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Archive for the ‘Unmet Needs’ Category

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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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 two needs for children from birth to age one:

  • Trust in environment and caretakers
  • Being taken care of

Of course, child abuse survivors whose abuse began during this time did not have these needs met. Even if the abuse did not begin yet, most child abusers do not have the capacity to meet those needs, even if they were not overtly abusing the baby.

Most child abusers (obviously) have major issues in connecting with another person emotionally. They see children as objects to be used for their own purposes, not as living beings with whom they could connect. So, a child abuser parenting a baby is unlikely to meet either of those needs.

By failing to meet these needs in a baby, the abuser sends the message that the child’s existence is based upon the abuser’s whims and that the baby is not allowed to have needs. Of course, a baby is nothing but needy, so this is a powerful message for a baby to receive. Those of you who, like me, struggle with believing that having any needs = weakness likely did not have these basic needs met when you were a baby.

As a result, the baby begins his life with the belief that he is not important and that his world is not safe. He becomes mistrustful of his environment and anxious.

The authors identify the following internalized messages:

  • I don’t know where I end and you begin.
  • I can’t trust anyone.
  • I have to take care of myself.

So, how do you heal this in yourself? Honestly, I am still working on healing these messages in myself.

For the first one, learning how to set and enforce boundaries was the key. I truly had no concept of any form of boundaries. My therapist made this my “homework” every single week between therapy appointments. I had a very hard time until I recognized that every time I refused to set a boundary, I was choosing to hurt myself rather than say no to an inconsiderate person. I am much better at setting boundaries today, but I still have room for improvement.

As for the other two, that is a work in progress for me. I have made the most progress through positive friendships. I have learned that it is okay to trust some people for some things and that I don’t have to put all of my eggs in one basket. As for having to take care of myself, my blog entry on Wednesday drives home how big of a challenge this one is for me.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One serious issue that adult survivors of child abuse often deal with is the ache of unmet needs. I am going to be focusing on the topic of unmet needs over my next several blog entries.

I have seen the ache of unmet needs manifest in many ways. Most child abuse survivors have serious issues with trust and shame. I know a child abuse survivor who felt such a strong need to be rocked (a need that was not met in childhood) that she bought herself a hammock to give her this experience. I know child abuse survivors who have felt the need to sleep with stuffed animals in their forties because it met a need that was never met in childhood.

The sad reality for child abuse survivors, and particularly those who experienced ongoing and severe child abuse throughout their childhoods, is that unmet needs do not just “go away.” Anyone who has adopted a child out of foster care can tell you this. Even though the parents are doing a wonderful job in parenting the abused child from age five and meeting the five-year-old child’s needs, the child still has five years of unmet needs that the foster or adoptive parent must try to meet.

The best resource that I have found to explain unmet needs the book Beyond Integration: One Multiple’s Journey (Norton Professional Books) by Doris Bryant and Judy Kessler. Although the book is about a woman who integrated from dissociative identity disorder (DID), it has a lot to offer to anyone who experienced severe and ongoing child abuse or who is parenting a severely abused child.

DID is just the way that a person might react to severe and ongoing child abuse. It is a symptom, not a cause. The abuse is the cause of the unmet needs, so all child abuse survivors are going to experience at least some unmet needs. Until those unmet needs are met, they will manifest as empty places inside of the abused child’s soul. The fact that the abused child now resides in an adult body does not change that fact that the voids are still there.

Over my next few blog entries, I am going to discuss the unmet needs that result from abuse during each stage of development in a child. I will be using the information provided in Beyond Integration: One Multiple’s Journey (Norton Professional Books) as a template because I could not possibly do a better job at identifying unmet needs in each stage of development than this book does. However, I will bring my own perspective into the discussion about things you can do to begin healing your emotional wounds from unmet needs.

Developmental Stages:

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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