About two years ago, my daughter, 11 at the time, suffered something terrible. It broke her and our family. I have tried to “counsel” her. I’ve been her supporter through it all. She did have professional counseling, but stopped because she felt it wasn’t helping.
She has asked me, “Why did God let this happen to me? Why didn’t He stop it?” And I do not have an answer for her. I have asked my church friends, and they talk about our having free will and it’s in God’s plan, but these “answers” hold no comfort for my daughter. I don’t know how to show her that God loves her and cares about her. She says she does not believe any more.
My heart breaks for your little girl. Trauma at any age is awful, but it’s especially difficult to watch a child grapple with their loss of innocence at the hands of an abuser. Children are so trusting and simple in their view of the world. I’m sorry to hear she had to experience something so life altering.
Her questions are actually very normal for anyone who has been abused or betrayed. The concept of God or a Higher Power helps most people feel safe and protected, especially when difficult things happen. However, when someone has a traumatic experience that completely overwhelms his or her ability to cope, it’s common to begin questioning everything, including the reality of a God.
We ask these difficult questions because we want to know what we can trust. Trauma is unpredictable and completely changes our perception of the world as safe and orderly. For most people, God is part of that order in the world. When everything is turned upside down from a betrayal, it’s common to wonder what is real and what is true.
Unfortunately, most well-meaning people don’t tolerate these types of questions very well and begin providing trite answers that are really attempts to decrease their own anxieties. I’m glad to know that you aren’t pretending to have the answers. Pretending is lying and that would be insulting and dismissive to your daughter. She doesn’t need any additional confusion right now, especially from her mother. She’s looking to you for safety and stability in a world that was turned upside down. Admitting that you don’t know will help her feel safe, even though it doesn’t answer her question.
Admitting you don’t know the answers to her questions does answer one fundamental question. She wants to know if she can count on you to be there for her. She needs to know now, more than ever, that she isn’t alone and that you can be trusted. As you give her room to ask hard questions and wrestle with uncertainty, she is learning that the world isn’t completely unsafe. She is learning that at least one person can be counted on to protect her. Your presence and protection gives her something that is bigger than any explanation you could give her at this point.
You might consider having her attempt counseling again with a trauma specialist. There are effective trauma protocols, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Lifespan Integration, Somatic Experiencing, play therapy, and other research-based techniques that are highly effective in resolving traumatic symptoms. Talk therapy isn’t always the best route to pursue, especially for children.
Stay close to her and show her that she is safe. It will take time for her nervous system, brain, body, and heart to all realign. You’re doing more for her than you may realize. You don’t have to have all of the answers. Your presence is a large part of the answer to her biggest questions.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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