Karen answers Kerri

Richard Baer on Jun 7th 2010

Comment by Kerri on 30 May 2010 at 6:30 pm

Hi, Karen,

I am a survivor of an abusive childhood but the way I have moved on from it is so different to the way many others do. Rather than reliving the abuse over and over again, which the mind does ad nauseum, I got influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of concentrating only on what is happening right now. How that worked for me is that I would recognize that, right now, (whenever it was that I would sink into suffering) I am having memories of the abuse but because those memories bring me suffering, I choose to stop thinking about them. For that to work though, I had to first accept that such abuse was part of my childhood because I found that the years I spent reliving the abuse were caused by a resistance to the fact that the abuse did, in fact, happen. My mind would scream ‘how could they have done that to me?’and I would relive it again and again because I kept fighting the fact that people did such things. It was only after I realised that I was arguing with reality that I was able to then say whenever a bad memory came up, oh, it’s just a memory, I accept that it happened to me, but it’s over now and I don’t want the pain of reliving it in my life anymore. So I will move on and think of the positive things in my life instead. When I adopted this approach to my past, my suffering was relieved immediately. You yourself say many times that the past is the past. Do you think that survivors of child abuse would be better served by therapists if we weren’t encouraged to keep going back in time and reliving the abuse, and instead focused on just accepting without question that it did happen but that it is all over now? Any behavioral and emotional issues that are caused by the abuse can be dealt with as they happen right here and right now, rather than endlessly going back to the cause of them. I say this because perhaps healing can take place a lot quicker with this approach. I read of how DID suffererers spend many years in therapy. Buddhism is a philosophy that says we can move on to a happier life a lot quicker than that. What are your thoughts?

Regards,

Kerri

Dear Kerri,

Thank you for sharing! I’m glad to hear that you have found a way to heal that’s best suited for you. That’s so important. But for some, like me, there was no forgetting. I tried that with no success. My past memories of abuse would come to me whenever triggered by something and sometimes even startle me awake at night. Forgetting was not an option. How I personally wished to forget the horror I endured.  It would have saved me many years of grief, low self-esteem, therapy, and struggling to get through each day. I am happy that works for you, if it really does.  Often forgetting is just temporary.

I don’t believe anyone chooses to relive the abuse once suffered. It needs to be dealt with as the memories come forth. For me, it was like living in hell, but after the initial shock of my memory pain subsided, I was able to move forward. In my opinion, there are no quick fixes. I believe that though it’s possible to put the past behind you without dealing with it, the trauma left undiscovered and unacknowledged will come back ten-fold. There were times I tried to forget being abused, but forgetting just allowed my wounds to fester until they burst. I was a mess. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have attempted to hide or neglect my memories.

Accepting my past abuse was the first step. When a dark thought permeates my day, I quickly put those thoughts aside, but acknowledge them and make sure I understand that although they are a part of me, there is no room in my present or future to keep them in my life. As time passes, the duration of these dark thoughts becomes less. I no longer worry about holding onto to the past. I am free of those who have once hurt me. I will be hurt no more.

I’m not sure how to answer your question regarding therapists wanting their patients go back to talk about their past. That was never a part of my experience. Dr. Baer never encouraged me to specifically talk about my past. Whatever we talked about came from me. In my case, what worked for me was exactly what I received. My therapist never force-fed me into recalling my past or anything else.  What he did was force me to take charge of my own therapy!

Thank you for your challenging questions.

Karen

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