Some of your childhood traumas may be remembered with incredible clarity, while others are so frightening or incomprehensible that your conscious mind buries the memory in your unconscious.
The inability to get something out of your head is a signal that shouts, “Don’t forget to deal with this!” As long as you experience fear or pain with a memory or flashback, there is a lie attached that needs to be confronted. In each healing step, there is a truth to be gathered and a lie to discard.
That is the problem with repressed memory and dissociative identity disorder. Your mind represses certain traumas for reasons of pure survival. And then you learn that to survive as an adult, you must uncover the memories, find the parts, and relieve the traumas. The contradiction is almost too much for the mind to comprehend and for the heart and soul to endure.
How do we find words for describing levels of betrayal and emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual torture that fragment and destroy a child or cast and case traumatic shadows over the whole of adult life? We might, as a society, slowly find it possible to accept that one in four citizens are likely to have experience some form of emotional, psychical, sexual or spiritual abuse (McQueen, Itzin, Kennedy, Sinason, & Maxted, 2008), in itself a figure unimaginable and hidden twenty years ago. However, accepting the way a hurt and hurting parent or stranger re-enacts their disturbance with a vulnerable child or children remains far easier to digest than to consider the intellectually planned, scientific, methodical, procedures of organized child-abusing perpetrators-in other words, torture.
Traumatic events, by definition, overwhelm our ability to cope. When the mind becomes flooded with emotion, a circuit breaker is thrown that allows us to survive the experience fairly intact, that is, without becoming psychotic or frying out one of the brain centers. The cost of this blown circuit is emotion frozen within the body. In other words, we often unconsciously stop feeling our trauma partway into it, like a movie that is still going after the sound has been turned off. We cannot heal until we move fully through that trauma, including all the feelings of the event.
Chronic trauma (according to the meaning I propose) that occurs early in life has profound effects on personality development and can lead to the development of dissociative identity disorder (DID), other dissociative disorders, personality disorders, psychotic thinking, and a host of symptoms such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. In my view, DID is simply an extreme version of the dissociative structure of the psyche that characterizes us all.
There are edges around the black and every now and then a flash of color streaks out of the gray. But I can never really grasp any of the slivers of memories that emerge.
This vacillation between assertion and denial in discussions about organised abuse can be understood as functional, in that it serves to contain the traumatic kernel at the heart of allegations of organised abuse. In his influential ‘just world’ theory, Lerner (1980) argued that emotional wellbeing is predicated on the assumption that the world is an orderly, predictable and just place in which people get what they deserve. Whilst such assumptions are objectively false, Lerner argued that individuals have considerable investment in maintaining them since they are conducive to feelings of self—efficacy and trust in others. When they encounter evidence contradicting the view that the world is just, individuals are motivated to defend this belief either by helping the victim (and thus restoring a sense of justice) or by persuading themselves that no injustice has occurred. Lerner (1980) focused on the ways in which the ‘just world’ fallacy motivates victim-blaming, but there are other defences available to bystanders who seek to dispel troubling knowledge. Organised abuse highlights the severity of sexual violence in the lives of some children and the desire of some adults to inflict considerable, and sometimes irreversible, harm upon the powerless. Such knowledge is so toxic to common presumptions about the orderly nature of society, and the generally benevolent motivations of others, that it seems as though a defensive scaffold of disbelief, minimisation and scorn has been erected to inhibit a full understanding of organised abuse. Despite these efforts, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in organised abuse and particularly ritualistic abuse (eg Sachs and Galton 2008, Epstein et al. 2011, Miller 2012).
Some readers may find it a curious or even unscientific endeavour to craft a criminological model of organised abuse based on the testimony of survivors. One of the standard objections to qualitative research is that participants may lie or fantasise in interview, it has been suggested that adults who report severe child sexual abuse are particularly prone to such confabulation. Whilst all forms of research, whether qualitative or quantitative, may be impacted upon by memory error or false reporting. there is no evidence that qualitative research is particularly vulnerable to this, nor is there any evidence that a fantasy— or lie—prone individual would be particularly likely to volunteer for research into child sexual abuse. Research has consistently found that child abuse histories, including severe and sadistic abuse, are accurate and can be corroborated (Ross 2009, Otnow et al. 1997, Chu et al. 1999). Survivors of child abuse may struggle with amnesia and other forms of memory disturbance but the notion that they are particularly prone to suggestion and confabulation has yet to find a scientific basis. It is interesting to note that questions about the veracity of eyewitness evidence appear to be asked far more frequently in relation to sexual abuse and rape than in relation to other crimes. The research on which this book is based has been conducted with an ethical commitment to taking the lives and voices of survivors of organised abuse seriously.
He loves me so he hurts meTo try and make me good.It doesn't work. I'm just too badAnd don't do what I should.My memory has so many different sections and, like all survivors, there are so many compartments with so many triggers. I'll remember a smell which reminds me of a man which reminds me of a place which reminds me of another man who I think was with a woman who had a certain smell — and I'm back to square one. This is the case for most survivors, I believe. When we try to put together our pasts, the triggers are many and varied, the memories are disjointed — and why wouldn't they be? We were children. Even someone with an idyllic childhood who is only trying to remember the lovely things which happened to them will scratch their head and wonder who gave them that doll and was it for Christmas or their third birthday? Did they have a party when they were four or five? When did they go on a plane for the first time? You see, even happy memories are hard to piece together — so imagine how hard it is to collate all of the trauma, to pull together all of the things I've been trying to push away for so many years.
Amnesia, which is a loss of memory, is a symptom of many different trauma and/or dissociative disorders, including PTSD, Dissociative Fugue, Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and Dissociative Identity Disorder. Amnesia can affect both implicit and explicit memory.
There are two types of memory frequently experienced by individuals who have had overwhelming trauma that has been suppressed psychologically or chemically. The first is general memory, experienced as an adult, in which there is a natural recall of early events. The other is the memory that is often associated with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS). The person suddenly smells, sees and feels as though he or she is actually living the event that took place months or years earlier.Many soldiers who survived horrifying combat experiences have PTSS. This has frequently been discussed in terms of Vietnam veterans who suddenly mentally find themselves in the jungle, hiding from the enemy or assaulting people they see as a threat. The fact that they have not been in Vietnam for decades and that they are experiencing the flashbacks in shopping malls, at home or at work does not change what they are mentally reliving. But PTSS has existed for centuries and has affected men, women and children in the midst of all wars, horrifying natural disasters and other traumatic experiences. This includes physical and sexual abuse when growing up.the PTSS Cheryl was experiencing more and more frequently, in which she found herself seeing, feeling and re-experiencing events from her childhood and adolescence had become overwhelming. She knew she needed to get help.
In cases of organized and multi-perpetrator abuse when the abuse occurs in the context of rituals and ceremonies, some elements of the experience may have been staged specifically with the intention of encouraging the disbelief of others if the victim were to report the crime. For example, someone reporting such a crime may mention that the devil was present, or that someone well-known was there, or that acts of magic were performed. These were tricks and deceptions by the abusers-often experienced by the victims after being given medication or hallucinogenic drugs - that render the account unbelievable, make the witness sound unreliable, and protect the perpetrators. (page 120, Chapter 9, Some clinical implications of believing or not believing the patient)
Attitude Is EverythingWe live in a culture that is blind to betrayal and intolerant of emotional pain. In New Age crowds here on the West Coast, where your attitude is considered the sole determinant of the impact an event has on you, it gets even worse.In these New Thought circles, no matter what happens to you, it is assumed that you have created your own reality. Not only have you chosen the event, no matter how horrible, for your personal growth. You also chose how you interpret what happened—as if there are no interpersonal facts, only interpretations.The upshot of this perspective is that your suffering would vanish if only you adopted a more evolved perspective and stopped feeling aggrieved. I was often kindly reminded (and believed it myself), “there are no victims.” How can you be a victim when you are responsible for your circumstances?When you most need validation and support to get through the worst pain of your life, to be confronted with the well-meaning, but quasi-religious fervor of these insidious half-truths can be deeply demoralizing. This kind of advice feeds guilt and shame, inhibits grieving, encourages grandiosity and can drive you to be alone to shield your vulnerability.
I’ve seen daggers pierce the chest,Children dying in the road,Crawling things hooked and baited,Rapists bound and then castrated,Villains singed in public square.Yet none these sights did make me cringeLike when my Love cut all her hair.
As I feel less overwhelmed, my fear softens and begins to subside. I feel a flicker of hope, then a rolling wave of fiery rage. My body continues to shake and tremble. It is alternately icy cold and feverishly hot. A burning red fury erupts from deep within my belly: How could that stupid kid hit me in a crosswalk? Wasn’t she paying attention? Damn her!A blast of shrill sirens and flashing red lights block out everything.My belly tightens, and my eyes again reach to find the woman’s kind gaze. We squeeze hands, and the knot in my gut loosens. I hear my shirt ripping. I am startled and again jump to the vantageof an observer hovering above my sprawling body. I watch uniformedstrangers methodically attach electrodes to my chest. The Good Samaritanparamedic reports to someone that my pulse was 170. I hear my shirt ripping even more. I see the emergency team slip a collar onto my neck and then cautiously slide me onto a board. While they strap me down, I hear some garbled radio communication. The paramedics arerequesting a full trauma team. Alarm jolts me. I ask to be taken to thenearest hospital only a mile away, but they tell me that my injuries mayrequire the major trauma center in La Jolla, some thirty miles farther.My heart sinks.
Some people with DID present their narratives of sadistic abuse in a quite matter-of-fact way, without perceptible affect. This may sometimes be done as a way of protecting themselves, and the listener, from the emotional impact of their experience. We have found that people describing trauma in a flat way, without feeling, are usually those who have been more chronically abused, while those with affect still have a sense of self that can observe the tragedy of betrayal and have feelings about it. In some cases, this deadpan presentation can also be the result of cult training and brainwashing. Unfortunately, when a patient describes a traumatic experience without showing any apparent emotion, it can make the listener doubt whether the patient is telling the truth. (page 119, Chapter 9, Some clinical implications of believing or not believing the patient)
Blame is a Defense Against PowerlessnessBetrayal trauma changes you. You have endured a life-altering shock, and are likely living with PTSD symptoms— hypervigilance, flashbacks and bewilderment—with broken trust, with the inability to cope with many situations, and with the complete shut down of parts of your mind, including your ability to focus and regulate your emotions.Nevertheless, if you are unable to recognize the higher purpose in your pain, to forgive and forget and move on, you clearly have chosen to be addicted to your pain and must enjoy playing the victim.And the worst is, we are only too ready to agree with this assessment! Trauma victims commonly blame themselves. Blaming oneself for the shame of being a victim is recognized by trauma specialists as a defense against the extreme powerlessness we feel in the wake of a traumatic event. Self-blame continues the illusion of control shock destroys, but prevents us from the necessary working through of the traumatic feelings and memories to heal and recover.
Other personalities are created to handle new traumas, their existence usually occurring one at a time. Each has a singular purpose and is totally focused on that task. The important aspect of the mind's extreme dissociation is that each ego state is totally without knowledge of the other. Because of this, the researchers for the CIA and the Department of Defense believed they could take a personality, train him or her to be a killer and no other ego stares would be aware of the violence that was taking place. The personality running the body would be genuinely unaware of the deaths another personality was causing. Even torture could not expose the with, because the personality experiencing the torture would have no awareness of the information being sought. Earlier, such knowledge was gained from therapists working with adults who had multiple personalities. The earliest pioneers in the field, such as Dr. Ralph Alison, a psychiatrist then living in Santa Cruz, California, were helping victims of severe early childhood trauma. Because there were no protocols for treatment, the pioneers made careful notes, publishing their discoveries so other therapists would understand how to help these rare cases. By 1965, the information was fairly extensive, including the knowledge that only unusually intelligent children become multiple personalities and that sexual trauma endured by a restrained child under the age of seven is the most common way to induce hysteric dissociation.
Our work calls on us to confront, with our patients and within ourselves, extraordinary human experiences. This confrontation is profoundly humbling in that at all times these experiences challenge the limits of our humanity and our view of the world...
The symptomatology of PTSD.In PTSD a traumatic event is not remembered and relegated to one's past in the same way as other life events. Trauma continues to intrude with visual, auditory, and/or other somatic reality on the lives of its victims. Again and again they relieve the life-threatening experiences they suffered, reacting in mind and body as though such events were still occurring. PTSD is a complex psychobiological condition.
The door suddenly jerks open. A wideeyedteenager bursts out. She stares at me in dazed horror. In a strangeway, I both know and don’t know what has just happened. As the fragmentsbegin to converge, they convey a horrible reality: I must havebeen hit by this car as I entered the crosswalk. In confused disbelief, I sinkback into a hazy twilight. I find that I am unable to think clearly or towill myself awake from this nightmare.A man rushes to my side and drops to his knees. He announces himselfas an off-duty paramedic. When I try to see where the voice is comingfrom, he sternly orders, “Don’t move your head.” The contradictionbetween his sharp command and what my body naturally wants—toturn toward his voice—frightens and stuns me into a sort of paralysis.My awareness strangely splits, and I experience an uncanny “dislocation.”It’s as if I’m floating above my body, looking down on the unfoldingscene.I am snapped back when he roughly grabs my wrist and takes mypulse. He then shifts his position, directly above me. Awkwardly, hegrasps my head with both of his hands, trapping it and keeping it frommoving. His abrupt actions and the stinging ring of his command panicme; they immobilize me further. Dread seeps into my dazed, foggy consciousness:Maybe I have a broken neck, I think. I have a compellingimpulse to find someone else to focus on. Simply, I need to have someone’scomforting gaze, a lifeline to hold onto. But I’m too terrified tomove and feel helplessly frozen.