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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is moving away after a traumatic event a good idea?

    Our children were abused by their great uncle about a year ago. We have been going through the legal system and this event has torn our family apart. As the abuser is still out in the community on bail pending an appeal, our children are confronted by him on a regular basis. Although we have an intervention order, they still often have visual recognition as we live in a small town. It takes days of behavioral changes for the children to get back to “normal”. Also I have had suicidal thoughts in the past which have been dealt with but still have negative thoughts against him. I can control these thoughts, but it still worries me that I have them. I think it would be nice to move away, cut ties with the negativity & start afresh somewhere far away, my husband thinks that this would teach the children to run when the going gets tough. The fact we have been here through the hard stuff (statements,court, etc) I think shows that you stay and fight, then pick up & start again.
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Dr Toni Metelerkamp

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Toni works with adults and couples, and specialises in diagnosing and treating anxiety (panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder), phobias, substance and gambling, addictions, suicide and … View Profile

    Both you and your husband have valid points. “Fleeing” from a situation, after the key traumatic event is essentially over, is avoidance behaviour, and it is mostly avoidance that fuels ongoing distress. Wanting to start afresh is reasonable too, but it’s about the timing and the rationale for leaving that’s important. Leaving itself is not the issue but rather when and how you leave.

    The family certainly has navigated many of the most difficult issues already by starting, and moving through the legal process. This is an exceedingly trying time and you should be proud of yourselves for doing what you have. As parents, you are modeling problem solving to your children. You are making others accountable for their behaviour and showing your children (not just telling them) how committed to them you are. Your children are also learning how families can pull together and support one another, even when not all extended family are supportive. These are rich experiences, almost certainly not ones you would have chosen for them, but rich nonetheless.

    Decide where you as a family would like to live and be clear about why. Focus on the positive reasons for living in a particular place. Don’t give the perpetrator more power by allowing him to decide where you live. Take back the power by becoming survivors rather than victims. Importantly, this will require strategies for both the children and yourselves, especially since that you live in a small town.

    Decide what each of you will do if you see him. Remember to keep the power, try not to change what you were doing simply because of him. Have a plan of what you will say to one another in that situation. Focus on being there for each other. What do the children need to feel safe and reassured? Come up with a strategy that provides that safety and reassurance.

    One family, in a similar situation to yours, decided they would not acknowledge the perpetrator but they did have a code phrase. Whoever saw the perpetrator first would say “ trouble to the left” for example.  They decided they would always continue with whatever they were doing. The parents said something reassuring like  “I’m very glad to be with you now” and they made a point of touching each other. They held hands in a warm and caring way.  They also decided that if they’d seen the perpetrator they’d have a treat as soon as they were done with whatever they were doing. Sometimes it was an ice cream and on another accession they bought fruit and made a fruit salad together. On yet another accession they decided to have a swim together as soon as they’d finished what they were doing. Do whatever suits you as a family, but make it fun and do it together. Make a point of having the conversation at the time of contact with the perpetrator. As soon as someone notices him, reassure the children and shift the focus onto something positive.

    It sounds like the suicidal thoughts began before the abuse, and it is not uncommon for those sorts of thoughts to resurface when you are stressed. Both the suicidal thoughts and the negative thoughts about the perpetrator don’t mean that you will necessarily act on them, but they are distressing. I’d suggest that you see a psychologist to explore how the suicidal thoughts came to be, what function they served (they always have at least one) and what your options are moving forward. You are entitled to see a psychologist under Medicare, so see your GP for a referral to a psychologist. The negative feelings like anger, resentment, guilt, loathing towards to perpetrator are normal and are more likely to dissipate somewhat when you restore the power to the family, but remember your boundaries have been breached so feeling uncomfortable to normal.

    I wish you strength at such a difficult time.

  • 1


    Ralph Graham


    Ralph Graham, Counsellor, Psychotherapist, helping those who are affected by:grief, loss, anxiety, phobias, panic attack.And those who have been traumatised by:crime, assault, sexual abuse and … View Profile

    The excellent answers you have been given are extensive and there is a lot to take in.
    1  I want to reiterate that thinking of moving away as running away from a problem is certainly not going to apply in a situation where you judge that your family may be in danger from this person. Moving away in this situation would simply be protecting your family. You can take steps to take responsibility for your own emotional situation but as there are children involved you are simply wanting to protect and do the best for them.
    2  There are therapies that set out to resolve past traumas so that the presence of a perpetrator does not stir fearful feelings from past events. Resolve is taken to mean that reminders of these events no longer trigger a negative emotional response.* That does not mean that it would be acceptable to you to encounter this person in your area. you are the best judge of that. I may still would not want the children to encounter the perpetrator if it could be avoided.
    Your approach and attitude is admirable. I feel sure you will make the right decision.
     A heartfelt apology from this man might be helpful and contribute to healing but if he is appealing his conviction then this may not happen

    *I refer to methods that include TIR, hypnotherapy and certain forms of NLP.
    Being in a small town you may not have access to the above but if you do they normally get results in a comparatively short time.

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