state her case. She learned to keep her disagreement with others to herself and to comply.
Instead of shutting your daughter down when she disagrees, really listen. Let her see that you are considering her opinions, even if you believe strongly you are right and know you won’t change your mind.
“I was afraid he would reject me.”
Lauren sat in her chair in my office with her eyes downcast in shame. She had always wanted to marry as a virgin. But when her boyfriend pushed himself on her, she was afraid to resist him. She had a mom who used the silent treatment when Lauren didn’t do what she wanted her to do. Her mom wouldn’t acknowledge her for days. The pain this caused made Lauren fear being rejected when love was at stake.
Instead of pushing her away with silence, or physical and emotional distance, tell your daughter directly when you are frustrated, sad, or disappointed and then give appropriate consequences.
“He convinced me it was what I wanted, too.”
Lisa learned to not trust her own opinions. Her dad often would talk her out of her own opinions and convince her that his opinions were right. When she presented ideas for something her dad disagreed with, he would work the conversation around in such a way that she would doubt herself. One day, her male best friend took the relationship in a sexual direction. His sexual coercion through convincing language caused her to doubt her own judgment.
Instead of disregarding what she has to say, allow your daughter to have her own opinions and commend her for it. If you disagree, tell her, “That’s an interesting perspective. I have a different thought on that.”
Instead of disregarding what she has to say, allow your daughter to have her own opinions and commend her for it.
“He made me feel stupid for not wanting to have sex with him.”
Tammy said that as a child, her opinions were constantly ridiculed by her brother. He made fun of her regularly. This mocking taught her that her ideas and opinions were stupid. This set her up to be sexually violated by a boy in college who mocked her for not wanting to drink at a party. The familiar insecurity with her own judgments led her to compromise herself.
Instead of brushing it off as harmless teasing, if you see your daughter being ridiculed for her opinions, make sure to stand up for her and affirm her ideas. And correct her siblings if they mock her.
Names and some details have been changed to protect client privacy.
What would you tell your teenage self if you could?