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Archive for November 10th, 2008

I am working through a series on unmet needs. The series begins here. I am using the book Beyond Integration: One Multiple’s Journey (Norton Professional Books) by Doris Bryant and Judy Kessler as a guide because the authors did a wonderful job in identifying the unmet needs that result from abuse during each stage of development. All identified unmet needs and reactions of child abuse survivors are from Chapter Four: Lost Developmental Stages.

Authors Bryant and Kessler identified the following three needs for children from ages one to three:

  • Autonomy
  • Personal control of body
  • Doing things “on your own”

Children who are abused from ages one to three do not get the opportunity to develop autonomy. They exist to meet the needs of their abusers. They are not encouraged to develop their individuality.

Children who are abused at this age learn that they do not have personal control of their bodies, which causes the child not to learn how to develop appropriate boundaries. They are taught that they do not control what is done to their bodies.

This results in the child experiencing shame, helplessness, anxiety, and overcompliance or hyperactivity. In my case, I became overcompliant. I was not aware that saying no was even an option. I was in my mid-thirties before I learned that I had the right to say no.

The authors identify the following resulting internalized messages:

  • I I can’t do it/I have to.
  • I feel out of control.
  • I am bad.
  • I won’t feel.

Those who develop dissociative identity disorder (DID) during this stage of development do so to contain or compartmentalize their conflicting emotions. Because they cannot control what their bodies do or explore how to feel, they opt for feeling nothing. They observe others to learn how to behave. They shut off their needs and feel out of control if they feel need.

I continue to struggle with these issues. I have found that learning how to set and enforce boundaries has been immensely helpful. I used mantras to help me feel better about myself.

Learning how to feel is a continual process for me. I try to stay present and focus upon the good sensations in life, such as how good it feels when my son plays with my hair. If I don’t allow myself to feel, then I am much more likely to self-injure or binge eat. It took a lot of courage to risk feeling, especially since most of what I felt in the beginning was painful.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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