Stacey Lannert’s father sexually abused her for years, and her mother ignored it. Stacey ended up protecting herself by killing her father. After she was incarcerated for murder, (Stacey has since been released from prison) Stacey spoke out about needing to remember the good side of her father.
Stacey said that, instead of remembering that her father had raped her, she remembers when he would, “just be my daddy and he’d hold me, talk to me, or just call me his tiger in a loving voice.”
Truddi Chase (pictured below with Oprah) suffered sadistic abuse and rapes by her father. Her mother also physically abused and threatened her.
“It’s hard to think mean thoughts about a mother who trimmed the crusts off the bread for your school sandwiches” ~Truddi Chase speaking about her mother
As adults, Stacey and Truddi express the human denial system in its purest form –with the simplicity of a child.
“It is understandable that some would choose to deny their memories, preferring to endure the anguish of symptoms rather than the anguish of the remembering process”~Anne Hart
A Holocaust survivor, who lived in the Auschwitz concentration camp for one year, also offers an example of how sincere the human denial system is.
When asked by her therapist about her memories of being imprisoned. the previous prisoner of war said, “I remember it had beautiful flowers.” She then sat silently for five full minutes before finally beginning to cry.
The conscious denial of the prison camp, allowed her to operate in the present. However, the woman’s method for repressing her experience had failed, because she continued to suffer in her daily life.
This is what happens when adult survivors of child sexual abuse, or incest, function in the same denial system that helped them survive the horrors of abuse in the first place.
However, this unconscious ritual ends up failing when -later in life- the soul cries out to be relieved of the pain. For a time, the previously useful arrangement between the conscious and unconscious mind, helped the person maintain a somewhat functional life, but eventually it becomes a prison and the memories beg to come through to consciousness.
It’s not surprising, or uncommon, that victims of sexual abuse would deny their history of abuse. Even perpetrators deny having been sexually assaulted as children.
FBI agent Roy Hazelwood did a survey on forty-one rapists, who combined had perpetrated at least 837 rapes. The perpetrators were asked about any personal experiences with having been sexually abused as a child. Only one man stated that he had been abused. This surprised Hazelwood, so he asked the rapists about their earliest sexual experience. It was clear that most of the men had been victims of child sexual assault. Thirty-one of the rapists (seventy-six percent) did not realize that their first experience with sex had been abusive –even though one man had been raped by his father until he was eleven years old.
The case of a five year old girl who saw her father fatally shoot her mother and then commit suicide is an excellent example of how victims begin to deny the trauma and pain shortly after the traumatic experiences take place. Five weeks after the traumatic crime, the child was asked by a mental health professional, what the worst thing was that had ever happened to her.
In that moment the child displayed a marked alteration in her facial expression, stopped playing, moved her face and head away from the interviewer and stared into space. After a long pause, she said, “I wanted to stay up late last weekend and have pizza, but I had to go to bed.” After her statement, the interview consisted of the girl giving only single word responses.
Abused children will do anything they can in order defend their survival. This includes “fantasy escapes,” or by forcibly attempting to drive the events from consciousness.
When Dr. Joy Silberg asks her child patients to recall their trauma, they reply, “Don’t ask me. It hurts my brain.”
These victims are actively trying to compel the events out of their mind.
Another woman, with no conscious awareness of any child abuse, was extremely troubled by rage. When her therapist asked her to draw a picture of what had caused her anger, an instantaneous flood of hidden emotions were provoked. Without knowing why, the woman drew a picture of the Catholic Church she had attended as a small child. A short time later she began to recall being sexually abused by her childhood priest.
Validation for the woman’s memories was established when she and her husband did some investigating and found that three years earlier, the priest pleaded guilty to molesting a ten year-old girl and was serving time in prison.
Another example is how the mind can sometimes use symbols for traumatic events. Two books, The Courage to Heal and Uncovering Memories of Sexual Abuse in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, both discuss women who remember a knife as what penetrated them instead of a penis.
To a small child, the first time a penis is forced inside their vagina or rectum, it can feel as if they have been penetrated by a knife. I can attest to this first-hand.
Traumatic memories can surface in other protective ways. One woman had been experiencing moments of vaginal pain along with flashes of lollipops. In therapy she remembered molestation that had taken place on routine visits to her pediatrician.
At first, the woman thought she had been molested with a lollipop. However, when she relayed her newly recalled memories to her parents, they told her she had been sexually abused as a child by the family doctor, who had given her a lollipop after each visit.
The more severe abuse, or psychologically damaging aspect of sexual abuse, usually shows itself as treatment progresses, or even towards the end of therapy.
Children, who have just been removed from an abusive situation, commonly disclose the least terrifying, or the less intense parts of being sexually abused, before finally reporting the more severe trauma.
Adult survivors of sexual abuse and trauma, who are still blocking out certain experiences, allow themselves to remember the abuse in essentially the same way.
However, some people might think that being raped by a parent, or having been threatened with death with a knife, would be the worst part of having been traumatized and emotionally scarred as a child. But when sexual abuse is not recalled until adulthood, the most emotionally painful event often emerges after memories of a physically violent rape or terrifying experiences are recalled.
It has been my personal experience, and of others, that memories of the emotional attachment to the perpetrator and any sexual stimulation a victim might feel during the molestation or rape, usually come back to the adult survivor much later in the healing work.
Most adult survivors keep extremely painful truths hidden from themselves for a very long time. This can include that some of the sexual abuse felt good, orgasms, that they enjoyed being touched, or that they felt sad when the abuse ended.
For other people, the deep and powerful emotional pain can be remembering sexual abuse by a family member of the same-sex, especially if it felt good. Or the victim had an orgasm with their perpetrator.
This system is a self-survival system. But it only works for so long, and one day, the memories beg to come through to consciousness. When this happens, the adult survivor will begin to develop serious problems like self-punishment, self-sabotage, destructive behaviors, self-hatred, self-abuse, eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and other psychologically-induced physical illnesses.
When we do not deal with the subconscious mind, it deals with us.
Hearing the Survivor’s Voice: Sundering the Wall of Denial, Sandra Bloom, Journal of Psychohistory, Vol 21, Number 4, spring 1994, page 462
Stacey Lannert, Free Stacey Lannert Website, Stacey’s Writings
When Rabbit Howls, Truddi Chase, Introduction and Epilogue by Robert A. Philips Jr., Ph.D, 1987
Holocaust Survivor’s Mental Health, T.L. Brink Ph.D. Editor, pages 22-23 (Also published as Clinical Gerontologist, Volume 14, Number 3 1994), 1994 Haworth Press, Inc. Birmingham NY Holocaust Survivor’s Mental Health, T.L. Brink Ph.D. Editor, page 23 (Also published as Clinical Gerontologist, Volume 14, Number 3 1994), 1994 Haworth Press, Inc. Birmingham NY
The Evil That Men Do: FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood’s Journey into the Minds of Sexual Predators, Stephen G. Michaud with Roy Hazelwood, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998, page 123.
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, 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)
Memories Called Key in Abuse Suits, Beth Miller, The News Journal, April 13, 2007
“The Recovered Memory Project” Ross Cheit, “Woman relies on Repressed Memory in Alleging Priest Abuse” Maine Sunday Telegram October 26 1997: 1B
The Courage to Heal, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, page 90
Uncovering Memories of Sexual Abuse in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Charlotte Prozan, Construction and Reconstruction of Memory: Dilemmas of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Charlotte Prozan Editor, Jason Aaronson Inc., 1997, page 126
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, Updated Third Edition, HarperCollins, 1994, page 90
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 68
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)
The Voice of Memory: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim the Past, Beatriz Terrazas, Dallas Morning News, June 11, 2000