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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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