I feel abandoned by my mother, because I know she doesn’t want to believe my dad could be capable of sexually abusing me. She sends emails that start with what I see as a courtesy disclaimer, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but…” and then tells me all the reasons why she thinks I could be mistaken. It tears my heart out, but I try to be understanding. She has been going through a lot since I broke the silence and told her about the memories I’ve begun to recover, and admittedly she’s in the most difficult position of all.
The little child part of me wants nothing more than for my mother to believe that what I’m telling her is true and choose me over my perpetrator. It doesn’t look likely though, so I tell myself that’s just a childish dream that she could ever choose one family member over another, that she’s built a life with this person, that it’s selfish of me to put expectations on her. But it’s like a knife to the heart. I actually find it hard to value my own life if she doesn’t believe me, and thinking about it too much is the one thing that can send me back into that dark suicidal place I was a few months back. In that place I feel half dead, have rotted, half decomposed, and yet I haven’t taken my life. I am still walking around trying to find a way out that doesn’t depend on her or what she does. Just to feel alive again.
I know on an intellectual level that I can choose whatever experience of this that I want. But that little girl is convinced, “If my own mother won’t believe me, won’t choose me, who would?” She takes it to mean she is worthless, that others’ words to the contrary are meaningless gestures of etiquette, rather than heartfelt truths. The whole world becomes cold and fake to her. This is no way to live.
Accepting that my mother has the right to deal with this situation however she wants has been the most difficult emotional challenge I’ve ever had. The truth is her words and actions have no meaning except the meaning I choose to give to them, so the impact on my self worth comes from my beliefs rather than from her. The clincher is that I know this intellectually, but it still feels like abandonment. It still feels like I have been ousted from the tribe, left to fend for myself, like death is after me, already eating through my flesh.
My only choice is to wholeheartedly accept that only I can give my life whatever meaning I choose, and that yes, expectations and wishes for my mother to do this or that are in fact, just childish dreams, based on the false belief that my self worth comes from her. In truth it never has, and it never will. How much longer am I willing to spend trying to barter for these childish dreams? That I don’t know, but I hope it’s not long. There’s a big beautiful world out there waiting for me.
~ “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
I sometimes wish that I could remember all of the abuse from my childhood, just so that there would be no more surprise landmines to step on every time a new memory surfaces. I know that memories come back when a person is ready to deal with them, but some days it’s just really hard not knowing everything. I still can’t seem to remember anything around third grade when I must have been seven or eight years old, I don’t even remember the name of my third grade teacher or what my classroom looked like. I know my brain must’ve shut off in some capacity in order to protect me, but protect me from what I don’t exactly know.
I’ve discovered that my feelings, the same feelings I was blaming myself for or numbing myself from for so many years, are of paramount importance. I’ve only just begun to respect and trust these feelings, and I’ve also learned that feelings are the essence of a memory, far more so than any narrative of a recollection. I’ve come to trust and respect my feelings through ceremonial shamanic use of ayahuasca in Peru, and also through dreams, particularly because the inspiration I’ve had from dreams have been instrumental in helping me to heal from a more recent rape that occurred in 2007. I’ve been allowing myself to feel more lately. I try to remember how it felt to be seven years old again ask the feeling to show me where it goes next. I’m having more information come to me in dreams when I do this. Specifically, I had a dream of my father voyeuristically staring at my naked body, where I am blind and struggling to open my eyes as l try to cover myself and get away from him.
I’ve also been appreciating triggers in a whole new way because they always point the way to something important. I now know the reason they “trigger” any response at all is because of prior experiences. I’ve been observing myself and I find I am often on guard with older men. It’s something about the way some of them covertly sexualize me that makes me suspicious of their motives. If they do or say anything to me that is flirtatious or suggestive, if they try to touch me or my clothing, I immediately dissociate. I get extremely angry, but feel paralyzed to respond in the moment. I then avoid them and carry myself with an attitude of anger in the hopes of repelling them. Unfortunately, this sometimes brings me the attention of men who have a sadistic glint in their eye, and that makes me even angrier. I’ve had other women ask me what the big deal is. “That’s just how men are,” they tell me. All I know is that for me, it is very, very triggering.
If a much older man makes overtly sexualizing comments about my body I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin. I am repulsed and disgusted by it. They don’t even have to say anything but if they are obviously leering at me, it stokes the fires of rage in my heart, and they’re probably left wondering why I’m acting so cold and bitchy towards them. That’s one conflict I keep running into. Older men sexualize me, either with stares or comments, and I feel powerless to respond. I react by dissociating, ignoring, hoping they will just go away. And I end up feeling vulnerable and angry. Even at 30 years old I have a terrifying and irrational fear of saying something to these men.
In the past I’ve had well meaning people try to warn me about my angry attitude, women who say that it might not look that bad at 29, but at 35 or 40 it’s going to look grotesque. I only thought to myself, “good, it’s working.” The whole point is to drive away men who might hurt me. I now fully trust that there’s a reason why I feel compelled to act this way, why I feel safer when I do it. I trust that my triggers reflect to me a deeply ingrained emotional reaction to some original situation where I was hurt or threatened, a situation I cannot recall to memory yet. On the flip side, I trust that reacting to present circumstances through the lens of the past can lead to revictimization. It’s those men with the sadistic glint in their eye, that see me more easily since my anger freely promotes the fact that I feel threatened, which could lead to me being a target. Even knowing this, it’s hard to change, it’s hard to feel vulnerable, but I’m going to overcome this, and in the meantime, I am going to trust that my feelings, dreams, and triggers have meaning.
~“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The last thing I want is for you to think I am weak, because in our culture weakness is punished and belittled. But I am a woman, and we’ve been taught that femininity is weak, so if I want respect I am backed into this damned corner every time I see you. I can see from your words and your actions that you don’t really believe women are worthy of respect either. The problem is that I believed you were right.
If I believe I am weak there’s no telling what you’ll do to me, how you’ll underestimate me, how you’ll take advantage of me, how you’ll use your strength against me, how you’ll take from me. I’ve been living my life afraid of all this since I was a little girl, who watched her father rage and yell and belittle women. I thought the only way he could love me is if I abandoned myself, abandoned my femaleness, because I could see how he despised it, how he mocked it, how he used it and threw it away.
I’ve been hit and raped and spat on, shoved and screamed at, peeped on, and creeped on and I’m just waiting for you to challenge me any time I feel afraid, daring you even with a piercing stare because I have so much anger about all this that it doesn’t matter anymore what you do to me: The fear makes me want to fight, makes me want to hurt you back as badly as I can. And I’m ready whenever you make your move. I’ve seen enough of your tricks to know what to do. And you are most hurt when equated with a woman, when people think you’re a sissy pussy bitch and so I feel my fear is justified. You hate your own femaleness too.
I’ve been hurt by men so much that I’m scared I could be hurt by you, even though I don’t know you. I am afraid of you. I get crafty and wear a mask. I take on masculine traits like aggression, dominance, and muted emotion, and I wear them like a costume whenever I’m in your presence. It’s so automatic I don’t even have to think about it, it just pours forth from the anger I feel, that I can’t just exist, can’t just be myself, can’t just be a woman, without fearing the risk of harm from you. So I stand guard, but I don’t even know you. But you are a man, and so I fear you.
If you could see me when I’m alone, you’d see that I am soft and yielding and loving. I smile and laugh and feel at ease with myself. I take off my costume. But the still fear remains in the back of my mind, and the fear is the only thing separating us from the truth. It’s not you I need to annihilate, it’s the fear. When I live in constant fear of you, I forget who I am completely, and I justify and agree with your misogynistic words, thoughts, and deeds, because I too have become misogynistic by dishonoring myself. I have become my enemy to try and protect myself from enemies, but I see now that you can’t honor me until I honor myself. It’s not your decision to say what I am worth, and it never was. We were both just so confused. Thanks for listening.
Every now and then I have a dream that provokes terror or hysterical sadness. It’s more accurate to refer to these dreams as nightmares, or night terrors, but I’ll stick to the term “dreams” for simplicity. There was the dream that was the exact replay of leaving a rapist’s apartment where I was drugged, then there were others in which my father is vying for my naked body and I’m trying to hide myself. There have been others that allude to sexual abuse in more abstract terms, like a baby’s vagina covered in blood and semen, and an old white man with a whip for a penis coming after me and forcing me to carry him on my back. Every one of these had me reeling afterwards, but this is expected given that dreams are a medium through which we can process and address repressed emotions.
Even though it’s obvious to me what the general meaning of these dreams are at face value – rape and incest – it’s interesting to look at some of the research that has delineated some larger overall patterns of how sexual trauma influences the dreamscape. I’ve referred to the book Trauma and Dreams edited by Deirdre Barrett, to see what is commonly observed in the dream experiences of sexually traumatized women. We’ll see that it is usually the emotional reality of the trauma that is replayed to the victim, rather than the actual traumatic event itself. This was certainly clear when I dreamt about leaving a rapist’s apartment, exactly as I had done in real life, but the emotional impact of that dream was devastating.
First, let’s start with the themes usually found in the dreams of women with a history of sexual abuse. Sexual themes are common, not surprisingly, as is an association of sex with negative qualities, such as distrust, shame, anger, guilt, jealously, or anger. For victims of sexual trauma, the sex in their dreams is usually combined with aggression and/or violence, although even in this group, only 15 percent report nightmares where sexual abuse is literally portrayed.
Explicit violence is another common theme in the dreams of sexually abused women, but in contrast to the more general violent themes that are common for many women, sexually traumatized women usually had more details of the violence, like blood or dismemberment present in the dream. There is also more verbal aggression reported in the dreams of this group.
Sexually abused women were also more likely to have a male stranger play a main role in the dream. Often he is faceless, shadowy, or otherwise representative of evil. Many sexually abused women reported dreaming of an evil presence that threatens or succeeds in entering her room or her body. Snakes and worms are also slightly more common in the dreams of sexually abused women, as well as references to body parts or anatomy being more prevalent, especially sexual anatomy. They were also more likely to give more details descriptions of the physical appearance of characters from their dreams.
It’s been interesting to review these themes with the dreams I’ve recorded in the past, dreams that I might otherwise have forgotten because they didn’t seem to have any traumatic significance at face value. It was only after reviewing these themes that the less literal and more symbolic representations of sexual abuse in my dreams became clear, like the dream of the old white man with a whip handle for a penis that was threatening to hurt me. The dreams that most literally pointed to sexual trauma were unforgettable and also tended to be the most emotionally disturbing. No cryptic interpretation was necessary in those cases, and perhaps my propensity to not trust myself has led to a need for more literal representations of the abuse.
Learning to trust myself has been a process I’ve only just begun this year, at thirty years old, and learning to trust my dreams has been a big part of that. It’s interesting that the themes of sexual violence seem to pop up at times when I begin to question my feelings and wonder if maybe I’m crazy for feeling like my dad is a creep. At least this shows me that there’s an aspect of myself, perhaps my unconscious mind, that has my back in all of this and won’t let me deceive myself, because slipping back into the warm comfort of denial tempts me all the time, even though it made my life completely dysfunctional. When you think about how much our unconscious mind holds for us that we don’t “know” about, it’s absolutely amazing that just the right things leak out into consciousness at the just the right time.
~ ” The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul.” – Carl Gustav Jung
I’ve been on a personal quest lately to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning behind sexual fantasies, and have been reading a book by Michael J. Bader, called Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, in order to gain some insight on myself. The giant breast fantasy isn’t exactly my thing, but it certainly is a common thing, and I found Bader’s explanation of it pretty interesting, so I thought I’d share.
We already know that hetero men love breasts. Some guys refer to themselves as “breast men” after all, so no surprise there. But have you ever wondered why there’s a sexual fascination with women’s mammary glands whose biological purpose is to feed milk to young infants? If you made the obvious connection and guessed it has to do with motherly nurturing, you’d be right, but according to Bader there’s a lot more to it than that. Actually, this might get weird because it has nothing to do with mothers, and everything to do with mothers.
As I covered in my first post on sexual fantasies, we once again see the primary purpose of a fantasy is to relieve feelings of guilt and worry, which are brought on by pathogenic and negative beliefs about the self and others. Orgasm can only be reached once these harmful beliefs are somehow negated, and the fantasy works to do just that. So what sort of negative beliefs does the breast man have?
According to Bader, he likely has a pathogenic belief that he is undeserving of caretaking, and that his needs are burdensome and greedy, that a woman would experience giving to him as depleting. Therefore he feels he has to prove himself worthy of any caretaking from women. He actually feels guilty needing nurturing from a woman, and feels like it is coercive because, after all, he believes women have nothing to give. That’s pretty harsh. Why would he believe these things? Childhood neglect is a big part of it.
He likely had a relationship with his mother that was very one-sided, one that was all about her: her needs, her moods, her wants. He sees his mother as weak and fragile, as someone who he has to worry about all the time. Bader notes that the result of this relationship is a belief that women don’t “have the capacity or inclination to devote themselves to a man’s pleasure or to their own,” and so to want such a thing leads to extreme guilt.
So with all that unsexy guilt for wanting nurturing in the way, he fantasizes that a woman is turned on by “mothering him,” a.k.a giving him the breast, so that he can get sexually excited. For some men this means fantasizing about actual breastfeeding during sex, but it’s not that he is making any direct sexual connection to his own mother. It’s all about removing the guilt and worry he was trained to have for women. He needs to receive pleasure without having any responsibility for his partner’s needs. He needs her to happily give to him and expect nothing in return.
In the breastfeeding/breast sucking scenario, where the woman wants to give to him and is gratified by giving to him, he is free to let go of the guilt. Not only does she not need him to be her caretaker, she wants him to take from her and isn’t depleted when she gives him maternal nurturing. His desire to take is met with her desire to give. His negative unconscious belief that women are too preoccupied, burdened, depressed, or busy to take pleasure in nurturing him is thus negated. And the bigger the breast, the more nurturing she has to give him.
So there you have it! Even in “extreme” cases where a man is turned on by fantasies of breastfeeding from a woman, it has nothing to do with any creepy latent desire to be sexual with his mother. It’s just that his mother was a selfish narcissist! Or maybe just dysfunctional and depressed. Either way, it’s not about his mother, ladies, it’s all about your enthusiasm and happiness to give to him… and your super luscious breasts.
The saga continues. I was going to wait a few more days or weeks to buy this particular polish colour. I can’t be accumulating nail polish at a rate like this: Eight bottles of OPI in the past two weeks. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how good Live and Let Die looks. More dark polish with glitter bits! I swear I was just going to buy a sandwich and somehow found myself at the mall again. I didn’t even deliberate or stare at the bottle, I just grabbed it off the rack, and justified buying another dark blue as well since it was on sale. I could get into all the scientific stuff about addictions and brain chemicals, but today I’d rather take a philosophical approach to understand my compulsion. That’s right: symbolism.
The observation of one’s waking life as if it were a dream is a meditation technique based in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. One observes the symbolism in their waking life just as one would the symbolism of their dreams. Morten Tolboll mentions this symbolic approach to understanding the self in his document Meditation as an Art of Life: A Basic Reader.
Toboll explains that, “So the images in the movement of time are shattered reflections of the great vision of the Universe. They are shadows, dreams, masks, fables, fairy tales, fictions, and they flow in the movement of nature itself – they are, as the Tibetan Buddhism says, relatively valid dreams.”
First of all, it’s interesting to me that the name of the polish I wanted was Live and Let Die. I’ve been in a bit of crisis mode last few days because I fear my father will die because of me. Then I have to remind myself that I am not responsible for him or how he chooses to deal or not deal with his shit. But in hearing that his health is failing there is a magnification of that feeling I’ve always had that I was responsible for him, and it’s a big reason I stayed in blissful denial that he was ever capable of really sexually abusing me. Breaking the silence seems to be making my worst fears manifest – that I could provoke my fragile father’s death with the truth. It’s really testing my clarity on the situation. So, “live and let die” might actually be the very thing I needed to hear. Not exactly a cryptic or vague symbol. In fact, this is so literal I’m not sure it counts as symbolism at all, but what an interesting coincidence.
Nail polish also reminds me of a piece of poetry I wrote as a teenager. “Painting innocence on my nails” was part of a line in that poem. Could this point to an unconscious association with fresh manicures and a return to innocent times? Fresh manicure = fresh innocence? Also, nail polish is also a distinctly feminine accessory that literally leaves one feeling “polished.” I also have a hand washing compulsion, so maybe there’s an unconscious desire to both clean and polish my “dirty” hands?
Well, that’s all I’ve got. Any other guesses at why I’m choosing nail polish for my brain chemical rush rather than other consumer goods?
~ “The quickest way to know a woman is to go shopping with her.” – Marcelene Cox