I’ve noticed over the years how some words develop such terrible stigmas that people will do anything to avoid association. I first became aware of this trend in college while taking a Women’s Psychology class and on the first day the professor asked the students to raise thier hand if they were a feminist. There were a few students in the front whose hands shot up, but as I looked around the room I noticed that the majority of us kept our hands on our desks. I had never burned my bra in protest. I had never gone weeks without shaving my legs to prove that women had nothing to prove. Then I listened as the professor asked who in the room thought that men and women were equal beings deserving of equal privileges. At this, my hand too raised. I had always been the girl with a decent supply of power tools, I always felt that I was equal to male coworkers, and grew up playing co-ed soccer. So after a lengthy collegiate discussion about how that was the true meaning of a feminist I wondered why the term had gotten such a bad rap.
I now have an equal experience in counseling when the term ‘selfish’ is brought up in that people believe that putting their needs as equal to or ahead of others is deserving of this negative stigma. When working with secondary survivors of sexual assault I often ask them what they are doing to take care of themselves. Many give me a funny look and explain that their child, husband, wife, or friend who was assaulted is their main priority and that they spend their time taking care of the loved one. I think that many would stigmatize themselves as selfish if they briefly left the survivor and took a walk, got a pedicure, went to church, or checked Facebook in another room. Just like society had equated the word feminist to mean something that it doesn’t, society has also changed the definition of self-care to selfish. Few secondary survivors realize that they are a better source of support if they themselves maintain their emotional health. Like another psych professor said in college, “take care of the caretaker.”
So, with this thought in mind, we are striving to take care of the caretakers of child survivors and holding a Parent Support Group. This group will offer information on how to talk to your child, help to explain what your child is going through, and techniques for helping them. But the group will also provide an opportunity for parents to engage in self-care; it will be a place to decompress and be able to relate to others. The group will take place on Monday afternoons from 4-5, and participants must complete an intake before participating. So I encourage all parents to take some time to process the trauma that the assault has caused them, and remind yourself that an hour away isn’t selfish, it’s self-care.