(Trigger warning for topics of child abuse. Not graphic, but still potentially triggering.)
I brought the van der Kolk book excerpt as well as my thoughts on Friday’s session to yesterday’s appointment. It went fine, but not great. Not because of her, but because of me. And mostly because it’s apparent that I just can’t handle validation or empathy.
Her response to my reflections on session?
“Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I can see where the fear and the need to test comes from. And that’s okay.”
Her response to the book excerpt?
“This is great! And I definitely think this is what we have in here – or at least what we’re building towards. And if that doesn’t sound right to you, please share with me what feels missing so that we can figure out how to get that need met.”
Gah! She’s says all the perfect things! But I still felt super triggered and anxious. And something she said about “testing” triggered a switch to Anna that also triggered a new fucking memory about sexual abuse from my biological mother that I absolutely cannot accept as reality.
Which is what we talked about in session today.
She (of course) said that it’s totally okay if I am not ready to accept some of my history as reality, but that she believes everything each Part shares with her is true. And that it makes a lot of sense for me to feel torn between wanting to believe Anna and absolutely rejecting her truth. Especially because that is probably a reflection of various Insiders responding differently to the truth being spoken.
Then I said, “But what if I am making this all up? What if I am such a convincing liar that I believe my own lies? My parents used to tell me that I was such a great liar I believed my own lies. What if they were right about that? Or maybe there’s something wrong with my brain? Or maybe I am just insane?…”
She interrupted my spiraling before I could get any further to say, “Andi. Listen to what you just said. Your parents told you that you were such a great liar that you believe your own lies. Can you see how much effort they put into protecting their secrets and perpetuating their own lies?? You think you are lying because that is all you were ever told about yourself. But it doesn’t actually make you a liar.”
Fair point. But I really need to believe I am a liar right now. That is so much easier than believing both of my parents sexually abused me. And my mother? I mean…I just can’t believe
someone a mother is capable of something like that!
So then I told her this memory of very sadistic sexual abuse from my aunt’s boyfriend. He engaged in literal torture of both my cousin and myself when I was in primary school. I never questioned those memories, really. Partly because my cousin corroborates them, but also because when I think of this man, he absolutely seems capable of child torture.
I explained that it’s bizarre to me that I can accept something so heinous from the aunt’s boyfriend, but I can’t wrap my brain around mothers abusing daughters.
“It’s just…it’s my mother. Is there anything that cuts deeper than that…?”
She kinda just had this look of horror on her face as she gently shook her head “no” in response. I also noted that she physically flinched as I merely described the nickname the Aunt’s boyfriend used for his torture game. That was hard to see because I forget sometimes that other people’s lives weren’t like this and it’s difficult for them to hear the details of mine.
Then she asked me if I ever questioned the abuse from my biological father.
“Yes and No. I always knew he hurt me. But some of the more violent memories…I didn’t want to believe those either at first. I still don’t, which is strange because I have actual firsthand memories from recent time of him being violent. I remember running out to my car to get away from him a few years back. He was chasing me and I couldn’t get the car door unlocked fast enough before he kicked me to the ground, full-force, with his steel-toed work boots. Not for any reason other than because I pissed him off.”
She expressed how horrifying that is and then reflected back to me that although she doesn’t know for sure (because she wasn’t there) if my mother did what Anna said, we both know my mother is a cruel, horrible person. I agreed with her on that point. Then she pointed out that I had alluded to both of my parents sexually abusing to me before,
“Just recently, in the dream…you said ‘they’re having sex with me’, meaning both of your parents.”
“Ugh. Yeah. I know. I was glad you didn’t point that out at the time I brought it in.”
Then we (again) diverted attention from the mother-abuse thread and I started talking about other things. Eventually she asked me if my mother or aunt had ever been sexually abused.
“Oh for sure. Everyone knows my aunt was molested, which is why the family always treats her like she’s so fragile. And my mother told me when I was 15 that she was raped by the man who she babysat for. It was on a day she decided she believed me about being raped by my neighbor; she was trying to connect with me, I think. But then, on another day when she didn’t believe me, she accused me of being jealous of my brother for being molested and trying to gain attention by claiming rape.”
“Wait – your brother? I don’t think I know what you’re talking about.”
I could have sworn I told her this story, but I guess I didn’t. So I explained how my little brother was molested by a family friend. We found out because my mom walked in on said abuse while I was having a sleepover (this person was my parents’ friend’s son, whose sister was my best friend at the time, so their whole family was at our house hanging out).
I told her that what I remember of that night was running upstairs to my room to change out of my swimsuit and before I even opened the door all the way, I saw my father on his knees, crying. My mother was standing over him with her hand on his shoulder. I slowly backed out of the hallway and ran down the stairs, pretending I saw nothing. An hour or so later, my older sister asked my brother what happened and he told her so she told me.
“What did your parents do?”
“They took him to the pediatrician who referred him to a child psychiatrist. He went once a week, alone, and we all went to family therapy once a week, together.”
At this point I could see her fighting back actual tears, even though I was talking as if I was pointing out the weather.
“That is chilling, really. The whole of it – that image of your parents in your bedroom, crying; them taking your brother to get help but ignoring you; all of you going to therapy together to process this abuse that happened from outside the family…all while this horrible stuff was happening to you.”
“Yes. I often look back at that moment in the hallway as the single most invalidating moment in my life. Here are these people, crying over the sexual violation of their son, in the very same bedroom they had raped their own daughter many times and would continue to do so for 10 more years…”
“You just said ‘they’ again…”
“I did? Wow. I didn’t even realize that.”
“Yeah. And “invalidating” is only the beginning of how much damage this must have done to you. It’s heartbreaking.”
“You know, now that I’m sitting here saying all of this out loud, I feel like it makes sense that I split into all of these Parts. This is all pretty terrible. So, like, there it is, right? There’s the reason. And maybe this is all true?”
“Yes. There it is. It makes so much sense. It really, really does. And I absolutely believe it’s true.”