Tag Archives: Abuse

Flashbacks

A few days ago, I read an article on complex PTSD symptoms. I don’t have a diagnosis of coplex or regular PTSD and I realize there’s a lot of overlap with borderline personality disorder traits, which I do have a diagnosis of. Of course, I used to have a PTSD diagnosis, but that was removed because I did not have flashbacks that often. At least, that’s what I thought. One symptom after all that I completely relate to in this list, is having emotional flashback.

I never knew emotional flashbacks are a recognized symptom. I just thought they were covered under the umbrella of emotional regulation difficulties, which is a hallmark BPD symptom. As such, I usually saw complex PTSD as BPD when the person was believed to have been seriously traumatized. If a person was believed to just have had a few negative experiences, then they’d be diagnosed BPD. In my experience at least, the BPD diagnosis was used to deny I had been traumatized.

I don’t want to diagnose myself, of course, but the emotional flashback thing really struck a chord with me. Ever since I was a teen, I’ve experienced what I used to call “time shifting”. In a “time shifting” episode I’d have a kind of déjá vu experience. Usually, this was coupled with feelings of floatiness or unreality. The mental health term for this is depersonalization.

An emotional flashback is what it’s called when a person relives the feelings of past trauma. Boy, do I relate to this. Usually, I do have a slight inkling that I am transported back in time emotionally, but not always. I experience an intense feeling of helplessness, fear or sometimes despair.

Another type of flashbacks are visual flashbacks, when you experience the traumatic event as if you’re reliving it. I don’t have these often, although I’d readily trade an emotional flashback for a visual one. At least, with visual flashbacks, I can give words to what I’m re-experiencing and thereby desentisize myself.

Somatic flashbacks, I’m not sure I have. After all, most trauma I endured didn’t leave physical damage. I mean, I do have “weird” physical symptoms, but I’m assuming these are just from mental stress and aren’t direct relivings of a traumatic experience.

Like I said, most of my trauma was emotional or psychological. I usually think this doesn’t “count”, as most people when describing trauma, describe sexual or physical abuse. I didn’t endure much of this and, as far as I know, it didn’t leave me with major post-traumatic symptoms.

I did, however, describe the few incidents of physical and sexual trauma when I was asked about trauma by the psychologist who diagnosed me with PTSD. This is just easier to grasp. When I say a person hit me or threatened to rape me, it’s understandable it was abuse. Then agian, these incidents were few and far apart. For instance, the person threatening to rape me was practically a stranger and it was a single incident that had no connection to the ongoing trauma I endured.

This ongoing trauma left psychological wounds and I endure almost-daily emotional flashbacks of it. That being said, both the flashbacks and the traumatic experience itself are influenced by my interpretation. As such, it might be it wasn’t “real” trauma, but in my BPD mind, I interpret it as such.</P.

Victim to Survivor to Thriver

Last week, one of the Friday Reflections prompts was about being a victim or a survivor. I didn’t have time to write about it then, so I will write about the topic now. I’m pretty fatigued and quite emotional today, so I hope my words make sense.

About ten years ago, I wrote on a mailing list for former preemies asking whether those born prematurely are survivors in the way that abuse survivors are. I mean, literally speaking of course we are survivors, because we survived against all odds. I was at the time still in a very early stage of figuring out my childhood and why I have always felt like a lot of my experiences were traumatic. I was beginning to discover the fact that I dissociate and learning about attachment and its dfficulties. The group owner, herself also a trauma survivor, replied that to survive means to endure hardship, so that in this sense, of course preemies – and most people with disabilities – are survivors.

As a child, I considered myself a victim of many of the experiences I endured. They were still happening, so how could I see myself as a survivor? In the same way, I can now see myself as a victim of mental illness. I don’t, of course, because no-one inflicted my mental illness on me and, besides, I don’t consider my craziness an altogether bad thing. It sucks sometimes, of course – well, most of the time it sucks. My point in saying I could now consider myself a victim of mental illness, is that it’s not over yet – I haven’t survived it as it’s ongoing.

I did survive my childhood trauma and do consider myself a survivor. Being a survivor does not mean having completely healed from your experiences, but it means having come out the other side alive literally and figuratively.

When describing the recovery process for people who endured trauma, we generally use three steps so to speak: victim, survivor and thriver. A victim is still in the midst of an experience. For instance, someone enduring domestic violence who hasn’t left the relationship yet, can be considered a victim. A survivor has escaped the direct effects of the trauma but is stil suffering from post-traumatic symptoms. A thriver has moved beyond their trauma and is living as healthy as possible a life.

The steps are not rigidly divided. For example, if a domestic abuse survivor has left their abuser but has not gone “no contact”, they can be both a victim and a survivor. Thrivership is also a continuum, where some people have no post-traumatic symptoms at all anymore and others can manage in spite of them. I will most likely always have borderline personalty disorder, which is in a way a post-traumatic condition. However, I want to someday have a meaningful life in spite of it.

Mental Illness and Causing Emotional Harm

On day four of the recovery challenge, we’re supposed to honestly say whether we have emotionally harmed anyone (besides ourselves) with our addiction/disorder. This is a hard one for me, because with respect to my eating disorder, my answer would be “No”. That doesn’t mean I’ve not harmed people emotionally because of my mental health problems.

Generally speaking, it is not cool to admit you’ve harmed others because of your mental illness. Then again, a lot of family members of the mentally ill do consider being victimized to abuse by the mentally ill person a regular consequence of mental illness. Why is it that people with mental illness don’t want to admit that they can do harm with their disorder? Probably it’s because we don’t want to be seen as bad people, and actually many of us have experienced abuse ourselves. It seems pretty much impossible to find someone who will admit they’ve been abused and yet they are harming others themselves. There is a forum on iSurvive for abuse survivors who abuse others, but that’s about it. I understand it is hard for victims to admit they cause harm to others themselves, but you have to be completely honest about your own actions in order to heal.

I have caused emotional harm to others because of my mental health conditions in several ways. The first is engaging in the addictive behavior in front of others. I have never binged in front of my husband or parents, but I have self-harmed in front of them.

Then there is the emotional unavailability because of the addiction/disorder. I remember one day my mother wanted to talk to me and I ignored her and started eating candy. I also believe that I may not be as available to my husband as I could be. I don’t know whether this is due to my eating disorder – as I said, I don’t binge in front of him, but food is on my mind often. It also could be my general self-centeredness which may or may not be due to any of my mental health conditions.

Then there is the anger issue. This is not caused by my eating disorder or self-harm, but more often the other way around. Both my borderline personality disorder and my autism though have caused me to act out towards others. This is the worst way in which I’ve harmed people emotionally. Except during my teens according to my mother, I haven’t been physically violent, but I have been verbally aggressive often. I can’t be sure that the urge to overeat has never contributed to this behavior. IN fact, usually at least compulsive or rigid behavior has. I mean, if I’ve gotten it in my head that we’re going to do X, the idea of doing Y often sets me off. It is possible that X more often than would be considered normal involves food.

The thing is, mental health problems make people emotionally hurt others. They also are common in people who have been the victims of emotional or other forms of abuse. This is why the cycle of abuse usually doesn’t end with one victim. And it has to end. If you’re suffering with an addiction/disorder, admit that it causes harm to others too. That doesn’t make your own traumatic experiences not valid.

What Does Unconditional Love Mean?

On the World of Psychology blog, Eve Hogan wrote an interesitng article about unconditional love. This article got me thinking about the attitude we have towards people who harmed us, and the attitude people we harmed have to us. It is often thought that family members and spouses unconditionally love each other, but what if a parent becomes abusive towards their child, a child towards their parents, or one spouse towards the other?

Hogan says that spouses and family members love each other unconditionally with their hearts, but do not necessarily and should not accept everything their child, parent or spouse does to them. I can relate to this in my personal life, having grown up in a family that loved me with their hearts but did not accept everything I did. I still struggle with this, having a hard time distinguishing conditional love from accepting the person but not the behavior.

Hogan says that spouses really should view their vows as saying that they will love each other with their hearts no matter what, but will only stay together so long as the other doesn’t become irresponsible with money or time, doesn’t lie and doesn’t cheat. This leaves a lot of room for unlikeable behavior which doesn’t warrant a divorce. Similarly the integrity agreement Hogan discusses with teens only mentions not harming their family (or anyone, for that matter). This is where I struggle. I do know that setting limits on unlikeable but relatively harmless behavior such as laziness regarding schoolwork, is okay. This is quite different from not accepting the child or teen into the family home.

There is a grey area, especially with teens and young adults, where parents can decide their child’s life is no longer their responsibility. In this sense, there is a difference between unconditional love and unconditional caretaking. I know that married spousess and parents of children or teens under eighteen (or 21, in some situations) have a duty of care, but, once spouses divorce or children reach age eighteen, unconditional love becomes quite another thing than catering to each other’s needs no matter what.

Effects of Institutional Abuse

A few days ago I was stumbling across blogs as I found Kim Saeed’s post on narcissistic abuse and the prison camp effect. I have never been in a relationship with a narcissist, but for some reason, I could relate to its effects. Then today I came across a post on confusion and forgiveness in emotional abuse. Some points in this post struck a chord with me. I often am convinced that I’m the one doing something wrong in every case of disagreement. This is common in abuse survivors in relation to their abuser, but I do it in any case where there is a perceived power dynamic, and I see power dynamics everywhere. Even with supportive people like my husband, I find myself second-guessing myself.

My therapist has said that I have likely been in a situation where other people controlled my life all along. This was not intended by the individuals who did this and isn’t necessairly bad. Children need some level of direction from their parents, for example. Where it gets problematic is where the child or adult becomes more controlled by parents, carers, staff or other authrotiy figures than is healthy for them. I am using the standard of the controlled person’s health here rather than society’s norms, because society allows for and even condones a lot of harmful power dynamics. Prison camps for example. What I mean is, being controlled in a way that is socially accepted can still be harmful and may have the same effects as narcissistic abuse.

One factor that makes institutional abuse, like prison camps of psychiatric abuse, more complicated than abuse by an individual, is however that the individual is not solely to blame. For example, psychiatric patients are commonly subjected to solitary confinement and forced treatment. This is institutional abuse. It involves a generally accepted power dynamic. The nurse who secluded me or the countless nurses who threatened it were not narcissists (although I have my doubts about the doctor who shove the seclusion plan down my throat without consent). They were simply doing their job, and their job was to control even if it’s for goodness’ sake.

Writing Letters to the People Who Hurt You

One of the steps in changing maladaptive schemas, according to the authros of Reinventing Your Life, is to write letters to the people who contributed to the formation of these schemas. You obviously don’t need to send these letters, but the goal is to have your inner vulnerable child speak out.

I have told my story of the traumatic expeirence sin my life many times, but it is hard fo rme to actually write letters to the people who caused or didn’t protecct me against these experiences. I am not at this point in therapy yet, but one of the things that I think will hold me back is the need to address these people directly. Even if I’m not going to send or publish these letters, it still feels as though I’m telling these peole to their face that they abused, abandoned or failed to protect me.

Another thing which the authors acknowledge, is the fact that sometiems people who abuse or otherwise trumatize others, are well-intentioned. In my case, the people who hurt me didn’t know better, had the best of intentions, and/or didn’t realize what they did was causing me long-term trauma. I struggle with this big time. When I still had a DID ddiagnosis, I struggled with the connotation of severe, usually sadistic abuse. After my diagnosis was changed to BPD, I told some of the people who hurt me that I realize they aren’t sadists and that I had been struggling with this connotation in DID. Reading this chapter in Reinventig Your Life, I found for the first time someone acknowledging that well-intentioned treatment can still traumatize children (or adults). The authors say that, in writing the letters to the people who hurt you, you need to let go of excuses like this and let the vulnerable child in you speak freely and express her feelings.

Later in the process, the authors say, you may choose to forgive your parents (or others who hurt you, I suppose). I have often written aabout forgiveness, and I realize now that it’s required to feel your true feelings before you can come to forgive. Forgiving means accepting what happened, but also letting go of the need or want to be angry about it for the rest of your life. I have often tried to forgive the peeople who hurt me, without feeling the true extent of the hurt. That is stuffing feelings, not forgiving people.

Moving Beyond Blame in Abuse

A few days ago, Soaring Survivor wrote an interesting post on forgiving yourself in the process of healing from domestic violence. Forgiving yourself, she says, is harder than forgiving the abuser.

I always find myself thinking that my situation is almost unique, in that I myself was aggressive and my family responded with aggression to my behavior. Then I found out, I don’t remember where, that in most situations of intimate partner violence, there is not simply one person who is the perpetrator and the other who is the victim. Rather, there tend to be some form of abuse on both sides. I am not saying that this is the case for Soaring Survivor, as I don’t know her situation. What I mean to say is that my situation, involving sort of provoked aggression, is not as unique as I used to think.

This makes forgiving myself extra hard. I have forgiven my family, I think, but too often this comes down to trivializing what happened. I know that my parents weren’t sadists, and I often say this to justify their actions. They did what they thought was their best.

Then a few weeks ago I read a response in a women’s magazine from a person with borderline personality disorder to two parents who had complained about their children’s BPD being attributed to abuse. The borderline patient said that even very ordinary parents make mistakes, and this can set off BPD in vulnerable people. Does this mean they’re pitiful victims? No.

What I realize as I write this, is that maybe the hardest part of forgiving both yourself and the people who hurt you in your life, is shifting the focus away from the question of blame. Ordinary partners and parents (and children) act out violently, and accepting this is hard but necessary for both survivors/victims and the general public. Abuse happens, and the idea that only sadists perpetrate it, gets a whole lot of survivors/victims unnecessarily stuck in self-blame. Forgiveness may involve accepting what happened without letting it hold you back from living a fulfilling life. I’m still struggling with this.

Requirements for the Proper Multiple

Tonight, I was talking on the phone to the organizer of the DID support group I was a member of for two years until I got kicked out for presumably not having DID last May. She guessed my diagnosis correctly, but went on to assume I’d imagined my DID. Well, I’m going to be completely honest here: I have indeed internalized some symptoms that I didn’t have before my diagnosis, like the amnesia, but I had known for almost ten years that I had parts when I was diagnosed. Did I imagine the splits when I was fifteen-years-old because I wanted to be crazy, while I’d never heard of DID back then? Well, I don’t think so. Of course, whether these emotional states are truly dissociative or not, depends on your perspective. The organizer got to saying incorrectly that BPD and DID have nothing in common. In reality, many people believe DID is BPD with more flair.

The organizer got talking of me quoting books on the furums. Well, that doesn’t say anything, does it? Just because I listed the criteria of BPD yesterday, doesn’t mean I don’t have BPD, right? Apparently, if you want to be authetnic, you’re going to have to have made up your own symptom list without any influence from literature. I wonder how this person, who studied psychology at university, did this. Apparently, people who’ve studied mental disorders in college cannot be diagnosed with a mental disorder themselves.

To air off a bit of steam in a healthy way, I’m going to repost and expand on the list of requirements for the proper DID’er that I compiled after being kicked out of the support group.

  1. You can’t use jargon like “co-conscious”, “inner self helper”, etc. if you’ve not had your diagnoisis forever. This is not supposed to be familiar language to a person just diagnosed.
  2. Even if you know you’ve got parts because you’ve established a fair amount of communication, you can’t walk into your therapist’s office saying you experience parts in yourself. In fact, you cannot have obvious dissociative symptoms. According to what I’ve been told, saying things happen to you but not quite to you, is not appropriate either (which is what I really came into therapy with).
  3. You must’ve gotten into therapy with seemingly irrelevant symptoms like depression, self-harm, etc. Then it’s the therapist’s duty to figure out you’re multiple, but they can’t just straight out ask if you experience parts in yourself. On occasion, they can, but you must be completely clueless to the fact that it’s not normal.
  4. You must have some doubts about your diagnosis, and you must fear that it’s all real. If you fear you’re fake, you’re obviously already a faker.
  5. You must not switch too openly or demand switches be acknowledged, cause DID is something that’s supposed to be hidden. Keeping the dissociation hidden must be an end in itself. Note that you won’t get a diagnosis of DID if the diagnostician hasn’t seen you switch.
  6. You must want to integrate.
  7. You cannot have littles who write properly. You also cannot have littles who write improperly but on the right subforum, cause how are they supposed to know where to write? However, you can’t have alterrs write on the main forum either. Why else would there be specific forums for alters?
  8. You must recognize just enough of what other DID’ers, who obviously all are not fake, say they experience, but not too much. You must be able to articulate your experiences in your own words, and others determine whether you use your own words.
  9. You must have time loss, but how you’re supposed to know you have time loss, is unclear. You can’t just say you lose time when others come out, cause how do you know? You cannot say you don’t remember something when asked, because then obviously you could pretend you forgot. I don’t know how a therapist is supposed to realize you lose time if they cannot ask, especially given that implicit memory is often intact in DID, so DID’ers act like they do remember what other identities did.
  10. In meetings, you must present as the host (with the birth name) at all times. You must be oriented to the present if you want to participate in meetings. On the other hand, you cannot actually be the person with the birth name, cause that person must’ve gone to sleep, been gone at an early age or be totally unaware of any others. How are you supposed to come to a DID meeting if you are clueless about other personalities?
  11. You must have survived horrific abuse, but in this partiuclar group, you cannot talk about it in meetings. You need to drop the occasional SRA reference to make clear that you are an authetnic survivor.
  12. You must validate others’ every experience, but you cannot say you can relate.
In short, you’re required to have just enough in common with other people in the group to be able to benefit from shared experience, but you cannot recognize too much or it’d be seen as imitating.

Comments on Schema-Focused Therapy

When I was told that I have BPD on Monday, my therapist got talking about maladaptive schemas. She apparently assumed I knew what they are. I had some idea, but did a quck search to find out anyway. They are beliefs about yourself that are maladaptive and that have usually been formed in childhood (although they can be formed later on too) and repeat themselves over and over, thereby influencing your coping mechanisms. The creators of schema therapy list 18 such schemas. The ones that most apply to me are:

  • Abandonment/instability: the belief that you will be abandoned by important support people or that the relationship is unreliable or unstable.
  • Mistrust/abuse: the belief that other people will aubse, hurt, humiliate, lie to or otherwise take advantage of you.
  • Defectiveness/shame: the belief that you are defective, bad, unwanted, inferior or invalid.
  • Dependence/independence: perceived inability to handle your everyday responsibilities without lots of help.
That last one is a bit tricky. While I know I’m depenednet, I don’t know whether this is entirely due to my beliefs. I mean, overload comes into the equation too. I got a bit pissed when my therapist wrote in my treatment plan that I have a fear of failure and need to realistically learn to take on challenges. As if I’m not trying!

Then my therapist got talking about schema modes. I had some idea of what they were because my former therapist had talked about them when I first disclosed I had parts. Schema modes are the emotional states and coping responses we adopt when faced with life’s challenges. I found it interesting that the Schame Therapy Institute says that they can also be seen as dissociative parts. The Institute lists several different schema modes, including the vulnerable child, the punitive parent, the detached protector and of course the healthy adult. I recognized almost all of them, but in fact have more than one of each. Yeah, I’m not going to abandon the DID concept just because it isn’t my diagnosis anymore.

Now schema-focused therapy is used to identify and challenge these maladaptive schemas and to reinforce the healthy adult mode. The assessment phase is followed by the change phase, in which clients learn to challenge their schemas and gradually focus shifts from experiential change to behavioral change and preparing for ending therapy. My therapist put in my treatment plan that the current focus would be on learning about origins and continuation of schemas and that I would recognize my coping mechanisms and hopefully be able to shift them in an early stage.

Family Offered $86K to Take Son out of School, Waive Complaints of Abuse

I don’t normally use trigger warnigns but this post sure requires one for graphic descriptions of abuse.

@mamabegood on Twitter just posted a news story that says that a family was offered $86K to keep their autistic son out of public school. That’s what the title reads. The actual story is much worse and includes abuse at the hands of a teacher.

This story, unfortunately, is not an isolated case. Many children and adults with autism get abused by professionals in whose care they’ve been placed in one respect or another. The details of the abuse in thsi particular story remind me of a lot of “old-school” ABA therapy, where aversives were presumed to be the single most important factor in its success. David Swanson, the young autistic in this story, was force-fed by a teacher because he refused to eat with a metal rather than plastic fork due to oral sensitivity. Now imagine if I forced a sharp object into your mouth. This would sure be considered abuse. If you then vomited and I’d force you to eat your own vomit, that’d make the abuse even worse.

Honestly, even though this news report is generally okay, it’s symptomatic of something I can’t quite pin down that the most focus is put on the money offered to David’s mother to take her son out of school. Is it that abuse of autistics is commonly excused because “they” (autistics) are difficult, aggressive maybe, hard-to-parent often, and many times won’t meet up to the expectations of others? Please, if you’ve made it to this point in my post, let’s join Mama Be Good on Facebook in a moment of silence. Thank you for reading.