October 31, 2010
It’s Halloween weekend again.
This year, I’ve been reminded of the dichotomy our society lives in during times such as Halloween.
There are the many people of the world who are enjoying the weekend. They are having some version of fun, gathering candies, creating pumpkin-flavored foods, and dressing up in costumes as innocent as pretty Little Bo Peep with some Sheep walking along beside her. For many of us here in Dallas, Texas, Halloween weekend this year has been about watching the Texas Rangers Baseball team finally playing a good game in the World Series against the San Francisco Giants. Last night the Rangers won, and there were many joyous celebrations all over the state of Texas. For all of these people, Halloween weekend has been wonderful. It’s been a good time and no one and nothing was hurt (except the pride of the San Francisco Giants!)
But for dissociative trauma survivors with a ritual abuse background, this weekend – and the majority of this month of October – has been anything but fun. It is a time of darkness. It is a time where they were physically and emotionally forced into darkness, forced into worlds of violence, forced into worlds so hidden and evil that the happy candied people clapping and cheering in the baseball stadiums don’t even know the tiniest bit about it.
Ritual abuse and the horrors of ritual abuse have stayed secret from the surface layers of society for a few reasons – none the least being the idea that ritual abuse is so extremely sadistic that it is impossible for most people to fathom or acknowledge its existence. For those not raised in the worlds of hidden ritual abuse, it seems too incredulous to tolerate or believe. It’s too mind-blowing to think that such intense evil, violence, gore, and pain could exist in the real world. It’s even more impossible for them to believe that these horrors could be purposefully devastating the lives of our local children. Understanding that these atrocities can still be happening in the current-day lives of adult dissociative survivors is barely even recognized by trauma specialists in the mental health profession.
Besides, there are powerful dark organizations, most typically connected with the money-making sex slavery industries that help to provide massive cover-up’s for socially-complicated dicey issues such as ritual abuse. The phrase “money is the root of all evil” comes to mind as so much of the extreme abuse of trauma survivors is rooted in groupings of greedy soul-less sociopathic perpetrators making wads of dirty money while completely ignoring or insanely enjoying the suffering they are inflicting on survivors.
Trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD) can experience a lifetime of pain and mental torment from the ordeals they suffered through on Halloween. They re-live these horrors year after year after year in their flashbacks, body memories, and internal worlds. They feel the tortures. They hear the screams. They are paralyzed in their terror. Healing feels next to impossible because the pain runs too deep.
How are trauma survivors supposed to come to terms with the fact that someone they loved and cherished (usually a parent) did the ultimate betrayal by subjecting them to the horrors of sadistic ritualized abuse?
How are trauma survivors supposed to overcome the fact they were forced to learn to hate with such intensity that they turn completely cold and dark from the inside out?
How are trauma survivors supposed to overcome their reality that they were forced to hurt others, even those they loved, and to relish the moment as if it was joyous and full of ecstasy?
How does anyone overcome these experiences and not let them ruin or tarnish or their lives forever?
Is it impossible to unthaw the effects of such hatred?
Is it impossible to heal from such deep soul-wrenching wounds?
It feels that way.
Many, many, many, many days, it feels too impossible to heal. Ask any trauma survivor that. I bet they will tell you, without a doubt, that they have wondered if it was ever possible for them to overcome the depths of pain and agony and torment that they experienced in their lives.
But it is possible.
It is possible because there is such thing as NOT being hated. There are such things as compassion, understanding, gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, and yes, even the ultimate word – genuine love. (I do not mean the creepy distortion of love – I’m referring to the actual genuine, true, God-filled love.)
Because as much as the hatred of violence and abuse of sadistic predators exist, the kindness and gentleness of true compassion and understanding exists as well.
And genuine kindness can trump violence.
After you’ve experienced true hatred, experiencing true kindness is a completely heart-reaching, life-changing, awe-inspiring experience.
Yes, when someone survived a lifetime full of hatred, it takes a LOT of kindness to overcome all that hatred. Occasional kindness helps, but for genuine healing, it takes experiencing a lot of kindness. Unfortunately, for many trauma survivors, the world just has not been that kind.
But don’t give up — there are kind people out here. They may be obliviously cheering in a baseball stadium at the moment, but they are out here, and they exist, and they can show you gentleness, acceptance, warmth, and love.
Years of hate can melt away with a listening ear, with cups of tea, with a soft smile, with a tender relationship, with a quiet conversation, with a safe hug. When someone feels genuinely cared for – even for moments of time – those moments can crack through the cold darkness created by hate and violence. They can allow other moments of warmth and sunshine to take hold, and the healing process can continue, one moment building upon other moments.
It’s not quick. And it’s not easy. The turning-over is gradual, slow, arduous, and painful. But it can happen.
Kindness can trump violence.
My wish is that one day, all trauma survivors could find themselves having moments of pure joy and light-hearted fun, clapping happily in innocent places like baseball stadiums, even if the date is Halloween.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
July 10, 2010
*** trigger warning for dissociative trauma survivors ***
The collage and the material discussed in this blog is emotionally intense and could be triggering. Please be sure that you are in a safe place before reading further.
Trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder often have to live a double life. There is the public face, full of pretty smiles and general surface chatter that says “I’m fine”, “I’m doing great!”, “I had a good time”, “Nothing is wrong”, etc.
Recognize any of those kinds of cover-up phrases?
Unfortunately, all too often, looking the other side of these statements proves a very opposite reality. The person is feeling anything but “great”.
Every DID survivor I have ever met has a whole repertoire of phrases and quick answers that indicate they are doing well, that everything is ok, even when they actually are not ok. DID survivors know how to cover and hide their pain. Besides dissociating away the evidence, feelings, and awareness of the abuse from themselves, they have also developed a variety of social skills to cover and hide the depth of their confusion, upset, emotions from others.
On the other side of “I’m fine”, there are very different feelings – depression, fear, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, emotional pain, grief, shame, anger, just to name a few. Sometimes there are flashbacks, body memories, nightmares, self-injuries, addiction issues, etc. There are often feelings related to self-injury, self-destruction, and self-hatred. Sometimes there are incidents of trauma in the current day, or domestic violence, or sexual assault, or date rape. Life can feel pretty dark.
But still, all too often, the survivor will say, “I’m fine.”
The following collage says it well.
In case they are a little hard to read, the words on the collage are as follows:
This can’t be happening
It’s not real
It’s not real
It’s really happening.
What will I say? What do I say?
I can’t breath I can’t breath
I need air.
Gravel in my hair hurts.
What will I say tomorrow?
What if I get grass stains on my dress?
I can’t breathe.
Please God help me. Please.
Please save me.
Someone help me
There’s no on
And he’s on top
And I can’t breathe
And this is hopeless
And I think
I can’t escape
God please —
I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine
I can never tell anyone about this
What would everyone say? They’ll all be bragging
About what a good time they had tonight
I can’t say
This is the night
God abandoned me
That my soul was killed
That the world left me behind.
I had a great time, thanks. Thanks for asking.
In this collage, notice the initial dissociative statements. “This can’t be real” indicates the need to dissociate and separate from what is happening. Even when the artist recognizes that it is really happening to her, she separates herself with the tiny “to me”.
The middle section describes a sexual assault. Some of the pain and discomfort of the abuse is included – for the most part, the details of the rape are not mentioned. However, the fears and pleas for help are included, showing the desperation felt by the woman being assaulted.
Finally, at least for a short while, the abuse has stopped.
It appears, that after the assault happens, this survivor is expected to make a social appearance at a party or a dance. The social event is supposed to be great fun, but how can a social event be fun right after having experienced a sexual trauma?
But still, the survivor says she’s fine.
- What keeps her from talking about what she just experienced?
- Do you understand why she covers and hides the abuse instead of telling others about it?
- Does this survivor remember that she was just assaulted?
- Did she build an amnesiac wall around the abuse?
- Did one insider deal with the trauma, and another insider go to the party?
- Is this survivor denying the abuse?
Part of the healing process is connecting the reality of the situation with the truth of emotion. Chances are, this survivor does not actually feel fine at all.
What could she do now?
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
June 20, 2010
This weekend is often a difficult weekend for trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder. First, there is Father’s Day (for those of us living in the USA), and secondly, it’s the Summer Solstice. Anytime the difficult days get stacked on top of each other, it’s going to make for a complicated time.
On days when the issues seem to surface in layers, what do you do to cope?
(**This blog article is about difficult topics so it could be triggering – please pace yourself carefully and keep yourself safe.)
Father’s Day has many of the same emotional complications as was written about on Mother’s Day. The days proceeding are often full of painful memories, heartbreaking loss, fear, conflict, and upset. The vast majority of DID survivors have had abusive fathers, so the idea of celebrating fathers typically stirs up great turmoil.
The first day of summer, like all season changes, has relevance to those who have experienced difference forms of Ritual Abuse (RA). Many of the dark church organizations celebrate the seasonal changes and these so-called “celebrations” are full of trauma, abuse, gross activities, icky messes, scary events, etc. Survivors of these ordeals are often flooded with flashbacks, emotional distress and internal conflict during the times of season changes.
When you put the two of these highly emotional events together, dissociative survivors experience a lot of overwhelm. Some of the difficulties can include PTSD symptoms (nightmares, flashbacks, depersonalization, body memories, difficulties sleeping, irritability, feeling distant from others, etc.) and anxiety symptoms (panic attacks, excessive fears, heightened startle reflex, nausea, trembling, heart palpitations, headaches, obsessions, chest pain, etc), self-destructive thoughts, self-injury behaviors, suicidal ideation (pervasive thoughts about wanting to die), depression, tearfulness, or detached numbing. It’s probably been a miserable weekend for a lot of DID survivors.
Fathers that participate in dark church rituals are often not the kind of fathers that you find written about in Hallmark Cards. These are the kinds of fathers that prefer abusive activities, or that like sadistic pain, or have freaky and perverse sexual interests. They are difficult men who have caused a lot of hurt and pain for a lot of people, especially for their children.
And yet, even so, there are nearly always those parts within the DID system that feel loyalty and a deep bonding with the father figure. These parts are typically parts that have adopted some level of acceptance of the traumatic activities, and have long ago learned to tolerate the abuse or to even define it as anything but abuse.
DID survivors often manage abuse by their fathers by creating a father introject within the internal dissociative system. Father introjects are internal system parts that remember the father so well that they look-feel-sound-act-appear to the others inside as the same as the actual father. An internal introject may do the same kinds of abusive behaviors to the other parts of the system, recreating the same abusive patterns and feelings that the external father did. Since the internal world is so real to DID survivors, it can feel like the father is still there, still controlling things, still making all the decisions, still threatening harm, still causing harm.
And in many ways this can be true.
It can be difficult to separate who the external father is from the internal father introject. They can very much feel like mirror-images of each other, shadow replicas, and the child parts of the system will not be able to tell the difference between them.
But father introjects are NOT the actual father, no matter how much they may claim to be so. Father introjects actually belong to you. They split from you, they came from your mind, and they originated with you. They are actually part of you, and not part of the father. They may have been taught by the father, but they are actually yours.
However, they will be powerful parts of the internal system though so their power and influence is not to be ignored or minimized. It is more important to work with these parts, and reconnect their loyalty to the survivor person instead of to the father figure. This is an absolutely crucial part of the DID therapy process, and if you haven’t yet gained a safe working relationship with your father introject, you will need to do so.
Father Transference Issues
In the therapy process, male therapists will have many of the same kinds of transference issues regarding father issuesj as female therapists have with mother issues. In fact, it is often difficult for some female dissociative survivors to work with male therapists because of the kinds of trauma, abuse, and controls associated with their father. Male therapists often have to address transference issues of being seen as the abuser, controlling male, dominant owner, sexual pervert, etc. So many trauma survivors have issues with men — and even more have issues with their fathers — that it makes being a male therapist for female trauma survivors particularly difficult.
Other female trauma survivors are so used to be led by men or connected to men, especially their father, that they feel more at ease with men and less comfortable with “neglectful, abandoning mothers”. (Female therapists tend to get more of the abandonment transference issues, while male therapists tend to get more of the abuser-male dominance transference issues.) The relationship between survivors and their parents will very often dictate which gender of therapist is a better fit for them.
Typical Father Issues
Father issues are not easy to work through. They often take years of time to sort out, and they are very painful. Many survivors truly feel bonded to their fathers, even if some of their relationship involved sexual activities. Sometimes feeling sexually connected to the father felt better than being emotionally abandoned by the mother. When this is the case, there are numerous emotional complications to process during your healing.
Do you understand the role your father has played in your life?
Do you experience system switching, feelings of fear, or flashbacks when you are in the same room with your father?
What would your father do if you said no to him?
What would your father do if you chose a lifestyle very different from the one he chose for his life?
Are you allowed to live separately from him? Have you been allowed to move away from his neighborhood?
How much control or influence does your father have over you life in the current day?
Are you safe when you are in the same room as your father?
Does your father still abuse you or any of your younger parts? Does he still exert a level of sexual dominance over anyone in your system?
Would you be betraying your father if you refused to let him touch you in sexual ways?
If your father is an abuser, you can get distance and separation from him.
You don’t have to stay bonded to abusers.
You don’t have to stay connected to violent relationships.
You don’t have to be abused to be accepted.
You do not have to be sexual to be accepted.
All men are not abusers.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
January 19, 2010
What an interesting phrase.
Externalizing responsibility is when someone fails to accept responsibility for the messes they make or for the problems they cause. It is also failing to accept responsibility for the situations they find themselves in.
Internalizing responsibility is personally taking on the responsibility for what happens (in the past, present, or future). It is accepting the responsibility for personal welfare or for consequences of actions instead of dumping the blame on others.
Do you externalize responsibility?
Do you internalize responsibility?
For dissociative trauma survivors, the issue of when to accept responsibility versus when to deflect responsibility is a very complicated topic.
Most DID survivors have had years of experience internalizing responsibility for the actions of their perpetrators, family members, abusers, etc. Abusive offenders are some of the world’s best at externalizing blame onto someone else, and most trauma survivors internalize that blame, guilt, shame within themselves. Purposeful and direct blaming of the victim, especially child victims, typically ends up with the victim feeling responsible for the abuse.
Having this convoluted, complicated history of who is or isn’t responsible makes “accepting responsibility” a very difficult topic for trauma survivors.
Survivors spend years of time blaming themselves for the abuse (internalizing responsibility). Survivors typically end up feeling like they were bad, or they did something to cause it, or it was because they were too pretty, or too available, or too easy, etc. Survivors were usually told by their abusers that they deserved the abuse, or they liked the abuse, or they wanted the abuse, or some variation of the sort.
Perpetrators know that if they verbally blame the victim, that victim will be more likely to internalize the responsibility for what happened. Perpetrators typically do not accept responsibility for their actions. The more the perpetrators push blame and responsibility onto the victim, the more the victim will internalize that responsibility and blame.
But typically, survivors are not responsible for being abused. At least, they are not responsible for what the abuser does. The abuser is responsible for what the abuser does.
However, it is very difficult for many trauma survivors to put the blame of their abuse back onto their perpetrator. Trauma survivors will argue with their therapists that their abusive loved ones were not at fault – that they cannot be considered a perpetrator – that they are not to be blamed.
How many of you refuse to believe that your father (or mother) sexually abused you even if other parts in your system have said this clearly?
How many of you refuse to blame your perpetrator, and instead will run in circles protecting your family member from being called a perpetrator?
How many of you will argue that you have no right to be angry with your father – perpetrator? How many of you will define criminal actions as “not a problem” in order to not assign responsibility to your loved one?
Children are not responsible for being abused. Adults are responsible anytime they have abused children. Children will internalize the blame, but they are not responsible for being abused.
What about when the trauma survivor is an adult? What if the adult survivor is being abused as an adult? Who’s responsible then?
Adult trauma survivors do get abused. There are thousands of domestic violence situations where adults are being abused on a regular basis. Rapes and date rape situations can happen to adult trauma survivors. Dissociative survivors can still be involved in the sex slave industry or other ongoing abuses even as an adult. Abuse certainly can happen into adult-hood.
Who is responsible in these situations?
Of course, the abusers are still responsible for their own abusive behavior. (The topic of recognizing who abusers are will be discussed in a different blog article.)
However, these issues are not simple once the victim is an adult who has to be responsible for their own selves and any dependents. If you are an adult trauma survivor caught in abuse, it is not your fault you are being abused, but it is your responsibility to get yourself out and away from this abuse.
These adult survivor victims are responsible to get the help they need to get out of their abusive situations. They do not cause the abuser to abuse, but they are responsible to learn how to protect themselves and to protect any children that may be involved in the situation. It is important to build and utilize enough resources for safety and protection that will make the abuse come to an end as quickly as possible.
Finding the Balance
The difficult part is internalizing the correct portion of the responsibility. Even adult trauma survivors well experienced in therapy will internalize responsibility that genuinely belongs to the abuser. Other adult trauma survivors will stay stuck completely in the victim role, refusing to accept responsibility for getting out of the mess they are in. Sometimes survivors will cause-create-instigate-perpetuate emotional conflicts that are of their own making, and yet, claim to be the victim of their circumstances (more on that topic another time…).
So think about it…
Internalizing responsibility vs. externalizing responsibility.
What really does belong to you?
What really does belong to someone else?
Are you taking on too much?
Are you acting like a victim in situations where you are actually responsible?
Kathy Broady LCSW
October 23, 2009
There is a young woman who will always be precious to me. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but she forever changed my life.
This date – October 23rd — had specific meaning for her.
And every year on this date, I specifically think of her.
Back in the 80’s…
Annemaria was a 13 yr old wildly aggressive but enormously quiet girl that kept setting fires in the residential treatment center and starting fist fights with grown men. She was a complicated child, and was court-ordered to have an assessment by a psychologist. Fortunately for Annemaria, the psychologist had just attended a presentation about multiple personality disorder (MPD), learning about the symptoms of dissociation and trauma. Annemaria was quickly diagnosed with MPD and due to the variety of extreme acting out behaviors she demonstrated within the custody setting, she was given an unusual opportunity.
It was clear that Annemaria was acting out her child abuse history. She openly admitted to purposefully committing violent crimes so she would be taken out of her abusive home. It was a brilliant plan for finding safety from her offender-parents. Unconcerned about the long list of legal charges against her, she knew she would be safer living in residential treatment centers, and she was glad to be there. No one doubted her abusive past, and a long string of child protection workers advocated for her safety.
As requested, the Court agreed to give Annemaria the longest sentence possible so she could remain in the residential treatment center instead of being forced to go home. They did this for the preventive safety of the people she would be willing to assault in the future, but also for her own current-day safety and protection. The Court also ordered that she be given specialized treatment and intensive therapy.
Since she was so violent towards men, she was to be assigned a female staff member, and this staff member was to devote the vast majority of her time to working individually with Annemaria.
This is when Annemaria changed my life.
I was assigned to be Annemaria’s personal staff member.
I knew about sexual abuse, but I didn’t know a thing about MPD. I had been trained to work with family systems, but I didn’t know anything about internal systems. But I was thoroughly pleased to have been given the assignment of working with Annemaria. I knew it would be fascinating work, and frankly, Annemaria and I already had a little bit of a connection. Afterall, I was the only person in the entire treatment center that she would speak to.
I had two years to work with Annemaria. We did hours and hours of therapy every week, and even more hours of everyday life-skills work. She blossomed in that safe, healing environment but for such a young child, her stories of abuse were more than any of the treatment staff could fathom. Eventually, a non-threatening but strong young man was assigned to assist me during Annemaria’s acting out or heavy-duty memory flashbacks. She bounced a lot of male anger in his direction, but he handled that like a pro. The work was tough, and we leaned on each other a lot. Even so, I developed secondary PTSD, and experienced numerous nightmares after listening to Annemaria’s stories of trauma. I really hadn’t known such horrors existed. Talk about a learning curve… They hadn’t explained ANY of that in grad school!
I had so much to learn. I had no idea anyone could be abused in the ways that Annemarie described in such vivid detail. She was only 13. It had just happened. She had been abused her whole life, but still… it had just happened! Even though she was dissociative, she knew a lot about it.
She and I taught each other about two very different worlds. She taught me about her world, and I taught her about mine. We both ended those two years in a very different place.
I was truly never the same.
I hope that I impacted her life in the same way.
I also wish I could re-do those two years with Annemaria. Now that I have had 20 years experience working with MPD – currently called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) — I would do those first two years very differently. I’ve learned more about self-injury and how to manage those behaviors effectively. I’ve learned about depression, anxiety, PTSD and vicarious traumatization. I’ve learned about flashbacks, amnesia, body memories, and internal system communication. I’ve learned about organized abuse, the sex slave industry, pornography, and ritual abuse. NOW I am properly prepared to address the issues that Annemaria was speaking about.
I just didn’t have a clue.
And how sad was that.
Today is Annemaria’s day.
And today, while I was recording my BlogTalkRadio show on Internal Communication, I thought of Annemaria.
While I felt confident in explaining how so many things work for DID / MPD, I thought of Annemaria.
I just wish I knew then what I know now.
I could accomplish so much more with Annemaria in two years at this point in time than I could have back in the 80’s when I was new to the field. It saddens, me in that respect, because I didn’t give to her then what I could give to her now.
But she changed my life.
In fact, she changed the entire course of my life.
I would not be where I am if it were not for Annemaria.
And for that, I owe her a few years of decent therapy.
Annemaria, if you ever find me again, you’ve got yourself a therapist for as long as you need one!
And thank you, Annemaria.
Kathy Broady LCSW
June 13, 2009
In the television show “One Life To Live” — Bess tried to rescue Jessica one more time by taking baby Chloe and going on the run. Their secret had gotten out — baby Chloe belonged to someone else and the dear little one was not Jessica’s baby at all.
Tess was angry with Bess for trying this last stunt. Every time Bess looked in the mirror, she would see Tess’s angry face making comments to her. Tess had plenty to say — she was not at all impressed with Bess.
Meanwhile, Jessica was tucked way down inside. She had no awareness that she had driven hundreds of miles away from her home. She didn’t know she was in trouble or that she was about to lose her baby. She wasn’t aware of much of anything.
Despite Tess’s protests, Bess was determined to do what she defined as protection of Jessica. It was Bess’s mastermind plan to switch the babies so that Jessica would never know that her own baby had died at birth. She was determined to never let Jessica feel the pain of having lost her baby. She really believed she was helping by hiding out of town.
But they were found. Their safe person, Broady, found them. (That’s quite an appropriate name for the safe person, don’t you think?!!!)
With the secret out, Bess had no other option but to let Jessica remember the truth of what had happened. Bess did not know if Jessica was strong enough to handle the emotional pain, but there was no more blocking out the reality or dissociating away the truth. Jessica was going to remember.
And Jessica did remember.
Painfully, reliving minute by minute, even having body memories of giving birth to her child, Jessica remembered detail after detail of the incident that had previously been totally dissociated from her awareness. For months, Bess had completely held those memories from Jessica, but the dissociative walls between the two of them were no longer necessary. Bess was letting Jess remember.
Jessica remembered going into labor, birthing the child, and seeing that her child had been stillborn. She recalled the plan of switching her baby for another newly born baby, and she knew that she had to return baby Chloe to her rightful mother.
Jessica was addressing her pain. She was remembering in an emotional and physical way. She felt the labor pains, and recalled the birth of her baby as if it was happening all over again. She felt the emotional agony of losing her child. She remembered all that had been dissociated from her awareness.
And she was strong enough to handle the pain. And by doing so, she will be able to heal.
The writers of “One Life to Live” provided a fairly accurate portrayal of this process, for sexual abuse survivors with dissociative identity disorder even if it was fast-forwarded in typical soap opera fashion. But for a television show, they did pretty good.
In real life, body memories are a common occurrence for trauma survivors.
For most survivors, the body memories are much more involved, and occur as a much longer process. They will happen more frequently, and not come in such a neat package. But the point is, the body will remember the trauma, and the body will feel the same physical sensations all over again as it “tells the story” of what happened.
Body memories are the body’s way of remembering, storing, and telling the trauma. The survivor’s mind may have blocked out the pain and created dissociative walls around the traumatic experience, but the physical body itself can remember the trauma through cellular memory.
Sometimes survivors experience the body memories separately from intellectual understanding or emotional remembrance of what happened during the trauma. Dissociative survivors will feel intense body pain and have no idea why they are hurting. When the body remembers the traumatic incident at a different time from when the mind remembers the incident, it can feel very crazy making. The therapeutic goal is to put the various pieces together so that the survivor can work through, process, and heal from the memory as a whole.
The body feels the trauma in much the same as in the original incident and the various physical attitudes occur as if the trauma was happening all over again. The physical pain, shaking, trembling, jerking, physical reactions, intensity, and various body responses happen in a similar fashion as in the original trauma.
For most sexual abuse survivors, body memories will also involve feelings of pleasure or physical response. This creates a particularly difficult emotional dilemma for the survivors, as it is difficult to reconcile the pleasure responses that occurred during the middle of an abusive event. But the body, being a biological entity, cannot distinguish safe touch from abuse, and if stimulated correctly, it will naturally respond. Survivors often feel a great deal of shame about this reality, and will need to discuss this situation in their therapy.
Body memories are an important piece of the healing work. The body can say a lot about the incidents of abuse, and it really is impossible to re-create a body memory when there was no memory in the first place.
Because of that, body memories are often helpful in breaking through the denial layers of dissociation. The body may remember moments of the abuse that were too emotionally difficult for the survivors to manage, but by truly listening to their bodies, survivors can learn a great deal about their histories.
What is your body saying to you?
What does your body remember that your mind refuses to think about?
What does your body remember that you don’t want to hear?
What will it take for you to listen to your body? Your body was there for the abuse too. Maybe it knows more than you think it does.
Kathy Broady LCSW
June 7, 2009
One of the hardest areas of healing work in trauma disorders is dealing with shame.
For many survivors of sexual abuse, healing work involves learning about a lot of intense memories that leave them feeling a great deal of shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. These are difficult emotions to process, and the memory material is typically very overwhelming.
Some survivors feel immersed in shame from the very beginning of their abuse. They are appalled at what is happening for them and hate every minute of it, even if they can’t get away from the predators. With every incident that happens, they feel worse, and worse, and worse. The more degraded the survivors are during the abuse, the greater shame they feel.
Shame can become all consuming. It drowns any feelings of self worth and erodes at self-esteem. It leads to self-injury, increased dissociation, suicidal thoughts, suicidal behavior, depression, PTSD, anxiety, addictions, etc. Shame, at its most intense, can destroy lives.
Survivors will internalize the harsh destructive words of their abusers, and if they hear those messages with enough repetition and intensity, they will believe the negativity as truth.
For the host alters of the dissociative systems, there could be nothing further from the truth than hearing what the other alters in the system are saying about abuse. The fronting, daily-life dealing alters are typically not at all aware of the depths of the abuse, and the horrors expressed by the parts much further behind them does not feel real.
However, the alter parts hidden deeper in the dissociative system often have a very different experience than the front alters. Dissociative walls and consistent amnesia keep their two worlds apart from each other.
Sometimes the abuse-laden parts have become so entrenched in their abusive worlds and so blocked from any kind of participation in the outside world that they do not understand the extremity of the worlds they know. For dissociative survivors who have been sold into sex slavery or prostitution or pornography, this dynamic can be all too true.
System parts that are taught by their perpetrators to feel pride in being used as sex slaves know that to be their world, their truth, their reality. They own that pride, and do not think twice about it being a difficult or questionable lifestyle. They have been encouraged to handle the pain, they learn to believe they like the pain, pain becomes associated with pleasure, and they have a sense of accomplishment for completing various sexual tasks, no matter how extreme.
These alters strive to make accomplishments in that world. They may feel quite successful at their “jobs” and have few feelings of shame.
Reclaiming those parts from their abusive worlds means that these parts will eventually connect with the horror and shame that they pushed away years ago. The parts that have been sexually passed around from person to person to person will start realizing how much that trauma actually affected them. What once gave them pride, will lead to painful agony, shame, and distress. They will realize how much they have been hurt.
However, once they realize they are being abused (or have been abused), they can make decisions to stop the abuse.
They can work with their therapists and the host parts of their system to get away from the abusers, inside and out. This is done through internal system work, freeing each part from the ways they have been trapped in their memories. (Remember, people with DID tend to keep internalized realities, dynamic re-enactments of the abuse with introjects of abusers in what feels like the current day timeframe.) This work can also happen in freeing the dissociative person from a real-life, current day abuser.
Once survivors feel more distance between themselves and the abuse, they can begin to heal from the barrage of shame-inducing, horrific traumas that happened. They can gradually begin to understand what things belong to the perpetrators vs. which things are truly about them. They can begin to develop a separation between themselves and the world of sexual abuse.
Healing from that internalized sense of badness is a big part of the therapy work. As survivors learn they are truly victims of crimes, and that they are not to blame, they can begin to let go of the sense of shame that has surrounded their lives for years.
As survivors remove the overwhelming trauma from their lives, they can then, in turn, fill their lives with positive activities from their own unique preferences. They can begin to feel better about their lives. They can feel healthy pride in what they are doing, and feel pleased in their accomplishments. They can replace the feelings of deep dark shame with a sense of happiness and self-worth.
Overcoming shame is not easy. It is hard, grueling, intense emotional work.
The intensity of the shame felt by a trauma survivor can be a type of emotional barometer for the amount of healing work that needs to happen. The more that shame overwhelms the survivor, the more healing work is still needed. As the depth of this shame lightens, the more the survivors have progressed in their healing journey.
1. As a trauma survivor, know and understand that you are not a bad person.
2. Come to terms with how the abuse was not your fault.
3. Be brave enough to look honestly at the trauma that happened in your life.
4. Find the strength you need to get away from your abusers.
5. Work hard to be safe and to end any and all abusive relationships in the current day.
6. Realize that you will be able to build a happy life that you are proud to have.
7. Believe that you don’t have to let your shame destroy you.
8. Recognize the perpetrators for what they are – nasty violent sex offender criminals.
9. Let the perpetrators keep the responsibility for their own behavior. Don’t take on what belongs to them.
10. Do your healing work – process your trauma, grieve the way it has affected your life.
11. As you heal, be willing to let the resolved issues settle into the past.
12. Fill your life with activities and people that you genuinely like.
Kathy Broady LCSW