Note: This was written last November and is largely unedited. It felt too vulnerable to post at the time, however I’m posting it now because I think that it might be useful to someone out there.

I’ve been thinking about writing this for some time- some of the things that I wish someone could have told me earlier in my journey. Maybe I could have heard them, maybe I couldn’t, but I will share what I have learned in hopes that I might make someone else’s journey a little easier.

I have struggled for years about whether to believe the things that parts of my mind tell me happened. I know from listening to and reading about the struggles of others who deal with dissociation related to abuse that many others share the same conflicts.  
Over time, I have come to understand that the internal strife between the parts that say that I could never have abused and those that insist that I was is a reflection of the essential nature of my dissociation. At its most basic level, it was a sanity saving way for my mind to manage that which I could not have otherwise tolerated living through. I simply could not have lived life as the girl who had such terrible things happen to her. Instead I split into the “me” who had a “normal” life and the “me” who endured having my body and soul violated. I then further adapted by even more splits as I needed to manage other aspects of what I found unendurable. 

I am slowly coming to accept that I likely won’t ever have these two sides of me in complete agreement. I have external clues that line up with the abuse actually having happened (signs of damage to my body, a childhood friend who suspected abuse, stories that my mother tell me about my childhood that make more sense if I was being abused), but I don’t have any real confirmation. I have no siblings who might support my perceptions and I am too afraid of the repercussions if I come straight out and accuse my father. Based on other, lesser, experiences of dealing with him when he was in the wrong, I expect that he would only deny the abuse and my mother is so loyal to him that I can’t see her doing anything other than supporting him. Frankly, it’s possible that my reluctance to confront my parents also has to do with resistance of the me who needs to believe that it couldn’t have happened. While in some ways it would be a relief to have the questions settled once and for all, at the same time it would bring up so much grief, rage, and loss that some of me fears that I would drown in it.  

So I am left to try to find someway to live with both the belief that the abuse happened and also the belief that it didn’t, simultaneously. I very much want to find a way to have peace between the two sides, but I’ve come to see that this much agreement is most likely not going to be possible. Instead, my peace will come from accepting that I still need to believe that my dad didn’t abuse me and at the same time not negating the experiences of those parts of me who remember things happening. When I push away the parts of me who say that the abuse happened for too long, then I start to experience intrusive memories. On the other hand, when I push myself too hard to take in and live with what happened, I start to feel overwhelmed with distress. The denial gives me the distance I need in order to go through my life in a fairly normal manner. 
One key to my personal balance with this struggle has been to learn to stop worrying about whether specific memories actually happened and to instead respond to the parts of me who hold memories, “Yes, I understand that the memories of these emotions and sensations have a valid basis. My relationship with my father went very, very wrong. I have cut off contact with him and I am no longer so powerless that I have to accept being hurt the way that I did as my father’s dependent. My life is different now and I need to not spend time in the memories of what happened. I don’t have to “prove” to myself or anyone else that I was abused.”

When I notice myself starting to go too much to the “It’s impossible that my dad could have done those things” side, then I need to remind myself of how I have gone through the “he abused me/he couldn’t have abused me” cycle dozens of times. When I remember details of the abuse, it all seems so vivid and undeniable. I am not crazy- I am in touch with reality and the memories are not hallucinations; this simply is the way that my mind works because it was trained to do from a young age, so I could remain functional. Besides when I stand back and dispassionately look at all of the evidence of my behavior, the dysfunctionality of multiple generations of my family, the fact that my cousin told me that her father (my dad’s brother) sexually abused her, and other factors, nothing else makes sense but that I really was abused. 

Juggling the two sides is not easy, but it is far easier on me than letting them war with each other.  

So what am I trying to say to those who are just beginning to struggle with these same conflicts? Obviously I, a stranger, don’t have a clue about what did or didn’t happen to you. In the end, you will have to find your own answers. However just because there is a war inside of you about whether to believe the terrible things that parts of your mind are telling you were your experience, that doesn’t mean that those parts are wrong. If your mind has resorted to defending itself by dissociation, then likely it has felt like “not knowing” what happened was essential to your survival for a long time. You aren’t “crazy” for sometimes completely believing one way and then the next day or even 5 minutes later believing just as strongly the opposite. That is the way that dissociation works. In general, the more that you can get the different parts to communicate, the more peace you will experience in the long run. But, at the same time, the reality is that sometimes the dissociative barriers serve functions that will always be needed in order for you to function at your best. Yes, it is possible to both believe and not believe at the same time. 

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/