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Archive for November 12th, 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 six to twelve:

  • Competence
  • Intellectual and social skills
  • Experimenting with ways of doing things

Children who are abused between age six and twelve experience isolation, which wreaks havoc on their ability to develop social skills. I had no clue about how to interact socially during this time in my life. It’s not like I could go up to another kid and say, “I was taken from my bed at the full moon, assaulted by a bunch of people in black robes, and fear for my sister’s life. So, how was your weekend?”

I was fortunate to have a group of girls take me under their wing. I was the shy and quiet friend who just went along with everything. My family moved away when I was 11, which got me away from the cult but also cost me my friends. It took me years to learn how to make a friend after that move.

The authors identify the following resulting internalized messages:

  • I can’t think/act for myself.
  • I’m stupid/wrong.
  • If I fail it’s my fault.
  • I’m a bad person.
  • I must try to look right.

Yes, I definitely internalized all of those messages. Even though I was objectively smart (graduated in the top 10 of my high school class of over 300 students, earned an academic scholarship for college, and earned a degree from a Top Ten graduate school), I was convinced that I was “stupid.” Even my intelligence was a “bad” thing.

I spent most of my life mirroring what other people did to get them to like me. I still do it today, although not consciously. I have picked up some of my newer friend’s mannerisms, but I only recently became aware of this in myself.

I have worked very hard to overcome these messages, and I have been much more successful in doing so than with the unmet needs from age three to six. I have learned to trust my intuition, which has given me the courage to think and act for myself. I have used positive mantras to undo many of these internal messages. I also consciously chose to stop thinking negative thoughts about myself, such as “I’m a bad person.”

Analyzing my own unmet needs for this series has been enlightening. I suffered from ritual abuse from ages six through eleven, so I would have guessed that those lost stages of development would have more of an impact than from age three to six, which was mostly the mother-daughter sexual abuse. I am surprised to learn that I am still most affected by my unmet needs from my younger years. I guess it is not a matter of how much I was impacted but which unmet needs I have succeeded in healing versus the ones that I have not.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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