“Why Can’t I Heal?”…Because the Subconscious Mind Does Not Acknowledge Time and Space

“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

~Albert Einstein

In a study done in West Germany on concentration camp survivors, it was found that each of the subjects, in a sense, still live in the concentration camp. 1

The same is true for survivors of child sexual abuse, who have not yet dealt with their subconscious mind.

Any stress, or feelings of being threatened or unsafe, can cause trauma survivors to return to earlier patterns of behavior that were utilized during the abuse. During this state of “high arousal,” the survivor will do what they know, which is rooted in the instinct used while they were still a child. They will demonstrate defensive strategies –even if it didn’t work the first time. 2

This is why adult survivors of trauma are commonly hyper-vigilant and why they handle their feelings of being out of control by acquiring obsessions or phobias. This allows them to remain continuously ready for real or imagined, but no longer present, dangers. 3

This behavior is observed in the form of obsessive compulsive behavior and PTSD symptoms. It can also be found in survivors who regress to a child-like state when memories first begin to come back to them. 4

Before the actual abuse memories return, the person will have no idea that childhood damage is dictating the way they are handling stress. They usually have no conscious understanding of why they are excessively fearful.

The memories have been pushed into the subconscious mind, but the memory is still present in daily life. The memories are coming out in behaviors, unwarranted fears, emotions, and physical problems.

Powerful experiences, like child sexual abuse, which are omitted from consciousness, are preserved as “unconscious fixed ideas” and will not be blended into the person’s normal consciousness until the abuse is remembered, comprehended, and overpowered at the subconscious level.

When abuse is not dealt with, the emotions and the original traumatic incident—still repressed—will affect one’s life with obsessive preoccupations, anxiety inflictions, and frightening concepts. 5

When an event or experience takes place in the adult life of a person who was traumatized as a child, the brain matches it against events which are already stored in the unconscious mind. If it is connected to a recorded danger from the past, an “alarm response” is triggered. This is the exact mechanism that kicks in when a person suddenly experiences over-reactive fear, an anxiety attack, a flashback, or when somatic symptoms arise. 6

This reaction of alarm explains why certain people trigger anger, fear, or anxiety in a survivor but other people do not. As long as a previous victim of child sexual abuse does not allow the past to come forward with helpful psychoanalysis, they will continue to subconsciously seek out people who bring up their unresolved guilt, pain, or fear.

The subconscious mind wants to be healed. Until then, misdirected anger and fear will be aimed at spouses, children, the teller at the bank, and even strangers. Anyone can become the enemy. It is often safe for the survivor to become aggressive towards, or verbally attack, people who did not abuse them as a child. It’s not okay to do, and unhealthy, but the survivor often feels safe releasing their emotions onto those who did not abuse them as children.

During the abuse, it wasn’t safe for the child to defend his or herself, or to confront their perpetrator, so when the victim becomes an adult, they subconsciously attack innocent people. The rage is often taken out on spouses because survivors frequently marry a partner who characterizes their abuser.

Nevertheless, even if an abuse survivor leaves their marriage, walks away from a friendship,  or leaves their job in an attempt to run away from someone who triggers them, they will invariably wind up in a new marriage or get a new employer, only to find that they have established a relationship with a person who again triggers what has been left unresolved in the unconscious realm.

The subconscious mind forces people to re-experience the suffering in order to get help. When fear, anxiety, depression, physical symptoms, rage, and PTSD symptoms persist inside an abuse survivor, it is their past saying “Hey, I’m still here, deal with me!”

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1. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Psychiatric Disorders among Persecution Victims: A Contribution to the Understanding of Concentration Camp Pathology and its After-Effects, William G. Niederland, M.D. Vol 139, 1964, page 469

2. The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism, Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 12, Number 2, Pages 389-411, June 1989

3. Behind the Playground Walls: Sexual Abuse in Preschools, Jill Waterman Ph.D, Robert J. Kelly Ph.D, Mary Kay Oliveri MSW, Jane Mc Cord, Ph.D, 1993, The Guilford Press page 244

4. The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism, Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 12, Number 2, Pages 389-411,June 1989

5. Dissociation and the Fragmentary Nature of Traumatic memories: Overview and Exploratory Study. Bessel A. van der Kolk & Rita Fisler HRI Trauma Center 227 Babcock Street Brookline, MA 02146 and Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry

6. Memories of Fear How the Brain Stores and Retrieves Physiologic States, Feelings, Behaviors and Thoughts from Traumatic Events Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. The Child Trauma Academy http://www.ChildTrauma.org  Academy version of a chapter originally appearing in “Splintered Reflections: Images of the Body in Trauma” (Edited by J. Goodwin and R. Attias) Basic Books (1999)

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19 Responses to “Why Can’t I Heal?”…Because the Subconscious Mind Does Not Acknowledge Time and Space

  1. leahmryan says:

    Hi there. I just wanted to share my story briefly. When I was a child I was sexually abused multiple times by my Father. I thought I had dealt with the issues over sexual abuse that were in my unconscious mind. I watched an episode of 20/20 today about a girl who was brutally raped while she was unconscious from alcohol. A memory of the same type of situation having happened to me resurfaced. I was 21. I drank too much, and while I was pretty much unconscious, I was brutally raped. The next day I was in quite a bit of pain, but I’m not sure why I didn’t realize that I had been raped. The guy asked me if I remembered what had happened the night before, but I didn’t. I went to planned parenthood for an exam because I was in so much pain. The nurse was shocked and asked me if I had called the police. I really believed that I hadn’t been raped! I must have been so traumatized that I immediately put it deeply away. I now am feeling the feelings that I felt when I was being raped. I am shocked that I was able to totally forget about it on the conscious level until now. I have met so many people who have been victims of sexual violence. Men and women. I learned that sexual violence is usually a result of the perpetrator wanting power over someone else.

    • Alethea says:

      I am very sorry about your pain and feelings of betrayal, and about the incest. I too was raped as an adult, and although my memory is hazy, I think I was probably drunk. I blocked out the ENTIRE weekend with the male “friend” I went away with. It was only last year that I recalled the rape.

      Sexual violence, incest, and sexual molestation are not entirely about power. It is also about sexual urges and sexual deviancy.

      I wish you all the best from this day forward.

      ~~Alethea

  2. Margaret says:

    After being raped multiple times during different periods of my life, I lost it this last time. The PTSD has been incredibly debilitating and the only thing that gave me the power to get up each day to face my pain was the hope that i can help someone else avoid a rape or heal more fully from it. Thank you for this article. i am researching PTSD, revictimization, and therapy techniques for a media campaign and “rape sensitivity” training, so if you have any that you would like to share with me, I would greatly appreciate it. I also have detailed many of the experiences of the rapes and the healing I have gone through from it in my own blog. Leting it out in print for the world to see has been heling because I finally feel I am not being muffled. Psychotherapy has been proven to cause more problems therapy wise over the long term, so setting it out there once and for all has given me the chance to purge and let it go finally. As I unburden myself, I feel the relief set in. Once the chains drop away, I can more fully live in the present, which has been an incredibly difficult thing to do, since I never fully feel like the abuse, the rapes, ever ended. They tend to play like a loop in the background of my mind, no mater what I have done. Digging into this research, along with my own psychological nursing background, has truly helped me turn the volume down on that continual loop, and even pause it for long moments. Hopefully soon those movies can end forever.
    stoptherapeblame.blogspot.com

  3. SurvivorSunshine says:

    I was once diagnosed with Intermittent Explosive Disorder as a teen. I find it amazing that none of those so-called professionals connected that I was severely sexually and mentally abused and that’s why I had trouble controlling my emotions and would rage when provoked. I remember reading “The Courage to Heal” because my boyfriend at the time admitted he had been molested as a child. As a matter of fact, almost ALL of the people close to me had been sexually abused. My subconscious mind kept me choosing to live life with and around people that had abusive childhoods but wouldn’t openly admit it and obsessing over their abuse but never having any memories of my own. It pisses me off that my abuse is hidden so deep in the recesses of my mind because my dad would hypnotize me before he sexually assaulted me. Memories pop up here and there after I visited him in jail three years ago. Most recently, throw up and raw eggs have deeply triggered me. I’ve always hated cold, slimy foods and the sight of raw eggs makes me sick now. I’ve thought seriously about being hypnotized again to explore what really happened but it scares me to give anyone that kind of power over my mind again. I know the Lord is walking me through these revelations in His time, so I put my trust in Him.

    • Alethea says:

      Hi Sunshine. I am sure you are aware that raw eggs looking like semen, but I just thought I would throw that out there.

      I can see you not wanting to be hypnotized, and you are smart! What I do in therapy is hypnoanalysis, which is quite different.

      Your trust in God is what will guide you and help you to find your path to healing.

    • little nel says:

      Hi Sunshine,

      It is amazing how professionals can overlook the obvious when a person comes in for counseling or therapy.

      One of the most common symptoms of childhood sexual abuse is the angry outbursts and extreme rage.

      It is also common for victims to connect with others who have been abused. I know that I needed other victims to validate my own thoughts and feelings. I would easily connect on some level with other victims and did not realize why or consider why.

      When the student is ready the teacher appears. Your journey to recovery is between you and God. Don’t quit seeking wholeness and healing until you get your miracle. It took me a long time to come to terms with my abuse and my abusers. It is the ones who don’t care about my pain and suffering that I still have trouble with. “When the road is rough the reward is great.”

      • Alethea says:

        It’s amazing how I have subconsciously gravitated towards other abuse survivors in my adulthood. I form a friendship, or a casual relationship with someone in a store, or with a neighbor…only to find out later on that they too were sexually abused in childhood.

        “like attracts like” I guess.

        • little nel says:

          I think it is more than that Alethea. I was constantly seeking outside validation because I was not validated at home. The only ones who believed me about the abuse were those who had experienced it themselves. I was a walking wounded soul constantly looking for help and healing from others. I was just lucky that I met someone who saw my pain and knew how to help me find recovery.

          I owe the most gratitude to the Catholic’s who educated me about child abuse and how to recover. from it. I remember how I used to hate Catholics because I believed that they never had any problems like mine in childhood. Little did I know, that those people who I resented the most would love me the most and help me..

  4. little nel says:

    Walt Disney used to say, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

    I am 62 years young thanks to smart, kind, caring people like you. I know that I would have destroyed myself long ago if not for the people like you that understood my problems and my needs.

    Little Nel is well cared for today and she knows that she is loved and nurtured. God has replaced the years that the locusts ate away. Her present childhood is a happy one because she has learned the truth about her first childhood and so much more understanding.

  5. little nel says:

    I love this post, Alethea.

    Many times I would look at my reaction to events or people and wonder what possessed me to react like I did. I knew that something was amiss but I could not understand what prompted my extreme reactions.

    Childhood abuse is the gift that keeps on giving the victim pain and fear throughout life until it is stopped. An issue is an issue until it’s resolved.

    The assholes in my family have been finally been exposed for the cowards that they are. They took out their own rage on their children and spouses and it paid big dividends until I got therapy and saw the truth of our lives.

    Thanks for this blog and all your posts, Alethea. You have given many of us clarity, truth,and validation for the taking. I appreciate all your efforts.

    • Alethea says:

      “Many times I would look at my reaction to events or people and wonder what possessed me to react like I did. I knew that something was amiss but I could not understand what prompted my extreme reactions.”

      OMG Little Nel, me too. Once I got into a raging argument with a woman in a community laundry room for taking up all the space for folding. Another time I openly argued with a man in a fish market for God knows what. I also raged at a street officer once for not allowing me to go down a certain street due to a car accident. I look back now, and understand the triggers, and my rage, but that is NOT who I am anymore. I don’t even know that person.

      Thank you too Little Nel, for all your support, truth, strength, and for your great comments.

  6. mary says:

    ..childhood thanks to you? That number is impossible to know, but even if it was just one….that right there is fulfilling God’s work. How many adults have you freed from the self prison of denial and delusion, from the abusive patterns of the past, from being victim to drug addiction, stress induced illness, codependent relationships, exploitation? I know of one, and that’s me.

    • Alethea says:

      Mary,

      Thank you for all of your beautiful words. But you need to give yourself the credit, and God, for listening to the voice inside you that is the voice of love and wisdom. God is the good in others, so it is God who has touched you through my Blog.

      But the fact that you have benefited from the articles I chose to write, makes me very peaceful and joyful inside.

      You are right, you do not have to be silenced in life as a previous victim of childhood circumstances anymore. A crime was committed against us.

      When I am in doubt, I picture a little girl, who has just been rescued from sexual abuse, and then picture someone telling her to be silent. They have no right! A crime was committed against that child, and we are still that child in a sense. It is no different for a grown adult who wants to speak up. They have just as much right as that child victim does.

      “I dont have to be dictated by what somebody did or didnt do for me. I dont need to be controlled by denial, shame, guilt. I can see the truth of my life, and as broken and messed up as I am and as ugly as the truth can be, I can still love myself, even in the times where I dont.”

      Amen to that!

      “Thanks to you, I did not take that baseball bat to his head (although he honestly would have deserved it). Thanks to you, I simplywalked away.”

      In all truth Mary, thanks be to God, not me. But I appreciate your words and your expression of your feelings means a great deal to me.

      “How many adults have you freed from the self prison of denial and delusion, from the abusive patterns of the past, from being victim to drug addiction, stress induced illness, codependent relationships, exploitation? I know of one, and that’s me.”

      May you continue to be Blessed in your life and may God fill your life with abundance. Know that you are a child of God and that God loves you more than you will know in this life. Know that you are worthy of good and that you need to treat yourself well, and never, ever be afraid to express yourself. You are a person of free will and have a God-given right to do so.

  7. mary says:

    walked away. And in that hour, all that rage simply left me and for once in my life, I truly felt clear and whole and light. In that state of mind I finally quit for good (you cant get fired in that job). Within the next days, a friend’s mom gave me an interview at a convalescent home for a receptionist position and the owner hired me! i felt so happy, I couldve died right then and there. That I could be equipped (and this blog has equipped me ) to not to give in to my powerful impulses and walk away from an abusive situation and just like that arrive at a place that’s better…. you dont know how much that means to me. so no matter what any other blogger or negative person says to you and what youre doing, know that you made a powerful positive difference in MY life…and probably countless others. You validate the experiences of children, now adults, who have been disenfranchised by their families and society. How many young souls have been spared from lifelong torment of being sexually abused in childhoo

  8. mary says:

    No… THANK YOU Alethea. My life wouldve gone in an awful direction -murder, jail time, more victimization – had it not been for this site. it allowed me to be conscious of all those subconscious forces as they worked inside of me, controlling my emotions and actions and choices. now I that I understand myself more, I do not have to be silenced in life as a victim of my childhood or circumstances anymore. I now have a voice and a choice to be different, to push to be to myself and others the person I needed in my life that never was there. That is f-cking HARD. Yet I dont have to be dictated by what somebody did or didnt do for me. I dont need to be controlled by denial, shame, guilt. I can see the truth of my life, and as broken and messed up as I am and as ugly as the truth can be, I can still love myself, even in the times where I dont. Thanks to you, I did not take that baseball bat to his head (although he honestly would have deserved it). Thanks to you, I simply

  9. mary says:

    Wow this article….among others makes all my behavior make sense to me. I was hired at a new “job” (more like a pyramid scam) two months ago and most of my coworkers, boss and every situation and even the very nature of the job triggered a flurry of horrible symptoms i thought i was done with, every thing from feelings of extreme disassociation to this rage so powerful i felt as if i could black out from it. i shouldve left from the beginning when i sensed something wrong, when i would voice my concerns and i would be coerced or manipulated or guilted into silence but for some reason i didnt. it’s a long story, but to make it short i quit after numerous shady acts, rape jokes, physical sexual harassment, boundary crossing caused me to bring a baseball bat to work. thanks to God and the articles ive read on this site i was able to make sense of what was going on inside of me enough in those crucial seconds to stop myself from being taken over by rage and possibly killing someone.

    • Alethea says:

      “thanks to God and the articles ive read on this site i was able to make sense of what was going on inside of me enough in those crucial seconds to stop myself from being taken over by rage and possibly killing someone.”

      Mary…..this sentence is one of the reasons why I began this Blog. THANK YOU for saying this. This one sentence of yours makes all the crap I have gone through with this Blog SO WORTH it. Thank you from the depths of my heart.

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