Through the Day:
for Adults Hurt as Children
Nancy J. Napier
I Know Iāve Been Hurt, But Now What?
book emerged from a deep
feeling of necessity, from my response to workshop participants,
clients, and people Iāve never met personally who have called
me for help in dealing with what sometimes seems to be the
overwhelming challenge of just getting through the day as
a survivor of childhood abuse. It is for those of you who
may have experienced any kind of childhood hurts, for your
therapists, and for others who are close to you. It is meant
to provide information and exercises that will help make the
days, the nights, and the relationships easier to manage.
Itās hard to be someone who was hurt badly as a child. Itās
challenging to be your therapist. It can be confusing to be
someone who loves you.
As a therapist, I didnāt
intend to specialize in treating adults who were abused as
children. This focus emerged organically, both from my interest
in hypnosis and altered states of consciousness and from my
experiences in dealing with my own childhood pain. As a psychotherapist,
I have spent a number of years helping abuse survivors deepen
their healing process. Along the way I have had to deepen
my own healing. I have had to learn to acknowledge, tolerate,
and deal with my own hurts more profoundly than I ever wold
have imagined possible. Only in this way have I been able
to accompany others into the dark, hidden places of childhood
with any sense of comfort, safety, and confidence.
Healing from childhood hurts
is a powerfully involving process. It can be so even when
the hurts you experienced werenāt extreme. In fact, you may
be someone who grew up in a home where the adults were overwhelmed
with responsibility and simply ignored you. You may have lived
in a home where a relative was ill and the family focused
all its energy on caretaking, with little left over for your
needs. Or you may be someone who was adopted at birth and
subsequently has struggled with abandonment issues at the
very core of your being. Perhaps you are one of the many people
for whom the psychological abuse of being ongoingly devalued
as a child was so pervasively devastating that it felt as
if you were being beaten regularly. Or, you may, in fact,
have been brutally attacked, sexually assaulted, and psychologically
Whatever your experience,
it is your own and it is unique to you. It canāt be compared
to anyone elseās. As you read the following chapters, please
be gentle with yourself and find your own truth in
the ideas shared here. Whatever your truth may be, it is your
key to freedom. It will tell you how you came to be the person
you are and what you need to resolve and change in order to
become the person you want to be.
Sometimes abuse survivors
need to know "nuts and bolts" kinds of things other
people take for granted, such as "How do I give myself
permission to say, ĪNoā?" Others have an urgent need
to learn to handle intense feelings that may sweep over them
from out of the blue. Still others want to know how to manage
the urge to let themselves become numb whenever difficult
feelings begin to emerge.
Underlying all the work
that adults who were hurt as children must do to reclaim their
lives is the following premise: Even as you work on resolving
wounds that occurred in the past, you also need to be able
to deal with your world in the present. Iāve heard many people
say, "I canāt stand to live like this! What will make
me feel better, more competent today? I know I have
to look at the past in order to heal, but how do I get through
the next hour?"
It matters how you live
today. If you canāt get through this moment, then what happened
to you in the past can seem pretty removed and unimportant.
Some days may be easier to handle than others. Yet childhood
hurts affect how you experience yourself and the world and
can make it difficult to maintain a sense of internal equilibrium
when life presents you with its inevitable challenges. Knowing
some strategies that will help make today an easier place
to live can be of real value.
You may be more than familiar
with those times when itās hard just to get out of bed in
the morning or to care about the fact that your boss wants
that project tomorrow. So what if thereās a house to clean
or groceries to buy? What can any of that really matter, you
might think, when deep inside you are dealing with the experiences
of a child ö you ö who was traumatized and whose feelings
are flooding your awareness?
Reclaiming and processing
your unacknowledged or unremembered past is one of the fundamental
tasks of healing. Another is healing the wounds that exist
in your relationships with other people. Equally important
to the process of becoming a healthy adult in the present
is learning to cope effectively with your current day-to-day
life. Itās important to be safe in the present, to be able
to take care of yourself adequately, and to know what to do
if you begin to feel overwhelmed by the demand that you act
like an adult when your really feel like a three-year-old.
In recent years, many books
have been written for abuse survivors. What few of them emphasize,
though, are the special issues that arise when a traumatized
child uses dissociative strategies to deal with hurtful
experiences. In Chapter 2, weāll explore the effects of trauma-based
dissociation in some detail. For now, I want to emphasize
that, while this book will be helpful to anyone dealing
with the effects of childhood hurts, it will also offer information
and strategies for those who are struggling with the special
challenges that arise when a child dissociates herself from
her body, her feelings, her thoughts or urges.
Itās hard enough to deal
with having been hurt by people who had more power than you.
Itās especially challenging when you may not even remember
that you were hurt and yet find yourself terrified of certain
kinds of people and situations for no apparent reason, or
feel like a little kid when a moment ago you felt just fine
as the grownup you are.
Dissociation exists along
a continuum, ranging from normal, non-traumatic dissociative
moments to the profound dissociation that often occurs with
extreme abuse and results in multiple personalities. Weāll
look at this kind of dissociation in detail in the next chapter.
At one end of the continuum are the natural dissociative moments
we all experience, whether weāve been hurt as children or
not. Some of the most common include staring off into space
while riding in a train or bus; becoming so absorbed in music
or reading that we donāt hear someone enter or leave the room;
losing track of time ö time flies when weāre having fun and
drags when weāre bored; focusing so intently on something
that we donāt realize weāve hurt ourselves ö later, when a
bruise appears, weāre sometimes baffled about how it got there
until we remember that we walked into a table while having
a heated conversation with a friend.
As we move along the dissociative
continuum, we begin to find people who used dissociative strategies
in protective ways when they were children. In order to deal
with a difficult experience, for example, we use dissociation
to forget certain aspects of what happened even as we remember
others. Many adults abused as children use this kind of dissociation.
Perhaps you can think of a time in your own childhood when
you remember certain events, but you know there are gaps in
An example from my own life
comes to mind. I vividly remember the day my sister came home
from the hospital as a newborn. I ran home from kindergarten,
thrilled that I would finally get to meet the new member of
the family. I recall what the day looked like. I remember
how I felt. I have vivid images of seeing my sister for the
first time. What I didnāt recall until many years later, in
therapy, was how I felt when my father moved out of our house
just weeks before my sister was born. In fact, I had no recall
of how it felt to have him gone, or how we said goodbye, or
even of the few visits he made after he left. It was only
after working in therapy that these memories became available.
As a young child, I just couldnāt handle the deep hurt of
losing my father, so I put all my conscious awareness and
feelings into the arrival of my sister. I dissociated everything
that had to do with him during that time.
Problems arising from trauma-based
dissociation can be hard to understand and frightening for
abuse survivors and those close to them. What many people
have found is that information about dissociation and how
it operates in adult life provides a sense of relief and mastery.
A good portion of this book is dedicated to providing that
information. Also, it helps to understand that trauma-based
dissociation operates in such a way that there is a continuing
potential for confusion and unanticipated reactions in adults
who used this strategy as children.
The more you understand about
dissociation, the more empowered you can feel in your day-to-day
life. For example, it helps to know that it may be because
of dissociation that your moods switch quickly and without
warning. Knowing that dissociated feelings are as pure as
the first time you felt them in childhood can help you get
through some of those particularly difficult moments when
intense feelings unexpectedly surface. Also, it helps to know
that panic and nightmares often accompany the emergence of
previously unremembered events from childhood. Realizing this
can help if you suddenly find yourself awash in panic and
canāt identify any external, present-day source for your feelings.
The more you know, the greater your ability to handle the
present moment effectively.
Even if you didnāt use dissociative
processes to deal with life in a troubled family, chances
are that, if you were abused physically, emotionally or sexually,
your normal childhood development was affected. Most of us
who grew up in a dysfunctional family of whatever kind
struggle with how to be effective adults in the present. Whether
experiences were traumatically dissociated or not, we all
have inner child parts, some of which relate to unresolved
childhood events. Whether emotions were traumatically dissociated
or not, most of us need to learn better ways to deal with
our feelings once they are triggered and we find ourselves
reacting in ways that may not be good for us. Learning new
strategies that help us live more consciously within ourselves,
whatever our original strategies for dealing with childhood
hurts, can make it easier to get through this moment, right
If you did use dissociation
to get through an abusive childhood, you may already be working
with a therapist who has helped you place yourself along the
dissociative continuum. Or you may be reading about dissociation
for the first time and be curious about how it may operate
in the unconscious strategies you developed as a child to
cope with hurtful experiences.
Everything that is offered here
is meant to help you get through the many moments that make
up the present day. What this book canāt do is take the place
of solid, ongoing psychotherapy with a professional who is
trained in working with abuse survivors. Self-healing is a
wonderful, natural process that is available to all of us,
but it canāt take us through the blind spots we donāt even
know how to recognize. For most people, it is too hard to
do this work on their own. With a competent therapist, you
have the help of an informed guide. Your therapist becomes
a safe "container" for the powerful feelings that
are part of healing and provides a secure context within which
you can go deeper and with more certainty than you ever could
on your own.
At this point, Iād like
to share with you my bias: eventually, in order to heal fully
from the effects of childhood abuse, you will benefit from
going into therapy, if you havenāt already. Itās impossible
to explore and resolve, by yourself, the interpersonal wounds
that occur when childhood hurts are brought about by the very
people you needed to trust, perhaps the very people on whom
your survival depended.
If the idea of therapy frightens
you, thatās natural. Most of us feel uncertain and downright
scared the first time we walk into a therapistās office. In
Chapter 12, weāll explore what to expect, what to look for,
and how to envision what a therapy process might involve.
In addition to therapy,
it is important to have support from friends, and from others
who are also healing from childhood hurts. You may find that
you get a great deal of comfort from ongoing support groups.
Or you may discover that groups are too much for you to handle
and that you prefer to have a few close friends you can talk
to about what is happening in your life. Itās helpful to know
that a therapist alone canāt provide all the support you may
need as you go through your process of healing. The same applies
to your partner, if youāre involved in a relationship. No
one person can be enough.
This Book Offers
This book draws upon many approaches
and offers strategies geared especially to help you cope today,
right now, with the parts of yourself that hold dissociated
and unprocessed memories of hurtful experiences. For example,
you can learn how to send child parts to safe places "inside"
when you have something to do that is particularly scary for
them. Weāll explore ways in which you can soothe yourself
when you get upset. Using self-hypnosis and guided imagery
exercises, you can tap into future resource states and learn
how it feels to be confident and to have a sense of safety
that may have been lacking when you were a child. Tapping
into these kinds of experiences can give you a boost, some
hope, when things feel stuck and too big to handle. Weāll
also look at some ways to deal with compulsive behaviors that
push you into action when sitting with your feelings could
be more healing.
Some of the exercises and
ideas in the book address the difficult journey into your
memories. All are offered with the hope that you will keep
in mind that whatever you experienced, then, happened a long
time ago. You survived. You are here, now, and that is proof
that you can get through the work of remembering and coming
to terms with your past. Your early experiences didnāt do
you in then, and they wonāt now. Yes, it will be frightening
and at times it will seem to be overwhelming. The key
thing to keep in mind is that feeling overwhelmed, terrified,
enraged, or filled with despair is just that: a feeling, a
remembering. You can let it flow through your awareness without
having to do anything with it. You can also learn to
pace yourself gently, so that you arenāt recreating the overwhelmed
feelings of childhood by pushing yourself too hard.
Youāll also learn how to
remind yourself that feelings are to be taken seriously
but not literally. This is an important theme throughout
the book. Your feelings need to be acknowledged and owned.
That doesnāt mean, however, that the feelings are literally
related to whatās happening in the present. Just because you
feel that the noise in the hall is your father coming to rape
you doesnāt mean itās true. What may be true is that you hear
something that reminds a part of you of your fatherās
approach. As you understand better whatās happening to you,
you can choose to deal with it in new ways. You might decide
to focus your awareness on the fear and listen to the child
part that is experiencing it, rather than hide in a closet.
When you are able to choose to listen and bring your adult
awareness into the fear, your ability to stay focused in the
A word here about memories.
Currently, there is a controversy brewing over the reliability
of memories that come into conscious awareness during the
process of healing from childhood abuse. While memory seems
to be context-specific, being constructed and reconstructed
over time, it is essential to keep in mind that memory content
is but one element of a cluster of symptoms in abuse survivors.
Taken together, body states, self-destructive behaviors, interpersonal
difficulties, flashbacks, and memory content give a clearer
picture of the origins of childhood abuse.
There is also controversy
over the use of hypnosis in the retrieval of dissociated memories.
When misused, hypnosis may involve abuse and the potential
retraumatization of survivors. Many therapists using hypnosis
have found that survivors are able to recall memories that
previously were not readily accessible. While this may be
true, some professionals fail to recognize that "forcing"
clients to bring into awareness a memory that the unconscious
has wisely pushed away from conscious recall may create a
very real risk of retraumatization. Because of the aftereffects
of abuse, which include a tendency to comply with the perceived
demands of authority figures, survivors are vulnerable to
Hypnosis is a proven and
useful tool in the process of healing ö when it is used wisely,
and in conjunction with what is emerging naturally from a
survivorās unconscious. Then it can become a means for deepening
work with memories that have begun to surface, increasing
a sense of safety, promoting communication between and among
parts of the self, and accessing profound states of comfort.
Some of the chapters that follow contain exercises that draw
on hypnotic techniques. These approaches are self-hypnotic
in nature, and respect the slow and steady pace of remembering
and healing that can convey empowerment rather than retraumatization.
I want to encourage you never to use self-hypnosis
to push yourself; instead, let it become a gentle support
that can help you accomplish many of the tasks of healing.
Many clinicians who work
with adults who were abused as children, and who move with
these clients through the experience of bringing an unremembered
event into consciousness and resolving it, support the view
that ö even if the details of specific memories arenāt accurate
ö working with them may bring relief, and thatās what matters.
Seeing the change that can occur when a memory surfaces and
is resolved often creates a willingness to suspend judgment
and work with whatever emerges. If you are willing to accept
the fact that some of your memories may be more like metaphors
than an accurate recall of actual events, then it doesnāt
matter how memory works. What matters is that you are able
to tap into a way of representing past abuse that, when explored
and resolved, brings relief. Weāll explore issues around memory
in more detail in Chapter 8.
For now itās enough to know
that when you have strategies available that allow you to
go into old feelings and memories with your adult,
present-day awareness, you are on the road to freedom. As
long as your childhood experiences remain unconscious and
unprocessed, you risk falling into them at any moment, any
time. Until your history is integrated into your adult consciousness,
it holds the potential to pull you back to unremembered terror
and pain, without your really knowing what you are feeling
or why. Weāll pay particular attention to dealing with unresolved
pockets of childhood memories in the chapters on containing
feelings, using mindfulness to reorient to the present moment,
and understanding what things trigger you into these difficult
feelings and responses.
Sometimes it may feel as
though your whole day were lost in the past. For example,
some abuse survivors have a hard time experiencing themselves
as grownups. If this is true for you, even if you canāt find
a sense of yourself as an adult, you can increase your
ability to observe your feelings and to deal with them. Over
time, youāll discover that something has changed, that you
feel more present and aware than you did before. It doesnāt
matter whether or not this developing state of mind feels
"adult." What does matter is that its presence in
your ongoing consciousness can make a big difference in how
you handle your daily life.
If you are gentle with yourself
and allow yourself to pace the healing process in small, slow
steps, you can free yourself from the hold the past has had
on you. Weāll explore ways to slow yourself down, ways to
pace your exploration and discovery that allow you to validate
your right to be treated with respect, especially by yourself.
A theme that comes up often
in therapy with survivors of childhood abuse is the slower
you go, the faster you get there. There is a great deal
of wisdom in this simple statement. Because abuse creates
feelings of being overwhelmed, itās not unusual for survivors
to move into high gear and overwhelm themselves as part of
their recovery process. While itās understandable that you
want to be free of the pain and struggle that may characterize
your present life, going slowly will allow you to learn how
it feels to respect your needs for safety. Youāll have a chance
to experience mastery, to go through a natural process of
absorbing new information at your own pace, a pace you can
In fact, one of the things
that survivors often donāt learn is how to modulate their
feelings. If this applies to you, you may be one of those
people who experiences things as all-or-nothing, as profoundly
intense or intensely boring. You may, at times, be swept along
with whatever feelings happens to be triggered by some event,
experiencing the chaos that can arise when things are out
of control. Or you may have learned how to numb out, turn
to stone or wood, and not feel anything at all. In Chapter
6, weāll look at some strategies for changing how you learned
to cope with your emotional world.
Whether you work on your
own or with a therapist, you will find that the capacity you
have for dealing with the hurts of childhood fluctuates. For
example, sometimes youāll feel strong and ready to plunge
in deeper. Those are times when you may want to use some of
the exercises in the book that allow you to discover more
about what you feel. At other times, you may want to hide
in a good book or stay in bed. At times like those, you are
telling yourself that you have taken in enough for now. You
need time to process things unconsciously. Listen to yourself.
Be gentle. Remember that, as a child who was hurt, you had
to shut down what you really felt. You had to handle more
than you were equipped to manage. You had to learn not to
know what you really needed or wanted. Part of healing is
allowing yourself to reawaken to what feels right for you
in the present moment. What a precious gift it is to be able
to say, "Yes, I know what I want right now," and
then be able to give it to yourself. Cherish that gift. Itās
important and youāre worth it.
An underlying theme of this
book is choice. Itās about the constant opportunities
offered in daily life for you to choose to heal. As a child,
you chose to survive ö and you did! It was one of the few
choices available to you. So, even if you feel your life isnāt
working the way you would like it to today, you did
succeed at your most important decision ö to get through it
all. Now, each moment of your adult life offers new choices.
It can be hard, though,
because now you know, ahead of time, that choosing awareness
can mean that you will have to tolerate some pretty uncomfortable
feelings. As we explore some ways to deal with the discomfort,
keep in mind that this book is intended to be a bridge between
where you are right now and your most fundamental, unconscious
impulse to be whole. Deep in your psyche, outside conscious
awareness, is the urge to heal, to reclaim your whole self
ö to be free of the confines of a troubled and unprocessed
past. The information and strategies offered here can help
you connect with that place inside.
This is no fix-it manual,
though. Rather, you might think of it as a map. You
are the explorer of your own, unique internal terrain. No
one knows you better than you know yourself, even though there
will be times when you canāt see yourself clearly and need
the help of your therapist. All the exercises and strategies
offered here are general suggestions. They tap into a vast
store of creativity and wisdom we each carry inside: the unconscious.
Your unconscious can take in these strategies and make them
specifically useful to you. Your own creativity can embrace
whatās meaningful to you and leave the rest. You may find
that, as you work with some of the suggestions in the book,
your own ability to come up with strategies that help you
get through the day will increase.
The most basic choice any
of us faces as we delve more deeply into childhood hurts is
deciding that we are the source of our own healing.
We must become the source of our own rescue, even as we allow
an experienced guide, such as our therapist, to help us discover
this truth about ourselves. No one outside us is going to
come along and say, "Ah yes, I see. I can make it better
for you now," ö not a friend, not a fellow traveler on
the healing journey, not even a therapist.
Instead, each of us must
take the journey inside ourselves and deal with what
we find there. We can have help, but no one can do it for
us. Each chapter offers ideas and tools that will help
you to choose healing to connect to the present moment even
as you continue to open up the hurts of a painful childhood.
Each time you choose to
deal with your feelings in healthy ways, to remove yourself
from abusive situations, or to take some time to get in touch
with the memories, feelings, thoughts, or body sensations
associated with some past hurt, your inner strength increases.
You add to this foundation of strength every time you make
the choice to reclaim your feelings, each time you acknowledge
and own what happened to you and how it has affected your
Itās also important to know
that you can choose to have moments away from the healing
process. Healing goes on even if youāre having a good time
doing something else, or a quiet time with a good book, or
a blank time staring at the television set. That deep place
in your psyche, the part of you that always seeks to heal,
carries on the process no matter what youāre doing. Itās
your decision to heal that matters. Once that is made,
the process carries itself along.
Weāll also touch on issues of
spirituality. The world of meaning and the unknown become
part of the healing process as abuse survivors ask themselves,
"Why did this happen to me?" "How could there
be a God if little children are allowed to be hurt?"
Although such existential questions are inescapable, they
canāt really be answered in any final way. What they can
do is open the door to your spiritual beliefs and how you
explain your world.
Many times survivors report
how important it was, and is, for them to have an awareness
of parts of themselves that are spiritual in nature. These
parts may be experienced as guides or as wise men or women
who lead the way to brighter, happier places inside a hurt
childās internal, imaginary world. Sometimes they were the
only source of hope for a young child who had nowhere else
I do not limit the concept
of spirituality a belief in God or religion. Spirituality
may be expressed in your connection to nature or in a belief
that you are part of a larger organism of consciousness, even
if you leave the nature of that organism undefined. Spirituality
can refer to anything that gives you a sense of connection
to something more than yourself, to something that brings
meaning to your life. If you are interested in tapping into
this aspect of your consciousness, some strategies are offered
to help you do so.
Another aspect of the healing
process that touches on things spiritual is the concept of
the collective unconscious. The existence of a collective
unconscious was proposed by Carl Jung, the famed psychologist
who originally was a student of Freud. According to Jung,
within the collective unconscious are all the thoughts, feelings
and accumulated experiences of humanity throughout time.
All of those who have healed,
who have led full and vital lives, have contributed their
consciousness to this collective. While we are compelled to
be aware of our shared pain as human beings, we can also tap
into our collective potential to heal and be whole. Every
person who has come before you, and who has healed and moved
beyond the confines of a hurtful childhood, has blazed a trail
you can follow unconsciously. All the learnings
and accomplishments of those who have healed already are available
within your own unconscious and can guide you on your way.
Also, itās important to realize that each time you make a
choice to go deeper into your own healing you contribute something
to the collective, as well. All who come after you draw unconsciously
on your achievements.
An example of how the collective
unconscious may be currently affecting those of us who were
hurt as children is the recent emergence of people who are
willing to publicize their victimization on television and
in other media. At the same time, therapists have made available
information that previously would have been found only in
professional publications or at professional conferences.
All of the public revelations and books demonstrate an important
message: no matter what happened to you, or what strategies
you used to get through those experiences, you are not alone.
Its as though a tide of
awareness were sweeping through our collective unconscious.
The increasing understanding of dissociative processes in
childhood, supported by public revelations from people who
have recovered memories in adulthood, has been tremendously
freeing for people who suffered child abuse. It is helpful
to be reminded of the fact that there are people who have
healed successfully. They demonstrate an important truth about
what happens when there is abuse: the way you are today is
the result of a reasonable response to an extraordinary and
unreasonable situation, and there is a way to move out of
an accommodation to trauma into new, more effective strategies.
Successfully facing a hurtful
past isnāt the only challenge where help from our shared,
collective unconscious is useful. Those who have accomplished
the journey of healing have faced the often frightening and
uncomfortable experience of change. They have answered
for themselves the difficult questions we all must confront
when we choose to heal: What will I lost if I get better?
What are the risks of becoming aware of my full self? What
will change? Am I entitled to a different life? Will I know
The thing to keep in mind
as you ask yourself the many questions that must arise as
you journey into healing is that you can draw on the wisdom
others have found in their struggles with these important
issues. Because of this collective wisdom, there is hope.
Once any one person accomplishes something, it becomes possible
for the rest of us.
Special Issues for Multiples
Those of you who may have multiple
personalities, something weāll explore in more detail in the
next chapter, I have made special comments you may wish to
consider as you work with the material offered. For you, especially,
itās important to have an ongoing dialogue with a therapist
as you delve more deeply into your world of multiplicity.
This sharing can create a greater sense of stability and equilibrium
in the present, as you explore your inner process.
The cases described throughout
the book are all composites. None represents an actual person.
They have been compiled from many different individuals I
have met or heard about in workshops, as clients, on the telephone,
at conferences, and in clinical discussions with colleagues.
In fact, any resemblance between the people described in this
book and actual living persons is purely coincidental. These
composites have been created to describe general patterns
found in the lives of people who use dissociation as their
primary survival strategy in childhood.
If your story doesnāt seem
as dramatic as some of those described in the following chapters,
fine. Allow yourself to remember that we each are the star
of our own dramas. No one elseās story can match your own
for its immediacy and impact on your life.
As you explore the approaches
offered in this book, please keep in mind that each of us
is unique. What works for one person may not feel relevant
for another. Your style of going inside and discovering whatās
bothering you, quieting an inner childās terror, or encouraging
yourself to get out of bed an go to work will be unique to
you. Itās fine ö even better than fine ö to take these suggestions
and change them to create what works best for you. Not al
strategies are appropriate for every person. Itās a good idea
to read each one and see how it feels as you consider it.
If it seems right, great! If it doesnāt, thatās fine, too.
Throughout the book, I refer
to "him" and "her" randomly. Girls and
boys alike are hurt as children, and this book is for the
women and men alike who are struggling to free themselves
from a painful past.
There are notes for each
chapter [not included in web site excerpts]. They are at the
back of the book and provide references and further details
on ideas presented in the chapters.
The reference list at the
back of the book [not included in web site excerpts] includes
titles on healing, abuse, recovery, spirituality and related
subjects. Inevitably, it will be out of date almost as soon
as this manuscript takes final form. Thankfully so many good
books come on the market regularly that itās impossible to
keep u with them all! It is certain that I will have missed
some that are special to you and that you have found to be
immeasurably helpful. I apologize for this and hope that you
will pass along
to your friends the names of
books that have served you well in your journey of recovery.
In Recreating Your Self,
I mentioned that I was certain my ideas would change and evolve
from what I wrote there a number of years ago. I want to say
the same thing here. This book contains what I understand
to be helpful at this point in time. I am bemused to
say that I have received calls about things I said in Recreating
Your Self that I understand differently now. Such is the
price of putting ideas in print. They get frozen in time when,
in fact, the ideas presented in any book are really the seeds
of new thoughts to come.
And so, I hope you will
allow your own ideas to continue to evolve as you move
through your healing process. There are no right answers.
There are only the answers we have available now. It is certain
that new and more effective ways to heal the hurts of childhood
will emerge, and probably in the very near future. Itās an
exciting time to be in a healing profession, but itās also
a time that requires all of us to have open minds and open
and Childhood Hurts:
When You Have A
Need Not To Know
you happen to be one
of those people who used dissociation as a way of coping with
a difficult childhood, you unconsciously chose a good survival
strategy. Unfortunately, what works so well in childhood creates
all kinds of problems in adult life, so the process of healing
involves learning to use other kinds of psychological coping
strategies when youāre afraid or distressed. For example,
instead of dissociating feelings of fear by unconsciously
pushing them outside your awareness, you may begin to identify
the feeling as fear. Then you can take steps to soothe yourself,
which weāll explore in detail in later chapters. For now,
itās helpful to know that there are options to dissociative
strategies, now that you are grown up and can be more aware
of what you feel as you move through your day-to-day activities.
If you find yourself saying,
"Hey, I wasnāt hurt that badly as a child. None
of this applies to me," let yourself be curious bout
the following information anyway. What I will talk about in
terms of multiple personalities represents an exaggerated
version of how parts operate unconsciously in many of us who
had difficult or unhappy childhoods. Also, if you have friends
who were traumatically abused as children, this information
may help you understand the unique challenges they face and
what life is like for them on a daily basis.
In this chapter weāll consider
the essential concept of parts of the self, especially
as they operate within a context of dissociation. Itās
important to remember, here at the beginning, that dissociation
is a normal part of human consciousness. Most of us dissociate
at last some of the time: when we daydream; when we drive
along and enter "highway hypnosis," where we donāt
realize how far we have gone or how we got there; when we
become deeply engrossed in a task and seem to lose awareness
of our surroundings; and at countless other times when our
attention wanders or blanks out.
of the Self
Central to the coping strategies
presented in this book is the concept of parts. Instead
of our each being a unified, one-dimensional being who is
the same all the time, most of us have a rich world of shifting
states of mind, moods, and behaviors within which we define
ourselves. Different parts of us are activated in response
to environmental and interpersonal events, as well as to internal
fantasies, fears and memories. These parts may represent or
encompass mood states, performance states, talents, fears,
unresolved hurts and unremembered experiences from childhood,
as well as spiritual awareness.
For example, when you are
at work and things are going well, itās likely that you are
able to access certain skills and states of mind that are
appropriate for the task at hand. Generally, the parts of
you that support your present-day adult capacities are active
when you are at work, unless something goes wrong. When this
happens, you may access parts of your consciousness that encompass
feelings of fear or vulnerability, instead of a sense of adult
When youāre not at work
or engaged in other day-to-day responsibilities, you might
naturally be in an entirely different mood, engaging in entirely
different behaviors that, in turn, activate other parts of
you. For instance, when youāre at home, you might experience
parts that are more relaxed and casual than when you are at
work ö unless "home" was a place where you were
hurt. If this were the case, you might find yourself accessing
parts that are anything but relaxed. These are times when
your present-day self seems to fade into the background and
inner child parts emerge. Itās when inner child parts come
into the foreground of your experience that dealing effectively
with day-to-day living can become a difficulty challenge.
Weāll look at strategies for dealing with these parts in later
of the Self
Itās important to keep in mind
that, even if you didnāt use dissociative strategies as a
means of coping with a difficult childhood, you do have parts.
Much of what will be described here will help you move towards
a more conscious awareness of these aspects of your
As I mentioned in Chapter
1, dissociation happens along a continuum. At the nontraumatic
end are the many experiences of daydreaming or floating off
into reverie I have described above. Other kinds of normal
dissociation include forgetting where you put your keys, momentarily
forgetting why you got up to go across the room, or becoming
so absorbed in a book that you donāt hear what is going on
around you. At the other end of the continuum are various
trauma-based kinds of dissociation that sometimes result in
multiple personalities. If you live with this kind of dissociation
operation in your consciousness, daydreams may become terrifying
fantasies, experiences of reverie may become frightening flashbacks,
and forgetting may be profound. Hours or whole days may be
lost. The thread of a conversation with someone may disappear
midstream, leaving you with embarrassing gaps in memory. Sometimes,
at this traumatic end of the dissociative continuum, you may
even discover yourself walking along a city street without
knowing why you re there or even how you got there.
At this point, let me make
a "therapy" comment. Throughout this chapter, Iāll
have lots to say about multiple personalities and all the
varieties of this kind of trauma-based dissociation. As you
read, I would ask you to keep in mind the "medical school
syndrome." This is a situation in which medical students
become convinced they have every disease or condition they
learn about as they go through their coursework. Itās no different
when you read about psychological responses to trauma. Some
of you will decide, based on what you read here, that you
must have multiple personalities.
Diagnosing this response to
trauma requires a good deal of expertise and must be done
by a mental health professional who specializes in the treatment
of dissociative disorders. Self-diagnosis may feel
right, but you really need an expert opinion (and, preferably
more than one). Much of what I say in this book will relate
to many of you who were hurt as children and who used dissociative
processes to protect yourselves but who do not have multiple
personalities. With that caution in mind, letās continue
our exploration of the dissociative continuum and its relationship
to the many parts each of us has inside.
One area where you might
think you have multiple personalities, and donāt, concerns
parts of the self of which you arenāt consciously aware. Each
of us has certain parts we arenāt aware of at times. Think
of a time when you have been asked to take on a specific role,
such as teacher, boss, lover, or friend. When you step into
one of these roles, chances are that you bring with you a
particular state of mind, way of thinking, or way of feeling.
When the situation changes, and you have to take on another
role, such as when you go home from work or when youāre shopping,
your mood probably shifts and your way of thinking and behaving
may be quite different. The key thing that allows you to
function within a context of constancy and predictability
is your ongoing sense of I-ness, a continuous sense of self,
that exists throughout your experience of your different parts.
For a person with
multiple personalities, this continuous sense of I-ness
may be lacking. For example, at the extreme end of the dissociative
continuum, the shifts from one part of the multipleās self
to another may bring with them complete shifts in the sense
of I-ness. Instead of a continuous sense of "being
me even though Iām in a different mood now," the multipleās
sense of self shifts as parts are activated and then
replaced by other parts coming and going in and out of overt
expression. When this happens, one part may experience itself
as a young girl with her own name and qualities, while another
part may feel it is a strong, aggressive teenage boy. This
isnāt true for all multiples, but does illustrate the classic
form of multiple personalities, as described in Sybil
and The Three Faces of Eve.
Identifying multiple personalities
is complicated by the fact that sometimes there is
an ongoing sense of I-ness, even though the inner parts
are as strongly defined in the multiple where a continuous
sense of self doesnāt exist. It is because of these subtleties
and complexities that anyone suspecting he or she may be a
multiple needs to be diagnosed by a professional who is especially
trained to do so.
Take a moment to identify some
of the parts of yourself of which you are aware. For example,
you might be aware of how you behave and feel when you are
at work and things are going along well. When you are identified
with this part of yourself, your body may feel a certain way,
and you may be in a particular state of mind that feels solidly
effective. On the other hand, there may be times when you
are aware of a child part of you that is frightened or that
keeps you from doing things you want and need to accomplish
in your present-day life. If possible, let yourself notice
which parts feel as though they have developed into resources
in your current life, and which feel as though they hold old,
unresolved feelings and behaviors from the past. Learning
to identify and interact with the many parts of you that comprise
your complex self is one of the major tasks of healing and
of becoming more competent and empowered in the present.
If you re a multiple, your
task is the same, but it is complicated by the way your parts
may experience themselves as separate people. Because of this,
communication with your parts may, at first, feel as though
it is with individuals as well defined as yourself. The thing
to keep in mind is that, in the long run, all the parts of
you constitute one psychological being, no matter how
powerful, individual, or separate they may feel at this point.
As you heal, one of your goals is to work towards an ever-increasing,
continuous sense of I-ness.
In nontraumatized people,
most parts of the self operate unconsciously and automatically.
They usually cause no difficulties as they shift in and out
of our ongoing experience; in fact, they add to the richness
of our capacities and the depth of our emotional lives. Things
change in how we are affected by our inner parts, though,
when they are characterized by unresolved, and perhaps unremembered,
hurts we experienced as children. When this happens, a powerful
dynamic is put in place where certain parts of the self are
created to hold, encompass, or embody certain aspects of abuse.
In time, they may become autonomous, to some degree or another,
and exert a tremendous influence on daily life, for both multiples
These dissociated parts
are created so that the child who is being hurt doesnāt realize
the extent of the trauma she is experiencing. For instance,
many adults who were traumatically abused as children describe
floating up in the corner of the room, or on the ceiling above
their bodies, during abuse experiences. Itās not unusual to
hear these trauma survivors talk about how they learned to
shut out any sensations in their bodies while they were being
beaten or otherwise abused. Iāve heard people describe a moment
in childhood when they felt a knot of determination develop
inside: They would stop feeling anything, and they absolutely
would not let their abusers know they were hurt. At
this point, itās important to emphasize that most of these
individuals did not develop multiple personalities,
even though they successfully used dissociative processes
to protect themselves during childhood trauma.
The step from using dissociation
to block out certain aspects of experience to developing multiple
personalities is a seemingly small but powerfully meaningful
one. For example, one of the pervasive ö and tragic ö responses
to the extreme childhood abuse and neglect that result in
multiple personalities is the relentless, if unconscious,
presence of terror. Imagine, for a moment, what it
would be like if you were frozen with terror all the time.
For most multiples, somewhere inside there is a constant state
of terror that affects every moment of every day, even if
the multiple is totally unaware of it on a conscious level.
For this reason, the multipleās extreme form of dissociation
must accomplish a dissociation of the self from itself,
rather than from aspects of a traumatic experience. In other
words, it is a little girl pretending that the abuse is happening
to someone else.
Because they were able to
draw on the dissociative process unconsciously, abused children
who dissociated didnāt realize, thankfully, that some part
of them did know how the abuse felt. Some part of them
did experience the hurt. Another part felt the rage.
Yet another felt the despair of betrayal, even when the abused
child believed he was completely numb in body and spirit.
The underlying reality is that, even when these parts are
outside a childās conscious awareness, they are present inside.
Their pain, terror, and other unconscious, unresolved experiences
can significantly affect life during adulthood, a subject
weāll return to in later chapters.
There are many names for parts
of the self, all of which represent states of consciousness
encompassing feelings, thoughts, memories, beliefs, sensations,
or impulses to act. There are alters, a term used early
on to describe the parts that exist when there are multiple
personalities arising from trauma. Then there are ego states,
those naturally occurring parts of the self that are somewhat
autonomous and arise with or without trauma. The term subpersonalities
is similar to ego states. Subpersonalities exist in all people
and embody all varieties of feelings, capacities, unresolved
issues, spiritual orientations and consciousness, and wisdom.
Alters, ego states, and
subpersonalities are all theorized to exercise some degree
of autonomy within the human psyche, but do not necessarily
arise from trauma alone. Again, the underlying premise is
that there is a natural multiplicity operating in all people,
and these are some of the ways that natural multiplicity has
been described. Finally, there are fragments, the many
partially developed parts of the self that contain certain
aspects of your experience or feelings, but do not have autonomous
power to affect your behavior the way more developed parts
may have. Again, you most assuredly do not have to
be a multiple to have fragments of unprocessed childhood experience
within your consciousness.
An illustration of how a
fragment may operate might be helpful here. The process described
is similar to one you might initiate with any parts that hold
awareness from your childhood, however subtle or powerful
they may be. With a fragment, you may be dealing with a part
of you that encompasses a previously unremembered portion
of a childhood experience. For example, you may consciously
remember a time when you went to the beach with your family.
Your recollection is that it was a good day, that you enjoyed
yourself, but you find that, even as an adult, you have an
irrational fear of the ocean. You may discover, held within
an unconscious portion of your awareness, a fragment encompassing
an unremembered, unprocessed piece of the beach memory: your
brother held you underwater that day until you were afraid
you would drown. Once you connect with this unremembered piece
of the memory, you may discover that the fragment disappears
and that the content it held becomes part of your ongoing
Essentially, it doesnāt
matter what you call the many parts of yourself. Whatās important
is that you develop a means of connecting and communicating
with them. On a day-to-day basis, itās easier to deal with
lifeās ongoing challenges when you have available the full
array of your psychological capacities for doing so.
One of the real benefits of
learning how trauma-based dissociation operates in your life
in the present is that this new information can affect how
you interpret some pretty confusing or terrifying internal
experiences. For example, itās not unusual for people who
are dissociated as a result of childhood trauma to be convinced
that they are crazy, which they most emphatically are not.
Examples of experiences you may have if you used dissociation
to cope with early childhood trauma include: unexpected mood
shifts, as though suddenly you were "injected" with
a feeling; hearing voices arguing in your head; and feeling
unaccountably frightened by what seems to be nothing at all.
The symptoms resulting from
trauma-based dissociation are more pronounced for multiples
than for people who didnāt take the extra, unconscious step
of creating parts so well defined that they function as separate
personalities. For all adults who used dissociation to cope
with childhood hurts, multiple or not, understanding why certain
things happen as they do, or why the mind works as it does,
can be profoundly reassuring and freeing. The more you understand,
the more mastery you may experience in the present.
Itās important to know that,
for many adults who were hurt traumatically as children, the
effects of trauma-based dissociation can be healed. New strategies
for dealing with feelings and challenges in your present-day
life can be learned, and in time you will feel less need to
move away from a conscious awareness of what is going
on inside you.
In general, some people
are more naturally dissociative than others. Think back for
a moment: Were you one of those kinds who day-dreamed all
the time when you were at school? Did you seem just to "go
off"? Did people always have to "call you back"
to the present? Did anybody else in your family go around
with his "head in the clouds"? For those who are
naturally dissociative, being abused or traumatized ö even
in a natural disaster, for example ö is likely to produce
While we still donāt completely
understand how dissociation is created or how it works, we
do think that it is a capacity that is passed along in a family.
It may be that some children learn to dissociate by observing
parents who use this mechanism, or it may be that there is
an inherited tendency to dissociate under stress. People who
are exceptionally talented at hypnosis are good dissociators.
So are people who have rich fantasy lives, as well as those
who are able to go into altered states of consciousness with
ease. For most people, some degree of dissociation is natural
Depending on the degree of trauma
a child undergoes and the degree of overwhelming experience
that must be kept out of conscious awareness, the "barriers"
that separate parts of the self may be more or less "transparent"
or "opaque." You might imagine these barriers as
blank screens that can be pulled down between parts of the
self. The screens serve to keep the parts from being aware
of one another, and especially from the "core" personality
of the abused, or otherwise traumatized, child.
As a symbol to represent
degree of dissociation, you might imagine that the greater
the amount of dissociation, the more opaque the screens will
be. Conversely, the less powerful the dissociation required
in childhood, the more transparent will be the screens between
parts of the self.
Keep in mind that the screens
are only a symbol to represent a dynamic process of consciousness.
In fact, the whole idea of "barriers" is just that:
an idea. Itās a way of expressing activities in the unconscious
that we donāt really understand. What we do know is that some
kind of dissociative process serves to keep certain awarenesses
from becoming conscious. In this way, for example, a child
can go to school and perform quite well, without any conscious
awareness of the terror she experiences at home. Another child
may fly into rages without any conscious knowledge of the
helplessness that lies beneath the rage. Or the child may
overeat, or become a compulsive reader, as a means of not
knowing what he really feels inside. All of these strategies
operate as barriers to conscious awareness.
An important part of
the healing process is to move from a more to a less dissociated
way of dealing with psychological reality. In other words,
as healing progresses, the screens become more transparent,
so that you are increasingly able to see whatās behind them.
As the strength of the dissociative barriers lessens, youāll
know more about what you really think, feel, and want to do.
The more transparent the screens, the more complete your awareness
of whatās going on inside. If you were severely abused as
a child, chances are the screens that represent your dissociative
barriers will tend to be quite opaque. Your conscious awareness
probably contains what is on this side of the screen.
To a greater or lesser degree, what exists on the other side
of the dissociative barriers is unknown to you.
If you are a multiple, you
may have more or less opaque barriers between your inner parts.
Stepping over that line to create more defined personalities
within you doesnāt automatically mean that you have no recall
of your childhood or of the feelings, thoughts, and urges
your parts encompass. What you will find different
in your process is that the separateness of various thoughts,
feelings, and urges to behave in certain ways are more purely
held within particular parts of you.
Non-multiples, as well as
multiples, may have total amnesia for certain events, as dissociative
barriers from childhood continue to operate in the present
day. For example, you may remember the story of the former
Miss America, Marilyn Van Derbur, who had a "day child"
and a "night child" inside her. During her childhood,
and throughout much of her young adult life, Marilyn apparently
had no knowledge that she was an incest victim. Her "night
child," the part of her that experienced the abuse, was
completely dissociated from her conscious awareness. It was
as if the screen were pulled down and locked in place. In
her ongoing, conscious awareness, she was the "day child,"
a bright, happy little girl. She had no hint of the presence
of the night child until her memories began to return when
she entered therapy well into midlife. All she knew before
then was, as she got older, her life wasnāt working and something
was terribly wrong.
Itās important to emphasize,
again and again, that even this level of forgetting doesnāt
necessarily indicate that multiple personalities exist. Part
of what makes dissociation so effective is that this level
of forgetting or lack of awareness is quite possible, even
when it doesnātā go to the extreme of creating the underlying
psychological response that results in multiple personalities.
Barriers in Multiples
For some people who do
have multiple personalities, the dissociative barriers may
be so firmly locked into place there is no awareness at all
between the everyday self and other parts of the multiple.
When the barriers are this complete, one part of a person
might perform as a prostitute with a definite sense of "I-ness,"
or identity, and a particular way of being in the world. When
this part is at work, her life is predictable, her personality
consistent. People who know her in this role recognize her
and can describe what she is like as a person. Later, when
the "prostitute" goes inside and the "business
self" comes out into the daytime world, a whole different
mood state and personality are present. People who know the
business self would be able to describe her. She, also, has
a sense of "I-ness" and a predictable way of being.
Then, at home, when a child part comes out and wanders around
the house or curls up in a ball on the floor, this child part
experiences her own sense of "I-ness" that is also
consistent with her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. If
you were this multiple, with dissociative barriers so firmly
in place, you might not even be aware of these different parts
When the dissociative barriers
are this impermeable, itās often impossible, at first, for
the various parts to realize that they are different aspects
of one personās consciousness. In fact, it is deeply upsetting
to some multiples to think that there may be a time when the
parts will become more "integrated" and less distinct
as seemingly separate individuals. As far as the parts are
concerned, the fact that they all exist within one body, and
yet may have different and conflicting goals, isnāt a problem
and isnāt something they want to change.
As we move along the dissociative
continuum, there are degrees of how defined, or separate,
a multipleās personalities seem to be. While for some multiples
the barriers are as complete as described above, for others
the screens are locked in place and yet are somewhat transparent.
When this is the case, certain parts may be aware of one another,
and yet unaware of still others. The everyday self, also,
may be conscious of the existence of some parts and not others.
Because each multiple is unique, the dissociative barriers
among parts will be unique, as well.
If you are a multiple, sometimes
you may feel unable to prevent another part from being "out"
in the world, even as you realize, consciously, what is happening.
Even if you have this kind of awareness, you may have experiences
of losing time, of not knowing what youāve been doing for
the last minutes or hours, and lapses in awareness during
conversations with people. This can occur when still other
parts, ones you donāt know about, operate outside your conscious
What is difficult is that
knowing another part is "out" may not give you the
power to control the behavior, thoughts, or feelings of that
part. Once the healing process has begun, and you have developed
some transparency within the dissociative barriers, you can
more readily set up communication and collaboration among
your parts. This is an important aspect of recovering from
childhood trauma, whether you are a multiple or not, as internal
communication and collaboration support the curtailing of
self-destructive or dangerous activities in which parts may
engage. It also supports the process of creating safety and
bringing dissociated memories and feelings into conscious
For some individuals who
are diagnosed as multiples, there may be an ongoing sense
of "I-ness" most of the time. This "co-consciousness"
indicates that the dissociative barriers among many of the
parts are fairly transparent. For others, there are likely
to be parts of the self that are outside conscious awareness
and that function somewhat autonomously.
For some adults who were
traumatized as children, it is painful, but relatively easy,
to define and express early childhood experiences of which
they have been vaguely aware all their lives. For others,
it can be terrifying to bring into conscious awareness dissociated
feelings, thoughts, and memories that have operated so naturally
that theyāve never been defined consciously. When a therapist
asks about dissociative phenomena such as losing time, the
client may ask, "Well, doesnāt everybody?" Dissociating
is all the person has known. Itās like asking a fish, "Howās
the water?" The fish is likely to answer, "What
Whether you are a multiple
or not, when youāve lived your whole life using dissociation
as a protection against feeling intolerable pain or anger
or experiencing the effects of overwhelming abuse, itās easy
to take for granted the switches from one mood state to another,
the sometimes seemingly bizarre behaviors that are so unlike
you, and the lost time. As healing proceeds, things settle
down and itās not nearly as unnerving as it may be in the
For those of you who have
multiple personalities, the process of beginning to make dissociative
barriers more transparent can be truly harrowing. It you werenāt
aware before of the existence of parts of the self that may
present themselves as separate entities, the process brings
this into consciousness. Sometimes, at first, it can be pretty
scary to discover that there are aspects of your personality
that believe they arenāt part of you at all. For example,
there may be male parts in a woman, and vice versa. There
may be children, animals, and other kinds of beings. Some
of the parts may be extraordinarily enraged. Others may quiver
with fear or curl up in a ball in an attempt to disappear.
Some may hate you and want to hurt you. Others may be so young
that they have no way to communicate their distress other
than to cry.
For some multiples, then,
the beginning of the healing process may create a feeling
that everything is getting worse. The important thing to remember
is that things settle down as healing proceeds. In fact, as
you learn to experience your therapy process as a safe place
in which you may explore your inner world, experiences of
"switching" from part to part helter-skelter and
generally feeling out of control lessen. As the dissociative
barriers become increasingly transparent, communication among
parts increases, with the result that a consensus of goals
and behaviors may be reached that makes daily living more
In essence, the experience
of multiplicity has as much variability and individuality
as does any other aspect of human development. While there
are general similarities in how dissociative barriers operate
in multiples, the ways in which you will experience them and
how your inner world will appear to your conscious mind will
be uniquely your own. What is offered here is a general guideline;
if your experience is different, trust yourself. An increase
in co-consciousness will emerge within whatever metaphor,
imagery or understanding works for you.
Importance of Volition
Officially, dissociation is
defined in Websterās as, ". . . a split in the conscious
process in which a group of mental activities breaks away
from the main stream of consciousness and functions as a separate
unit, as if belonging to another person." It is, in a
sense, a process that allows us to move in and out of different
states of consciousness. When we do this voluntarily, as in
meditation and self-hypnosis, dissociation can have wonderfully
positive effects. For example, self-hypnosis ö which represents
a conscious, volitional use of dissociation from the body
ö can be an effective way to ease physical pain. In meditation,
you can enter an altered state where you seem to be less connected
to your thoughts and feelings; again, this is volitional.
Both of these processes are different from the unconscious,
involuntary dissociation that takes a trauma victim outside
her body so she wonāt feel the pain or away from her thoughts
and feelings so she wonāt know how terrible her experience
We can use dissociative
processes voluntarily when we deliberately get in touch with
inner child parts, or various subpersonalities, and discover
new understandings and awarenesses. Itās different, though,
when the feelings embodied by a child part inside "come
over us" involuntarily. This is what happens with the
dissociative process operating in so many adults hurt as children:
they shift unexpectedly into a part that knows about the abuse.
At times like these, the dissociative process can be frightening,
eliciting feelings of helplessness and confusion.
Perhaps the single most
important distinction between parts whose origins are naturally
occurring and nontraumatic and those that arise as a result
of trauma is the presence, or lack, of a sense of volition.
As weāll see in Chapter 3 on therapeutic dissociation, there
are many ways that parts of us operate unconsciously to convey
positive and negative states of mind and feeling, and to prompt
certain behaviors. Most of the time, though, we can shift
away from these parts if we choose to do so or if we have
something that needs our attention and we canāt afford to
be sidetracked by a child part.
Take a moment, now, to think
of a time when you may have become aware of some upsetting
feelings that came up during an interaction with a friend
or family member. Maybe you decided to have a dialogue with
an inner child part, or to go deeper into your feelings, or
to come out of them so you could focus on another activity.
Did you find that you were able to choose what you wanted
to do? Did you succeed, at least enough to allow yourself
to get some freedom from or resolution of the feelings?
For many people who were
hurt as children, itās possible to make these choices with
some degree of success. And so, even if you canāt shift completely
away from unpleasant or distressing feelings, you might at
least be able to keep some sense of yourself and remember
that you will feel better eventually. Itās different if you
are a multiple or a survivor of childhood trauma who has fairly
well-defined inner parts. When this is the case, it may feel
as though you have no control over your moods.
Letās consider how you automatically
respond to distressing experiences that may come up in day-to-day
living. For example, letās say someone hurts your feelings
and you get in touch with a deep sense of shame. Are you able
to talk to yourself, reassure yourself, and shift away from
the shame after a while? Or do you find that you just canāt
seem to shift gears once youāre into it, that you have to
ride it through because nothing seems to make it any better?
What if you fail a test and end up feeling horrible? Do you
stay stuck in that horrible feeling, caught up in a part of
you that is characterized by a sense of worthlessness, or
are you able to engage in some activity that shifts your mood
into another, more competent-feeling part of yourself? Or
do you suddenly move out of a bad feeling into a space where
there is no distress at all and you feel numb or calm? Do
you ever find that you are suddenly immersed in an awful feeling
and have no idea at all where it came from, or that your mood
has shifted suddenly and you donāt know why?
One of the reasons to do
the work of healing is to make conscious what is held by the
dissociated parts that encompass these responses. Then you
have much more choice, much more volition as to how you experience
the many parts of yourself. Your parts can work with you,
and you can work with them, to create the quality of life
youād like to have.
My Actions, Anyway?
One of the important reasons
for exploring issues of volition and dissociation is to answer
the difficult questions about who is responsible for the actions
of any given part of a personās entire psychological system.
Multiples often have the experience of feeling that parts
are taking control and doing things that get the everyday
personality into trouble. This does happen. Yet, once you
are in a therapy setting where expectations and boundaries
are carefully set and explained, a lot of this kind of difficulty
Experience has shown that
many multiples actually can control their behavior in surprisingly
effective ways, once they learn that it is possible to do
so. So often, things feel out of control, and the behavior
of dissociated parts seems to prove it. Think back for a moment
to a time when you may have done something and then felt foolish
or wished you hadnāt done it, or a time when you got into
trouble for something you didnāt realize you had done. Once
you understood what went wrong, you were in a better position
to act differently the next time. Itās the same with dissociated
parts. Once you understand what happened, you can take steps
to set up internal controls and strategies that help prevent
parts from taking control in self-destructive ways.
A good example was presented
at a recent conference on multiple personalities. It involved
a young woman who had been hospitalized after being arrested
for shoplifting lipstick from a department store. During therapy,
the therapist explored which part of her had shoplifted. The
part responsible turned out to be a 14-year-old girl who wanted
to wear makeup. The patient was a grown woman who didnāt like
to wear makeup of any kind, and the 14-year-old was furious.
Through a process of communication and negotiation, arrangements
were made for the 14-year-old to wear makeup at a certain
time of the day, when it was all right with the everyday adult
self. As is common in these cases, the woman hadnāt realized
that the 14-year-old part existed inside her and was baffled
when she found herself with lipstick in her pocket. Once the
teenage part was made conscious, a relationship was established
and a more constructive day-to-day experience was arranged.
An important premise is
that the whole person is responsible for the actions of
every part. So, if one part begins to engage in some self-destructive
behavior, it is up to the overall "system" to take
action to stop what is happening. This applies to non-multiples,
as well. In fact, it applies to each and every one of
us. Since everybody has parts, it is fair to say that we all
have the fundamental responsibility ö and capacity ö to monitor
ourselves in ways that allow us to live our present-day lives
as constructively and effectively as we can.
Also, itās helpful to know
that stress increases the probability that any dissociative
strategies you may have developed as a child will be called
into play in your adult life. As you move through the healing
process, there may be times when you feel more stressed than
others. If you notice that you are more dissociated than usual,
you may suspect that there are internal or external stressors
affecting you. As with any mechanism we use for psychological
protection, an increase in dissociation is a signal that something
is going on that needs your attention.
In healing, the purpose is not
to stop dissociative processes altogether. Rather, it is to
stop unconsciously drawing on nonvolitional forms of dissociation
as a protection against knowing your feelings. Instead, you
have an opportunity to learn to be present in your body and
generally to have an integrated, ongoing awareness of yourself.
To be truly safe in the world and to be able to function as
the full adult you have the right to be means to be with yourself
consciously. To have relationships that work means
to be aware of what you are feeling, to have the freedom to
act constructively on them, and to be able to communicate
those feelings effectively to other people.
When youāre dissociated
as a result of trauma, it can be very difficult to do this,
especially if you are a multiple. There may be just too many
conflicting agendas, fears, and anger going on all at one
time. For example, one child part may want to lash out at
anyone who comes near, because to this part closeness means
being abused. To another part, one that holds the hurt, for
instance, itās unbearable to risk losing someone. This part
may cling to people whenever they come close, and that may
terrify another part for which the terror of having someone
near is just too much to take. This part may feel an urgent
need to run away when anyone approaches, emotionally or physically.
With all these mixed feelings
going on at the same time, it can be exhausting just to get
through the simple events of the day. You have a right to
experience life more fully than that. But first you have to
be in touch with yourself on how you can to be the person
you are. You have to claim a more complete awareness so you
can be a fully functioning human being.
Itās important to remember
that you donāt have to have developed multiple personalities
to have used dissociation to get through difficult childhood
experiences. Keeping the dissociative continuum in mind can
help explain why you act as you do at times and can remind
you that you may have greater or lesser dissociative strategies
at all as a means of coping with a difficult childhood, you
do have parts. Much of what has been described here is useful
whenever the healing process demands a more conscious awareness
of these aspects of your inner world.
We've been exploring how
dissociation is called upon by a traumatized child, nonvolitionally
and unconsciously, to get through overwhelming experiences.
In the next chapter, weāll explore how the therapeutic
use of dissociation, engaged consciously and deliberately,
can lessen the power of dissociative barriers, help you soothe
yourself, and give you the tools to make getting through the
day, right now, easier.