Archive for June, 2008

Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtI have written a few times about forgiveness after child abuse. Forgiveness is such a huge stumbling block for many adult survivors of child abuse. I have heard many say that if forgiveness is required in order to heal from child abuse, then they will never fully heal.

I first approached the idea of forgiveness before I faced the extent of my child abuse history. I hated my mother/abuser throughout my life, and I thought it all stemmed from certain emotional abuses that I have always remembered. I was angry about the fact that she continued to have the power to hurt me. I was listening to a talk radio show, and somebody called in about a similar issue. The radio personality said that forgiveness was the key to releasing my mother/abuser’s power over me.

I was floored and had the same reaction that most child abuse survivors do – She does not deserve forgiveness. However, I wanted relief from the ongoing emotional pain, so I read a book about forgiveness. I came to realize that, while she did not deserve forgiveness, I deserved healing. I chose myself over her. Also, I came to realize that, whether or not I forgave my mother, her life was pretty much the same. I was the only one who was suffering.

So, I chose to let go of the bitterness, which is how I have always defined forgiveness. I chose to stop nursing the bitterness, and I freed myself from her. The emotional abuse history lost its power and stopped hurting me.

I have applied this principle to my other abusers, first processing my anger toward them and then choosing to let go of putting energy into thinking about them. I have defined forgiveness as becoming indifferent toward them. However, some comments now have me questioning if this is forgiveness or something else.

I have a friend who has forgiven her father for his sexual abuse. She went through the same place where I am now for a very long time. However, as she continued to heal, she grew compassion for him, and he is now in her life again. She says that forgiveness is about recognizing his limitations and wanting to love him through them. If that is forgiveness, then I am not there and probably never will be.

I also wrote an article on forgiveness for eHow.com. A reader over there says that I am only “pretending to be indifferent.” Seriously, I am not pretending anything. I really do not think about my mother that often, unless something forces me to think about her like having to provide her maiden name to get a credit card. But that is more of an annoyance, not a dwelling.

That reader says that forgiveness is really about finding compassion for the other person, which is the same thing that my friend says. And that seems to tie into forgiveness meaning understanding. If that is true, then I guess I have not forgiven my abusers. If I have not, then what have I done? It has brought me an enormous amount of relief and comfort. But what exactly is it?

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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtA reader recently told me that she questioned her diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) because she does not “hear voices.” Many people have the misconception that people with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) “hear voices.” They do not. People with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, sometimes “hear voices,” but that is not the case with DID.

The problem with DID is trying to explain what alter parts “sound like” in your head. There are no auditory sounds involved. The best way I can describe it is that I had thoughts that were “not mine.” I describe them as “loud thoughts” or “strong thoughts” that did not originate with “me.”

Perhaps an example would make this clearer…

My healing process began after I and my then-two-year-old son spent the night at my mother/abuser’s house. At this point in my life, I had no awareness of having ever been abused, having DID, or having alter parts. My mother insisted that I go on an errand at midnight. While I was gone, she went into my son’s room. She told me this when I returned.

I completely flipped out. I ran into my son’s room and brought him into the guest room with me. I cried and held him close. I asked him what “that crazy lady” did to him. My heart was racing, and my mind was flooded with fear that my mother had sexually abused my son. The weird part was that none of this was coming from “me.”

I felt like I (my spirit??) had been shoved to one corner of my head. I could see and hear everything that was going on around me, but it was from a distance, and I was not driving my body. I heard my voice talking, but I was not telling my body to say those words. I could feel the intense fear and was baffled as to why I was fearful that my mother might have sexually abused my son. Yes, I knew that she was mentally ill, but I had no memory at that point of her sexually abusing either my sister or me.

After that, being co-present with alter parts became a normal part of my life until I integrated. I never “heard” any voices, but I could “feel” their thoughts, and their thoughts felt separate from mine.

I hope this helps others to understand what internal communication with DID is like.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Fire (c) Rosanne Mooney
As a person who suffered from several years of ritual abuse, I take issue with including the word “satanic” in the descriptor. (Many online discussions of ritual abuse use the initials “SRA” for satanic ritual abuse.) I never refer to what I went through as “satanic ritual abuse.” As soon as you throw around the name “Satan,” you are asking for people to think that you are a nut.

I do not know why my ritual abusers did the things that they did to me. I know that they were sadistic, and I know that they were organized. However, I do not know what “creed” they were using to justify their despicable actions toward me, my sister, and the other children they harmed. Their “creed” never mattered to me. I just wanted them to stop hurting me.

However, the things they did to us are in keeping with the stuff that you hear about with satanic ritual abuse, such as meeting in a rural area after dark around a bonfire. There was blood and feces involved. There were black robes and hoods, probably because they were too cowardly to show their faces in case anyone ever testified against them. People who hide behind hoods and masks are always cowards.

I honestly do not know why they did the things that they did to me. The people who, along with my mother, brought my sister and me to be ritually abused were wealthy, and the husband was in a prestigious position in a Fortune 100 company, so one could argue that there was some sort of ladder-climbing connection there. However, most people do not feel the need to rape children in the middle of the night in order to become successful in business, so I find it hard to believe that was their motivation.

My therapist gave me the wonderful advice to stay out of my abusers’ heads. Their reasons for harming me really are irrelevant. They hurt me, and I have healed myself. That’s pretty much all that matters. It also helps for me to see them as weak people rather than powerful hooded entities that could harm me at any time. I am now an adult – they have no power over me.

I am not comfortable with including the word “satanic” in describing what I experienced because I do not know if “devil worship” was their motivation or not. The bottom line is that it really does not matter. My focus needs to be on healing myself, not on what was going on in my ritual abusers’ sick minds.

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Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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Girl by shack (c) Lynda BernhardtI recently applied for a new credit card. I also accessed my credit report online (which I highly recommend doing annually to protect yourself from identity theft). In both cases, to verify that I was who I said I was, I was asked to provide my mother’s maiden name.

For most people, providing your mother’s maiden name is not a big deal. However, for those of us who suffered from mother-daughter sexual abuse, the last person I want to be thinking about when I am applying for a credit card is my mother.

I get that this is a good security question. After all, I doubt that many people who know me could tell you my mother’s maiden name. Heck, I doubt I could tell you any of my friend’s mother’s maiden names. I doubt I could even name many of their maiden names if I met them after they were already married. So, I am not criticizing this security question as being a bad one.

It’s just that I don’t want to think about my mother. I have done the hard work of healing. I have dealt with the flashbacks and processed the negative emotions. Now, I just want to move on with my life, and that life does not involve my mother.

The question did not trigger me, thank goodness. It just annoyed me.

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Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

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Bird flying in sky (c) Lynda BernhardtI am a big fan of the writings of Dr. Brian Weiss, who wrote the book Many Lives, Many Masters as well as several other books about past lives and how we are on this earth to learn life lessons. I have written about how embracing a belief in reincarnation has freed me to forgive my abusers (which I define as letting go of the bitterness).

I am currently reading another book by Dr. Weiss entitled Messages from the Masters. In that book, I found the following quote:

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It means understanding. – Dr. Brian Weiss

I thought that was pretty deep and would make a good blog topic.

To put the quote in context, he was talking about a psychiatrist who was a skeptic about near death experiences. The man was apparently condescending about a woman’s very powerful near death experience. Dr. Weiss called the man “arrogant,” but the woman said that his comments arose out of fear, not arrogance. By understanding where the man was coming from, she was able to forgive the comment.

Of course, as applied to child abuse, the transgression is much more severe than simply belittling another person’s experience. However, I do believe this same principle can be applied as well.

I have been doing this with my mother/abuser. I do not understand how she could have done the things she did to me or allowed other people to abuse me as well. However, I do understand that she was severely abused herself and that her sanity snapped, so she was weak. For whatever reason, she did not have the strength to overcome her own history of abuse and stand up to protect her children (both from herself and from others).

I also understand that my ritual abusers were weak people. They thought they would be “strong” by controlling my will, but they never controlled me. Yes, they harmed my body, but they did not have the power to turn me into one of them because I was stronger than they are. By understanding this dynamic, it changes my perception of those abusers from being monsters who I cannot slay to weak people who I have already beaten. This has been quite empowering for me.

This realization has also enabled me to feel safe in my life. I am not a walking victim who can be harmed again. Instead, I am a conqueror who has already faced the worse possible abuse imaginable that I will ever face. (It is no longer possible for me to be restrained and tortured by a bunch of people who are four times my size.) I need fear nothing that the future holds because I have already conquered the worst that could happen.

Even death has no power over me because I know that death is not the end. Whether I am here on this earth for another year or another three decades, I am learning and growing, and I am providing a healing balm to others. When that time ends, I know at a heart level that I will be okay.

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Pondering Forgiveness after Child Abuse

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Microscopic view (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last couple of posts, I have been talking about my reaction to the remake of the movie Sybil, which aired on Saturday night on CBS. In this post, I am going to compare and contrast my integration experience with Sybil’s.

In the movie, Sybil’s healing really began when her various parts started talking about the abuse. Dr. Wilbur correctly recognized that Sybil’s awareness of the others’ existence was a huge step toward healing.

This was the case with me, too, although I did not need a third party to accomplish this. I had one part (“Irate”) who was badly triggered by an overnight stay at my mother’s house who stayed co-present for a while after that. She is the one who would “step into my face.” I could “feel” her presence and knew that her thoughts were “not mine.” This is what launched me on a quest to learn all I could about alter parts and understand what was going on with me.

In the movie, Dr. Wilbur hypnotized Sybil and then age-progressed all of the parts so that they would be one age. When Sybil came out of hypnosis, she remembered a lot more than she had (which, up until this point, had been nothing about the abuse). My experience was very different.

I never needed to use hypnosis, nor did I involve a third party in order to remember or integrate. I did all of these things alone in my bed at night. I did have a therapist for two plus years, but he served more of a “check-in” role, reassuring me that I was not “crazy” and helping direct me along the healing path. While I told him about the alter parts eventually, the focus of my therapy was on learning to love myself and talking about what happened, not on the specific parts.

I had no need to age progress any of my parts, although I have read that this is still part of the healing that many therapists recommend for people with DID. I needed to love each part and accept each part’s experiences, feelings, and emotions as “mine.” Then, they would integrate, regardless of the part’s age.

One other big difference is that Dr. Wilbur sought to integrate each part back into Sybil. Sybil was a host personality, not the original child. What I found was that I had to integrate my host (Faye) back into the original child, not back into the others. I also integrated the others back into the original child. Dr. Wilbur was correct that there were no “deaths.” All are still present inside of myself. I just experience them in a different way – parts of myself that are always “present” as a part of who I am.

One key part of healing that the movie did not get into (possibly because Dr. Wilbur was a pioneer and did not know this herself) was that I found the key to healing to be loving and accepting each part as “me.” I would reach out in love to each part, thanking each part for the role he or she played in keeping me safe and then inviting each part into the core so it could be “out” forever. When I integrated my host personality, I stopped being separate from the other parts and was forever always “out” after that – no more lost time.

I would not think that Sybil suddenly having access to a whole bunch of memories at one time would have been a good thing. The reason for splitting in the first place is to distance yourself from the event and accompanying emotions. Even today, as an integrated person who has dealt with the big picture view of each form of abuse, it is hard to look over my entire abuse history in one sitting. To do this at one time – to take in all of the horror in one view – without having healed each piece as you went along would be overwhelming. It might be that they did this in the movie to give you an idea of where the next several years of therapy were going. The caption at the end said that it took Sybil a long time to become whole.

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Integration posts

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Microscopic view (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last post, I shared my reaction to the remake of the movie Sybil, which aired on Saturday night on CBS. In this post, I am going to compare and contrast my dissociative identity disorder (DID) experiences with Sybil’s.

Both Sybil and I were sexually abused by our mothers. With my mother, it was oral, but I have met many women online whose mothers also inserted objects and gave them enemas, just like with what happened to Sybil. I had other abusers who did the object insertion, which I won’t go into here. We both also had mothers with a very warped and sick view of God and religion. So, she and I had all of those things in common.

Both of us were raised by schizophrenic mothers, and both of us had fathers who allowed severely mentally ill women to raise us. I wanted to jump out of my seat cheering when Dr. Wilbur went off on Sybil’s father for allowing a schizophrenic to raise a child. I wish she could give my father the same tongue-lashing because he deserves it, too. Of course, his reaction probably would have been similar to Sybil’s father – defensiveness and denial.

While we both had numerous alter parts (she had 18; I had around a thousand, but most were fragments rather than personalities), our multiple systems were pretty different. Mine was seamless in switching while hers was jarring. (In fairness to the real Sybil, the director might have told the actress to be that obvious so the audience could follow along.)

Here is how seamless mine was: When I was in the process of integrating, I was typing a message on my favorite message board for abuse survivors about my plan for healing and how I was confident that this would work. When I proofread what I wrote (an occupational hazard for a professional writer), I found the words “me hope” sandwiched in between two sentences. I type 90 words per minute, and I have no memory of typing those words. However, they were there, which tells you how rapidly I had the ability to switch. Also, as I shared in this post, I am only aware of one person ever “catching me” switching.

Also, when I was co-present (when “I” – the host personality – was “out” along with another alter part), I had internal dialogue (would have “loud thoughts” that were not “mine”). I never had some freaky out loud conversation like what happened in the scene with Sybil kissing her boyfriend.

The point of being DID is to be seamless so nobody knows that you are protecting yourself. I find it hard to believe that Sybil would have been seamless in the way her character was portrayed in the movie.

Like Sybil, I had both male and female parts. I also had animal parts, which Sybil did not seem to have.

One more thing – I, and most people with DID that I have known, were born people-pleasers. That was not the impression that I got about Sybil. Sybil was very lonely for a friend. While I was lonely for somebody to “see me,” I did not have issues with making friends in adulthood, even with DID.

In my next post, I will contrast my healing method with the healing method used by Dr. Wilbur in the movie.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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