Archive for October, 2011

Happy Fourth Anniversary!


I just realized that I missed celebrating Blooming Lotus’s 4th anniversary! Blooming Lotus launched on October 2, 2007 with this blog entry. I cannot believe I have been blogging on healing from child abuse for over four years. It’s been a wonderful experience meeting numerous fellow child abuse survivors all over the world. Thanks for being a part of it! :0)

~ Faith

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A reader emailed me with concerns about false memory syndrome. This reader is in the same place that I was once and that many of you have been. When your repressed memories start pouring out through flashbacks, they seem unbelievable. You ask yourself if these horrible things could possibly be true because they seem so foreign to you. You don’t want them to be true, and you hope that they aren’t. However, they are so detailed and “warped” that you think that either they must be true or you are just plain “crazy.” At least, that’s what it was like for me.

This healing/flashback process is hard enough, but thanks to the propaganda in the 1990’s about false memory syndrome, many child abuse survivors worry that some unscrupulous person has implanted these memories into their heads. That’s even scarier than the flashbacks being true. You fear that there is something really “wrong” with you and lose the ability to trust yourself.

I am not saying that no unscrupulous therapist has ever implanted false memories into a patient. I cannot fathom why a therapist would do this, but I also cannot fathom why someone would abuse a child. I am not going to get into an unscrupulous therapist’s head. However, I do not buy into false memory syndrome being some sweeping, widespread issue as society was led to believe in the 1990’s. I believe that movement was a way to silence those of us who were recovering child abuse memories that certain members of society did not want recovered or believed.

I have had people email me accusing me of suffering from delusions implanted by a therapist. Here is my response to this ridiculous accusation:

    1. I did not enter into therapy until after I had already recovered numerous repressed memories, so nobody had access to my head to implant anything.
    2. My sister recovered many of the same memories even though we have never seen the same therapist.
    3. If these are all false memories, why is processing them resulting in my getting healthier emotionally instead of more unhealthy?

I also find the accusation of false memory syndrome to be insulting. I am not some weak-minded person who can be that easily manipulated by another person. I mean no offense to anyone who has fallen prey to false memory syndrome. My point is that I have a very strong will, and the thought of me allowing anyone else to implant that many memories into my head is simply ludicrous.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Marital Issues after Healing from Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

On this taboo on female abuse, I recurringly dont know whether to cry or to rage because I find it just so violating. This whole “male violence” BS is a BIG FAT LIE!! the reality is that abuse is done by people. and people happen to be male AND female. and I would like to very much shout it out into the world. and since I would like for it to be discussed a bit further I think I will send Faith an email and ask if she would like to adress it in a future post so we might also get her thoughts on this ~ carolin4real

I agree – There is unquestioningly a bias toward male abusers and against female abusers in the United States and, I suspect, in most other Western cultures. When I reveal to someone that I was abused as a child, the assumption is always that my abuser was male. There is also a bias toward female victims and against male victims, which is why males who were abused by female abusers appear to have the fewest healing resources available to them. It’s a travesty.

Carolin4real is correct that people abuse, not just men. In fact, my most sadistic and damaging abuse was at the hands of two females. S, my most sadistic abuser, was female and, I suspect, a female psychopath. Her cruelty was much worse than the cruelty inflicted upon me by my male abusers. Most of my male abusers raped me. When they were finished with the rape, they were finished with me. S was much more interested in breaking my will, forcing me to harm innocent animals and perform sexual acts on my sister. She is the one who threatened my sister’s life if I showed any sign of hesitation in following her orders, and she is the one who instilled phobias in both my sisters and me. She was pure evil – a psychopath.

My mother’s abuse was the most damaging because she was my mother. The person who was supposed to love me and who society said was the one person I could always count on was the same person who started sexually abusing me as a toddler, tied me to a chair and forced me to watch her sexually abuse my baby sister, and who repeatedly pulled me out of my bed at night to drive me to be abused by a group of male and female abusers.

My abuse was so evenly distributed among men and women that I don’t associate “abuser” with either gender. Part of my “group abuse” was having my abusers’ identities hidden through hooded robes so that I wouldn’t know which body part I was about to have to handle. To this day, I am triggered by the inability to determine a person’s gender because of this. (Let’s just say watching Cabaret was a bad idea!)

I don’t know why society continues to perpetuate the myth that only men abuse because it is simply not true. Here are some articles on the topic:

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Child in field (c) Lynda BernhardtIn yesterday’s blog entry entitled Processing Feelings toward Those Who were Unwitting Abusers, I talked about my feelings toward abusers who did not know that I was not consenting to the sexual contact. Today, I would like to focus on my conflicted feelings toward more subtle abuse enabling – toward the adults in my life who did not know I was being abused and, therefore, did not stop it. For this topic, I am going to use my grandparents (my father’s parents) as my example.

I have no question that my grandparents had no idea my mother was sexually abusing me, much less bringing me to “family friends” to be abused. I doubt that my grandparents could even wrap their minds around that level of abuse. I have chosen not to share this information with my 90-year-old grandmother because that information would probably kill her.

While my grandparents did not know about the abuse, they had to have known that my mother was not completely sane. The same applies to anyone who had regular interactions with my mother, including my father, other relatives, and people at church. Here are some reactions that family friends who were not part of the abuse had about my mother:

She looks like she knows exactly what she is doing. She just doesn’t know where she it.

Did she do too many drugs in the ‘60’s?

Does this sound like the kind of woman that should be left alone with young children all day? I know — it always gets back to “it’s none of my business” or “it’s not my place.” I always tell people my abuse continued without a break for a decade because of those attitudes by “good” people.

I truly do not believe that any of these people suspected abuse. Nevertheless, parts of me do blame them for not stopping the abuse. My mother was abusive and crazy, and my father was enabling and absent. My grandparents were the only other adult relatives who were actively involved in my life at the height of the abuse, and parts of me resent them for not stopping it.

I still have not fully worked through those feelings. My grandfather is deceased, and my grandmother is very old and suffering physically as her body falls apart. Although I know I should make more of an effort to write to her (she lives in another state), call her, and travel to visit her more frequently, I don’t. It’s because of my anger – Where the hell was she when my abuse was going on? She wasn’t there for me, so I am not going to prioritize being there for her.

I confess that’s an ugly way to look at her, and I am not proud of this attitude, but I am being completely honest here. I have reached a place of accepting that this is a part of who I am, and I need to honor, not squash, those feelings from childhood. That doesn’t mean that I need to be cruel to her (I know that she is safe living with my aunt), but I am also not going to force myself to be this loving, involved grandchild when she was not there for me.

I go through periods of introspection wondering if I will regret not making more of an effort in her last days. I don’t think I will. I have no lingering feelings of guilt about my grandfather, and the same dynamic applied with him. Any reaching out would come from a place of duty, not love, and that feeling of duty simply is not there beyond making the trip to my hometown every couple of years to see her for an hour or two. The abused child in me believes she failed in her duty to protect me and, therefore, feels no duty to step up now.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Strong Trigger Reaction to Visiting a College Campus, a reader wrote the following question:

You saying about the group of boys who thought you were consenting made me think: how do you feel about people/incidents where you were abused unintentionally? For example I used to frequently be ‘starved’ by people who had been told I felt too Ill to eat, when they didn’t feed me they were contributing to me being abused however they were trying to be kind. And times where an abuser scared me beyond how a child should “normally” feel but without trying to, my fear being based on previous expereinces or expectations. For me a major part of healing is working out how I feel and relate to people or experiences but this is something I really struggle with. I am only now understanding how I feel about people who trigger me by accident, but that has taken a long time, do you ever feel any anger about that? ~Sophie

I touched upon this topic is the blog entry Many Facets of Teen Rape, where I discussed Jodi Picoult’s book, The Tenth Circle. I wrote that blog entry while I was still reading the book. My conclusion after finishing the book is that the boy experienced the intercourse as sex while the girl experienced the intercourse as rape. From a legal perspective, I would not convict the boy of rape because there was no intent. However, unquestionably the girl experienced the sexual contact as a rape victim and needs to work through all of the same emotions that any of us rape survivors do.

The same dynamic applies to my “gang rape” situation in college. I am using quotes because I do not believe that any of the boys who participated (other than the one who intentionally triggered me) had any idea that I was an unwilling participant. A traumatized, compliant child alter part was triggered and gave no indication to those boys that I was being traumatized by their actions. I would not convict them in a court of law. While I do not morally agree with a string of boys receiving oral sex from a consenting woman, that’s not a crime.

Now let’s get to my reaction to the same event – It was an extremely traumatizing night for me, so much so that 25 years later, I almost passed out on a military parade ground by being triggered by college boys in military dress. Until reading Jodi Picoult’s book, I did not appreciate that I could be traumatized this badly by people who had no intention of traumatizing me. I suspect this is one reason why my therapist advises me to stay out of my abusers’ heads – He doesn’t want me to cheat myself out of necessary healing based upon the motivation of the abuser.

Like Sophie, there were people in my life who contributed to the abuse in more subtle ways without even knowing that I was being abused. My father falls under this umbrella in many ways, and it has been hard work sorting through my conflicting feelings of seeing him both as my “savior” and “abuse enabler.” I also feel conflict toward my grandparents (my father’s parents) for not stopping the abuse, which I will cover in tomorrow’s blog entry.

Image credit: Amazon.com

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Pond in Clearing (c) Lynda BernhardtAs I shared here and here, I mutually ended a nine-year dysfunctional friendship in August and have been grieving it to varying degrees ever since. This was the first friendship where I really allowed myself to be vulnerable. She saw the “real me” before anyone else did. She was my rock during my therapy years, patiently listening and supporting me as a worked through the painful healing process.

She is also the same person who encouraged the more damaged part of myself. She tried to convince me that the binge eating was a “normal snack.” She encouraged feeling resentment toward my husband and child. Our commonality was our pain, but I healed much of mine while she is still mired in her muck. My life view is that I can transform and step back into a life not defined by my past. Her life view is that she needs to control her surroundings so that nobody can hurt her again. What once worked beautifully now stifled me and stymied her… and now, it’s over.

On her end, the friendship could only continue on her terms. That meant that she was not only “in charge” but “in control.” I no longer wanted someone else “in control” of me, especially when that control continued to drive me back to the dark places. I have not worked this hard to stay “dark.”

I really liked Ruby’s comment on this blog entry:

I am kind by nature, but can be a doormat by training. My one question that help me decide whether to reach out or stay quiet is “Am I acting out of love or fear.” If I’m afraid of their response…I stay quiet and let it happen. ~ Ruby

Yes, that was our dynamic. So much of what I said or didn’t say was out of fear of p#$$ing her off, not love. There wasn’t room to be me because I was constantly gauging her reaction. That was unhealthy for me and had to end.

Just because a decision is good and “right” for me doesn’t make it easy, though. I was angry at her betrayal for a long time, and that helped propel me through the grief. I have let go of the anger, and that leaves behind the sadness. Don’t get me wrong – I have wonderful friends and have more social opportunities than I have time to accept. It’s not that.

I grieve the loss of all of the good things she brought – her intimate knowledge of my history (and mine of hers), her unwavering support of me no matter what (as long as my view aligned with hers), TV shows she introduced me to, our intellectual conversations, her sense of humor, etc. She loves the holidays and would do lots of holiday-related things with me. I don’t like the holiday, and she is the one who brought the “holiday spirit” that my son loves so much. I think the approach of Halloween (we used to take our children trick-or-treating together) is triggering some of this grief.

I don’t want the friendship back because I know it is unhealthy for me. However, I still miss the good parts.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man under Palm Trees (c) Lynda BernhardtMy father-in-law took my son and me for a visit to his college alma mater at a military school. We watched the military parade, ate lunch in the mess hall, and then watched a football game. I had a great time other than experiencing a strong trigger reaction during the military parade. The trigger tied into two traumatic events from college, both of which I wrote about in this blog entry.

The first memory had to do with a gang rape of sorts, although in fairness to the perps, I probably appeared to be consenting. What I did not share before was that this was a party attended by many men in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp). So, visiting a military campus, where all of the men were in ROTC and in uniform, was the first trigger.

The second trigger was the smell of a man’s cologne. It was the same cologne that my ex-boyfriend used to wear – the same ex-boyfriend I wrote about in that blog entry who raped me in his dorm room at a different college.

So, we were standing around the parade grounds with hundreds of other people watching the ROTC parade with the smell of that man’s cologne hitting me. I couldn’t get away – it was very crowded, and I was there with my kid and father-in-law, which was chatting with a fellow alum and his wife as other people pressed in around us to watch the parade.

I got lightheaded. I told myself I couldn’t leave, which moved me into feeling dizzy and then the blood draining out of my head. I dropped to my knees to try to stop myself from fainting.

At this point, my father-in-law noticed that something was wrong and directed me to a nearby bench that I had not noticed before. With deep breaths of air not smelling like my rapist’s cologne, the dizziness/lightheadedness went away, and I felt more like myself again.

After the parade, we took my son to the gift shop, which is where all of those other people went as well. It was hot and crowded, and I had to wait in line for 20+ minutes with wall-to-wall bodies. That didn’t bother me a bit – no lightheadedness at all.

It has been a long time since I was hit that hard with a trigger. I am used to the “floaty,” lightheaded feeling, but I don’t recall feeling ready to faint. Of course, I used to dissociate with regularity, so I probably was unaware of how hard a trigger would hit me. I guess I should celebrate that I was able to stay present through it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Rainbow (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

… however much I accept they [self-injury compulsions] are a byproduct it doesn’t make them easier to cope with them and eventually the MUST be eliminated…….for my survival………and I only know one way to do that. How do I change this? What do people do to stop themselves? I hate myself for being so weak. ~ Sam

Compulsions are normal aftereffects of child abuse, and masturbation through self-injury is a normal aftereffect for people who have been severely sexually abused. Many people find my blog believing that they are the only one who struggles with masturbation through self-injury, but that one blog entry has over 150 comments, all of them related to trying to heal from this. You are not alone.

While I do not have personal experience with healing from this form of compulsion, I do have experience with self-injury (head-banging) and binge eating. My compulsion to binge eat was my most deeply-ingrained compulsion, which is why I am going to use it as my example in this blog entry. Don’t get caught up in the form of the compulsion. What worked for me with binge eating can also work for you, no matter what form of compulsion you are dealing with.

Step one is to stop feeding the shame. This was my cycle, which applies to any type of compulsion. I would binge eat. I would then feel guilty and shameful about binge eating, telling myself I was a fat cow and a terrible person for eating so much food. This would heap new shame on top of the old shame, and the only way I knew to get some relief from the shame was to binge eat again, which I would do, which fueled more shame, which led to more bingeing. It was a never-ending cycle that I repeated just about daily since I was age 11.

Step two was to give myself permission to binge eat. Let’s face it – I was going to do it, anyhow, so I was only acknowledging my reality. I would binge eat with no guilt. This took a little wind out of my sails because I was no longer heaping new levels of shame onto the “old” shame.

Step three was to explore other avenues to deal with the shame. I tried things like yoga, meditation, exercise, watching a comedy on TV, calling a friend, and writing in a journal. What works for me might not work for you, but explore other ways to manage the shame. Do this parallel with the compulsion.

Step four is to give yourself a cooling off period. When you feel the compulsion, give yourself permission to do it in 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, try the other strategies you have explored. If you still feel the compulsion after 15 minutes, do it with no guilt. I found that I only gave in to binge eating about half the time after a 15-minute cooling off period, and I built confidence that binge eating was not the only way to self-soothe.

Step five is the most important – focus on healing the pain that is driving the shame that is driving the compulsion. Get into therapy if you aren’t already. Work through the Survivor to Thriver Manual or another healing book. Talk or write about your history. As you heal the pain, you will feel less compulsion to engage in the activity you want to break.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. My healing from binge eating has been so gradual that I only recently recognized that I haven’t had a true “binge” in months! I will still emotionally overeat sometimes, but my weight has dropped by 15 lbs without dieting over the last couple of years, and it otherwise stays stable. I used to go up and down by 30 lbs a year. Healing a compulsion is possible. I know because I am doing it!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketOn Tuesday, I wrote about the four different options couples have when a spouse’s needs are not being met: Four Options for Unmet Needs in Marriage. Yesterday, I built on that topic by talking about needs and compromise in marriage. Today, I will finally get to the difference between asserting your needs and trying to change your spouse.

As I have already shared, I entered into marriage not knowing that I had needs, much less what they were, so hub and I built a marriage modeled after his own parents’ marriage with some tweaking to meet hub’s needs. I am not blaming hub for this – I was the one who had no idea that I had needs and just went along with whatever hub proposed.

That being said, were a few areas over the years where I did identify needs and did what I had to do to meet them. A big one was adopting a child. Hub and I had agreed we wanted children, but after we learned we were infertile and spent thousands of dollars on infertility treatments to no avail, hub would have been OK staying childfree. That wasn’t an option for me, so hub agreed to adopt a baby with me.

Another area was my need to work. Both my mother and hub’s mother modeled that moms don’t work outside the home, but that arrangement did not work for me. I needed the validation of hearing I was doing a good job, which I get from bosses but not from family. I also needed to have “my” money that I did not have argue with hub about. Hub wants to save every dime, and I want to travel with my son (hub doesn’t like to travel). I found a flexible part-time job working as an online college instructor, which provided me with the validation and money I needed that did not affect hub’s savings account.

Both of those areas were huge deals to me, so I was willing to fight the status quo to make them happen. Throughout most of our marriage, I was passive and didn’t assert my needs. However, as I have grown and healed, I am becoming more aware of my unmet needs, and I need to meet them. That’s where my current marital situation comes in, and, as I have previously shared, hub is making an effort.

I can understand why child abuse survivors are averse to the thought of “trying to change” a spouse because they had abusers trying to “change” them as children. I don’t see asserting my own needs as trying to “change” hub. I am saying, “This isn’t working for me,” and we need to figure out a way to meet those needs as a couple. As Shen shared and I built upon here, there are four ways to do this.

I think it helps to address one unmet need at a time versus the entire marriage, and you have to look at the marriage as a whole rather than at only one area. Is the marriage working more than it’s not? It’s easy to lose sight of what is going well when you are fixated on a particularly difficult unmet need. The goal is not to “change” your spouse – the goal is to work together as a couple to figure out how to meet the needs of both spouses.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketYesterday, I wrote about the four different options couples have when a spouse’s needs are not being met: Four Options for Unmet Needs in Marriage. Today I am going to focus on needs and compromise in marriage. Finally, in tomorrow’s blog entry, I’ll get to the difference between asserting your needs and trying to change your spouse.

As abused children, we were taught that our needs didn’t matter. If you were like me and did not go through the healing process before marriage, you likely brought this dynamic into your marriage. At age 23, it never even occurred to me to think about what needs I had, much less express them to my spouse. Fast-forward roughly 20 years and post-therapy … I now know that I have needs and am in the process of learning how to identify what they are. It shouldn’t come as a complete shock that, in a marriage where I never expressed any needs, many of those needs are not currently being met.

From what I have observed with couples who grew up in healthy homes (believe it or not, a few of those actually do exist!), couples begin a marriage asserting their needs and reaching compromises. For example, a friend was working full-time when she married her husband, who was also working full-time. She was clear from the beginning that she was not going to be responsible for cleaning the house, so he could either do it himself, or they could pay a maid to do it. As a couple, they decided to hire a maid.

This couple also agreed from the beginning that they were each in charge of cleaning their own cars. He wanted to save money, so he would wash his own car. She did not want to spend her time washing a car, so she would drive to the car wash while her husband was washing his car and return with a clean car before he was finished. It was a joke between them – he saved the money, and she saved the time. Neither tried to change the other – they were clear about their needs and compromised on ways to meet those needs as best they could.

This process did not happen in my marriage because, quite frankly, I did not know it was supposed to, nor did I have an inkling of what my needs were. At the time I married, I needed hub to keep me safe physically and financially from my abusive mother, and I needed him to want me. (I had a hard time believing that anyone would.) That was pretty much it.

Meanwhile, hub assumed that all marriages aligned duties in the way that his parents’ marriage did, so that’s what we did. His mother cooked, so I cooked (even though I had to learn how). His father worked full-time while his mother was a stay-at-home mom, so that’s what we did. Hub did appear to change a few things around from what his parents did to meet his own needs, but that’s pretty much how our marriage came to divvy up the family responsibilities.

I have gone on too long again. More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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