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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Purple flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtWhen I was in therapy, my therapist recommended that I read the book Compassion and Self Hate: An Alternative to Despair by Theodore I. Rubin. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has suffered from abuse.

The crux of the book is that each of us has a battle going on inside of ourselves between self-compassion and self-hate. No matter how powerful our self-hate is, our self-compassion will always win because being loving and compassionate toward yourself is your true nature. It is basically the same message as learning how to feed the right wolf. I have come to realize that this was my issue last week when I was struggling with all of the social graces and not feeling “normal.”

It is humbling to realize how easily I can slip back into old patterns, even after years of healing work. Hating myself was my normal state for most of my life. So, when I was triggered, it felt very comfortable to slip back into that pattern. Nothing in my life had changed – it was an internal shift. I chose to feed the “wrong” wolf, even though this happened at a subconscious level. I am happy to say that, now that I recognize what I was doing, I am sending big fat, juicy steaks to my “good wolf” and putting the “evil wolf” on a diet.

Every minute of every day, we make choices about how we feel about ourselves. We can choose to tell ourselves that we are stupid, abnormal, unlovable, or a wide variety of other self-hating messages, or we can choose to love ourselves exactly as we are. I am, once again, choosing to love myself. It does not matter if other people find things about me that do not meet their “standards.” I meet my own standards, and that is all that matters.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Myth of Sanity

One of the best books I have read about dissociation is Martha Stout’s The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness. I found this book after becoming aware of dissociating quite a bit without having recovered any memories of the abuse. I feared I might be going crazy and hoped that this book would provide me with some answers.

This book explained dissociation to me in a way that I could understand. The author says that dissociation runs on a continuum. On the far left, we have normal dissociation that everyone experiences. An example of this is “losing yourself” in a good movie. While you are caught up in the movie, you temporarily “forget” that you are surrounded by people in a dark room. In the middle of the continuum is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). On the far right is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder. Between PTSD and DID are all of the dissociative disorders that are more severe than PTSD without reaching the extreme of DID.

What’s funny is that I knew that I had a dissociative disorder while still being in denial about having PTSD. Anyone with a dissociative order, by definition, also struggles with PTSD. By seeing this on a continuum, it helped me to understand dissociation much better. Also, the continuum helped me to understand DID in a way that I had not beforehand.

The book shares stories of several patients who have struggled with various forms of dissociation. At the end of the book, the author shares a particularly powerful story about a patient who has healed from her past. The stories helped me to feel less alone and also gave me hope that, perhaps one day, I would be like the lady who healed at the end of the book. And now I am. :0)

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Boy Wizard (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Throughout the Harry Potter series, I saw parallels between Harry’s life and the life of an abuse survivor. Harry lived in a small closet under the stairs in a household where he was not wanted. How many abuse survivors felt that level of isolation and rejection in their abusive families, being forced to keep their truths “in the closet”?

People constantly told Harry how brave he was, but he never chose this life. He was brave because he had to be. I felt this way throughout my healing journey. People would tell me how brave and strong I was, but I never chose those things: There was simply no alternative. When the memories exploded out of me, I had no choice but to face them and heal. I would have given anything not to have experienced the things that I had, just as Harry would have much preferred an anonymous life with two loving parents.

Harry was affected so much more deeply by the dementors than his friends because he had experienced more pain than they had. How many abuse survivors feel the same way? I can nosedive into a very deep depression rapidly if I do not guard my thoughts because I have experienced very deep pain. Love is the antidote to dementors, and self-love has been my antidote to depression.

In book 5, Order of the Phoenix, Harry experienced an enormous amount of isolation and anger. Boy, could I relate to that. I read that book over the summer, when I was feeling very isolated myself, which made it even harder for me to read. I have heard non-abuse survivors talk about how Harry was a pill throughout that book, but I understood how difficult it can be to manage anger, loneliness, grief, and isolation.

Another big similarity is that Harry always felt different and as if he did not fit in, when he truly was a very popular kid. Yes, he had the Slytherins being jerks to him, but for the most part, he was well-liked by most of the other students at Hogwarts. I know so many abuse survivors who feel alone in a crowd. Because they loathe themselves, they project that loathing onto the people in their lives, never realizing just how much they really do fit in. I did not fully understand this about myself until I attended a high school reunion. My memory was that I was a dorky outcast, but so many people at the reunion remembered me fondly and even followed me around so we could talk longer. I came to realize that I was always the person who I am today (a person who I like) – it was I who could not see it.

Because of Harry’s past and lack of love, he leaned on his friends. He embraced them as family. I do this, too. That can be hard during the holidays when everyone puts their families first because I feel like I am back in those abusive days again, completely cut off from the people who I loved and who loved me. I have spoken with many abuse survivors who say the same thing – that they have trouble finding people who value friendships as deeply as they do. Harry makes me feel less odd that way.

For all I know, J.K. Rowling had a fabulous childhood and this is all coincidence, but I don’t think so. There is too much truth in her books. I, for one, am appreciative to have someone like Harry Potter to help me understand myself better.

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Healing From Child Abuse and the Harry Potter Series

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Cave (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I spent seven hours yesterday reading the second half of the final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I only started the series about a year ago, so I had friends eager for me to finish the last book so we could talk about so many things. I really enjoyed the series.

I found it hard to read straight through the books, even though I owned copies of all of them, because I needed time to decompress between each book. I found them to be very intense and triggering at times.

I was particularly moved by the Harry & Dumbledore conversations at the end of each book. I found a lot of wisdom in the books that is helpful in healing from child abuse. I do not know much about J.K. Rowling’s life, but it would not surprise me to learn that she was a fellow abuse survivor who wove what she learned about healing into her books.

In book 1, Harry wants to know the truth about his family. Dumbledore refers to the truth as a “beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” How true this is about recovering memories of an abusive past. The memories I recovered were terrible, but there is beauty in seeing the love and determination to survive that made me the person who I am.

In book 2, Harry is upset in learning that some of Voldemort’s powers were transferred to him during the attack. It bothers him to have some of Voldemort in himself, just as it bothers many abuser survivors to have some of their abusers in them, particularly those who were abused by their biological parents. Like Harry, abuse survivors may question whether they are destined to be like their abusive family. To this, Dumbledore has this wonderful advice: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” It is our choices that make us different from our abusers.

I could go on about Dumbledore’s advice, but there is so much more there. I have described dissociation as looking through the wrong end of a telescope multiple times, and that description is used in the books. When Harry is fighting Voldemort’s thoughts, it reads very much like fighting flashbacks. Love is the weapon that is stronger than all others.

The hardest part for me to read was the graveyard scene in the end of book 4, when Harry thinks he is about to win the cup but instead finds it is a portkey to Voldemort and the death eaters. That whole scene was very triggering to me as a ritual abuse survivor, and yet it was so empowering because, like Harry, I was just a kid who still managed to beat a bunch of adults in robes who appeared to have all of the power.

Anyone who has struggled with self-injury could feel triggered by Delores Umbridge forcing Harry to carve “I must not tell lies” into his own hand repeatedly.

If you are an abuse survivor and read the Harry Potter books, read them again while looking for the wisdom of surviving abuse. It is there is spade if you are looking for it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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