Archive for April, 2009

On my blog entry entitled Aftereffects of Childhood Abuse: Picking, a reader posted the following comment:

Do you think picking can be a verbal thing also? I remember being told by my parents and ex partners that I would often “pick” at them. Psychologically pick things apart that were most times relatively minor things. And “pick” is the exact word that was used too! What do you think? ~ Mia

I have been thinking about Mia’s question, and I am not sure of the answer. I tend to see this form of “picking” as different from picking at your own body. I don’t think it is about “picking” to relieve tension. Instead, I suspect that it is about testing boundaries and how solid a relationship is. I see “picking things apart” as different from “picking at” a person, so I will deal with one at a time.

Picking Things Apart

I see “picking things apart” as trying to understand how a relationship works. As abused children, we tried to figure out how to avoid being abused. We thought that if we good enough, smart enough, or [fill in the blank] enough, then we could avoid being abused. We thought that we always missed the mark, which made us responsible for the abuse.

So, we “pick things apart” to understand the dynamics of the relationship. We want to understand how X led to Y so we can either bring about the same result or avoid the result, as the case may be. It makes perfect sense for a child abuse survivor to pick apart a relationship to this level of detail, but it can be unsettling for a person who does not understand the need to do this.

Picking at a Person

Then, there is “picking at” a person, which is different. In this case, we needle another person to get a rise out of him or her. I can think of a couple of reasons why we might do this.

The tension of knowing that abuse is coming can be just as bad as the abuse itself. Abused children will sometimes “pick at” the abuser just to get the incident over with. I hear this from adoptive parents who are parenting traumatized children. The kids will go out of their way to annoy the parents. The reason is because they expect abuse to come, and they want to get it over with. It takes a long time for traumatized children to realize that their adoptive parents are different from their abusive birth parents.

We might also “pick at” a person to test the boundaries. The person says that he loves you, but you cannot trust it. So, you test the boundaries to see if he really will continue to love you, even when you do X, Y, or Z.

I do believe that psychological “picking” is a normal aftereffect of child abuse. It is just one more area of our lives that we need to heal.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt


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On my blog entry entitled Full Moon & Easter – What a Combination!, a reader posted the following comment:

At the same time, I’ve been feeling really physically ill. I saw a commercial for Easter products on tv and I blurted out to my husband, “I can’t wait for Easter to be over.” I was starting to wonder if it’s possible for the physical illness to be a strategy on the part of one of my parts…maybe to keep me from running away during a holiday season as I have in the past. ~ MarjakaThriver

Yes, I have definitely found that there is a tie between my emotional distress and becoming physically ill. I stayed very healthy all winter. I was able to shake off two or three viruses in just 1-2 days by getting lots of rest and taking lots of Airborne. Then, my mother/abuser started contacting me, and I got very sick. No matter how much sleep I got or how much Airborne I took, I just got sicker.

I don’t think this is coincidental. As long as I was sick, I gave myself permission not to deal with my mother’s latest contact. My therapist called to say that we needed to think through what to say to her if she calls me again, but I did not return his call because I was too sick. As long as I was sick, I had an excuse to avoid facing this very distressing decision. I think that being sick was an emotional relief, even though it was terrible physically.

Even after my body kicked the virus, my sinuses remained stuffy and painful. However, I never developed a sinus infection, so I have no explanation other than that I was making myself continue to stay sick to avoid dealing with my mother/abuser.

According to the book Compassion & Self-Hate, physical illness can be a manifestation of self-hate. I believe that this is true, too. I used to joke that I was allergic to the first day of a new job because I had a long history of being very sick for the first day of work. More than once, I had bronchitis. Another time, it was a stomach virus. It’s too coincidental for me just to happen to get very ill for the first day of work multiple times.

I think this was self-hate at work. I would put myself in the terrible position of having to go into work deathly ill or call in sick on the first day. It was a nightmare.

I wish I knew how to fix the problem. Learning to love myself more helped with avoiding sickness for the first day of a new job. However, I am clearly susceptible to getting sick when I am feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

Related Topics:

Blog entries about illness

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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******* Religious triggers ********

I have not really talked about spiritual abuse on this blog. However, after reading Blue Orchid’s comment on this blog entry, I realized that there are probably many more of us out there who suffered from spiritual or religious abuse, so we need to talk about this topic.

What exactly is spiritual or religious abuse? To put it colloquially, it is a religious mind-f@#$. An abuser tells a child all sorts of disturbing things about God that traumatizes the child. Blue Orchid’s comment provides some examples. Even worse, an abuser might use religious figures as part of other types of abuse, such as dressing up like Jesus and then raping a child. The end result is that the child’s view of religion becomes distorted, causing a barrier to using faith to help the spiritual abuse survivor heal from the abuse.

My mother abused me in many ways spiritually. For example, she locked my sister and me in her bedroom and “laid her hands” on us to “fill us with the Holy Spirit.” She would know that we “received the Spirit” when we began talking in tongues. My younger sister figured out quickly how to get around this and started babbling and smiling. She was released from the room. I was locked in the room for hours, sobbing because I saw this as evidence that even God had rejected me. I was only 9.

My mother refused to take me to a doctor and nurture me in any way when I was sick. One time, my aunt brought me home early from a sleepover at her house because I had an “out of both ends” virus. My mother refused to take care of me in any way and instead said, “She is not sick,” because she was calling things that “be not as though they were.” As long as she said I was not sick, I would be miraculously healed. My aunt was aghast and told my mother to come take a look at the fluids all over her car. Meanwhile, I took care of myself. I was only around 9 or 10.

My father (the “good” parent) was an atheist, so my mother/abuser was the one who took me to church. I believed that I would burn in hell if I did not believe in her version of God. Whenever I could not find my mother, I panicked that she had been “raptured” and that I was not good enough to be “raptured” myself. I believed that my mother’s auditory voices of God (she is schizophrenic) were evidence of her closeness with Him and knowledge of Him while I was not good enough to be close with God.

I was sixteen when my father died and my mother started sexually abusing me again. I walked away from religion at this point in my life. I wanted nothing to do with my mother’s version of God. It took me over a decade to discover who God really is. Before I could embrace a faith of my own, I had to recognize that my mother spiritually abused me and that all of the nonsense that she told me about God was a load of crap. This process took a long time.

If you suffered from spiritual or religious abuse, you are not alone. It is actually much more common than you might realize.

Related Topic:

Blue Orchid’s Blog

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled In the Spotlight: Nancy Richard’s Heal and Forgive Blog, a reader posted the following comment:

How about forgiving yourself:

Forgive yourself for being young, vulnerable, unable to live up to the impossible standards your abusers placed on you. Forgive yourself for being needy, forgive yourself for having your own thoughts and opinions, forgive yourself for being alive…

I know for myself, and I think for many other survivors, the main blame is placed on our own self.

So my goal in recovery has been to forgive myself. To give myself grace. To accept all of my selves, accept that I am human, and make mistakes and to cherish myself regardless. I think for me, that has been a huge key to my recovery… to standing up for myself, to feeling that I deserve life.

Forgiving myself is much more important than forgiving them. I don’t see them seeking forgiveness, but I do see myself needing that validation. ~ Cera

I think there is so much wisdom in the comment. I abridged it for sake of space, but you can read the entire comment here.

I agree that forgiving myself has been one of the most difficult parts of my healing journey. I find myself having to forgive myself for things that I would never expect of another person. I have to forgive myself for being human … for having needs … for not being perfect . I don’t begrudge my eight-year-old child for needing his mother, but I begrudge myself for having needs that went unmet when I was eight (and much younger).

I see my eight-year-old child as an innocent little kid. I view myself at eight as being an adult and beat myself up for not making adult choices at that age. I have a very hard time reconciling what an eight year old is like with what I expected of myself at age eight.

When my son makes mistakes, I see it as a learning experience. When he does something the wrong way, he learns why it was wrong and then makes a better choice the next time. When I make a mistake, I believe I don’t even deserve to live. I am a stupid, worthless person who should feel grateful that anyone even endures my presence on this earth. There is such a disconnect between how I feel toward my son and how I feel toward myself. Part of that is the distortion from my abusers, and part of that is a lack of self-love.

I will do just about anything for my child, but I deprive myself of the simple pleasures of life. I want my child to embrace life fully, but I fill my own life up with duties and responsibilities so there is no room or time for joy. In many ways, I am continuing to “punish” myself for being me. I think that forgiving myself is the way out of this cycle.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Got Another Letter from my Mother/Abuser, a reader posted the following comment:

I would like to offer my unsolicited view. Through this blog I’ve grown to care about you a great deal and respect you and your work. So, while I don’t know the whole story, only you know that… from the information you’ve provided, it appears that you are still in a position where you are being held responsible for your mother’s well being. It is so not fair to you.

Is it possible to have your therapist call mom/abuser’s counselor and communicate to the counselor that it would be healthier for both of you if your mom/abuser is advised to back off and that there are very good reasons. Not only for your benefit, but for your mother’s as well…? I just don’t think it’s healthy or just for you to have to carry all this on your own. Maybe the two of them could set up communications and then HER counselor could be taking on the responsibility of your mother not you. People use mediation all the time when they disagree and I think this is no different. This way you will be covered no matter what happens it is NOT your responsibility. It will fall squarely on the person who is responsible for your mom/abuser’s mental health. What do you think? ~ Mia

Mia’s suggestion is only one of many that I have received. I responded by getting really sick so I didn’t have to deal with it. :0)

At this point, I am still not sure what to do. My therapist initially said to ignore her. However, after contact #3, he left a message saying that we needed to think about what I would say to her if/when she calls again. I have not returned his message. My family is going out to town for Spring Break, and I am checking the Caller ID before answering the phone, so I guess I am just postponing dealing with this issue.

One friend suggested that I have my therapist call my mother’s counselor and say that it is detrimental to my emotional health for my mother/abuser to keep contacting me. Another friend suggested that I write her back and tell her that I have forgiven her for the things she wrote in the letter. That way, she can show her counselor that she resolved the issue and will, hopefully, then leave me alone.

A part of me wants to confront her if she calls. I have told her multiple times to back off. If she continues to push it, then she gets what is coming. Maybe I could say something like, “Until you are ready to take responsibility for all of the child abuse I suffered, we have nothing to talk about,” and then hang up. She can take that comment multiple ways. She can own up to what she did to me personally, or she can own up to one of the numerous people she allowed to hurt me.

For right now, I’ll be getting out of town, and she does not have my cell phone number, so I should at least be able to buy another week of not having to deal with her.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Yearning for a Mother after Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

For me, this is possibly the most painful repercussion of what I experienced growing up. For much of my life I have felt deep shame over this longing for a mother, and it has caused me a great deal of agony in relationships with older women around me.

It is so affirming to hear the voices of other women who are “in the middle” of this experience and feeling the same thing. It makes me feel more normal, less alone. I wonder if there are other voices of women who maybe have found different measures of healing of this gaping hole in their hearts? Does it happen? Is it possible? And probably all of us have stories of parts of this place in us that have experienced healing. I’d really like to hear about that. ~ Blueorchid8

I have found that the loss of a mother-daughter relationship is a loss to be grieved, just like any other loss. Sometimes, like when I wrote that blog entry, I feel the pain from the hole left in my heart in never connecting with my mother. Most of the time, though, I don’t feel (or notice?) the pain.

I have had to grieve multiple losses in my life, and the process of grieving those losses is always the same. I must face the reality of the loss and allow myself to experience the depth of the pain from that loss. After this, I adjust to the reality of my life without whatever it is that I am missing, whether that loss is a pregnancy, a deceased loved one, or the loss of a mother-daughter relationship. The grieving process brings you to a place where you sometimes feel the loss, but it becomes more of a wistful longing than a sharp pain.

I have found ways to meet some of my needs through friendships. For example, when I was sick last week, a friend invited me over so my kid could play with hers, and she made me some hot chocolate with mini marshmallows in it. It was just a small gesture, but it was just the kind of nurturing that I needed. I did not need a mother or older woman to do this for me. This small act of kindness met a need, and I did not once long for a mother the entire time that I was sick.

There are other areas of my life in which I must make do for myself as if I were an orphan, and that just plain stinks. It generally does not hurt, though. Instead, it makes me angry and frustrated with my life at times. I try to remember that I will not always feel so frustrated and that those feelings will pass. I have varying levels of success with that thought process.

Have any of you found ways to fill this hole in your heart?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt

On my blog entry entitled Recovery from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a reader posted the following comment:

My X has DID. We were together for many years. I still love them very much. I think I made it worst simply by not understanding or by thinking I understood. It was hard for both of us. Are you finding it possible to be in intimate relationships? Any relationship advice for partners of people with DID? Or for people with DID? ~ Partner

The short answer to the question of whether intimate relationships are possible for people with DID is yes. However, it takes a lot of work and a willingness to heal. As long as a person with DID chooses to stay in “sentry” mode, never integrating and/or learning how to love and accept himself, an intimate relationship is going to be a real challenge.

I am defining an intimate relationship as one in which there is a deep emotional and relational connection. This can happen in a friendship or in a sexual relationship. My comments can be applied to both situations.

The problem with developing an intimate relationship with someone with DID is that the self/spirit is fragmented. Many people mistakenly believe that the host personality is the “real” person and that the alter parts are superfluous parts that get in the way of an intimate relationship with the host. This could not be farther from the truth. Each and every part – the good, bad, mean, angry, sad, animal, vegetable, mineral part – are all parts of one spirit. When you reject one part, you are rejecting that person, and intimacy is not going to be possible.

My host personality was just a teeny-tiny sliver of who I was. I did not fully appreciate this until I integrated my host personality into my core. Trying to have an intimate relationship with that teeny-tiny part of myself was going to accomplish nothing. I was so much more than this one part of myself.

People with DID who choose not to integrate might disagree with me, but my experience has been that I did not have the capacity to have an intimate relationship with another person until after integrating many of my alter parts, including the host personality, into a core. It is this core of myself that is capable of having an intimate relationship with another person.

I only have an emotionally intimate relationship with three people (all friends), and only one of them runs fairly deep. I was only capable of having this level of intimacy after integration. Hub and I do not have an emotionally intimate relationship, even though we are married and have sex, because he is not willing/able to “see” me. I don’t think the issue is the sex – it is his lack of willingness to connect with me.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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