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Posts Tagged ‘denial’

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I have come to realize that part of my problem with writing these days is that I have so many parts near the surface that I feel as though they are constantly interrupting my thoughts while I try to write. I can’t seem to think a full thought, never mind write it out, before something else is thrust at me.

It’s hard when different parts have different priorities. One will think that the most important think to write about/explore is my developing relationship with Mama Bear and I will start to write a post about how our interactions nurture my increased ability to trust and tolerate emotional intimacy. However, writing about her reminds me of the work that we have been doing on present centering and working to bring the traumatized parts forward, so that they are able to be comforted and helped in the safe now, rather than be retraumatized by experiencing the same memories over and over. This seems that it would be more useful to others, so I start to write about it. But then while writing, I mention something about my relationship with my father and another part barges in, urgently needing to write about father issues. But then a protective part silences me, making it impossible to write any more about my father, and I am left fuzzy headed, staring at a computer screen, feeling as though I have nothing worthwhile to say and that I should just shut up.

At that point I give up and have yet another partial draft post sitting there, never to be finished. I’ve been tempted to go ahead and post one of these attempts at writing, because I am feeling thwarted and somewhat silenced, but I think that they would be too fragmentary to be of use to anyone.

I am feeling a bit overwhelmed these days by the intensity of dealing with these parts. One has a name. My parts don’t have names, but this one does and she seems to have a lot of life force. She only exists for one type of situation, but she will become completely dominant for those situations. She has strong beliefs and feelings. She holds so much of the more complicated trauma with my father. So often, touching her makes me start to shut down and go to sleep, because I can’t handle her and what she did yet.

But I’m supposed to be helping my parts cope and soothing them, not shutting down on them! I’m supposed to be stronger than her. I’m supposed to be lightening their burdens but with this one, I am too scared to look directly at what she carries, even though I have an idea of what it is. I am exhausted just coming close to her.

Right now I am grateful that my mind was able to dissociate and pull the experiences that she holds into a separate part of my mind. My father was a very deficient father in general, but he wasn’t a monster like my grandfather. Take away the sexual abuse, and I had a family life that was more inadequate than actively damaging, because my mother really did care. Take away the sexual abuse and I could look my mother in the eye and maintain the most important relationship in my life. Take away the sexual abuse and I could excel at school and buy my way into a different life. Take away the sexual abuse and my world didn’t dissolve into a bewildering morass of feelings and experiences that I had no hope of handling alone. But I am no longer 3 or 6 or 9 or 12 or 15. Slowly, bit by bit, I will take back the experiences and feelings that I couldn’t afford to feel for so long. I don’t want to, but I need to accept that her experience was my experience.

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A few days ago, I ran across something in an old journal entry. I’m pretty sure that most anyone who deals with dissociated memories of abuse also deals with fears that the memories didn’t “really” happen- that they just “made up” the memories. The reality is that memory is complicated and malleable. Under the best of circumstances it doesn’t function like a video recorder and is subject to distortion. Under the pressures of intense trauma being done to a small child and then the child trying to contain and make sense of what happened, it’s quite likely that what is remembered is not quite exactly what happened in some way. Sometimes the memories aren’t clear, particularly when they are missing important pieces of information or only involve one sense, and so they are susceptible to distortion while trying to make sense of them. When good therapists work with clients who are dealing with dissociated memories, they never probe for the memories, but allow them to emerge in their own time. These therapists also won’t say which memories or parts of memories they think are accurate, because it is the person who is remembering that is the best judge.

When I started therapy with Mama Bear, it was at the height of the “false memory syndrome” frenzy. At some point during that first year, I heard about it, and it did terrible damage to my ability to trust what was emerging. In many ways, it was a handy excuse for the parts of me that needed for me to stop looking at my history. “You can’t trust your memory. You can’t trust your mind. It’s impossible for you to have never seen any signs that this abuse was there.”

Well, yes, I had started to be afraid of sex right after I got married, as soon as I was safe from my family. But maybe I just have sexual issues for some other reason. Besides, it started to get really bad after I found and read a book that contained something about sexual abuse in it. Maybe that book started the whole idea? And then around the same time, I saw an Oprah show with Truddi Chase. That’s also around the same time that I can identify first having disruptive dissociative symptoms while in public. Of course, at the time I had no idea that they were dissociative symptoms and simply was bewildered and frightened by what I was experiencing. But maybe the dissociation was suggested to me by that show and somehow my mind took it and eventually developed it into something that looks like a dissociative disorder?

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I always had the doubt that somehow the idea had been planted in my mind and my mind developed it into this whole elaborate, tortuous experience. As I worked with various therapists and as I learned more about dissociation, the doubt eased, because it really is pretty preposterous that everything could fit together so well, match so exactly with what things would look like if the abuse had happened, and, most importantly, that significant healing and relief would be experienced when I accepted the reality of the abuse experiences. But underneath it all, there still was that nagging doubt, “But I first heard about sexual abuse and dissociation around the same time that I started to experience symptoms…”

Then I read that journal entry on Wednesday. When I read it, I understood that I was wrong about the time line. I described having an emotional memory of the abuse with my father triggered in a sexual situation with my then fiance, months before the wedding. I also described a part stopping me from being able to talk with my fiance about what had happened. I had no idea that there was a part involved, all I knew what that when I tried to talk, I felt as though I was being suffocated.

This all happened long before I was exposed to information about sexual abuse and dissociation. And I know from the description of what happened that I was triggered by a memory with my father, not my grandfather. Deep inside, I had still been hoping that maybe I was wrong about my father, but I’m not. Furthermore, the memory belongs to a group of things that happened that I had really been hoping I had somehow distorted under the stress of the memories coming out and that they hadn’t actually happened.

Over the course of two journal pages, I had the basis for all of my denial torn out from under me. Yes, denial doesn’t really rely upon logic, but by this point it has been weakened enough over all that hitting me in the face with evidence that counters the denial makes it pretty hard to keep it up. Being confronted in all of those areas at the same time was a big shock for me, though. Too big of a shock to deal with on my own.

Continued in Together

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Catherine Kleeman

Catherine Kleeman

“If I there was any way that I could have made it work to not accept that my dad abused me, I would have. But it was tearing me apart inside. It felt like it was killing me until I accepted it.”

It was my session today and Mama Bear and I had been talking about my relationship with my mother. I could see that even though I love my mother and I know that she loves me, our love for each other really might not be enough to overcome the problems in our relationship. I don’t want to lie anymore about what happened, but I fear that she can’t take the truth.

I say that I don’t want to lie anymore, and I really don’t, but at the same time, a large part of me would do anything to crush everything to do with my father’s abuse down into a tiny ball that I could hide in a corner and “forget.” I would do that because I am all but convinced that is the only thing that will allow me to have a relationship with my mother.

Mama Bear’s response was, “No one should feel the need to apologize for knowing and saying what her reality is.”

What a painful choice to make, though… Do I value more the chance to have my full self, hope of eventually being whole, to be real, and to heal enough to make the sorts of connections that I want to make with other people, or to have hope of maintaining a relationship with the only person who loved me as a child? The wiser part of me understands that I need to be whole, but the child in me would do anything to keep my mother. After all, my mother is the one who gave me the love that I needed in order to have some corner of me that was healthy enough to make choices when I was a young adult. She didn’t protect me, but she did give me a place where I could feel loved and relatively safe. She was my everything.

Last week, I realized that I have always lived a dual existence, since the abuse started. Some pretty horrible things happened to me as a child and as a result I developed all of the parts of me that took the abuse. At the same time, my mom provided love and I believe that she always has loved me strongly. When I was physically with her, I knew that I was safe. All children are dependent upon their parents, but I was desperately dependent upon her, because it felt like she was the only thing keeping me from a dark abyss. On the other hand, from what I can piece together, I had the strong message from her that she couldn’t take knowing anything about the abuse. She still can’t. She changes the subject and acts like I have said nothing, when I even make a reference to being in therapy. I could not afford to let the abuse affect my relationship with my mother at all. Without her, I would be without anyone to give me even the illusion of protection. So there is a part of me that has to be completely separate from the abuse. In fact, I think that is why there is such a strong dissociative barrier between the me that grew up “normally” and all of those parts of me that took the abuse. It had to be that strong, in order to protect my relationship with my mom.

Unfortunately, that leaves me with a part that still feels completely cut off from any of the abuse. Everything about the abuse feels foreign to that part and it seems utterly incomprehensible that my dad could have done the things that other parts say that he did. This part whispers in my ear, “It couldn’t have happened. This is all a mistake.” I wish that it was a mistake. I hate that I believe that my dad violated my body starting around age 3. I hate that I seem to remember performing sexual acts on him. I really hate… Well, I can’t talk about that right now. Let’s just say that I hate everything about it. It would feel awful to believe that somehow I had put myself through all of this, but as I said at the beginning, I’ve tried to do just that, over and over again, because it seems better than the option of accepting that I really had to lie there and let those things happen, even help them happen. It would be better than thinking that my Daddy could have made me feel so frightened and dirty. It would be better than knowing that my dad was having sex with me right under my mother’s nose and she could’t let herself see it.

Or would it really be better? Those frightened, hurt child parts of me think so, but the greater me has seen that when I finally accepted what happened and started to treat myself with compassion, then I suddenly started to make huge strides in my healing. I can also see that I fall apart, experience chaos inside, and want to hurt myself when I start to believe again that it’s impossible for my dad to have abused me. Rationally, it makes no sense that I would heal when I believe and act on a lie and I fall back into a dark place when I see the truth.

So, I think that it is time for me to have the conversation with Mama Bear that I have been too afraid to have before now. “It there anything else that could look just like what I have experienced and not be significant abuse? Could I somehow have created the dissociation in myself? Is it possible that I could have created everything and none of the abuse happened at all? Or is it safe for me to believe myself? Can I trust myself? All of the hubbub about false memories have left me even more afraid to believe myself than I would have been otherwise.” I know that she believes that I was abused, so I think that this type of conversation would help to put some of my concerns to rest. I also know that if there are any answers that would be difficult to for me hear, she will be gentle and help me work through them, but then at least I would know what they are, rather than being afraid of the unknown. It makes sense to have this conversation, but the thought of having it makes me incredibly anxious!

Do you deal with the struggle to believe or not believe? How do you deal with it?

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Lorraine Roy Fissure 5

Lorraine Roy
Fissure 5

I’ve been talking for some time about how much I struggle over what what may or may not have happened with my father. My problem is that I am strongly divided about what happened. There are parts of me that are convinced that he abused me and those parts seem to be able to give me at least a basic idea of what happened. On the other hand, there is a part that is close to the surface that labels those memories as being impossible and wants to believe that my parents cannot be as dysfunctional as I believe. This part is strong and “loud” because I have functioned from her for most of my life.

I have felt for the last couple of months that I’m in a bind: if I believe what the younger parts say happened, then I start to feel crazy and like I have made the entire thing up. The guilt builds, as does the sense of irreality. Eventually I doubt myself and start to think more from the denial part. However, once I buy into the denial, the younger parts start to panic and push back. Sometimes I get intrusive memories in the form of emotions/ sensations/ or narrative memories. Other times I experience self destructive urges. And a few times I have experienced crises with Mama Bear. Basically, it triggers all of my fears about not being believed and being left all alone with the abuse. If I can’t even be relied upon to be there for myself, then who can be trusted?

My sympathies lie more with the young parts that are desperate for support and I have been trying to force all of me to accept that my father abused me, but it just isn’t working. I think that I have to accept that it simply won’t work that way. There must be some reason that I need for part of me to believe that all of this is a mistake and I need to respect that need. As uncomfortable as it is to be of two minds about whether my father abused me, I don’t think that the situation is going to change in the immediate future. It certainly isn’t going to change because I tried to force the change.

I want for things to be black or white here. I want to be able to say, “yes he did” or “no he didn’t” with confidence and move on from there. But I have to learn to live with both at the same time.

I can see one benefit to me, though… I have to learn how to be OK no matter whether he did or did not touch me sexually. It enables me to see that it is my making things OK for me that is the key, not whether or not he sexually abused me. He could have done the worst things that I can imagine and that wouldn’t make me any less safe right now than if the things that I used to think were dreams really were only dreams and he never touched me. My safety now does not depend on what he did then; it mostly depends on what I do now. I was clearly harmed by our relationship, no matter how that harm came about. What he did and “how bad” it was won’t dictate whether or how much I heal, though. Lots of factors will influence my healing, but what my father did to me 3 or 4 decades ago will not dictate my life now. I refuse to let it.

I guess that my message to the young, traumatized parts who keep on telling me about bad things happening is, “You are not going to be abandoned. When I am with you, I believe that my father did sexual things that he shouldn’t have. I will keep on doing my best to help you understand that we/I now exist in a very different time and place, so the hurt and fear can become less. I think that things can get a lot better for all of me.” My message to the denial part of me is, “Yes, the thought of those things happening with my dad seems pretty far from reality. Nothing like that should ever happen. It should be impossible. But sometimes things like that do happen. It was possible for his dad to do them to me, after all. However, if I need to leave room for doubt, then I won’t fight it, but I’m also going to try to not encourage it.”

Have you had to learn how to live with being completely divided about something? How have you dealt with it?

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No matter how successful I have been at getting the rest of me to give up being in denial about the abuse, there has always been a corner of me who consistently has been in complete denial. I knew that this part had something to do with my parents, but until today, I didn’t realize that this was the part who lived with my parents. This is the part of me who really had a complete amnesiac block to anything that my grandfather did. I don’t think that she ever went to his house, so for her really and truly the abuse did not exist, because that was her primary function.

Today, that denial broke down. Not via that part of me finally connecting with memories of being abused, but through my understanding and accepting what it was like to live with the fact that I had been abused. Over the last couple of days, I have connected to memories of what it meant for me to have to live with the fear that my father would do the same sorts of things that my grandfather did. I am experiencing what it felt like to know what sensations were involved when things happened that a child should never experience. I can feel the grief of living with what happened without the support of anyone. And the part of me that has always been in denial finally accepts that this was my reality. That I had to live on a daily basis with the effects of being violated by a man who should have cared for me. Even if most of the time the memories of what happened were dissociated and not a part of my every day live, I still carried around inside of me 24 hours a day the impact of having been horribly used by him. No matter how successful the dissociation is, what is dissociated is always a part of the whole.

At least with the active abuse, I knew that eventually it would stop, I would go home, and my grandfather couldn’t access me once I was at home. Living with having been abused is it’s own little torture. Nothing will ever undo its having happened. When I was a child, I had to carry that burden all alone. I didn’t just have to go through the original abuse all alone, I had to live with any memories of it, and the simple awfulness of it all alone. It was never over. I would always have to live with it. I always will have to live with it.

But now I have resources. Most importantly, I have several people to support me. Some are even people I can trust enough to hold me while I cry. I also am an adult with a lot more internal resources and simple strength. I don’t like living with having been abused, but I’m learning skills to minimize the problems of living with it. Back then, I had nothing but what my mind could provide for me and a determination to survive. It’s no wonder that I split off parts that so strongly dissociated the abuse that it has taken the better part of four decades for me to grow up to the point where I can finally let go of the denial that I needed then to protect me from my daily existence. The me that needed to respect my parents and to go out into the world and succeed could not carry what it was like for me to live with having been abused. I couldn’t do both. I simply wasn’t capable of doing both.

So today I feel as though my heart is shattering because I’m finally allowing myself to fully feel what it felt like to live with the fear, and the shame, and the utter sense of everything being wrong in the world, and the anger, and the betrayal, and the pain, and the knowledge of what can be done to little girls. But I can do it today. My heart isn’t really shattering; it’s strong enough to take it. But it hurts so damn much.

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I feel as though I am balanced on a tightrope right now. Everything is so precarious that I can’t think about anything other than focusing on staying balanced. But that balance is artificial and I know that I am going to have to step off that tight rope from time to time.

That tightrope has me over two different states: one where I don’t believe that anything very bad at all happened with my dad. The other state believes that everything that I think might have happened, did happen. Sitting here, writing, I can connect with a third state: the me who can see that the truth most likely lies somewhere between the two extremes.

I have been here before. I hate being in this place. I hate this tug of war inside of me. So why do I come back here over and over?

I’ve finally realized that when I was a child, the only way that I had any “normal” was to not believe that anything bad had happened. If I could mostly live in a state where nothing bad had happened, then I could go to school and learn, have friends, do things with my mother, even be happy some of the time. I had some “normal” and that “normal” helped me to be in far better shape than I would have been without it. I had been looking at these current episodes of denial as being problem behaviors of mine or at the best ways that my mind is using to titrate taking in the reality of what happened, but now I can see that they are habits formed as a child, when they actually served an important and positive purpose. It’s no wonder that I am repeatedly drawn back to the denial over and over! Especially when I am overwhelmed and stressed. Fortunately, things have changed, and grounding in the here and now is a better way for me to find my “normal” these days, rather than denying my experience.

But the denial also helps to balance the pull to believe every single memory type thing that has come up. You see, I hesitate to believe that it all happened. Something inside of me resists believing that he actually did all of those things. But also I know that I am beyond furious at him and if there was a simple way to do it that didn’t hurt my mother, I would simply walk away from him right now. I know that parts of me hold extreme fear where he is concerned. I know that so much of me just hates him and wishes that he was dead. I know that when I talk or think about him, so much of the time I want to throw up. Those reactions are way too strong to be based on nothing, so there has to be some reason for me to have such strong feelings. The terror is stronger where my grandfather is concerned, but all of the other emotions are stronger with my father.

For several months I kept on trying to dig and dig, to see if I could figure out just what happened with him. That didn’t work. I got more and more hyperstimulated and more and more easily triggered into flashback states that may or may not have been accurate. Rather than clarifying what happened, I just got more and more confused. I want to be clear that the entire time, Mama Bear was trying to get me to not dig, but it was as if there was a divide and part of me understood and accepted that and another side of me was determined to just keep on digging.

Unfortunately, all of this means that I am left with all of these things in my mind that really might not have happened. What do I do with that? Especially because some things might have happened, so it isn’t as though I can just dismiss them all as products of an over stimulated, traumatized brain.

I feel as though I can’t figure out where to sit right now. Every place that I try has something spiky that pokes me when I try to settle there and I have to jump up and try another place, but that isn’t going to be comfortable either. It isn’t that nothing happened and it isn’t that everything happened. OK, so something happened, but what sort of something? Was it “just” bad in my mind because of what happened with my grandfather, or was it something that anyone would recognize as being bad? I wish that it didn’t matter so much to me, but it does. There is a particular room and a particular activity that keeps on coming to mind, but does it haunt me because I have thought about it too much, or do I think about it so much because it haunts me?

I have no idea when I will come to a place where I can settle sufficiently for me to be comfortable. Even if he did sexually abuse me, so much of me sees it as being impossible that it could have been a part of my life, I don’t know that I will ever be able to believe myself. I knew that my grandfather was outright cruel and enjoyed hurting people- that was openly acknowledged in the family. My dad was supposed to be the “good guy” of the family. The one who turned out all right and who all of the cousins could look up to.

I don’t know. All I know is that I am confused and angry and hurting. I know that I hate dealing with all of this. And I know that I have to find a way through this mess, even if it feels impossible at the moment, because I refuse to carry it with me for the rest of my life.

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