Posts Tagged ‘trauma’


Cry Me a River Eileen Wimmiam

Cry Me a River
Eileen Wimmiam

Thank you.  I take a deep breath and feel the relief of once more having more of the fuller me engaged.  I think again towards Mama Bear, Thank you.


The last few days have been pretty miserable for me.  Even once I managed to get out of the most intense phase of wishing that my grandfather had killed me, I was still largely stuck in a child state that thought that I was in immediate danger.  Reaching out to those I generally get the most support from felt dangerous.  The thought of feeling loved frightened me.  Inside I was convinced that I would always be under my grandfather’s control.


I could just barely recognize that these thoughts were not rational and not reflective of my here and now reality, but try as I might, I simply could not break free of them.  I was able to go through the motions of doing what I needed to do with my family, but I wasn’t really here, in 2014, with the two people I love most in the world.


For whatever reason, my insides were convinced that I should cancel my next appointment with Mama Bear and preferably end therapy all together.  I could recognize that I was isolating myself in a self destructive way, but it was like I was watching myself acting out and I couldn’t do anything to stop myself.


This morning, Mama Bear e-mailed me to ask how I was doing and I told her a bit.  We exchanged a few short e-mails and in her last one, she ended with, “Remember that talking with me for a few minutes is one of your options.”  We have talked about how I can call her when I need to and she has encouraged me to call more often, but inside I just don’t feel comfortable with doing so.  I may desperately want to.  I may know that what would help me more than anything would be to hear her voice and reassure my insides that I am not alone, but at the same time it feels like if I ever rely on her being there, that will guarantee that she won’t be.


However, her invitation started me thinking and after a few hours, I realized that I simply was making no progress on present orienting myself.  On the other hand, if I could find the courage to reach out to her and talk to her, there was a chance that I might be able to break out of the trap that I was in. 


The few minutes turned into over a half of an hour.  At first, I was so confused that I kept on getting caught and having trouble talking.  At some point, she asked me something, and another part must have been triggered out because she suddenly couldn’t understand what I was saying.  We went through 3 or 4 minutes of her asking me to repeat myself over and over.  I tried talking louder, more clearly, directly into the phone, but whatever was coming out of my mouth just wasn’t intelligible to her.  I kept on ending up frozen in fear and then, finally, it penetrated that it just might be safe for me to talk to her- nothing bad was happening other than my being triggered.  I finally was able to start to connect and with that connection, I could start to notice that nothing terrible was threatening me at that moment.  Thank goodness, I was able to start to shift how I was perceiving the world around me.


We talked about how at that point, nothing that I did felt soothing, but I could still go through the motions of soothing actions and at some level they would start to help at some point.  It might take quite some time before I actually started to feel safe, but keeping on focusing on the here and now would help me eventually realize that I was not being tortured today, but that was a memory that was decades old.


After we talked, Mama Bear and I connected a few more times today.  She texted about needing to shift an appointment at the end of the month and after we settled that, I let her know that I was continuing to feel progressively a bit better.  Her response was heart warming for me, “Oh, glad you have a little relief!”  The parts of me that had become so terribly frighten of being connected started to relax and remember that Mama Bear and I have an established relationship that is based on genuine caring.


This evening, I was thinking a bit over what happened, and I could feel those young parts wanting to reach out to her and reassure myself that she really was there.  My first reaction was to feel silly, because I had already had contact today.  My second reaction was to decide to give those parts of me whatever they want, if it might help me work past this disruption.  The sooner I can at least re-establish my relationship with Mama Bear as feeling solid and safe, the better for me.


I wrote to her, “I’m just reaching out for a, “yes, I am here.”  The younger parts of me that have been so upset over the last few days are considering that it just might be safe to want for people to be there.  So I am reaching my hand out for a virtual hand squeeze.”


Her response: “Always, a virtual hand to hold, C.  And, Wednesday, a real one.”  


What a huge sense of relief!  I haven’t had everything  that came up over the last several days be magically resolved, but at least I feel as though I have a safe base to work from again.  I was able to use that safe base to then share a memory by e-mail that I needed to share.  I think that this memory holds the keys to some dynamics that make it difficult for me to feel free from my grandfather.  And I am pretty sure that it was underlying a lot of what I suffered through this weekend.  


Confronting these profoundly traumatizing memories and the lingering emotional memories that they evoke almost always seems to stress and threaten to break apart my connections with those I need the most.  I am just grateful that Mama Bear understands the dynamics so she remains patient and that somewhere in there I have a part that keeps on moving back towards connection, even when the rest of me is fighting it.  That connection/ support/ love is going to be what gets me through dealing with the most horrific trauma.

Thank you, Mama Bear for being there and caring so deeply about me.

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Reflections, Burano, Italy, var. 2   Barbara Schneider

Reflections, Burano, Italy, var. 2
Barbara Schneider

Over the last few days, I have been dealing with one of my most traumatic memories. It isn’t the first time that I have gone through this memory (I think that it’s the third round), but I have far more detail now than I have had before. The first time through it, I mostly just got the physical sensations and some general information and emotions. The second time through, I got the emotions full force and the beginning of an understanding of just how much stress this put on my mind. This time, I have more visual information than I know what to do with and the full psychological experience.

I swear that this came close to destroying my mind when it happened. I can remember being split in two, so one of me could stare outside and be out in the garden, where it was safe, while the other was inside, watching what my grandfather did. There were reasons why it would have been even worse for me to not watch at all, but what happened went on and on and my mind could only take so much. So when it reached a point where the pressure was intolerable, there was a wrench, and then there was a new part to take on the task of watching. I don’t know how many times this happened, but I do know that I have represented this set of parts as being a larger one with about 10 tiny ones trailing off of it.

I think that my grandfather did this type of abuse at other times and I fervently hope that what seems to go together as one memory actually is a set of several different times put together. I don’t want for all of the things to have happened to me at the same time, particularly when I was so young. But it all seems to go together as one memory. I very, very clearly have an age sense in this memory. I was four. The type of person who could do something like this to a four year old would have to be beyond cruel.

This wasn’t something that he did on the spur of the moment or a matter of him getting carried away after starting with something else. This required purposeful, creative planning on his part. I don’t know if he deliberately designed how I experienced it to be as intolerable as possible, but I suspect that he did: everything that happened was at a level of “to much”, and frequently (I am guessing every minute or two or three) he would change what and how it was “too much.”

Today, I managed to say enough for Mama Bear to start to get an idea of what he did to me (although not the full magnitude of it). I remember looking up at her and I must have had a bewildered expression on my face, because she responded, “Don’t even bother to try. There is no understanding.”

And there just isn’t. Essentially, sexually torturing a four year old isn’t something that the average person is ever going to be able to understand. Not even come close to understanding. In fact, it’s the sort of thing that a person’s mind automatically wants to reject as being completely and utterly impossible, because it should be completely and utterly impossible.

I have been angry and contemptuous towards all of those people who just can’t believe that sexual abuse happens. Especially those who refuse to believe that it happens in their community and that abusers don’t have a capital A emblazoned on their forehead, so they just might be friends with one. I’m still angry, but I think that I have a bit more understanding as to why these people can’t believe. A world where fathers rape daughters and grandfathers torture them is a scary world to live in. In fact, if you let it be, it’s a down right terrifying world to live in. I get how a person’s mind can want to refuse to believe that such terrible things happen. Mine wants to refuse to believe that they happened. But I don’t get the luxury of pretending that these things only happen in horror movies, I have to accept that they happen in real life. That they happened in my life. If I don’t, then I get to re-experience them over and over in flashbacks. I don’t want to remember things happening that so violate our most basic social codes. I can’t help but feel certain that people would think that I am crazy for saying that they happened, if people only knew.

But I don’t think that anyone really finds safety in this world by ignoring the nasty truths; they just create the illusion of safety.

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Giselle Blythe Thicket

Giselle Blythe

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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Roberta Baker Veiled Woman with Spirit

Roberta Baker
Veiled Woman with Spirit

I have become increasingly aware over the last month or two of just how terrible I am about self compassion. I was better about it for a bit towards the beginning of getting serious about the mindfulness meditation, but then it seemed as though the internal directive to treat myself harshly redoubled and I was harsher than ever, when I most needed to be kind.

Last week, while I was searching for MP3 recordings of mindfulness meditations to download onto my phone, I stumbled across an audio training program of 6 sessions on mindfulness and self compassion. It’s called “Self Compassion, Step by Step” and it’s by Kristin Neff. It combines some “lectures”, exercises that are designed to demonstrate what she is talking about, and meditations to put it into practice. Dr. Neff comes across as being gentle, compassionate, and genuinely wanting for the listener to benefit from learning how to be more self compassionate. Based on the first 2 sessions, I highly recommend it, if you are at a point where you feel like it is right for you to work on mindfulness and self compassion. You can get the series either through her web site or via Amazon.

I find that I have to take the series in measured doses, because it has a real impact on me. I’ll listen to a session or part of a session, wait a day or more for my system to process what I have heard and practiced and then listen to the next. Tonight I listened to the end of the session on Loving Kindness and I found that it reached deep inside of me. (As I understand it, compassion is being with the self or other in you or another’s suffering, while loving kindness is about being with the self or other and wishing good things for yourself or them.)

When it got to the meditative practice, she had the listener first imagine a being (person, animal) that the listener has very positive feelings towards (I used my daughter) and imagine saying, “May you be safe. May you have peace. May you have health. May you live with ease.” Then the listener transitions to sitting with the other and including both parties: “May we be safe. Etc..” Finally the listener transitions to “thanking the other and letting them go” and just practicing the loving kindness on herself. “May I be safe. May I have peace. May I have health. May I live with ease.”

This is where things got very intense for me. It was like most of my energy was focused into the “may I have peace” portion of the mantra. The others still mattered, but they were more at the surface, while I could feel the section on peace being drawn deep inside. It was like I could feel it flowing and swirling around and between my different parts, going deeper and deeper and it suddenly became clear to me what a profound lack of peace I have lived with my whole life. I have been able to find periods of happiness and I am establishing more and more safety, but peace? No peace. How can there be peace when at some level I am always managing the trauma reactions?

“May I have peace.” As I felt this part of the mantra swirling down among my parts, bathing them in something soothing, I started to cry. Sometimes crying hurts, but this time it didn’t. It didn’t really “feel good” either, because it was deeply felt and deeply connected to a painful place, but as the tears ran down my face and fell onto my hands held over my abdomen (where is seems that my most vulnerable parts shelter), it was as if they were being offered as another soothing balm to all of me that has felt the never ending acid of being betrayed and hurt by those who should have protected me. There is no peace when I try to believe what I was raised to believe: the sky is green and the grass is blue. Such craziness only leaves me with a sense of everything being wrong for now and always. But today, I realized that I can wish for peace for myself. I can work towards that peace.

So after the meditation ended, I mentally “wrapped” myself in a blanket of caring and “sank” into the wish for peace for all of me. All of the traumatized parts. All of the aspects of me that struggle to cope- no matter how badly they botch the job sometimes. The me that is afraid to feel the pain of life. The me that tries to pull it all together. Every bit of me that is so thirsty for peace.

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