Archive for the ‘Talking about Abuse’ Category

On my blog entry entitled Worrying about Reactions to Your Child Abuse Story, a reader posted the following comment:

But my question is, how do tell [my therapist] about each memory so she can help me work through them? I am always trying to hide everything from her, knowing she will eventually find out after a crisis intervention. Mostly because I don’t want anyone including her to have a glimps of what I went through. Why should others suffer because I did? I don’t want to frighten her away, even though she has proved time and time again that she is not going anywhere. Am I just fearful of losing the most trustful person in my life? I know I need to work on memory work, but it’s all so painful. I am not questioning her abilities, she even gets consultatiion to help her help me. Why am I so afraid to tell her? I don’t want her to have to keep putting out fires. I want her help and I know she can. I just dont understand why I am reluctant in telling her the full truth. I have been fighting with her somewhat. Do you think she will stop her work with me and pass me off to someone else? Will she think I am trying to push her away? Or do you think she is understanding enough to stick around? ~Karina

Karina’s post reminds me of my husband’s reaction to the idea of transferring our son to a private school that specializes in learning disabilities. We had already tried so many ways to help our son be successful in school, including fighting for an individualized education plan (IEP), getting him tutoring, and being ultra-involved in his school and homework, all to no avail. Transferring our son to this expensive private school was our last hope. In a rare show of emotion, my husband asked, “What’s left if this doesn’t work? We are out of options.”

Karina says that her T has helped her repeatedly and continues to reassure her that she is committed to her, and yet Karina is fearful. I suspect that part of this dynamic is the same as my husband’s, which is the fear of losing all hope. As long as there is something left to try, all is not lost. However, when we commit to the last resort and it doesn’t work, all hope is gone, and then what’s the point of even trying anymore? As abused children, we would rather believe the abuse was our fault, which makes it something we can control, than to sink into complete despair.

My son’s new school was a huge blessing. It’s specialization made it the perfect fit, and my failing student started bringing homes A’s and B’s. Even more importantly, he rediscovered his love for learning. He just needed the right fit for his learning style.

It sounds like Karina has found the right fit as well – a T who is in invested in and committed to her. Her T also sounds fearless, never shying away no matter what new information is uncovered.

I reached a place in my healing process where I had to choose to trust, and that was not easy for me. It was actually one of the most difficult parts of my healing process because my heart had been broken so many times in my life, and I did not think I could survive one more heartbreak. However, unless I mustered up the courage to risk trust, I knew I would never heal. So, I bit the bullet and threw everything I had in taking that risk.

This was not easy for me. I spent the entire morning in the bathroom with diarrhea and fighting off vomiting. I was lightheaded and dizzy, and my heart kept racing like I was about to be thrown off a cliff. No matter how much I fought myself, I forced myself to open up. When I did (and it was well-received), I felt the ice breaking all around my heart and opened myself up to a truly emotionally-intimate relationship. This can be your experience as well, but you have to find the courage to take the risk.

Image credit: Hekatekris

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PhotobucketOne of my challenges in my early years of healing was feeling the need to take care of others while they were trying to take care of me. As an example, I might have just recovered a traumatizing memory involving being forced to kill an animal. I needed to talk about what happened as well as how it made me feel. However, I wasn’t always sure that the other person could handle hearing about it.

So, instead of just letting loose and unloading what I needed to share, I would dole out the information in pieces and gauge the other person’s reaction. I might begin with, “When I was seven, I was forced to do something.” I’d gauge the other person’s reaction before continuing. I would then share a little more and see if the person could handle the direction I was going.

I had one friend who could handle hearing about most of my stuff, but she is a huge dog lover, so she stopped me as soon as I said the word “dog.” She was direct about it, but not every friend would be. I wouldn’t know until I said one thing too many and saw in the reaction on the other person’s face that I had gone too far in my disclosure. I would then feel the need to shift gears to comfort the other person.

The worst part was that I was already feeling so much shame and self-loathing over what I had remembered. Seeing a strong reaction on the other person’s face would sometimes reinforce that shame, even if the other person said the “right” things. I am an expert in “reading” other people, so the body language would overshadow the words.

My therapist was the one person who never flinched face-to-face no matter how gruesome my story was. I also felt completely free to share all in the My Stories forum on isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. I would put up a trigger warning, and anyone who read my story knew to expect a graphic recounting of what happened. I didn’t do that to shock anyone – I simply felt the need to pour out what happened in graphic detail. Once it was out on the screen, it felt like I had poured the memory out of my spirit.

This is one reason that finding a qualified therapist with experience working with child abuse survivors can be so helpful. If you are only talking with your friends about what happened, you might find yourself unable to let go and share all when you feel the need to do so. I have told my friends that as difficult as it is for them to hear about my story as an adult, I assure them that it was much harder to survive as a child.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Sukoon’s comment on this blog entry inspired this post. Sukoon talked about feeling guilty for burdening family members with knowledge of the abuse. This is a common struggle for child abuse survivors.

Here’s the irony – We worry about burdening adults with hearing about abuse that we actually experienced as children. Am I the only one who sees how warped this dynamic is? I have told multiple people, “I assure you that it was much harder for me to live through these things as a kid than for you to hear about them now as an adult.”

I no longer worry so much about other people’s reactions to hearing about my abuse, but in the early years, I took a lot of responsibility for protecting others from hearing about it. I would talk in generalities about the abuse because I feared they couldn’t handle hearing the specifics. To this day, people like my grandmother have no knowledge of the abuse because I don’t want to burden her with it in her old age. Sadly, since healing from child abuse is such a big part of who I am, the net result is that my grandmother doesn’t really know me. It’s sad that she is being deprived of seeing the “real me” because of my choice to protect her from the ugliness of my childhood.

I found that the best support people were fellow child abuse survivors. They “got” it, and they could hear about my abuse experiences without burdening me with the need to “protect” them. The irony is that child abuse survivors are much more likely to be triggered by my story. However, child abuse survivors are also amazingly strong, which gives them the courage to read my story and then provide me with the support I need. The child abuse survivor community at Isurvive provided me with ~ 90% of the support I received in my early years of healing.

I only share the specifics of my story with a handful of people in my offline life. I have provided the URL to this blog to some of them and let them choose how much they want to know. I try to let the other person set the pace for how much she can handle learning about my history. As I continue to heal, I feel less of a need to share my story. However, I don’t see how I can develop a deep friendship with someone who knows nothing at all about my history.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Feeling Better after Talking about Flashback, a reader posted the following comment:

A question Faith: how did you get to a place where you knew your friend could listen to such horrendous things? How do you feel okay about your friend being okay (not being vicariously traumatised)? I ask because I have an offline friend now who says she is willing to listen and really wants to support me, but I feel very unsure about telling her actual details. I think it would help me to be able to tell someone other my therapist, but I don’t want to hurt her or risk damaging our relationship because it gets too much for her. ~ Dawnawakening

I err on the side of taking is slow. I will drop a comment here or there about child abuse and gauge the other person’s reaction. If the person seems to want to talk about child abuse, I’ll talk about it generally and determine the person’s comfort level. Frequently, this turns into me listening to the other person talk about painful childhood memories, whether they were abusive or just painful. (I am a very good listener.)

A friend who really wants to hear about it will give me signs that she is open to hearing more. She might ask me basic questions, frequently beginning with, “If you don’t mind my asking…” I always clarify that I am 100% comfortable talking about my history but that most people cannot handle hearing about it. I will answer the questions asked but stay general, using phrases like, “He did things to me,” versus sharing anything graphic.

Over time (typically a period of weeks or longer), the conversations will circle around again to the topic with the other person making it clear that she wants to know more. If invited to share more, I will begin by asking her to tell me when it becomes too much. I am very clear that my childhood abuse was severe. If she says she is OK to hear more, I will share a little at a time and gauge her reaction. I’ll stop if I see that the person has heard enough.

Also, after I first share a much deeper trauma, I’ll wait to see how she treats me the next time we get together before sharing more. If she treats me the same, I’ll continue as invited. If she pulls away, I know not to go there anymore.

I am very skilled at reading faces, and I also trust my intuition. Most of the time, I can use both of those to help me pace what the other person can handle. Only a very few offline friends have heard my story because it is so intense.

I don’t worry about traumatizing the other person by talking about my history because I let her set the pace. If she doesn’t want to hear about it, then I won’t talk about it with her. If the other person tells me she can handle it, then I trust that she will take care of herself and tell me when she has had enough.

For the most part, I no longer feel the need to share my story offline except for when I recover a new memory as happened last weekend. I will only share my newer memories with one of my two friends who know my full story.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have noticed that some readers have recently posted incredibly insightful comments and then apologized for “rambling” at the end of the comment. I used to do this a lot myself early in the healing process, so I thought it was a topic worth discussing.

When I first started therapy, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with an entire hour devoted to me – to talking about me, my feelings, and my experiences. This was such a foreign concept to me. The words would tumble out of me, and I would feel like I was doing something “wrong” because talking about myself had never really been considered appropriate behavior before. I would inevitable apologize for rambling, and my therapist would tell me that I wasn’t rambling – I expressed my feelings in a very coherent manner.

This is the dictionary’s definition of ramble:

to talk or write in a discursive, aimless way ~ Dictionary.com

Here is the meaning of the word discursive:

passing aimlessly from one subject to another; digressive; rambling. ~ Dictionary.com

We child abuse survivors were taught from a young age that it was not okay to express ourselves, so when we actually do, we fear that we are “rambling,” but we are not. I have yet to read a child abuse survivor’s comment that “rambled” with an apology at the end. When I have read rambling comments (not on this blog), the person never apologizes for rambling … oh, the irony!

It is okay to talk about yourself – about your feelings, emotions, memories, etc. It is also okay to talk for a long time or write a very long comment. Neither is “rambling” – it is a healthy expression of what is going on inside of you, which is a very healthy step.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Flashbacks in the Form of Dreams after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

i am at present having therapy for sexual abuse when i was younger…there has always been that knowledge in the back of my head that something happened..not sure why but it has always been there. last year something happened to my eldest son who at the time was 18…it brought back loads of flasbacks/nightmares. Some of which i can relate to but others i dont actually remember happening in my childhood. This has confused me so much as if the nightmares/flashebacks are real then its just disgusting what happened but if they are not real why is my head making something like this up?? Not sure which is worse to tell you the truth. ….I Think the hardest part is getting someone to believe you! Even down to my mother when i told her see slapped me and told me to stop being disgusting…my first partner of 22 yrs didnt believe me… ~ pebbles

I have been where Pebbles is now, and it is a tough place to be. I stayed in the place of “Will anyone believe me? Can I even believe myself?” on and off for a good year, and I still cycled back to that place on occasion over the next few years. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. As abused children, we dissociated away most of the abuse because we could not handle it. We said in our own heads, “This isn’t happening to me.” We ingrained this in our heads since we were little, so it makes sense that we would struggle with the reality of our experience as we start to “undo” all of the self-induced “brainwashing” of repressing the memories.

My first flashbacks were of my mother sexually abusing me. I could not recall anyone talking about mothers sexually abusing their daughters (although I remembered later that Sybil was sexually abused by her mother) and feared that nobody would believe me. I was afraid even to tell a therapist. I thought he would say that mothers don’t do that and then have me committed for being insane. To avoid this, I screened the therapist by phone and asked if he had ever heard of this happening. If he said no, I was going to hang up. Fortunately, he said yes, which was the first step toward feeling believed and validated.

Having a therapist believe you is huge because this is a professional telling you that you are not “crazy,” and that professional opinion carries a lot of weight. After talking with your therapist, I would not recommend talking with family members as your next step. For ongoing child abuse to happen, there has to be a certain level of denial in the family, so reactions such as what Pebbles described by her mother are common among family members, especially those who were in the position to protect you but didn’t. I also would not go to my partner first because anyone who is having sex with you is going to have his or her own issues to deal with in processing what happened to you.

My other go-to person was a friend. It was hard to tell her, but I needed the childcare while I went to therapy, so I took the risk. She had been abused herself (which I learned later), so she “got it” in a way that many other people would not. It is so important to choose the right people to confide in at the beginning because you are so vulnerable yourself. Until you fully believe yourself, it is damaging to have to “defend yourself.”

For me, the detail and disgusting nature of the memories helped me recognize that the events must have happened because I am not creative enough to come up with this stuff. I never saw a TV show or movie, nor did a read a book that included many of the sick abuses that I suffered. As my therapist said, “Why would I make this stuff up?”

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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

My children do not want to know anything about this disorder I have [DID]. They don’t want to know. Is that good or bad? ~ Audrey

I don’t know if we can label your children’s reaction as “good” or “bad.” It simply “is.”

Unfortunately, many people simply do not seem to be able to handle dealing with big issues such as DID. Does that make them bad people? No. However, it also does not make them people that we can lean upon as we heal from the very serious issues surrounding DID.

A person does not develop DID unless he or she endured severe and ongoing trauma beginning before the age of six. In most cases, the cause of the severe and ongoing trauma was child abuse. Too many people don’t want to hear about children that young enduring severe and ongoing child abuse. I, personally, do not understand this, but I have learned that most people simply are not like me in this respect.

One friend told me that it was very hard to hear my story (both about the DID and the child abuse that caused it) because, if she hears and has to believe it, then she must accept that this level of evil exists in the world. I assured her that it was much harder living through it as a little kid than it is to hear about it as an adult. Nevertheless, she is not one of my “go to” people because, for whatever reason, she cannot handle it.

My therapist repeatedly tried to get me to bring my husband into my healing process. I knew it was useless, but I followed my therapist’s advice on this twice, and both times were disasters. (I stopped trying after that.) My husband is simply not in a place where he can hear about the abuses that I have suffered, and I didn’t even try to get into my diagnosis with him. I recognize that the issue is his own limitations, not something that is “wrong” with me.

Fortunately, there are people out there who can handle hearing about severe child abuse and DID. Those people can be true gems in supporting you along your healing journey. I am fortunate enough to have a couple of off-line friends who can handle it, and I have received a lot of support online through Isurvive (a message board for child abuse survivors) as well as through my blog.

I would not recommend trying to “force” a loved one to understand your history and diagnosis. If you have to “force” someone to “get it,” that person is not going to be very helpful through your healing process. Appreciate what those people do bring to your life (they have their place in your life, too), but save the deep discussions for those who can handle it. Their reaction is not a rejection of you – it is a result of their own limitations.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Yesterday, I talked about how the word “rape” applies even when the sexual abuser is a woman. I would like to elaborate on this point today.

Words convey meanings that either capture or detract from the magnitude of the event. I learned all about this in law school. The plaintiff says things like, “Mr. Smith negligently failed to deliver the package to Mr. Jones, causing monetary damages of $X by the delay.” The defendant says things like, “The package was not received by Mr. Jones on time,” which deflects any responsibility by Mr. Smith. The words we use convey a much deeper meaning.

The organization NAMBLA is well aware of this. For those of you who have not heard of NAMBLA, it stands for the North American Man-Boy Love Association. This organization does not view the sexual contact between a grown man and young boy as “rape” – it is viewed as “man-boy love.” If people buy into sexual contact between a man and a boy being “man-boy love,” then it is just another type of “normal” sexual relationship rather than an adult man raping an innocent boy.

Words matter. My point in my last blog entry was that, by denying the term “rape” to victims of sexual abuse by female perpetrators, society downgrades the severity of the sexual contact.

Over at Making Daughters Safe Again, which is a site for those who suffered from mother-daughter sexual abuse, a woman wrote a great poem about claiming the word “rape” to describe her experience with her mother. She said things along the lines of the abuse being just as traumatizing and damaging and degrading and painful as if a man had done the same things to her. She said that a word like “molest” just means “to bother,” and what she experienced was significantly more traumatizing than being “bothered” by her mother. She found it quite empowering to claim the word “rape” and apply it to her experience. It drove home the enormity of the pain that she had suffered.

I have received several comments from people taking issue with my label of “animal rape” for forced sexual contact with an animal. Those people say that I should not call it “animal rape” because the animal was not the rapist. I always invite these people to give me another term to use that captures the trauma of being raped with an animal, but nobody has given me a better alternative to-date. I have never said that I hold the animal responsible – it is the abuser who is responsible. However, having been on the receiving end of male rape, female rape, and animal rape, I can assure you that all of these experiences feel like rape. All are extremely traumatizing, and I will use the best words I can to capture the magnitude of what I, and numerous others, have suffered.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This series is focusing on the issue of struggling with focusing on your own needs. The series begins here.

Here is the next part of the reader’s email:

I think it’s probably a very important part of healing to “tell your story” but does it become selfish to spend so much time and emotion on yourself? Wait that doesn’t sound right. There’s a part of me that wants certain other people to know what happened to me but then I struggle with thinking that all I want is some misguided attention.

Yes, telling your story is crucial to healing. You were silenced as a child, so you need to have a voice in adulthood. For me, it was crucial that I post each flashback over at Isurvive, which was my way of “shouting from the rooftops” that the abuse happened as I told the details publicly. People in Australia could read what had happened to me – that was empowering to me. I also needed the validation of being believed because, for the first several months, I had a very hard time believing myself.

The “normal” state of being should be for every person to spend some time and emotion on him- or herself. Everyone needs some downtime to enjoy being alive. Life is not just about getting things done – we need to “stop and smell the roses.” Not only do child abuse survivors have a hard time stopping to smell the roses – they have trouble believing that it is okay even to notice the roses. Life needs to be about balance. There is a time to “do,” but there is also a time to “be.”

If you had cancer, wouldn’t you undergo chemo treatments? Consider therapy and the time invested as the chemo of your soul. Your soul is filled with emotional “cancer” from the abuse. Don’t you deserve to heal your soul just as much as a cancer patient deserves to heal her body?

What you wrote about the fear of “misguided attention” resonated deeply with me because I have been there. For the first time, I allowed myself to go to the deepest depths of the pain and sob. There isn’t a word in the English language for the wracking sobs that came out of my body. I was making sounds that did not even sound human, and I experienced emotional pain that I did not believe was even survivable.

In the midst of this, a thought came in my head (from an alter part) that I was just doing this for attention. I looked around my completely empty house and yelled out, “From whom!?!! Nobody is here!!” This was such a breakthrough moment for me. For the first time, I braved facing the pain, and I recognized that I was not trying to get anyone’s attention – I was just trying to heal.

It is okay to have needs. It is okay to invite others into your pain (when you are ready). It is okay to invest the time and money in therapy to help you learn how to heal. It is also okay for life to sometimes be about you.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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While it was daunting for me to share my history of child abuse with friends, I have no regrets about doing so. Even the times that did not turn out so great were still worth it. Every time I share my child abuse story, I validate that it happened. I also educate others about child abuse, which is also important. Those who chose to pull away after learning about my child abuse history still had to face that child abuse happens. I hope that they will be more receptive the next time around if/when another child abuse survivor shares her story with them.

Fortunately, I have had many more positive reactions than negative ones to sharing my child abuse story. Those who know at least some of my child abuse history are amazingly loyal. I have been called all sorts of wonderful things, such as a “walking miracle.” I have had multiple people tell me that I am an inspiration. One said that, if I can have a good day and enjoy my life after all that I have been through, then she knows that she can handle her own issues that she is facing in her life today.

Revealing my truths has invited some people into a deeper level of emotional intimacy. I can be myself around them. When I am triggered, I can call and say, “I am triggered,” and they know what to do. I even provided one friend with a “script” so she knows what to say next time. I don’t have to deal with my pain by myself any longer. By opening up about where I have been, I have added resources to my life to help me deal with my pain when it bubbles up.

Each time I tell my story, it gets easier. Many of my emotional wounds are now scars, so they no longer hurt. I can talk about a lot of terrible things without crying or feeling pain. Instead, when I take a walk down memory lane with a friend, I can see what happened to me through my friend’s eyes rather than through the distorted lenses that I always used. This helps me to be more objective about what happened and accept, once and for all, that I was not responsible for the things that other people did to me.

The admiration that friends show for me for surviving all that I did is inspirational. When I inspire them, they, in turn, inspire me. Everybody wins.

A true friend is someone who knows all about you and chooses to love you, whether that love is despite or because of what you went through. Choosing to tell my story and reveal my pain has opened up doors in friendships that I never thought possible.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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