Sexually inappropriate daughter
I have a beautiful, incredibly artistically talented 14-year-old daughter who is more that just boy crazy. It started last year when she got involved (at 13) with an 18-year-old male on the Internet. Some of the highlights were that she was going to run away with him, totally in love with him, threatened to kill me, $650 phone bill one month (we found out she was getting up in the middle of the night to talk for up to 8 hours with him) and the topper was an explicit video I found that he had sent to her. Needless to say, I got the police involved and it was very difficult to get her to see how wrong this was.
We did end up taking her to therapy for a while but she ended it saying she had nothing to say to her therapist. She seemed to be making a recovery to her old self and after months, she was allowed to go back on the Internet with supervision (she has an incredible art website that she works on). I basically had to handle the whole situation and was so stressed out I also went into therapy for a while. My husband is a very prominent physician in our small town and felt that there was no need for both of us to be upset about the situation and therefore, left a lot of it for me to deal with.
I thought we were doing fine until the other day I found a letter (that she says she did not send) to the boyfriend of a good friend, expressing love and some explicit sexual content. She is basically a shy girl, (up until about 6 months ago, she would not even go to the mall without me being by her side) but when she gets on the computer, she becomes another person. My question is, do you think there are indications of child sexual abuse in her actions? When she was about 18 months old, we were in the middle of an overseas move and we left her with family (that she really didn't know) for about 3 weeks. At the time, I didn't think about my little baby being upset about being separated from her parents - her sister was with her and she was with loving family, or I thought. I do have to wonder though, did something happen during that time?
I need to get help for her, I know that, but I have to make her see that too, or she will just shut down again. This is tearing me apart. I told her father about the latest letter and after a week, he finally talked to her last night. I don't know what they talked about, but it was only for about 5 minutes. It is difficult for him to deal with family problems because he gives advice every day to his patients and he doesn't know how to deal at home. Thank you for any help you can give me.
Thanks for writing. I understand and appreciate your concern about your daughter.
It's interesting that you'd write to an online counselor, though, when you already have a therapist who saw your daughter and probably can give you much better insight to this than I can. Did you and your husband both become involved in your daughter's treatment - at least to the point of having regular conversations or meetings with her therapist? If you did not, that person is still the one best equipped to help you, so it's interesting that you did not go over all of this with him or her. Why - do you suppose - you did not?
Although I definitely agree with you that there is a problem indicated here, I'm not sure it's the same problem you are focusing on (potential sexual abuse).
From what you've stated, it would appear as though there are significant conflicts in your marriage, that the communication between you and your husband is very poor, and that your needs for emotional support are not being met. My guess is that your daughter's sexualized acting out relates primarily to this; she is acting out your anger (at your husband for his abandonment of you), and in that way, is keeping the family unit intact. She is, obviously, doing all of this unconsciously, with no awareness of the fact that you and your husband work together (and, ostensibly get along best) when she acts out most.
Statistically, many teenage girls who act out sexually have been sexually abused, that's true. And there may have been some isolated incident or ongoing molest which occurred during the time period you are questioning. Since there is no way to confirm any kind of trauma from that period, though, it might be helpful for you to see how your daughter's behavior might also be impacted by the current conflict in the home, and the role she feels she must play to keep everyone communicating, at least on some level. If she needs to be the Identified Patient and act out sexually to get;
- her father's attention, and
- a mother who will set limits with her, and
- parents who talk to each other, then she is (unconsciously) willing to do this.
Even the name you used (gigimom) gives the impression that who you are is defined by your daughter. This, coupled with your comment of how she "would not even go to the mall without me being by her side," indicate an enmeshed relationship. You may not feel "whole" without her. If that's true, then you may have a lot of expectations and demands of her, as some part of you might be living (your life) through her. As long as she is acting out sexually (or otherwise), she can rescue you from the discontentment you feel in your life and in your marriage. As long as she is acting out, she can also evade those heavy demands you place on her.
In my opinion, there are very complicated family dynamics at work here, which your daughter's behavior obscures. Her actions have allowed everyone to focus on her as the "inappropriate daughter" you label her as, rather than on any one else's shortcomings or the family conflicts in general.
I suspect that this is the reason that you and your husband did not meet or confer with your daughter's therapist. You both sensed - albeit unconsciously - that all the other dysfunction would emerge if the mental health professional who was best equipped to help you had the chance to assess the situation fully.
You have a devoted daughter who will continue to act out and therefore, mask the rest of the family dysfunction for you. She's already proven the self-destructive lengths she'll go to do this. My hope is that - by confronting you this forcefully - you may be inspired to contact your daughter's therapist immediately and begin family or marital therapy (with her or him or with someone she or he recommends) ASAP. Please interrupt this cycle wherein you and your husband both use your daughter's disturbed behavior to hide and excuse your own.
Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT
This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr. She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.For more information visit: http://www.pegburr.com/