When I first started therapy in 2006, I didn’t know much about trauma and nothing about ‘the three phase approach’. My counsellor didn’t know much more. So although I’d like to say that we started by carefully doing the Phase 1 work of safety and stabilisation, the reality was a great deal messier than that.
Is recovery possible? That’s the question that everyone is asking, even when they’re not asking it. After a breakdown, perhaps after years in the mental health system, do we have to simply accept that we’re broken and that we’ll always be broken, or is it possible to live a life where we’re back in control again, where we’re living as we want to live, where life has purpose and meaning?
I could cope with it no longer. Every part of me—eyelids, throat, bowels—everything was clenched tight in a ball of furious unbearability. This feeling—such a feeling!—loomed up over me like some prehistoric sea-monster, ready to snap me up and devour me, ready to pilfer my bones and pick apart my brain. This feeling was too much.
‘Dissociative parts of the personality’ grabbed the headlines, but my inability to set boundaries was the silent assassin destroying me from the inside… I said yes to everyone else, and no to myself. Other people mattered; I did not. And so, breakdown.
Understanding the dynamics around child sexual abuse, who the perpetrators are, how they achieve their ends, the impacts of abuse on us—all of this knowledge, this ‘psycho-education’ has aided my recovery. And so these are ten of the many things that I have learned about child sexual abuse, some of the insights that have begun to heal my shame.
You don’t need to be an expert to work with people who dissociate, but you do need to understand these fundamental issues. Here are ten steps.