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Posts Tagged ‘dissociation’

Trigger warning: I need to write about some my worst experiences with my father, so this post is full of triggers. It does not contain graphic details of physical acts, but it does talk about rape and the details of the emotional effects. Please be aware of what is safe for you to read.

I am struggling to learn how to support and being to safety some of the parts that were most traumatized by my father. Two of these hold experiences of being raped and the third is younger and seems to remember a time when he tried to have sex with me, but I was too small and he stopped.

I also have been struggling with accepting that the rapes really did happen. What I sense of them is so mind-blowingly overwhelming that it makes me feel as though it would have been impossible to survive that level of abuse over a period of years. I don’t mean that it would have killed me physically, but it seems as though it would have destroyed what makes me essentially me. What makes me human, empathic, capable of loving. When I told Mama Bear this in our last session, her first response was that it was the dissociation that allowed me to survive, which probably is indeed true, but it wasn’t enough of an answer. Then she thought about it more seriously and agreed that my experience was a lot to survive. She paused for a moment and then said, “I don’t know if I could have survived it.” But then she went on to point out that humans have an amazing capability to survive extreme situations. “Think about slavery. Think about the Holocaust. Many did not survive, but some did survive with their humanity intact.”

What I went through was no where as extreme as slavery or the Holocaust, but when I thought about it afterwards, I realized that she hadn’t chosen those examples at random. There are many facets of what I went through that are similar, but thankfully on a much smaller scale. I felt that my body belonged to my father and I was in the frightening situation where it seemed that he could do anything to it that he wanted to, whenever he wanted. No one would stop him. No one would help me. The way that my grandfather did things, it felt like he was constantly experimenting on me, using my body to see what reactions he would get when he changed the variables. I also experienced what was happening as him wanting to destroy me and there were times when I was afraid for my life. Seen from that point of view, it makes even more sense why my abuse story can seem so unreal to me. It involves elements that a child would not be capable of fully taking in and processing as being real. I lived it, but I couldn’t fully live it, both because I had to dissociate what happened and because I wasn’t intellectually and emotionally developed enough to process the dynamics of what was happening.

Writing it all out sounds like the process of coming to that understanding was mostly intellectual, but it wasn’t at the time. It was instinctual and emotional, as I was waking up from a nap. Immediately after that, I first experienced the memory of my father trying to have sex with me, and then since then I have been dealing with these three parts pretty much around the clock.

Previously, what happened in age range of the attempted rape was just a blank. I have a bit more information about the year after, but none about this year. I get a very strong message that I was 8. It makes me want to cry, thinking about being 8 and having this happen. My guess is that he tried and then decided that I was too small for him to have sex with, without doing real damage, so he stopped. Frankly, the memory is hazy, although it seemed sharper in the flashback. I remember laying there, afterwards, curled up in a ball, feeling like a part of me died. It seemed like the world became a darker, more silent place after that. Even with other people, I was alone. I know that there was a period of time at either 8 or 9 when I stopped speaking for a few months. I wonder if this is when that happened. This part isn’t as frightened as others, maybe because it was a one time thing, but she is devastated. Quiet, alone, and devastated. The way that this part feels matches with what I remember about feeling when I lived in this house, except I don’t remember feeling that devastated. I also don’t remember ever feeling really happy unless we were away from the house and doing something that I really loved.

Then there is the part that is most in need right now. She has been largely hysterical over the last few days; for awhile she was screaming, “No! No! No!” on and on. It is with her that I get the strongest, “Oh, my God. He really did rape me. This really did happen” realization. She is slowly calming, because I have been doing here and now exercises and pointing out how I am in a safe time and place for the last couple of days. Interestingly, writing all of this out seems to have calmed that part even more.

This part insists that she is 10, but I know that I lived in the house that these memories belong to between the last few months of age 10, though 12. This is when he started to rape me. Ten. Ten. My daughter is ten. I can’t imagine her dealing with being raped, especially not having to deal with it all alone, without any help.

The memories of the rapes themselves are weirdly focused. They took place on the floor of the back room of the house and I remember looking to my right side, focusing on the rug on the floor, clutching at it, and looking at the leg of the piece of furniture that the TV was set on. I was completely separate from the rest of my body, it was just my eyes and my hand. I wouldn’t hear the sounds that he was making, feel what was happening to the rest of my body, smell anything. It would have been too much. I couldn’t avoid seeing his motion out of the corner of my eye and that alone was almost too much. I have gotten very brief snatches how it felt emotionally to the part of me that was really experiencing what was happening. All I can say is that it was horrible beyond words for me. My body was being invaded in the most intimate way possible by my father. Words simply fail me when I try to express what that meant to me. I know that it sounds horrible, but I you haven’t experienced it, let me assure you that it is even worse than it sounds. It’s one of those sources of isolation, knowing that no matter how much someone cares and wants to understand, they can’t fully understand unless they have experienced it. Even Mama Bear. As experienced and empathic as she is, she will never fully understand how horrible this was then and now is for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that most people do not know first hand what it is like to be raped by their father. I am grateful for those who are able to put aside their revulsion at the very idea and use their empathy to try to come as close to my experience as they can. And I value those who love and support me, even though they never come close to understanding what it was like because their experiences don’t take them close, and even though they sometimes think that they do understand. It’s just that I was completely alone with the abuse when it happened and other than a few people that I know via blogs, I’m alone with fully understanding it now; that current day aloneness sometimes reverberates with being so alone as a child.

And then there is the teen part. Or really there is a collection of teen parts. This is the most chaotic and confused area. I was going though physical changes and I think that my body started to respond differently to him during this time. I remember sitting in the shower, crying, but I think that some of the time I didn’t even know what I was crying about. The dissociation was so effective that it cut off my everyday self from the abused self, with little to no exchange between the two.

What I access now is such a confusing array of emotions and thoughts from that time. Why is he having sex with me instead of my mother? Rage. Fear that it is all my fault. That it is something about my body that makes him act this way. Confusion over pleasure and pain together. Desperately wanting to escape, but believing that there is no escape. He is in control and always will be able to do whatever he wants. Knowing that he can hurt me badly. Knowing that he can make me feel extreme pleasure. Wondering how my mother cannot know what is going on? Tired. Resigned. Depressed. Always, always, always trying to look normal for everyone outside.

So, I have these three segments of me, from three different times, all with real needs, all waiving their hands, going, “I need to be heard and believed,” all profoundly traumatized in their own ways. What do I do? I have decided that my first step simply has to be helping each of them find safety. I did it with my youngest parts and then they could finally talk about the worst traumas without getting stuck in them. If I don’t do it with these parts first, then I am going to go around for at least a day or two after each session, with echoes of the parts’ trauma bouncing around in my head. It’s much better for all of me, if I help each part find safety first. That is my plan for the session tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure what it will look/feel like for each of the parts, but that doesn’t matter, as long as it is something that I can help that part reconnect to when she starts to relive the trauma.

Actually, now that I think about it, writing here has helped me to identify what the most in need part probably needs in order to feel safe. All of my parts felt extremely alone with the abuse, but I seem to be experiencing that most keenly with the 10 year old part right now. She is the part that clung to Mama Bear on Tuesday and desperately didn’t want to leave her office at the end of the session. She is the part that needed for me to call Mama Bear that evening, because she felt so crushingly alone with my understanding that I really was raped. She is the part with whom I strongly get the sense that if she had only had someone to hold her and work out all of those hysterical, horrible feelings at the time, things would be so much better. She doesn’t just need me, she needs someone else, as well, to help hold her in all of her trauma, at least until she has worked a good portion of it out. That can easily happen in session, but that’s only for two hours a week. Mama Bear is available via email, text, or phone, but I try to not over use those options, especially phone, which is what is most effective for my parts. I think that she and I need to work together to establish a safe, nurturing place for this part that involves both my internalized version of Mama Bear and me. My sense is that this can work.

This is hard work. Some of the hardest that I have done. But as painful and overwhelming as it is, I can also tell that this is the work that I need to do in order to feel more whole. These experiences forced me to dissociate large chunks of myself. I won’t ever be able to integrate dissociated aspects of my sexuality until I am able to deal with the rapes and all of the responses that they evoked in me. I don’t think that I will be able to figure out what I want to do with myself, who it want to be when I grow up, until I have better worked through learning to feel safe fully being. I’m afraid of what it might mean, but I’m also tired of a half life of mostly existing. I want to learn how to fully live.

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Something keeps on going around in my mind…

I experienced my grandfather as enjoying hurting me. I believe that he derived pleasure from my terror and pain. I don’t think that it’s possible to fully describe what it’s like to know that your terror and pain is giving someone else pleasure. Yes, it’s frightening to know that you are under their control and what makes them feel good is very, very bad for you, but, for me, even worse than that was feeling as though for that time my purpose was to be hurt. In that focused time and space, there was nothing more to me. I was worth nothing. The phrase that comes to mind is “soul murder”, not because he actually killed off my soul, but because there was something about it all that felt as though it was an act of that level of violence against my soul.

The odd thing about it all is that even though what my grandfather did felt extremely violent and I was terrified about what he might do and in fear of my life at times, I get the sense that he was careful to always send me back to my mother with no physical evidence that would have shouted, “abuse!” to her. I think that he created more psychological pain and trauma, than physical. There are a few memories of very, very intense pain, but most of it seems to have been pretty numb physically, but with the emotions at over the top, mind shattering levels. He abused me with items that could have caused a great deal of physical damage and I was terrified as to what could happen, but he used them in ways that caused psychological scars, not physical scars.

I experienced it all as my grandfather trying to destroy me. It was like he was trying to crush the me out of me. Exactly what his motivations and mindset actually actually were, I will never know, but my sense of what he got out of abusing me isn’t ambiguous. It certainly could be wrong in areas, but I strongly doubt that it would have been completely wrong. He abused me because my suffering pleased him. The man was sadistic.

On the other hand, things with my dad were very different. Putting the different impressions that I have from memories together with my everyday knowledge of my father, I don’t think that he abused me because he was cruel. The abuse was cruel because it was abuse and sometimes he may have done things intending to hurt me, but I don’t think that was his over riding motivation. My father is self centered and does not take others’ needs into account, but he isn’t so motivated by wanting for others to suffer. He may act cruelly because he needs to feel more powerful or his needs/desires conflict with those of another person, but the suffering of others is a by product of his actions, rather than a goal. My father hurt me badly, but he is not a sadist.

My sense is that he abused me because he felt that he needed something. I think that it’s likely that he didn’t know why he was doing what he was doing. Whatever it was, though it wasn’t the need to destroy me.

I would be surprised if my grandfather didn’t sexually abuse my father. Because of the different types of motivation, the types of abuse that I remember with the two men tend to be different. However, there are a couple of odd things that I am sure that my grandfather did, but for months I have been getting hints in my mind that my father did them as well. Recently, it’s been stronger than hints. My instinct is that these “crueler” things that he did may have been re enactments of abuse that my grandfather might have done to him. Just a hypothesis, yes, and not something to rely on being correct, but it fits and it “feels” right.

My dad has always had such a strong need to be a “good guy” that I have no idea of how he could have justified even the more “normal” abuse that he was doing. That was one of my arguments for years as to why he couldn’t have abused me. Molesting your daughter just can’t be turned into a “good guy” type of activity.

I do have an idea of how he might have managed it, however. I don’t know if this simply was how I perceived things, or if it was influenced by how he perceived himself while he was abusing me as well… When I was young, I have more of a sense of it being my dad in the memories, but as I got older, more and more often I have a sense of the man being “Him/ He.” When I remember “Him,” “He” has no face or other defining characteristics, but I also know that “He” could only have been my father. God only knows how much my father would have needed some survival tool like dissociation in order to survive growing up in my grandfather’s house. I really wonder if he might have dealt with his conflicts over abusing me by dissociating and “He” really had seemed different to me from my daytime daddy. Did he wall off what he was doing, to protect himself from the guilt and conflict that would have come from abusing me?

There have been times of extreme stress when I have harmed myself, but the experience was as if I had no control over my actions. “I” was far back and only an observer; another part was controlling my actions and being driven by memories that “I” couldn’t even access at the time. I knew that the actions were wrong and that I should stop myself, but I felt trapped at the back and without any ability to change what was happening. I didn’t even understand why I was doing what I was doing and what it signified. Did my father experience something similar, but instead of harming himself, he harmed me. And instead of it happening a few times, it happened regularly over a period of more than a decade with him. Doing something wrong in a dissociative state is no excuse for what you are doing, it just means that you have to fight hard to find a way to alter your behaviors/ stop what you are doing.

I know. I don’t really know anything about why my dad abused me and I am not wedded to any of this, but “listening to” and putting together my impressions/ understandings from different places inside of me helps things feel less wildly confusing. It at least helps me to see that there are possible reasons that make a weird sort of sense, rather than it just being the case that my daddy must have hated me, or that I was bad and brought it out in him, or that my main purpose while I was growing up was to be sexually used, or that people will just randomly do such horrible things to the people that they are supposed to love. I may find the reasons unacceptable and the behaviors inexcusable, but it helps to know that there is some sort of reason to what happened, even though I won’t ever actually know exactly what those reasons were.

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“The most purely painful thing about the abuse is how it has affected my relationship with my mother.”

“Yes. You know, it is your dilemma with your mother that has made everything else be so very hard to deal with over the years.” Mama Bear looked at me carefully as she chanced this sympathetic, but blunt statement.

I just nodded my head and said, “Yes, I do know.” I have known for years that I was trying to protect my mother, but I always thought of it as protecting her from the pain of not having protected me from being abused by my grandfather. I have been trying to protect far more than that, though; it’s our basic ability to have any relationship at all that feels at risk. In fact, that’s what I have been trying to protect since my dad started to abuse me, so it is the habit of most of a lifetime. And that’s why I couldn’t allow myself to believe that my dad abused me, no matter what other costs there might be. Over all, I could not “destroy” my relationship with her; never mind that if it is destroyed, it will be destroyed by the pressures of the abuse, not me.

Over the last 6 months, I have said to her as loudly as possible without actually coming out and saying the words, “I don’t want to have anything to do with my father.” I have refused to speak to him on the phone, insisted that he pass the phone to my mother, and gone to some lengths to arrange for my calls to go directly to her, rather than through him. I say nothing about him in any of my communication with her. While I did send cards and gifts for Mother’s Day and her birthday, I did not acknowledge his birthday or Father’s Day at all.
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Despite all of this, she still manages to pretend that all is well and she recently asked if she and my father could take my daughter on a trip. I her lack of reaction demonstrates to me that the only way I might get some acknowledgement from her would be if I am very blunt with her about how I feel, at least to the point of saying that I do not feel at all comfortable with my father and I do not plan on either myself or my daughter being in the same room with him again. On the other hand, she just might act like I said nothing- at this point I can’t predict the extent that she will go to in order to not acknowledge what is going on.

This is a painful situation for me now. I feel like I am between a rock and a hard place. Either I can accept the status quo and have no acknowledgement at all as to all of my pain and suffering, or I confront her and stand the very real chance of it all blowing up in my face. I can’t imagine a good outcome that I think has any real chance of happening. On the other hand, not saying anything is eating me up inside and complicating my healing.

Unlike what any semi healthy mother would do, she isn’t ever going to come to me and say, “obviously something is going on, talk with me.” If she was capable of it, she would have done so years ago. It’s all going to be on me to initiate and lead any discussion that we might have. And it’s going to be on me to absorb the pain when she can’t react with concern for me about my feeling that it is so impossible to have a relationship with my father. I don’t know whether she will be defensive, hurt, protective of my father, in shock, angry with me, or if she will simply act like I didn’t say anything. I am 99% certain that I will have to either take care of her, protect myself, or both. I can’t escape this dilemma without experiencing a great deal of pain where she is concerned. Pain that I have been avoiding for so very long.

At the end of me session today, it hit me that I need to know that it is ok for me to talk about the abuse with my dad. Not just the abuse that I am pretty certain happened the way that I remember it, but especially the abuse that I am terribly confused about. I need for it to be ok to talk about it from the place that believes that it happened exactly that way, but also have it understood that I have some reasons to believe that some things didn’t actually happen the way that I think that they did. I need to know that it will all be accepted and safe for me to talk about, both the believing and the not believing.

Mama Bear listened to me say this and she agreed that I need to be able to talk about these things in regards to my dad, but she also reminded me that it is very important that I be working on helping the traumatized parts feel safe and connected to the here and now. “When you talk about what happened and those parts of you don’t feel safe enough, the part of you that beats up on the rest of you gets activated. When you were a child, you absolutely could not afford to remember what was going on. That part of you kept the rest of you quiet and separate, so you could go about your business and actually manage to have a life and grow up. Now, when you talk about what happened, we need to make sure that you feel safe enough, so that part won’t come out and harm you. Keeping you terrorized will only make all of this take longer. This part is too frightened to understand that she is making things worse for you, rather than helping you now. How do you feel about what I have said?”

“It feels right. I understand better now why you keep on pushing me to defocus from the memories and place more focus on calming and soothing the traumatized parts. When things gets to be too overwhelming, it does bring out my self destructive part.”

Walking home from the session, it became increasingly clear to me just how desperately I needed to not “know” about the abuse when I was young. I had to dissociate my knowledge of what was happening, not just because the abuse acts themselves were too much to deal with, but because I was so convinced that my mom would pick my dad over me. My mom was my only sense of stability and safety in the world, so the prospect of losing her was as threatening as an obviously life and death situation.

I have remained stuck in that feeling for all of these years since: I cannot do anything that would create a situation where she might chose my father over me. Never mind that I haven’t lived with her or relied on her for financial support for over 25 years. Or that I went for a period of almost 10 years without speaking to either of my parents. Or that I am hardly speaking to her now and I am getting all of my emotional support and nurturing from other sources.

I’m unable to forget that I love her so very much and I know that she loves me. It’s hard enough feeling my love for her in the now, but I also feel that over riding child’s love, where it feels as though the sun rises and falls in my mother. She is the person I loved first in the world and she is the person whose love kept me whole enough to keep on going, even in the face of the abuse by my father and grandfather.

But something else has to give now. It can’t be my sacrificing my ability to own my own story any longer. I don’t know yet what it will be, but I do know that something has to give.

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From Nothing Terrance Osborne

From Nothing
Terrance Osborne

The way that I experience my parts has been changing lately and I need to write about it, in hopes that I might develop more of an understanding of what is going on. I would be very interested in knowing how my experiences are similar and/or different from those of you who also deal with having parts, if any of you would be willing to share.

First off, I want to be clear that I see my internal parts as all being parts of me. Sometimes I may forget this basic fact because I can experience them as feeling quite separate from me and often my language will sound as though I think of the parts as being separate individuals because of the limitations of language, but I do believe that they are me. It’s a weird experience though, because it often feels like a “we” within “me.”

I know that I have some sort of an internal system, but just what form it takes is a mystery to me. It’s as though I see movement behind a curtain and sometimes someone pops out and interacts with me, so I see parts of the system, but I simply don’t have the big picture. While I have a handful of parts that are very consistent and I can easily identify, I generally am not clear if the part that I am dealing with is one that I have dealt with before and if so, who they are. I don’t know if that’s because I have a system that keeps on reshuffling itself and creating new parts to deal with whatever situation I am trying to process (and then letting go of that part when no longer needed), or if these actually are discrete, consistent parts and I just can’t tell them apart yet. So far, the ones that I can consistently identify all have to do with a particular age (ie, 3, 6, 12). There are others that consistently come up in the same sorts of situations (like the one who tries to keep me from speaking), but I don’t get a strong sense of self from these others.

What has been changing for me is that I am starting to be able to differentiate the different parts more easily, even if I can’t actually identify them. Mama Bear says that this is because I am no longer so phobic of them and the internal communication has increased, so I can “hear” them better. It’s as if my parts always had to scream in order to be able to be heard before, but I’m starting to be able to hear more of the conversation, not just the screaming. That’s starting to create some odd experiences for me.

Today was a prime example. I had a session today and I went in there with my system in an uproar. In fact, for the previous 3 1/2 days, I had constantly been somewhat in one dissociative child state or another. When started to drive to my session, I had to stop because I realized that a child part was driving. I reassured that part that she would have time during the session, but I still had to “pull” her back during the entire drive (which thankfully is only 5 minutes.) The entire session was a struggle for me to at least retain dual awareness of both me in 2014 as well as the dissociative part. I have had sessions like that before, where I feel as though I keep on being pulled back into a dissociative part, but up until now I either have only dealt with one part at a time that I could identify or it’s only felt like “unidentified dissociative child state.” Well, today I experienced the parts as being distinctive. I could feel how my facial expressions changed, my movements changed, my body sense changed, what motivated me clearly changed, as well as something that I can’t identify. I can count being in 5 distinct states during the session and my mind won’t go to the middle part of the session, so there might even be more.

At one point, I managed to say to Mama Bear, “How many different states am I going to go through in one session?” Her response, “I don’t know, but obviously a lot.” I didn’t have a chance to confirm this with her, but I think that she was seeing the shifting more clearly than she normally does, as well. I know that she saw exactly when 3 of the shifts happened, because she asked me, “What just happened?” each time. What I don’t know is if the switching between parts was more obviously happening than normal or if it simply was more clear to me that she was seeing it.

I seem to be having more of this mysterious “internal communication” between multiple parts and myself that I have heard about. For example, bed time has been an ongoing problem for me over the last couple of years. Sometimes I manage to get myself pretty well on track, but then I always get way out of whack again. I haven’t been able to figure out how to solve the problem, largely because I haven’t been able to figure out why I am so persistently bad about this when it obviously causes me problems. I have come up with possible reasons, but none of them seemed to lead me to a solution. Well, a few nights ago, I once again asked myself the question “why is this such a problem for me?” and I suddenly understood that it has been such an intractable problem because different parts of me have different needs/desires in regards to going to bed. As odd as it sounds, I think that some parts of me go to sleep before the rest of me does, some parts are terrified of going to sleep (to make things more complicated, they are scared for different reasons), at least one part just likes to be awake after everyone else has gone to bed, and another part thinks that I should be punished by not taking care of myself. I think that I am going to have to deal with all of those issues all together, if I am going to be able to solve the sleep problem. I can’t deal with it as a single issue problem or deal with it as if it is just “my” problem, because it is a problem that the greater me is struggling with. At least I now have some understanding of what is going on, so I have a hope of making progress.

Another example: In the past, I have been completely unwilling to “gather together” multiple parts and try to “talk” with them at the same time. There are techniques for doing this that Mama Bear has introduced, but none of my parts were willing to show up, so we abandoned the idea. I say that I was “unwilling”, but it’s more complicated than that. Cognitively, I could see that it was a good idea and might very well help things, so I wanted to try it, but in reality I was scared stiff of dealing more directly with my parts at that point. This was before I was anywhere near accepting that my dad had abused me and I knew that I did not want to know what my parts had to tell me. Well, a couple of days ago, a part of me was terrified to go to bed. I had been trying for an hour and a half to get myself to bed with no success and it was 2:30 AM. This child part was shaking and begging to sleep in the floor in the living room and even too afraid to go into the bedroom to just grab my pillow and a blanket. I knew that she was afraid of being assaulted by my father and having my husband in the same bed feels scary, however sleeping on the floor was not something that was going to go well. So I called my parts together and asked their help in getting this scared little one calmed down enough so I could get myself into bed. It worked. I shook all of the way into the bedroom and until I went to sleep (thankfully my medication makes me sleepy and helps that along), but, with the help of the rest of me, I got myself into my bed.

I’m not sure where this is going, but I think that these are all signs of increased strength within my system. In fact, I think that they are signs that the dissociative barriers are starting to weaken. It hadn’t ever occurred to me that the point when I might experience my dissociative parts the most clearly might be as (and because) the dissociation was starting to lessen. It’s nice to be able to look at this whole experience with curiosity and a wish to understand for a change, rather than fear and the need deny/push away the parts.

I really would like to hear what other people’s experiences have been like, both where they are similar to and different from mind, so please share, if you are willing to!

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Giselle Blythe Thicket

Giselle Blythe
Thicket

A few weeks ago, my Mama Bear and I started to work through Coping With Trauma Related Dissociation, chapter by chapter. She had me buy it about a year and 1/2 ago and had me read chapters about the window of tolerance, dealing with triggers, and other such topics when I first bought it. She pays attention to when I seem to be resistant to something that she suggests, so we didn’t spend much time on it and we definitely stayed away from the chapters that were specifically about parts. When she suggested starting at the beginning and going through the entire book, I liked the idea and was even a bit excited at the thought of starting to get a handle on what is going on inside.

However, since starting to work on the book, I have found it increasingly difficult to talk about my parts at all. It’s even gotten to the point where it’s affecting my relationship with Mama Bear. I admitted to her today that a large part of me “doesn’t want to talk to you ever again. I just want to hide.” When she asked me if I realized that I was speaking from a frightened child part and not my “fuller self”, I said yes (even I could hear that in my voice.) But I just couldn’t access anywhere in me that could comfort the child.

It’s like since I started to work on the book, things have just gotten harder. I find myself very much not wanting to accept that I have parts at all and I will think from that place sometimes, hoping that I can go back to dealing with things the way that I used to. It’s like there is an odd time warp and I can feel myself thinking and perceiving things the way that I did 4 years ago, when I had firmly shut away all of the parts and kept them “asleep.”

It has become much more difficult to talk to my Mama Bear about anything, really, but especially anything that I perceive as being parts related. I am less able to comfort frightened or hurt child parts than I used to be. It seems like there is more chaos inside. I am spending more time dissociated, even though I don’t know what I am so upset about that I am dissociating. I almost never lose time, but I’m discovering that I am losing bits and pieces, because my daughter tells me that I’ve said things that I don’t remember or I’ll have an experience of “skipping” between places along the route that I am driving. It isn’t like I’m falling apart, but it is like deliberately starting to look at the parts precipitated a bit of a crisis inside of me.

Today, I told my T how much trouble I am having talking about the parts at all and her response was, “Even though you have been talking about them for years?” But it’s like before they were just this odd thing that I experienced. I simply coexisted with them, tried to help them feel safer, and sometimes ‘listened’ to what they ‘said’. Now I’m thinking about trying to understand them. Trying to understand what I look like inside/ how many different parts there are/ who they are/ what their needs and concerns are. I’m also looking at trying to communicate with them deliberately. Frankly, I am scared out of my skull. I don’t know what’s there.

My T has been reassuring/reminding me that even though the parts may feel like “other”, they really are all parts of the whole of me. However, it’s just so frightening to have so much of me hidden from me in all of these pieces that just aren’t under my control. What is going to come out? Am I going to remember things that I really don’t want to remember? How am I going to tolerate actually feeling the emotions that these parts hold? How can I make it through looking around and seeing all of the different parts of me that were hurt that badly?

For those of you who deal with parts, what was it like when you finally started to really deal with having the parts in a deliberate manner? What helped to make the process feel safer for you?

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Katie Pasquini Masopust Riohondo

Katie Pasquini
Masopust Riohondo

Mama Bear and I have decided to change up how we are using our session time, for now. We are working through “Coping With Trauma-Related Dissociation” chapter by chapter, using one of the two sessions each week. There is a lot that is going on inside of me, much of which I simply don’t have a handle on. I don’t fully understand how things work inside of me and I am afraid of most of what I do understand.

Something from the first chapter that made a great deal of sense to me was a theory of the etiology of dissociation: Children are born unintegrated. They do not yet have either the brain development or the experience to have developed a coherent sense of self. It’s more like they are pockets of experiences, sensations, emotions, needs, etc.. If they are raised in a “good enough” environment, where they have caregivers that are able to attend to their needs and they do not experience traumatic events, over time they tie all of these separate pieces together into a more or less coherent whole by around age 5. For instance, a baby experiences frustration when she has something taken away from her and she gets angry and cries. When the parent mirrors “I understand that you’re angry Sweetie, but you can’t pull on the lamp cord, it isn’t safe,” the parent helps the child to link together the physical sensations of anger, the emotion of anger, the cognition of what just happened, and provide a context as to why she this wonderful thing was taken away from her. Then if the parent hands her a pull toy on a cord and says, “Here, you can pull on this. See, the doggy comes to you,” that parent then helps the child to successfully transition from an angry/frustrated state to one where she is exploring something else interesting. The parent is helping the child to learn to be resilient and develop coping skills.

These sorts of experiences needs to be repeated thousands of times over the course of early childhood. When that happens, the brain makes certain connections that allows the child to be able to identify with her emotions (even if she can’t actually name them) “That’s an angry feeling.” She is able to identify what her experience is, “Bobby hit me.” She knows her response, “I want to hit him, but I also know that I’m not supposed to.” Things may still be fairly loosely tied together, but by this point, the basis for a unified personality has been established. The brain has learned how to create the connections that tie together a person’s experience of behaviors, emotions, sensations, and cognitions.

On the other hand, if the child is exposed to chronic trauma during those same years, particularly if the caregivers are the source of the trauma or at the very least do not have the capability to provide a “good enough” developmental and attachment experience for the child, something very different happens. When a young child is exposed to terror, pain, and experiences that they simply can’t understand, their brain can’t put them together in the same coherent way that the child who was angry did. When they are left alone to deal with such overwhelming experiences, the brain can’t achieve the developmental task of piecing things together into a whole that belongs to the child. In fact, joining them together probably only increases the distress. So the child is left with the experience being separated into its various components. This separation of experience is dissociation. When the child is subjected to trauma after trauma and is never given a chance to process what has happened or get any help with dealing with such experiences that seem to blast the mind, the mind learns to turn to dissociation as a coping mechanism and dissociative parts begin to be formed. The more that this is done, the more firmly the parts are established and a dissociative disorder is developed.

The degree to which the dissociative disorder develops seems to depend on many things, including internal factors, such as the biochemistry of the individual, mitigating factors, such as the intervention of any bit of support or assistance along the way, and compounding factors, such as the severity, frequency, and age at which the abuse started.

Having the development of complex dissociative disorders explained to me in these terms finally made sense to me, when it hadn’t ever quite made sense before. In that way, it was reassuring- this was the response of a normal brain to an extremely abnormal situation. But at the same time, it was very challenging: my brain works this way because I was repeatedly traumatized at an early age and I didn’t get any help dealing with it. And so a bit more of the denial that a corner of me holds on to crumbled away.

I felt furious and I wrote to Mama Bear: “I am so angry and have so much grief that my members of my family hurt and failed me so badly that I’m left with a brain that chronically dissociates. That I wasn’t taught better ways to cope and I was so overwhelmed by the abuse over and over that this is the best that my brain could do for me. And here I a decades later still trying to put the pieces back together.

“I am angry because this isn’t something that I’ve pretended or somehow created. This isn’t playacting. It isn’t a case of if ‘I only try hard enough I can make it all go away.’ This is real. It isn’t accidental. There’s no, “Oops, now how’d you get a dissociative disorder?” It isn’t because there is something intrinsically wrong with me. It isn’t because I’m crazy. It is because members of my family hurt me that badly time and again.”

There’s that part of me that would rather that everything was my fault, that somehow I caused everything. But that isn’t what happened. I didn’t cause it; I’ve just been struggling to deal with it for most of my life. As weird as I feel for having these parts, the problem isn’t me. It isn’t that I have the parts or that I experience things in this odd way. It’s not that the way that I kept sane was to not allow these parts to come together. The problem is that the men who were supposed to protect me instead hurt, terrified, and shamed me so badly that I thought that I was going to die with my grandfather and it simply felt unbearable with my father.

I don’t want for it to be real. But it is real. The only good thing about it being real is that if it is, then I’m not imaging the fact that what I’m doing is helping. I can keep on getting help to deal with it all. I can keep on getting better. And maybe one day I will feel myself as more of a whole that can work together, rather than these separate, hurting parts.

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Leah Day Winter Wonderland

Leah Day
Winter Wonderland

I took my daughter to see the new Disney movie, Frozen, last week. There was a scene where one of the characters fled what seemed to her to be an impossible situation, one where she had been trying to conceal a large part of who she was for much of her life. In Disney fashion, she breaks out into song, and I cried, particularly through the first part of the song. I looked up the lyrics tonight, and I can see why they resonated with me…

Let It Go

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation
And it looks like I’m the queen

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know

I think that I’ll go and cry again. And keep on trying to work to the day when the rest of the song might better reflect where I am.

Well, now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry
Here I stand and here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back, the past is in the past

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

Of course my version would include being able to freely feel all of my emotions, so I want to be able to cry about everything I need to cry about. But what would it be like to be able to simply “let it go”? To let go of all of that control? To stop fighting with myself? To fully know that the past is in the past? To no longer be controlled by the old fears and the old rules? What would it be like to be free?

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