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Posts Tagged ‘mother’

I have really been struggleing with an inner battle over believing myself about the abuse with my father- especially the more severe abuse. This has been going on for months, more or less constantly. It’s always in the background, even if it isn’t the center of the work that I am doing. Sometimes I find some peace with the disagreement between my inner and outer selves as to what happened, but often it leaves me feeling at such odds with myself. 

Mama Bear and I have tried to look at the question of, “Well, what would it mean if he really did the things that I seem to remember?” without saying that he actually did. Sometimes I can get somewhere, but often my mind just completely freezes. We try grounding in the safe now and that does seem to help me to feel better in other ways, but I just can’t get past this refusal to belief myself. 

I have tried treating my young parts with compassion and meeting them where they are as best I can. Yet again, very important and helpful, but it doesn’t get past this sense that I Cannot Believe It Happened.  Period. It feels like the world will fall apart/ I will run crazy and destroy everyone and everything around me with my rage/ I can’t live with it/ everyone will be able to see what happened/ I will lose everything/ it will destroy me. 

This morning, I realized That I feel so much anger at my mother. So much of me either believes at some level she knew something was wrong or doesn’t care that she didn’t know that he was abusing me because she should have.

I know that she wasn’t responsible for the abuse, he was, but she helped to create a situation that let it keep on happening. I don’t want to believe it, but she had a part in my being hurt so badly. She has some blame.

I hate this so much. I don’t want for her to have had a part in my being hurt. 

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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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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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Sky Gazer Kelly Hendrickson

Sky Gazer
Kelly Hendrickson

Relationship, connection, and needing other people have been on going themes for me that have cropped up several times over the last few months. Actually, they are themes that have been a focus of a lot of my therapy work since I started to work with Mama Bear again. This time around, I have become very aware of the walls that I put up between myself and others, in particular the walls that I put up with Mama Bear in the therapy room.

I can understand how those walls were necessary for me as a child. I used them to help buffer myself from painful relationships and to try to control how much I “needed” other people. They were a part of my attempt to be the child that I thought would be most acceptable to my parents- pleasant, non demanding, and able to take care of myself. However, as is the case with so many coping mechanisms for an abused and neglected child, over the years they became rigidly relied upon until I wasn’t able to make a choice of whether I wanted to let someone in or not. Everyone was kept out.

I always knew that I wanted love and connection, though. Fortunately, that led me to choose a husband who was loving and respectful, even though when I made that choice I had no understanding that I was dealing with demons inside, much less what the demons were. Something in me said, “I need love. I deserve love. I will not accept anything less than real love and I experience it with this man.” My mom failed me in many, many ways, but she also loved me. She really loved me. I think that having that experience of being loved gave me something to hold onto at my core, despite all of the abuse from my father and grandfather and her failing to protect me. So much happened that made love feel dangerous and unreliable, but I still had that experience of what being loved was like and so I have always yearned for it, even while I have been to frightened to open myself to it.

What a confusing situation for a child… I remember that one of my mom’s favorite phrases was, “All that really matters is love.” Yes, love is so central to my well being, but is it all that really matters? No! Or at least the emotion of love just isn’t enough by itself. I needed for her to be able to find enough strength to move past her own fears and limitations and find a way to protect me, not just love me! Love involves action, not just feelings. Those warm and fuzzy feelings may have felt great for her and, to be fair, it’s likely that her aiming them at me may be what gave me the resilience to keep on going, but I needed for her to deal with the rot in our family, as well as giving me kisses and hugs.

So I have been experiencing this push/pull all my life: a profound mistrust of others and the expectation that they will fail me when I most need them and yet also a deep yearning for love and intimacy. Over the last 25 years, I have slowly, bit by bit made progress by at first allowing myself to even start to see how much I mistrusted other people and then slowly testing and building on experience after experience of people being trustworthy in normal, everyday situations. Then I learned to trust myself to have the strength to deal with those times when others would let me down, not out of malice, but because they were human. And now I am at a point where I feel enough safety with Mama Bear that I can begin to fully reveal the traumatized parts and allow them to connect with her.

It’s a process that is scary and at the same time such a relief. It certainly isn’t something that comes naturally at this point! Many times when I am talking about something difficult, I find myself starting to fuzz out and looking anywhere but at Mama Bear, and I realize that I’m doing it again- I’m sitting in the same room as her, talking to her, but I’ve removed myself from connecting with her. She could just as well be a video recording, because I’ve isolated myself, and I feel all alone, even though she didn’t go anywhere. Over these last few months, when I catch what I am doing and I am able to resist it, I then try to breathe to ground myself and make myself look into her eyes and take in how she is looking at me. I open myself to the fact that here is a person who cares about me and is sitting there with me, having her own responses to what I say and do. She is real. I am real. What I am saying and experiencing is real. I have an impact on her. It is safe for me to allow her to have an impact on me. She wants for me to heal and would do everything that she could to avoid knowingly harming the fragile, hurt parts of me.

What a concept. Actually, what a constellation of concepts. And what a sense of hope.

I wish that I could say that this fixes all of my difficulties with allowing others in, but it was one of my deeply ingrained ways of being and it will take my having many, many “aha” moments in order to finally begin to come from a place where I fully believe that it is safe to be in relationship. But those changes are starting and more and more of me sees that they can happen. Even the parts of me that were hurt the worst can learn how to dare to take the chance to love and be loved again. I can’t say that all that I need is love, but all of me very much needs love.

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Leah Day Torn Tree

Leah Day
Torn Tree

Some days, the best that a person can do is to just hold themselves as gently as possible and do their best to not be hateful to themselves. Going forward is impossible. Going backwards would be all too easy. The urge to give in to the desire to drown in self hatred feels almost impossible to resist.

Sometimes a person might start to slip- hopefully not too badly- because it can feel as though you are being unrelentingly drawn down through a funnel into a dark pit. It seems as though all of your instincts are shouting at you that you have to be hurt. “You have to pay in blood and pain.” It doesn’t matter that you have no idea why or who or what you have to pay for. You start to see images of blood- blood pooling, blood swirling in water. Even though you have never cut, you start to think about what it would be like.

Then, deep in your brain, you hear the word, “slut.” And it is like you are pulled into a nightmare world of imagined sexual degradation. It is as if your mind pulls out all of your worst fears and you know that is all that you are good for. It is like you are being told that you are trash that any man should be able to use and that you have to be available to be used.

Then the despair hits- “I can’t abandon my mother and if I stand by her, then I can’t be true to myself.” And it feels so overwhelming that it is intolerable to live with. You find yourself making plans as to how you could kill yourself and arguing with yourself about how in the end your spouse and child would be better off without you.

Your mind continues to go round and round in a self destructive haze, desperate to act out the desire to harm yourself. Eventually, in desperation, you do something slightly harmful, allowing you to break out of the cycle. But that brings its own sense of shame that you have harmed yourself. You take yourself off to the couch, wrap yourself up in a blanket, curl up with the cat, and concentrate on breathing until you are finally able to reach through and give yourself a bit of comfort.

That was last night for me. Today has been an exercise in trying to not slip back into such a damaging place. It is pretty obvious that I have some very young, very traumatized parts that are currently in a tremendous amount of pain. So I am doing my best to be as gentle and non-judgmental with myself as possible. It occurred to me last night, after I finally calmed myself, that in some ways I had been acting like a panicked animal, caught in a trap, that was trying to gnaw its leg off in order to escape. There was a characteristic of desperation about all of the impulses that were thrown at me last night.

I’ve also realized that while I am dealing with some difficult things and am probably prone to being triggered right now, I also have something going on biochemically that probably is exacerbating the effects. So, a trigger that might otherwise be a 6 or a 7 is turned into a 10 or more. Historically, when I return from a trip to a very sunny place during the winter to a very dark home, I go through a depressive crash. I think that is happening right now, but it is intertwined with being so triggered, that it is hard to untangle what is going on. It actually is a big help for me to realize that this completely over the top reaction might not all be me- it might partially be my brain reacting poorly to the lack of serotonin. This is one of the things that Mama Bear has been trying to help me learn to recognize- my reactions aren’t always entirely about the trauma. Sometimes they are biochemical- for instance, we are wondering if the antidepressant that I am on is making me anxiety prone. Sometimes they are more about current issues than past trauma. Learning to not attribute everything to being a trauma reaction can be useful.

Anyways, I am no longer experiencing the urge to heap self hatred and thoughts of self harm on myself and I sincerely hope that I am done for now. It isn’t entirely gone, though. I can still sense just around the corner of my mind the simultaneous understanding of what it feels like to know that telling myself to harm myself is both the wrong thing to do and yet to also believe that it is the safest/best/most pain free thing to do. I know, it makes no sense.

Inside, I am in disarray and shock to some extent. I have a session tomorrow and to some extent I want to work on what some of the triggering factors were, but at the same time, I also just want to work on putting myself back together again, so I feel secure.

I don’t understand why I go through these very destructive self hate storms periodically. I think that this is the third time that it has happened. I don’t think that they are going to stop, though, until I come to some resolution about my parents.

I know that I can’t be the only one out there struggling with thoughts/impulses of self harm. I also know that I have no idea of what the best course of action is for anyone else. However, I do invite anyone reading to take a steadying/grounding breath with me and for this moment do the best that you can for yourself. That’s what I am going to be doing- moment by moment.

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