Therapy today: Little Laura

Dissociation is very common in people with PTSD. Those who have experienced trauma, particularly from childhood sexual abuse, often fragment themselves. At the time of the trauma, it is a very effective defence. By dissociating yourself from events that feel like they threaten your existence, those events seem less real. The dissociation enables a victim to separate him/herself from their trauma, creating a distance between what’s real and what isn’t.

This strategy helped when I was little. I was sexually abused by my older brother in our family home. Sometimes in my own bed. At the time, I was so terrified that I disconnected myself from my experience. I convinced myself it was happening to someone else. Either that, or I took myself away by counting lines on the duvet, or focusing on the pattern of the wallpaper. I can see those blue sail boats on his bedroom wall still now, as though it were yesterday.

But none of it was yesterday. It was twenty years ago now. And dissociation doesn’t help me anymore. In my therapy with J, I’ve been working on stopping myself from ‘disappearing’. Since I’ve been in therapy, I have been prone to closing myself down when we talk about the most difficult things. It is a bizarre experience to be physically present, yet totally removed in my head.

Gradually, this situation has improved. Part of this change came from simply sitting differently. I used to sit on the floor and curl into myself. When I felt myself becoming upset, I would curl even tighter and split away from J. I could hear her speaking to me, but I wasn’t able to respond. Retreating so far into my mind, I would find it almost impossible to return to the here and now. Often, J would have to come closer to me and put a hand on me before I could really feel she was there.

Dissociating that badly in adulthood, when there is no threat, is horrible. It is frightening to feel so lost in yourself and so far from reality. When those difficult feelings come up, I don’t want to be alone with them. I do truly feel safe and held with J, so I want to be with her in those moments.

I now sit beside J in our sessions. I am close enough that I can stay connected with her, helping me feel less alone when my thoughts prevent me from speaking. It really has made a huge difference. That said, I still experience myself in distinct parts.

Today J and I talked about getting the parts to communicate with one another. I’ve been feeling a lot of sadness recently that sits with a very young part of me. When I’m in that place, I feel small and lost. I feel vulnerable and need someone else to reassure me, to bring a sense of safety.

At the same time, I’ve got this headstrong adult in me that is perfectly capable of taking care of the little one. A friend commented on a post I wrote a few days ago, saying exactly that. Big Laura needs to look after little Laura. She needs to nurture her. When I imagine seeing another little girl in the kind of distress my child self feels at the moment, I want to reach out and wrap her up. I want to hold her close, protect and comfort her.

The missing piece is that I don’t do that for myself. I don’t have the compassion for myself that I would show to another traumatised person. I get frustrated and angry with that child part of me. I am ashamed of her, and embarrassed by her weakness.

That leaves me in a self-perpetuating cycle of destructive self hatred and persistent loneliness. I want that vulnerable part of me to be nurtured, but I don’t want to have to do it myself. So I ask it of others. I ask it of J and my wife and family. I search for it in all my relationships. But I know that somewhere within me is the capacity to love that broken child. I hold so much love; I know it could be a powerful force in my healing.

Ultimately, the hardest part right now is figuring out how to open my heart to my own suffering.

Photo: Ajari, Creative Commons.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. loomy9138 says:

    I completely understand what you mean. I have often dissociated to the point that I can’t speak or even move. You are not alone in this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      Thanks. I know a lot of people suffer from dissociative episodes. There is so little understanding of this condition among health professionals it is actually quite shocking.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. noimnotok says:

    This is very powerful and insightful writing. I’ve been sitting here with your words for quite a while now, wondering what the hell I can say. I have very similar problems with dissociating and blaming the “little me” for being weak. Shame and embarrassment too. I can relate to all of this.

    Like

  3. Thank you for being so vulnerable. Having compassion for ourselves is so powerful, isnt it?! I completely relate to every word and although I wouldnt wish these experiences and aftermaths, its comforting to know that I am not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      That is lovely feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. It is incredibly comforting to feel less alone, you’re quite right. And we all have this younger, vulnerable part of ourselves, whether we admit it or not. Wishing you hope and health, Laura

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re angry at her because you feel like she’s holding you back from being the person you should be, yet, she’s the one who got your this far. She’s the one who has kept you alive. Her hopefulness, her strength, her willpower to keep going all those times, is why you are so strong now. Its why you are alive. Why you survived.
    Something that helped me understand how vulnerable I was, was by looking at pictures of myself at the age of the abuse, six, when molestation started, 10,11, when I was first raped. I only have one picture on my desk, where I sit now, and its me, when I was smiing and happy in an angel costume either before or right at the beginning of my abuse. I fight every day for that little girl. I fight everyday to give her what she needs, because I’m the only one who can, and she deserves it. trust me, I still battle with hating myself, shame, embarrassment, self pity, hate, anger,, bitterness, everything….. but I try to think of myself as her mother, and i’m going to fight like a mother bear to make sure shes okay.
    hugs

    Liked by 1 person

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