May 9, 2010
It’s Mother’s Day 2010.
Mother’s Day – it’s a hard day for a lot of dissociative trauma survivors. It’s a day full of mixed emotions, painful longings, unhealed heartbreak. This day hurts the people who were hurt so much by their mothers.
Mothers are a complicated subject, to say the least, and the impact a mother can have on her children can and does change their lives. Abusive or neglectful mothers can teach some very damaging life lessons. Their children will carry those scars for decades of time.
I’ve seen this over and over with the DID survivors I work with. Years later, the ways their mother treated them affects so much of their life – maybe even more than they realize. People who were deeply wounded by their mothers often cannot view other maternal figures (Including other female authority figures) without getting confused in that relationship because of who their mother was. The crimes of the original mother spill over onto the relationship any children they might have, making it harder to be a good mother in their own life.
That original mother relationship affects how DID survivors see the world, how they experience people, what they believe about themselves, what they believe about the world around them, and how they interpret others. It is very central to the very core of their being.
Working with mother-transference issues is one of the hardest parts of being a DID therapist. It is the area where the therapeutic relationship is at its most tender. It is the most vulnerable place. It is the spot where issues and feelings can get messed with by people who wish harm upon that therapeutic relationship.
To explain this, let me start from further back.
For example, I was blessed to have a very good mother and she taught me a lot of valuable life lessons. She wasn’t perfect, but she was and is about as close to perfect as one could ever hope for in a mother. She is kind, loving, compassionate, caring, generous with her time, good with children, full of wisdom, patient, gentle, and self-less in so many incredible ways. She has been an example to me for how to interact with people, especially with children. My mother is non-judgmental, and she is willing to dig in and help anyone that she meets. She is a beautiful soul, and she leaves a positive impact wherever she goes.
Yes, my mother has taught me a lot. And almost all of what she has taught me has been good. I do much of what I do because I had an incredible mother who taught me to be kind to others.
Those that spend time with me will see this in my work with them. They will see that kindness, acceptance, gentleness, and generosity in what I do. They will reap the benefits of what my mother gave to me as I pass that on to those that I work with.
So what makes that so hard?
If I am pulling from a good place, what makes mother issues so complicated and difficult to work with?
It’s because not everyone can interpret today’s kindness as genuine kindness. The past wrinkles in and rolls up into the present, and the present becomes twisted into the past in an emotional kind of way.
Sometimes the damage done to trauma survivors confuses kindness with abuse. Sometimes the damage done by an abusive or neglectful mother is so pervasive that it colors all acts done by other females, and the perspective becomes so tainted that nothing is seen clearly. Female therapists are seen through the perspectives of “mother figures will abuse me”, “mother figures will hate me”, “mother figures will think I’m bad”, “mother figures will abandon me”, “mother figures are to be hated”, etc.
When trauma survivors truly believe, in their deepest selves, that women are there to abuse them, it is not an easy job to overcome that belief. The fear is too huge. The expectation of horrible doesn’t end. The fearful expectation of abuse can often overtake everything else.
Frequently the pain-anger-guilt-shame at not having a good mother can get thrown at the female therapist, and displaced and projected onto her as a safe place to express such deep heart-wrenching emotions. Therapeutically, this is expected to happen, and the goal is to work through that in a healing way. Most therapists and clients understand that, and will work through it as a team. It can be done, and when it is, very deep healing can occur.
However, sometimes trauma survivors get a little messed up along their journey. They truly get confused in this area, and understandably so. It’s an emotionally complex point, and trauma survivors are extremely vulnerable in this place. And because of those vulnerabilities, they can be easily misguided. They can get easily confused over who is the “good mother transference figure” and who is not. They listen to poor advice, or bad rumors, or are too unwilling to let go of their fears in order to heal. They stay convinced that women are out to get them, and they quickly join in with thinking that female therapists are abusive.
This breaks my heart.
I found it horrifically sad that some trauma survivors are willing to hold onto such beliefs that they would bring harm to themselves and to others. This only continues the cycle of abuse. It is not about healing. It is destructive.
(Yes, there are a few female therapists who are harmful to their clients, but those are few are far between, and those are not the people I am writing about in this particular article. That’s a completely different topic, to be discussed another day.)
This article is about genuinely good therapists who are mistaken as the “bad mother”. This article is about finding ways to heal from your abuse. It is about finding a woman of kindness, and not confusing her with your not-so-kind mother. It is about recognizing the differences, and not being pulled into old fears, old beliefs, and old ways, just because they are more familiar to you.
It is about learning to recognize someone that can be positive, helpful, and kind to you, and to your inner children. It is allowing that healing to occur. It is keeping clear on what happens in the present, and not distorting it or twisting it into something negative from your past.
It does not help your healing to project your “bad mother issues” onto a good therapist and then stay stuck in that spot. It only confuses you, and it prevents your healing. It brings harm to you and your system to stay stuck there.
Your female therapist can and will teach you something very different from what your mother taught you. Don’t assume the two women will be the same, because they will not be. Don’t project so much of your abusive past onto your current day therapist that you cannot see who she really is. Work hard at recognizing true kindness and gentleness for what it is.
Let yourself and your inner child parts have those corrective emotional experiences with a kind therapist and don’t let anyone mess with that. If you let someone distort those experiences – if you let someone convince you that something was abusive when it wasn’t — then you have brought emotional pain to your inner world that didn’t need to happen. If you weren’t abused, don’t let yourself believe that you were just because that is more familiar. Separate the past from the present.
Haven’t you been hurt enough? Why add to that?
It is important to try to believe that women are not out to get you. Female therapists are not here to harm you. What your mother taught you can apply to her, but it really and truly does not have to apply to everyone else. Your mother may have been cruel, cold, uncaring and abusive towards you. But not everyone will be. Not everyone wants to be.
Don’t assume the worst, and please don’t treat other women as if they did what your mother did.
It is very hard for trauma survivors to come to terms with these truths. But the sooner you do, the sooner you will find that place of genuine healing.
Don’t let the harmful lessons that your abusive or neglectful mother taught you ruin or destroy any more of your life. You truly can heal from the hurt and the trauma that you went through – I promise!
There are lots of good, helpful, kind, compassionate, caring women out here in the world. I encourage you to be one of them.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
January 15, 2009
Acronyms are some of my favorite writing exercises. I am repeatedly impressed with the amount and quality of helpful information that can surface through the use of acronyms.
Acronyms are helpful when you get stuck. They are also particularly helpful when addressing a topic head-on or “with logic” is getting you nowhere. Sometimes, it is better to take a more gentle, roundabout, less direct approach. Let the information and feelings surface on their own without having to break the no-talk rules that are often so deeply embedded within.
Acronyms are particularly helpful when you just can’t quite figure out how to say what is going on for you. Or, when the parts inside are struggling with whether to tell you or not, and they don’t want to say it directly.
Acronyms are a creative way of “telling without telling.”
Pick any word or phrase or theme that describes how you feeling or what you are thinking at that moment. For example:
- What’s bothering me today?
Upset about school; Angry with my boss; Blocked feelings
- How would I describe how I feel today?
Frustrated and mad; totally numb; scared of everything
- What about my relationship with _________.
My mother is stupid; Afternoons with Suzie; Uncle Sam is weird
- I am remembering ________.
Nights at that house; Visits from Ted; Nightmares
- I keep thinking about __________.
Voices I hear; Seeing others inside; My puppy Patches
Write this word or phrase vertically on the page.
As you think of that theme, take one letter at a time, and write down the first word or phrase that you think of that starts with that particular letter. Again, there is no right or wrong, just write down the words that come to mind as you think about your theme word. If you immediately think of more than one word for any particular letter, you can write down both words if you want to.
If you get stuck on a letter that is difficult, you can adjust the exercise however you see fit. The easiest option is to turn the difficult letter into any “miscellaneous” letter of your choice, allowing you to fill that spot in with any words that come to mind about your theme.
Once you have completed the list of words for your acronym, read through what you have written. Take this writing exercise a step further by using that same list of words as parts of a paragraph. The words can be used in any order in combination with as many other words as needed to complete your paragraph.
Read through your paragraph. Is there a particular phrase, or word that stands out to you? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Pick a word or phrase that either needs further explanation, or seems to summarize your thoughts the best, or just “hits you” as important.
Using this new word or phrase, start the exercise again. Repeat this process as many times as necessary – with a new acronym, a new list of words, a new summary paragraph. You can repeat this process again and again because each new acronym will lead to greater understanding of the issue at hand.
Example of Acronym Writing:
Reaching the inside is not as hard as you might think. Yes, they have experienced terrible things that no one should ever have to endure. They need reassurance that they will never have to do that yucky stuff ever again. Let each part of you live a safe life.
R real scared
C crying, comfort
I understand that everybody feels real scared about writing, and talking, and telling. It is important to know the reality of what has happened so you can learn how to become safe. It is ok now for each of the child parts to have comfort. They are still crying because they have been hurt again and again. They need to know they can always be safe. I am here to help you find safety. Nobody deserves to be hurt, not even the inside parts that are named Nobody.
Pick the word or phrase that sticks out for you in this second paragraph. Do a third acronym with those words, then a fourth acronym, then a fifth, etc. Keep going until you have reached some answers to the words and feelings you were searching for.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 10, 2009
I’m going to take a slight detour in the internal communication series and write a little about working with difficult alters. It is crucial to work with these internal parts, no matter how challenging and hopeless things seem in the beginning. Your therapy and healing will never be resolved unless you approach the issues connected with these difficult insiders.
And for that matter, the whole process of building a connection with these difficult, complicated insiders is based on building good communication skills with them, so in that sense, this post is still part of the internal communication series. System work, in whatever way it happens, is a critical part of internal communication and the overall healing journey for everyone with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID/MPD).
Insiders may first appear in your therapy process being difficult – obstinate, obnoxious, aggressive, scary – and they may maintain destructive behaviors for a long time, but regardless of where they start, any alter within your system can become a helper or a protector. If you as the person truly want to achieve healing, then the healing of your difficult insiders can and will happen as well. No matter how difficult they initially present, they can become productive, helpful, positive members of your system.
Remember, even as a multiple, you are still one whole person. If any of your insiders are left to behave obnoxiously, or if they maintain their destructive negative goals, their behaviors and feelings will affect you and the outside people that interact with you. You cannot block off your “problem parts” and pretend they don’t exist and still expect to achieve positive healing. ALL of your insiders have to have the chance to heal, including the people you are afraid of or the ones about whom you don’t immediately find anything likable.
Some difficult alters are destructive by their own choice and design. They do what they do because they purposefully want to be negative and interrupting. Other difficult situations are complicated simply because the issues at hand are very complex and emotionally challenging. Those internal parts may not want to be as much “trouble” as they are, but until their issues are more resolved, they may not know what else to do.
Who do I define as a difficult alters? Some examples are:
- Those that purposefully sabotage or terminate your therapy and your healing process.
- Those that are self-destructive, violent to the body, or harmful to the body in any variety of ways.
- Those that sabotage other people within the system, including hurting or negatively manipulating others, blinding them, locking them up, abusing them, etc.
- Those that are willing to hurt outside helpers – any of the people that are legitimately trying to promote healing. Any version of hurting the helpers – verbally, physically, emotionally, monetarily, violently, etc. – counts as being difficult and destructive to your treatment and to your system overall.
- Those that cannot contain the new learning and tend to repeat the same negative behaviors over and over.
- Whoever the system members themselves define as “difficult” or “challenging” because those parts hold issues or feelings that are particularly hard for them to work with.
- Those that have trouble connecting to the current day, time, place.
- Those that act out their trauma instead of talking about their trauma.
- Those that stay locked in trauma memories and do not see or interact with the current day, time, place, etc.
- Those that adamantly insist on staying hidden, separated, and amnesiac from the others inside.
The quick answer to address these complicated insiders is to speak to them. Talk to them. Get to know them. Try to understand them. Listen to their perspective on life. Even these insiders can be and should be approached in your therapy sessions. I can promise you, if you avoid talking to these insiders, they will continue to act out their issues. Ignoring them frequently means they will just act out more to get your attention.
It is essential to approach these insiders knowing they have had their job for a reason. You might not like the reason, or understand their reason, but the point is, they are doing what they do because they believe it is helping to achieve a goal that they want. Try to understand what it is that they are doing. Why are they acting out like that? What do they believe? What do they value? From their framework, does their behavior make sense?
Really listen closely to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Work hard to hear and listen to their perspective. You might be pleasantly surprised to hear that their goals are not as “bad” as you might have originally thought they were. The main difference is that you might not agree with the visible behaviors.
Once you have an understanding of why they are doing what they are doing, you can work with them to problem solve and find new ways – more positive and helpful ways – to get what they want. You can begin negotiations on what helpful and positive goals will be.
And the whole process starts by talking to them. Communicate with them. Let them talk to your therapist. Let them get involved in the healing process. Remember, if they aren’t helping the healing process, they’ll continue to hurt it.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation