I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships in general and my relationship with my mother in particular. I’ve also seen similar themes come up for other bloggers who were also abused while their mothers failed to protect them and I hear them talking about wounds that leave me nodding my head in recognition, “Yes, oh, yes. I hear you and have felt feelings so much like what you describe.”

I don’t know the pain of the intentionally abusive mother and am eternally grateful that I had at least one parent who clearly did love me. What I deal with is more confusing though; my mother loved me, but she failed to protect me from people who harmed me. I know that she loves me now, but when I said that she, but not my father, would be welcome to come and visit me and my family while she was traveling through the area and only an hour and a half away, she never responded. 

I know that she came from an abusive background, although I’m not sure how abusive. She married at 19 and had me the week before her 21st birthday. She lacked a support system and says that her mother was a terrible example on how to mother. She tried to “always do the opposite” of what her mother would have done. 

I understand that she and my father were terribly dependent upon each other. When I was little, they were crushingly poor, struggling to put food on the table while my dad went to school and finished his college degree. There probably was so much that made her cling to the bit of seeming security that she had- my father. 

But my father was hurting me from age 2 or 3, I believe. His father was hurting me, too, and I was so young, so it is hard to be clear on who did what and at what age. The abuse by the different men seems to have had different qualities, though. What my grandfather did was much more intentionally cruel- the goal seemed to be to harm me emotionally and psychologically. A child knows when someone gets pleasure out of hurting them. My father wanted to to what he wanted to do; harm to me seems to have been incidental, rather than the central purpose. 

I was a child who knew what it felt like to be violated from an early age. Who knew that she had to stay still and quiet and accept whatever was done. Who desperately wanted to be rescued by her mother, but who never was. 

I knew safety when I was in my mother’s arms and I knew that I was loved, but when I was alone with my abusers, I knew terror, pain, shame, horror, and complete helplessness. I couldn’t deal with those overwhelming feelings on my own and I wasn’t getting any help to deal with them. I don’t know when the dissociation started, but I know that I have young parts. There are different theories as to how and why the dissociative mind develops; I don’t know which is correct, but I do know that it currently cushions me from the horrors that I reexperience flashes of. I struggle to find ways to “tie myself together” that work for me. That don’t overwhelm me with relentlessly reliving the abuse, but also that don’t deny my own story. That enable me to live a life that I find satisfying. 

Relationships matter to me. I yearn for deep and satisfying relationships, but I’m also terrified to let people in too close. Most of all, I’m terrified to really rely on people to be there for me if I reveal the me that I keep hidden from almost everyone. The relationship damage would be bad enough, needing to learn how discern who is safe, growing up with a father whom almost everyone thought was a wonderful person, but who harmed me so badly. I think that it is far worse from my mother and her failure to protect, though. She taught me that even if people have good intentions, I can’t rely on anyone to be there when I really need them. They will always let me down when it matters most and I will pay in blood. 

So I am left in the quandary of craving emotional intimacy and expecting devastation if I start to achieve it.  That has made my work with Mama Bear all the more challenging as we have gone through layer after layer of relational work. It’s a relief to be in one of the phases when I can see her more clearly and see that I can rely on her to never judge me, no matter what happened. To know in my gut that she isn’t going to desert me when I most need her, even if the nature of the relationship means that she can’t always put my needs first the way that I yearn for. She does when we are together and if I am in sincere distress, she finds ways to support me between sessions. And while the adult me doesn’t need or want for her to do any more, there are terribly hurt child parts from the times when I desperately needed for my mother to see my distress and decide that nothing else mattered as much as making sure that I was ok. I needed for my wellbeing to matter more than her need to protect herself from whatever past she was protecting herself from. I needed to matter more than her not making waves with my father. I needed for her to dig until she understood what would make me cry every day for months on end.  I needed for her to not just love me, I needed for her to be willing to deal with her own demons so she could make me safe.  

My heart yearns for my mother. I love her. I hate the distance between us, but I got to a point where I could no longer pretend that things were ok. I finally reached the day when I had to say, “I will not see my father.”  It was imperative that I finally say, “No!”  Actually, what I really want to say is, “Stay the fuck away from me and my family, you bastard!”  I can live with sticking to the polite version in my communications with my parents though, as long as I can say whatever is really on my mind in session. The important thing is that I have realized that my stability and wellbeing depends on my knowing that I can establish a safe place for me and my daughter here. I need to demonstrate to myself that I am no longer the helpless child who to has to adjust to whatever her father wants. I don’t have to be a “good girl” any longer. 

And now I struggle over how to deal with my mother. I don’t want to hurt her by cutting off all contact, but I’ve also realized that this in between is driving me crazy. I hate the sporadic communication from her as if all is well when all is not well. In our last session, MB reminded me that I have given my mother the option to come and see me and she was the one who chose not create stress with my dad and to not come to see me. I’ve avoided looking too closely at that choice, because it’s pretty heartbreaking. On so many levels it’s indicative of so much of what is wrong. 1) She acknowledged that text, but never gave me a yes or no answer to the invitation. Ignoring the elephant in the middle of the room is a real family skill. 2) Keeping my dad happy came before me- again. 3) It feels like another, “Please don’t tell me what I can’t bear to hear! I’m too fragile to take it.” 4) I feel like I am the one who has to bear the burden of what happened all alone, without any support from my mother at all. 

I wish that I had some clever insight that gave me a real hope of connecting in a real way with my mother again. But I don’t. I think that the path forward is going to involve learning to feel the sorrow and rage over losing my mother. And slowly, painfully taking baby steps at trusting people to not abandon me if I let them get close enough to touch my heart. 

I’m not much into writing these days. There is a lot going on. Lots of forward movement which is good, if painful and exhausting. 

It seems easier right now to express myself with my artwork. There are many layers under the drawing of this girl, including part of a coloring book page, music, a book, old paint pallets. More than you can tell that is there. Some of it you can see bits of, if you look carefully, but much is hidden from view. Like all of us with the stories that we carry inside of us. 


I know someone through the on line art community who is doing a film about abuse and survivors of abuse. She is a survivor herself and I have every confidence that she will produce an amazing film. 

She has currently put out a call for people who are interested in participating in the film. More information can be found here: http://www.letterstomyabusers.com/film-submission/

I keep on planning to write out in detail how things evolved in therapy, but it seems to be too tender, too painful for me to go there in detail. In short, I have started to look at how my father is a narcissist and how negatively that has affected my development as a person. 

There are so many things that I clearly remember that demonstrate how narcissistic he was, so I don’t get caught up in the “did it really happen?” trap. It has been both extremely validating and brought up all sorts of resistance to seeing him in a way that my mother would disagree with. I can look at it and more clearly see that the resistance is a reflection of a life time of training and how painful it is to accept that my father acted in ways that were so cruel to me. 

I don’t know why it is so hard for me to stop fighting the knowledge that he had to have known that some of what he did hurt me. He was impaired empathicly not cognitively and some of what I remember so clearly communicated significant distress to him. It’s just so incomprehensible to me that someone could know that they were hurting their child and not care enough to stop themselves from doing whatever it is. It seems to bring up such remembered feelings of terror and horror.

 I don’t know how much of that is the response any child feels at being helpless and knowing that her father won’t stop hurting her and how much of it comes from experiencing some pretty extreme and sadistic abuse at the hands of my grandfather.  I don’t know how much I remembered at any time, but deep inside I would have had an understanding of some of the really bad things that can be done to a little girl. I know that I still experience an almost frantic need to declare, “But my dad wasn’t as bad as my grandfather. He didn’t Like hurting me. He didn’t hurt me because the hurting gave him pleasure.  He just needed to do things that hurt me.”  Even I can tell that thinking reflects a child’s desperate need to find some shred of safety in a terrible situation. 

And the fact is that I don’t know whether he enjoyed hurting me or not. He certainly didn’t in the obvious ways that my grandfather did. Thank goodness. I don’t think that my soul could have survived living with that much anger and hatred. 

Putting aside the question of the sexual abuse for the moment, simply acknowledging that my dad consistently made jokes out of things that I cared about and then turned around and shamed me for reacting to his “jokes” is painful.  It’s so unbelievable to me that someone would continually try to tear someone down whom they are supposed to be nurturing instead. But that’s what I grew up with. It’s hard to look at the pattern of what he said and did and begin to suspect that he knew what he was doing; that by the time I was in my teens, he had figured out that the way that he manipulated me was painful and he wasn’t just hurting me by accident. But it just seems so repellent to me: you don’t repeatedly hurt someone over and over and over. The very thought of knowingly hurting someone in a truly damaging way every day is painful to me. 

And then I keep on experiencing these physical memories that seem to be connected to my dad, although they currently are so fuzzy, it’s like I’m remembering barely being present while being abused. Exactly what is happening is not clear, but all of the possibilities that would cause those sensations in a rhythmic way are sexually intrusive. 

This morning, I went from feeling just fine to being in this sort of a flashback like someone flipped a switch. All it took was stretching and experiencing my body in a way that obviously reminded me of something traumatic. The child part of me was desperate to escape. The adult me that had been thinking about art and fine a few seconds before was bewildered. I knew that I was about to go to a session, but I have agreed that it’s in my best interest right now to deal with some pressing parent issues that need to be resolved in the near future and not keep on going back to the memories. (One of our reasons for the shift in emphasis is that by spending less time dwelling on the memories, I am giving my brain a chance to kind of cool down, rather than constantly be in a trauma state. The goal is that when we deal with any memories at a future date, my brain will no longer be in such a hyper reactive state, I will be better able to maintain dual awareness, and be better able to actually work with and process the memories in small bits.)

Anyway, it left me in a conflicted, confused state that followed me into the session. I really needed something in regards to the flashback, but I didn’t know what. Even worse, I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be talking about it, so I got stuck in a blocked state where I was child like and had trouble communicating with Mama Bear. I sort of managed to communicate what had happened earlier that morning, but I had to fight to not interpret everything that she said as a criticism or instructions to not talk. I couldn’t quite manage to work with what she actually was saying, the best that I could do was to compare what I thought that she meant with her actual words and what I know of her. That let me know that she didn’t want to shut me down, but it was all that I could do to not curl up in a ball and retreat. 

Eventually, she asked, “Is there was some sort of problem between the two of us.” 

For some reason, I was able to activate my adult more with that question than I had been able to up to that point. I answered, “I don’t understand what the problem is, but I know that I am very much acting like there is a problem.” 

She replied, “It seemed to me that things changed when I mentioned that there were 16 minutes left and asked what you wanted to talk about. I can think of lots of things that have been triggered in similar situations in the past, what do you think happened this time.”

I thought about it and knew that most of the time I react to the reminder that I will have to leave at a certain time because she has other clients that need her. I quickly realized that while that part of it did feel uncomfortable to me, that wasn’t what I was reacting to most powerfully. 

I started to cry and I explained, “I just realized what I think is affecting me so strongly. It has to do with what happened this morning. I woke up feeling fine and I really am fine a lot of the time now. But a part of my mind is still working on the sexual abuse question and that just got thrown at me so hard this morning.” By that point I was sobbing too hard to say anything more. 

The last few minutes of the session are a complete blur. I know that I was strongly in the state that so desperately needed to simply not feel alone with the feelings of despair and horror. Writing, now, I think that they are the remembered feelings of despair and horror that I felt in that dissociated state of being only vaguely aware of what was happening to my body. 

I remember Mama Bear saying, “I’m really glad that you were able to tell me this” and her looking at me with so much compassion in her eyes. I remember finally being able to reach out to her hand and make a physical connection. I remember her regretfully telling me that we had to end the session and seeing that she had taken me a minute over, which she hates to do when there is a client waiting. I remember her offering me my water (I always guzzle whatever water is left in my cup at the end of the session), my refusing it, and her checking again. I remember her hugging me as I was on the way out the door and then asking, “Did that sink in at all?”  When I admitted, “Not that much”, she offered another hug. I remember being not very present and crying my way through all of this and reassuring her that I would sit in my car for a bit before I tried to drive anywhere. 

Looking back at what happened, I’m trying to figure out what I think needs to be addressed out of it. I need to know that I can go in and say, “I know that I have agreed to not make the abuse memories a focus of therapy right now. But I think that I need something in regards to what my head is working on about it in the background. I don’t know what that is, though and I need for you to help me figure that part out”. Because what I needed today wasn’t really about shifting the focus away from the current parent issues, it was about confirming that I don’t have to be alone with those feelings the way that I was when I was a child.  That I don’t have to cut myself up into pieces and that I can learn to tolerate being whole. I need to experience over and over that I won’t be rejected for the feelings that feel like they are too much. That is my now. 

My father’s daughter

I’m not sure if I mentioned that my mom sent me an email two or three months ago saying that she was going to retire in February and that she and my dad were going to take a trip in their motor home across country and they wanted to both stop here to visit with us and then to take my daughter on a trip for a couple of weeks. This really precipitated a crisis that I have been dealing with ever since. I know that there is no way that I will let them take Grace anywhere and I quickly realized just how frightened I am by the thought of seeing my father, so on the surface, my response should be a simple “no”. Unfortunately, nothing is simple when it comes to my being able to deal with my parents. 

One of the more painful responses is that it precipitated an intense denial that my father could have sexually abused me. So much of me wants to connect with my mother and it seemed that the only way that I could do that was to see my father the same way that she sees him. Or at least as close to that as I can manage, which definitely does not include an image of him as a child abuser. As a result, I went through many weeks of internal battles. I pushed away Mama Bear for awhile, out of confusion and pain; a lot of that time is a confused fog of pain, confusion, and isolation. 

In the last few weeks there finally has been a real shift. I had to change how I was going about things in order to start this shift, however. Through talking with Mama Bear about it a lot, I came to realize that I eventually have to come up with something that I can live with to say to my mother. I can’t keep on avoiding the issue indefinitely, because they will end up on my doorstep, if I do. 

In our sessions, I would stumble across just how deep seated and intense the fear is of my father, and rationally I knew that if my relationship with my dad hadn’t included fear, I wouldn’t have that intense, visceral fear reaction to him.  I kept on throwing myself against the “I don’t know for sure what happened” wall and Mama Bear kept on responding, “No, we can’t know exactly what happened with certainty, but you have been exhibiting trauma reactions for as long as I have known you. You haven’t even been very comfortable with your dad and years ago you concluded that you really don’t want to have anything to do with him. All we can really do is go with what you know and feel right now.”

Part of the catch for me was that I felt like it would be too hurtful if I didn’t give my mother the contact that she wants.  “You don’t hurt the people you love!”

Mama Bear would counter with, “Yes, but who is going to keep you from being hurt, if you don’t?  You don’t have to take care of your mother, she will take care of herself. She has been all of this time.”  Those words made me stop short and think. “I’ve felt responsible for taking care of my mother, but she has been the one there, taking care of herself.  And when I was little and she couldn’t see that I was being hurt, she was taking care of herself, not me.”

Somehow, though, it felt so incredibly selfish and self centered to create a boundary and say “No” to my parents. I was slowing coming to agree rationally that I had to do it for my sake and the health of my little family, but a large part of me was invested in trying to maintain the status quo, because as painful as this balancing act has been, there hasn’t been an overwhelming disaster, and that part of my mind fears the possibility of utter disaster.

Around this time, Mama Bear recommended that I read a book by Peter Levine called Trauma and Memory (or something very like that.)  She said that she thought that I would find it affirming of my experience dealing with trauma and that it might help ease some of my self doubt. I ordered the book from Amazon and had it two days later. It’s a good book, but there are two short sections in the book that negated everything else that I read and seemed to just set off all of my fears in an explosion of self doubt and confusion. I showed up at my next session incredibly distressed and barely managed to get out to Mama Bear that I had read most of the book and that it fed on all of my fears about confabulation and false memories. I was a complete mess. It turned out that while she has read other books by him, her recommendation of that particular book was based on a summary, so she hadn’t seen the material that had set me off. While I was wildly upset, enough of me was rational to be able to admit that it was likely that I hadn’t processed things clearly, because they were so inflammatory for me and I was making more out of them than the author intended. 

We proceeded to have a long talk about the whole issue and while I don’t remember many details of the conversation, some very important points stood out for me. First, Mama Bear is thoroughly on my side.  At some point when I was wailing, “but what if he didn’t actually do anything sexual to me?  What if it’s all confusion?” she responded, “I would be absolutely fine if you came to me and said, ‘I’m clear that he didn’t sexually abuse me, I was wrong.’  I know how confusing this has been for you. I know how much you have struggled with it. You don’t have to worry that I’m going to think that you pulled one over in me!  I just want whatever is going to be best for you.”

I explained to her, “I’m afraid that my mind might have generated all of this as a reason for me to have a right to want him out of my life.”  

Her response was, “But why would you so desperately want him out of your life, if there was nothing the matter with your relationship?” 

“I don’t know!”

“This is why you need to just stay with what you know right now. You can figure out how you truly feel and what you need right now to take care of yourself. Go with that.”

Somehow, this talk let me feel safe enough to finally give up throwing myself against that wall. It finally sunk in that maybe I just needed to listen to myself about why it is so important for me to protect myself from my dad, taking out any sexual abuse questions. 

Stopping with the “did he abuse me” questions seemed to help my over all arousal levels to subside. Fancy that, stop poking at myself all of the time and I could relax a little!  I found myself incorporating some of the sensory motor information from the Peter Levine book and came up with a calming/grounding technique that works better for me than anything else we had previously tried. I also started to pay closer attention to the feedback that I was getting from my body in session. For instance, in one session, I was talking with Mama Bear about how even though no one else could see my father as acting hurtfully, I still knew how the interactions made me feel, and suddenly I felt this intense visceral sensation. In the past I would have pushed the feeling away, but this time she asked me what was going on and I told her what I was feeling. I also told her that I thought that it was important that I stayed with it, because when I was young, I couldn’t stay with the feelings that my father was hurting me. Now is different, now it is safe for me to accept that he made me feel that way. Now I have at least one person who can hear and understand that my father treated me in ways that made me hurt. At the time, no one saw it because he disguised his hurtful ness as humor. 

Finding something from when I was young that I was forced to deny then, but that I am clear really was a part of my experience and then being able to tolerate being in my body with the memory of it has been a turning point for me. It seems to matter so much less for the now as to what all of the sources of pain with my father were. I don’t have to figure out right now what was sexual. There was a lot about our relationship that was simply painful and it’s safe for me know that and to begin to speak that truth. 

It finally felt safe enough to just tell Mama Bear what it was like to be my father’s daughter…  (To be continued)


I have been feeling so fragmented lately. I haven’t been able to write and barely been able to comment on other people’s posts. It’s common for me when I can’t seem to settle into one state to write from. 

I have been doing art, but not much with characters since Christmas. And even with the art I felt terribly fragmented. Like one part of me was picking out colors, another painting, and yet another looking at the painting. 

I know that part of the problem is that I have felt triggered in response to some contact from my parents, starting a week or so before Christmas. They want to come visit and then take my daughter on a trip for couple of weeks. It’s so not going to happen the way that they want, but it brings up all sorts of conflict for me. 

I have had a huge resurgence of the part of me that still is completely convinced that my dad couldn’t have done the sorts of things that I seem to remember.  But then there are the young parts who really seem to remember some terrible things and I experience such relief when I am able to work with them in a way that allows those parts of me to feel heard and accepted.  And then there is “me” in the middle, feeling torn and confused. It makes no sense that what the young parts are “telling” me isn’t based in an important way on something true. It makes no sense that I would have these terribly intense physical and emotional memories of being abused, if I hadn’t been. But the part of me that is convinced that those things could not have happened to me is so compelling. It’s like it swamps everything else out. 

I go back and forth between believing that it’s a demonstration of how strong the dissociation had to be when I was growing up in order for me to make it through my every day life and being convinced that it means that at least the most severe abuse with my dad could not have happened. It’s driving me nuts. 

Normally, I would have the time to go through all of this with Mama Bear and begin to untangle myself. But between the Christmas and New Years holidays and then her going out of town for 6 days over this weekend, I have had a completely messed up schedule with her. There are four weeks in a row when she is out on one of my two regularly scheduled appointments. I protested that schedule when it came up and she was able to schedule me for Tue and Wed of Christmas week and Wed and Fri for next week. Frankly, two days back to back ended up not being enough time for me to process and move forward. As a result, by Christmas, I was a basket case. I wasn’t sleeping at night, but couldn’t stay awake and present during the day. I felt scattered between adolescent and child parts, with no clue as to where my adult was. In short, I was not functioning at all well. 

I had worked my way into, “I have to deal with this all alone. I can’t bother Mama Bear. She deserves a break. Besides, how can she help me, I’m just a messed up piece of trash.”  So I was all alone. I faked my way through a useless session on 1 1/2 hours of sleep. Mama Bear could tell that something was off, but I didn’t go into just how off I was. Finally, after several more days, I wrote to her in desperation, telling her just how badly I was doing. She wrote back and threw me a life line, but couldn’t actually talk to me because she was too sick. 

I realized that my next session needed to be about doing whatever it was that would help me get through the next 8 days before twice weekly sessions started again and I could start to develop a rhythm that would help me to feel secure. First we talked about what had kept me from reaching out for help when I was so distressed. At some point, Mama Bear asked, “Is there anything that I have done that has made things more difficult for you?”  I answered, “Yes and no.  I understand and fully support your needing breaks and needing to take time off to do things like see your son. I know that the timing of this conference was not your choice [her husband is attending a conference in the city their son lives in, so she is going along in order to spend time with their son], but it’s really terrible timing for it to follow right after the breaks. And it’s hard that the holidays make it so that you aren’t so available when I’m triggered by family contact related to the holidays.

She accepted what I said, but also pointed out that I had a reason to not contact her over the break that sounded reasonable and adult on the surface, but really was self punitive. I have contacted her on Christmas before, I could have done so this time. I knew that she was right, one of the advantages of having a Jewish therapist is that it isn’t such a big deal to contact her on major Christian holiday. She asked, “C., what really kept you from contacting me?

I was shocked by my internal answer and began to sob. It took a great deal of effort and a bit of help from her, but eventually I was able to share,”I’m afraid that I will get from you what I need the way that I didn’t get it as a child and can’t get it now from my mother. I’m afraid that it will make my heart break.”

“Can you tell me more about why it would make your heart break?

If you didn’t mind my being a nuisance and needing you at a bad time, it would hurt so much because I needed for my mom to be ok with my needing her in ways that were a problem for her.  She couldn’t do that. I don’t see any evidence that she can do that now.”  I felt like I was crying out the deepest grief and hurt while Mama Bear sat there with me. 

When my crying began to ease up, Mama Bear said, “There is a lot more for us to talk about with this. We have about 15 minutes left, I just want to check and make sure that there isn’t anything else that you need to talk about in this session.

I took a deep breath and braced myself because I had come to the session knowing that I needed help beginning to explore a difficult question.  “Actually, yes, there is something. It’s big, though, and I know that it’s something that I will have to keep on coming back to, but I need to start to ask the question. What if my dad really did do the things that I think I remember him doing?”

You know, you don’t have such trouble believing that your grandfather abused you… Even if your father didn’t touch you sexually, you have been clear for a long time that you don’t trust him and that something was wrong between the two of you.”

I interrupted her, “That’s not what I’m trying to talk about. I mean, what does it mean to me if he really did those things?  How do I learn how to live with it?  I understand that it’s all his fault, but somehow it still seems like something that is impossible to live with. Those things were so horrible!  What does it mean about me that they happened to me?  It’s like inside I’m convinced that it would be impossible for me to live with it all!”

She gently said, “But if the things that you seem to remember really did happen, you survived them and you have been living with them.

No! That wasn’t me!  That was the other me!!!”

She radiated compassion as she firmly said, “C, it’s all you.”

I sobbed as I clung to her hand and protested, “I know that!  And I don’t know that!  It’s so hard and complicated!

She let me continue to cry for a bit more and then told me, “You are right. We are going to need to talk about this a lot more. But right now, you need to start to transition so you will be able to safely leave my office.

I have been doing somewhat better since Tuesday. At least I have been able to reach out for email contact when I needed to. But I still felt very off and fragmented. 

Finally, this evening, things shifted. I painted my first character since Christmas and it felt like something healed in my heart while I painted her. I feel lighter and freer than I have in weeks. I wasn’t thinking anything in particular while I painted her, but, for whatever reason, it is clear to me that her title is “Integrity”.  I’m not sure if that somehow refers to integration or if it means that it is a core characteristic for her. But I know that she represents some important aspect of me and that aspect represents the strength and courage that will get me through this next phase of work.