For First Time Visitors

If you are a first time visitor to this blog, I invite you to start from the beginning, especially if you are unfamiliar with the potential emotional impact of long-term child abuse.

Trigger caution to unhealed survivors!

Understanding the Incomprehensible

Children of incest or long-term sexual abuse grow up to be wounded adults with complicated emotional issues. Unfortunately, some symptoms are misinterpreted or often dismissed as "crazy", only serving to maintain a tormented victim status. We, as a society, have the power to change this dynamic. Each of us can make a difference.

Aug 30, 2008

The Double Bind

A double bind, according to American Heritage Dictionary, is a situation in which a person must choose between equally unsatisfactory alternatives; a punishing and inescapable dilemma. A simplified definition is having two choices, each of which result in abuse or punishment to the victim. The first double bind of victims is living with the abuser or having no say in whether she is exposed to the abuser (a parent not believing or hearing a child tell that a caretaker is molesting her).

An earlier post speaks of the first split of "I hate you"/"I love you". A deep fear exists that the child will be abandoned by the abusive parent because of inability to meet her own survival needs of food, shelter, warmth. Security needs (safety) are rarely known during the lifetime of a trauma survivor. Until the adult works through the fear and is truly safe at the time of healing, chances are they will have never known complete safety. Remember that dissociation is locked by kindergarten age. Those children don't have a chance with powerful adults.

In inflicting trauma on a child who is groomed to be part of a child sex ring, one choice, for example, might be for the child to be naked and touch a little boy the way she is told (for kiddie porn) or have someone (or an animal) hurt her. Each double bind damages the psyche. The level of depression and hopelessness experienced by survivors runs very deep. Feeling so unempowered (even only as crossover emotions) can cause a victim to begin having suicidal thoughts as a child. They see it as their only way out.

The three danger responses of the body are fight, flight, or freeze. The child learns early there is no use trying to fight. Physical fleeing also results in harsh punishment. If they stay still (freeze), they are captive. This is where dissociation is the only safe way out. The child disengages mind from body to endure the ongoing victimization.

High school project earns "A" on DID

This video was a high school project nicely done by teenager. She earned an "A".

A wonderful video reflecting hope and healing from DID.

Aug 27, 2008

Another reason to know DID

We, as a society, need to understand dissociation for more than helping the victims. The people who best know dissociation are pedophiles. They know it, they use it, they exploit it. This issue is addressed in a related blog, The Dirtiest Secret Behind Child Abuse.

It will take one community at a time coming together for education and coordination to begin to squelch what lies at the core of organized pedophilia, kiddie porn, child sex rings, and beyond. Feel free to print out the main blog post and pass it along to community leaders in law enforcement, health care, social services, and education. For now, referring people to the link and having handouts might lead to a town meeting or other productive forum. The good guys of this world, starting at a grassroots level, need to scream loud enough for the communities to work as a whole.

Child abuse comes disguised as many things. Let's not let the labels placed on the abuse environment stop us from the greater issue that children are being preyed on and their dissociation used to the advantage of the bad guys. If we don't understand dissociation, we are lacking in the best weapon we need--understanding the pedophile mindset. We cannot begin to defend against their tactics let alone take an offensive position to put a stop to their disguised pedophile gatherings without knowing how they think and how they operate.

Most people can't imagine that people intentionally hurt children. It's a tough truth. As long as we choose to ignore that unfathomable mindset, they win. The Dirtiest Secret blog addresses these issues.

I suggest feeling comfortable with the concept of dissociation here (as a protection for a traumatized child's overwhelmed mind) before venturing onto this disturbing issue ignored by most of the nation. It is impossible, in my opinion, to comprehend the greater perspective of how our children are being exploited without first grasping the basics. Much more information can be found in provided resources if you care to absorb the topic of dissociation in much greater detail. My intention for this blog is to help people get a jump start on understanding a very complex trauma response to long-term early childhood abuse.

Child promiscuity...or a cry for help?

Children are not born promiscuous. They learn from someone. A young child asking if she can touch grandpa's penis would be a clue--not necessarily that grandpa was a perp, but children often "tell" by acting out. This becomes extremely complex if the child has begun to dissociate or, worse, is already dissociated into defined parts cloaked in amnesia.

There is a crossover of emotions, triggers, and behaviors from the unconscious to which the child has no conscious knowledge. A child, when asked about where a behavior was learned, may truly not know--have no conscious connection. Aside from repeated threats (covert and overt) to maintain silence regarding abuse, a child may innocently repeat a behavior that crosses over. Sometimes, these may be our only clues.

When a child is a preteen or teenager, their unspoken actions can be easily misinterpreted. This is basically what happens for a developing child of long-term abuse. Although not all child abusers are male, the majority are. When the main perp or perps in a child's life are male, and the child is dissociative, the child becomes conditioned to "switching" to an identity who handles the abuse. The male is in close proximity to the child, the child knows he expects her to respond sexually or she expects to be hurt sexually. Compliance becomes the only alternative. The normal fight or flight response is squelched in alters with the job of enduring repeated assaults.

One of my first clients with DID was a 12 year old girl whose father had been convicted of molesting her admittedly for "several years." This lovely girl was so sweet, wanting only to please. Before her first appointment her mother was frantic because she had sex with a boy. My client had conscious memory up to the point where the boy had touched her and said something of a sexual nature. No pressure was needed. She simply blanked out. She recalls "waking up" after it was over feeling ashamed and confused. The adult response is typically to pile more shame on the child.

A teen may consciously act out as well. "Acting out" can be a dissociative child's way of saying "Look what someone did to me." The child does not realize that is what she is "saying" with her actions. The result is she receives attention from the boys which serves as filling her need for lack of "love" at home (or believes she is receiving "love"). She is drawn to it. Any further shame placed on her by parental response, teacher response, community response, further reinforces the perpetrator's messages that she is a good girl for engaging in sexual activities and simultaneously a "bad girl" for participating in sexual activities (a no win situation for the victim).

The 12 year old was in therapy less than two years and was able to heal from the majority of her dissociation. She will very likely require further therapy to have any healthy relationship later in her life. An excellent source to learn more on this topic is the book, The Dissociative Child.

Aug 25, 2008

Falling apart is beginning to heal

Often the individual realizing they are not alone internally says it feels as if she is being sucked into a black hole or falling into an endless pit. The good news is that DID is highly treatable.

Regardless of age, when someone with DID begins to become aware of their dissociation, the typical response is fear and confusion. Noticing the gaps in time; having friends tell you that you behaved "totally out of character" in a recent situation; people claiming they know you from a party or business function and having no memory of the event. The most frightening, in my opinion, are fugue states. I had clients who routinely found themselves in their car miles from home in an unidentified parking lot. Or "someone" went shopping and the person has no memory of the drive or any part of the shopping spree. It's crazy making stuff.

Then what happens? Hopefully the person will seek a therapist experienced in treating DID. That is not so easy. Far too few doctors and mental health professionals acknowledge DID, possibly because it's too complicated and time-consuming to understand, let alone treat. Add to that the propaganda that multiples are fakers and therapists worldwide implant similar memories of childhood abuse into their clients. I would ask, "to what end?" WHY would an ethical therapist even want to implant a memory? If the client is there, she already has issues. I wish someone would answer that question.

If you are a survivor seeking a therapist, a good resource is the ISST-D website where you can look up a therapist by state. Another strategy is to call a number of therapists in your area and ask if they can refer you to someone who treats dissociation. The therapist with the most recommendations is a good start.

Aug 23, 2008

To the outside world...

To the outside world, someone who has DID and is not in any stage of healing, may only appear as possibly having mood swings. No one in my life, including a therapist I saw on and off for many years for relationship issues, knew I had DID. My life until the fourth decade was only my conscious memories...a sporadic history of being in school and workplaces and a spattering of childhood memories with no abuse worse than unwarranted physical abuse by my scary father. I was the little girl with gold stars in kindergarten, an honor student in high school and college. I was the good girl, the good employee. Always did as told.

Someone who has never noticeably switched (changed from one self state to another) may begin to do so in the work environment or to family causing fear among loved ones and co-workers. It is disarming to say the least. Especially when another self state is a young child. I would venture to say that most multiples surround themselves with stuffed animals or dolls or coloring books without realizing they are filling the needs of the desire for such toys from within. Often the dissociated self state will have it's own age, personality, and name. Understand this is simply one aspect of the same person which became isolated in trauma.

Admittedly, it is very difficult to be a support person in the life of someone who has DID. Yet it is the one element they most need. Although it looks crazy, it is not. It is a complex survival skill adapted during childhood trauma that made perfect sense at the time. Coming undone at an adult age brings challenges for the survivor, the medical, and mental health community.

The photo of the Nautilus shell is a perfect image of multiplicity to me. It is a beautiful shell (an amazing entity) with many hidden chambers inside supporting the whole.

Can you imagine...

You are at work in a meeting giving a presentation to your company. Let your mind absorb how you speak, your mannerisms, your responses to others, what it feels like to be in that situation.

Suddenly a secretary rushes in saying your child or other loved one has just been in a serious accident and the hospital is on the phone. How do you respond? Can you feel your pace change? Your voice? Your emotions? Allow yourself to feel that transition from in-control worker to frantic parent, sibling, or friend.

You are in the hospital with your loved one and she is okay but badly hurt. You are speaking to her at her bedside. Feel that your voice, in your pace, in your emotions.

Internal parts all represent an aspect of yourself, which is why I like the term self states. For someone with DID, all of the above happens, except there is no memory from worker, to frightened adult, to caring mother.

Maybe as you were running out of the conference room at work your boss said "Take as much time as you need. But at least take the rest of the week off." That would have been heard by frantic you rather than work you. You might call later that day or the next morning asking for time off. Your boss will write that off as you were too emotional to hear at the time.

The next time you visit the hospital, worker you is "in charge" because you just spoke to a co-worker on the phone. A hospital employee that you know by name in the "mom state" greets you by your name but you have no knowledge of that person's identity.

People with DID have constant inconsistencies but pretend. They have an internal sense of "somehow I just got here and have to figure out what's going on". That's been their life experience--missing gaps. "Oh right! How could I have forgotten? My mind was focused on something else. Sorry."

Most can't imagine what it's like constantly having memory gaps but for some with DID, it's invisible. The time gaps are dissociated too. Gee, that last four hours sure went by fast. The person may have begun reading a book and ended four hours later reading the book, but another part could have cooked dinner, done the laundry, and vacuumed. That person will not recall having done the chores but will figure she must have done it yesterday and forgot...or something along those lines. And the lack of movement forward in reading will be "I must have fallen asleep."

Life is an unknown puzzle. Each self state is unknown to the others.

Aug 22, 2008

Highway hypnosis

Nearly everyone who drives experiences some highway hypnosis as mentioned in an earlier post. This might include blanking out for a few exits or "waking up" long past your exit or after a lengthy (more than 10 minutes) period of time.

So when you are "zoned out", who is driving the car? What happens that you are still driving safely, haven't run off the road, been in an accident. You aren't consciously there.

What scenery can you identify from the time you blank out until you "wake up"? You won't remember because it is not your memory. The aspect of you who drove holds that memory. We all have a safe driver somewhere inside who takes over at those times, thank goodness. Do you believe you must also have a homicidal part because you experienced a dissociated state of a driving part? Are you afraid to share your experience with friends or family? Generally highway hypnosis is an open topic. We all do it so it's acceptable even though it is experiencing a dissociative state.

So why is it that someone who dissociates because of long-term childhood abuse is feared and dismissed and devalued as a human being by society? Just something to think about.

Trauma is in the eye of the beholder

A traumatic event is one that overwhelms an individual's senses. Two stand out from my lifetime so far: the assassination of President Kennedy and 9/11. Numbing, shock, remembering the moment we saw or heard in clear detail. On the other end of the trauma spectrum is whatever is viewed as traumatic by a child. One child may find any doctor visit traumatic but that would not induce dissociation. An early childhood injury requiring long-term hospitalization or long-term confinement or serious medical conditions requiring many doctor/hospital interventions might lead to DID. Medically induced DID, is not as common as DID resulting from traumatic physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse.

A fire, car accident, parent/sibling death may be viewed as traumatic by one child but possibly only very sad or scary by another. A moment internalized as trauma is preserved like a photograph with senses. Often anyone experiencing a traumatic incident will remember sights, sounds, smells, colors, particular objects, and/or textures (how something feels physically--rough, soft, slimy, scratchy). The emotions of the trauma also become locked along with the sensory experience in what I call a trauma bubble--a bubble wrapped in amnesia.

Aug 19, 2008

Lets talk parts

Any woman might have the roles of mother, daughter, sister, manager or employee, soccer mom, and wife. A man might be policeman, baseball coach, father, son, brother, husband. Don't each of us adapt our personalities in some way depending on who we are at the moment? A man is going to act very differently at work than he is with friends in a bar. And different when he goes home to his wife. These are generally subtle shifts with some crossover for each role we have in life. And of course we remember ourselves in each role. Most of us also can relate to releasing our inner child when we are having fun. In this respect, all of us have parts. We are multiples without amnesia.

When there is a dissociative split to compartmentalize the trauma of a child being hurt by someone who loves them--and the abuse continues--so does the dissociative split. For children with DID (remember this is decided usually by age 6), the personality develops as fragmented. Many roles in the child's life become compartmentalized by amnesia, meaning the child (and later the adult) does not know of this splitting, nor the teenager, nor the adult. Some children may begin to heal when an abuser moves out of the home or is arrested. Safety is a factor for healing.

People with DID spend three to four decades of their lives (on average) before realizing they are dissociative. I can attest to this statistic since most of my clients with DID were between 35 and 45 with some younger and a few older. The survivor art shown at left is what it feels like when someone becomes aware she has DID. For me personally, as a therapist, and in witnessing survivor art and hearing other survivors' stories, this depiction "hits home". Anything leaking through the amnesia is terrifying to feel. It's not uncommon for the person to feel crazy. It doesn't help that society reinforces that message!

Two Worlds - One Face

One split might be dissociative or repressed. The definition of DID is reserved for two or more distinct identities. A child (especially an older child who no longer has access to the gift of dissociation) may repress memories of abuse. While there are varying definitions, I honor the definition that repression is the mind "storing" memories subconsciously as opposed to having an element of amnesia. It is not unknown memory, it is forgotten memory (stored in the subconscious). In my experience, when a repressed memory is uncovered, the client spontaneously remembers the event. Both repression and dissociation involve memories being drawn into the subconscious realm. And both usually result in strong feelings crossing over into consciousness to which the child has no connection.

For both repressed and dissociated childhood memories, that initial split may appear something like this: The child is aware only of the conscious world in which she is not being hurt. She exists in a state of oblivion to the abuse. The switch to "hurt self" is triggered possibly by an incestuous father's knock at the door at night or hearing footsteps near the bed. The trigger would be anything that has come to mean she is about to be hurt. Wherever abuse occurs, triggers will become connected in a child's heightened awareness. These triggers are their saving grace.

During the molestation (or beating or verbal assault), the child must do as told--submits to the caregiver's will. The survivor art shown in the previous post is a collage conceptualizing having one's will bend to another's demands. Once the child is not being harmed, she becomes everyday girl and has no memory of abuse that may have happened only seconds previously. However, she likely will have crossover fear at bedtime, if the abuse occurs at night, which might manifest as fear of the dark, not liking her bed, wanting the safe parent to sleep with her, etc.

I think we have all heard stories of daycare centers where a caregiver was molesting the children. Observant parents reported their child becoming extremely agitated or upset at being taken to the daycare. Even preverbal children have the aversion response to being left with someone who is hurting them. The child's aversion response has thankfully led to some alert parents pulling their children from such centers.

For all children, this division is survival. It might be referred to as a betrayal bond or double bind. A child does not know how to love and hate a parent at the same time.

The ultimate childhood survival mechanism

Dissociation is not a child's choice. The creation of an amnestic self is a survival mechanism of the brain. It allows a child to function in everyday life while at the same time being traumatized repeatedly. Although the child has no memory of the abuse, she may carry over into her "normal" life a strong sense of guilt, shame, secrecy, and fear which will impact her, at the very least, into her adult life.

Dissociation is often discussed as being on a continuum. All of us experience dissociation to some degree. Highway hypnosis is the most common. We drive. We zone out. We snap to and don't remember the last 10 minutes or the last few exits. Going through the spectrum is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which all victims of long-term childhood abuse are likely to develop. The extreme of the spectrum is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). It used to be called multiple personality disorder. Please don't let that stop you from reading further. This is where much of society has been misled and tends to be frightened.

Typically, if a child is going to develop DID, it has been decided subconsciously by age 6 and rarely after age 9. This is cited in the leading authoritative texts on dissociation by the country's experts on dissociation. Some of the books are listed as therapist resources on this blog.

For clarification, DID does not require sexual abuse specifically. It can be the coping mechanism for overwhelming physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. Given the inherent double bind of incest, children from incestuous families have a greater likelihood for abuse beginning at a very early age and continuing for a number of years. E. Sue Blume's "Secret Survivors" is an excellent book to learn the dynamics of incest to include victims who are dissociative.

Divided we stand

If you had been a child being molested at will by a parent or other primary caregiver, would you want to know it was happening or not? Children don't get to make that decision. Their mind does it for them.

In the previous post, the great double bind of having to live with a parent who "loves" you and whom you count on for survival and the reality that the parent is hurting you and terrifying you, is usually the first "split" for a child's sanity. The child compartmentalizes what is happening when being hurt from when she is not being hurt. (While both sexes of children are victims, the feminine will be used for references.)

This compartmentalization could be repressed, as in tucking it away for now and being able to retrieve it at a later time. There is no element of amnesia inherent in repressing a memory. It's buried. Another way a child copes with abuse (not by her conscious choice) is to compartmentalize with a wall of amnesia between hurt self and not hurt self. This is called dissociation.

Aug 17, 2008

The basics

I want to present this difficult topic in short concepts. What most of us already know may need to be adjusted to accommodate for modifying some assumptions or allowing for new thinking.

Father-daughter and stepfather-daughter incest is most commonly reported, with most of the remaining reports consisting of mother/stepmother-daughter/son incest. Prevalence of parental child sexual abuse is difficult to assess due to secrecy and privacy; some estimates show 20 million Americans have been victimized by parent incest as children. (Jeffrey Turner, 1996). As cited at the website for The National Center for Victims of Crime.

Educating young children about good touches and bad touches, how to stay away from strangers, how to get help from an adult, how to say "NO!" is definitely important. Unfortunately, in cases of incest, the child is not being hurt by strangers and must obey parents and other primary caregivers. Saying "No!" is usually not an option and often results in punishment to the child. A child of incest is not allowed to say no. Typically, any child being abused will be threatened with harm--or harm to a loving caregiver, sibling, or pet. Most have had their lives threatened to the point there is no doubt that grave harm will come to them and/or another loved one if they dare to tell. Children of incest are conditioned to feel unempowered, helpless, and damaged. (No one will love you if you tell.)

The most damning for children of incest is their reliance on the very person/persons who are abusing them for their survival. It sets the child up for total confusion about authority: "I love you", "I hate you". "If I don't love you, I will die." They are dependent on their parent or other primary care giver (who may be another family member) for food, shelter, warmth...all security needs...while at the same time being terrified, horrified, and repulsed by what is happening to them.

As if it weren't bad enough...

This blog is an important project for me--to share in hopes others will hear, contemplate, consider, research, reconsider. If anything you gain from this blog causes you to think differently, to make changes, to help educate others, and, most importantly, positively impact the lives of children trapped in a world of abuse and the unhealed adults of childhood sexual abuse, then I have accomplished my objective.

I will be sharing personal knowledge from my own healing as well as knowledge gained from my experience as a psychotherapist working with highly traumatized individuals. Mainly, I just want to speak from my heart and soul and reach out to others. I can't change this part of our society alone. It takes more than a village to help these children and adult survivors of insidious child abuse. I invite you to take this journey with me. It's a rough road that's been avoided for far too long.

Photo courtesy of Monica Palermo.