Part 9. The Genesis of My CPTSD: Mother as Protector

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

From Jasmin Lee Cori:

With separateness comes danger. In the best of circumstances, Mother is there providing protection. A very young child often senses Mother as all-powerful. She shatters the darkness, shoos away noisy children and barking dogs. If the mother consistently protects the child from intrusive and overwhelming stimuli, the child feels safe. Mother here is morphing from safe enclosure to Mama Bear.

and this:

How well Mother fulfills this role of protector cannot be reduced to only whether she provided protection but must also include how she provided it.

from The Emotionally Absent Mother [affiliate link]

No one protected my mother from her stepfather’s assaults and she either didn’t know how or didn’t have the capacity to protect her own children. She was either immersed in some form of work or raging at us. There was no middle ground and I did not have a sense of safety. Her method of keeping me safe was constantly warning me about murderers that apparently congregated in front of our house nightly, ready to enter as soon as the lights were off and murder me in my bed.

The great tragedy of my mother’s life beyond the incest and emotional neglect – substantial enough – was that there were no remedies for her. There was no trauma therapy and it was a time when assaults against children were never mentioned.

The great puzzle is why the cycle gets perpetuated instead of interrupted. There are so many factors including environment, biochemistry, resilience, and more that mental health professionals are only beginning to understand. One factor has to be the way emotion is stored in the body and what happens when that is never addressed. There is discomfort that causes some to withdraw and others to lash out. There’s a proverb that says a crushed spirit dries up the bones and that was my mother’s fate. She lived with pain in the bones of her spine, especially later in life. Today, she’d be treated with somatic therapy, but she’s been gone ten years this month.

In many ways, I merely did the opposite of what I experienced growing up. No imaginary murderers, no scare tactics, no oversharing, age appropriate discussions, and so on. Knowing what it was like without protection, I protected my children and they always felt safe with me. That is one more part to breaking generational cycles.

Photo by Steve Ody on Unsplash

Next week, the last in this series, Mother as Home Base.

What trauma does to you: pain

Photo by Asdrubal luna on Unsplash

Many people who were abused as children experience pain symptoms, either acutely or chronically. Most common are headaches and back pain. Now it is suggested that in both cases, patients who experience migraines and/or chronic low back pain be screened for child abuse.

My experience with pain as part of the fallout stems from CSA (child sexual abuse). I’ve written about the most dramatic manifestation that appeared while I was in college.

From my upcoming memoir, Baggage Claim:

When I’m a freshman in college, after a year of the stabbing agony of sex not getting better, I see the doctor at the clinic at UCSD. She mentions that she has one other female student my age with the same complaint and no answers for either of us. There is nothing physically wrong.

Later that week, I sit in my parents’ front room, unchanged from when we moved in, on the Naugahyde sectional, and tell my mother about the pain. She’s not only an R.N., but our own personal medical expert. No matter how strained things get, all three of her children rely on her to answer all medical questions.

I’m on one side of a large handmade lamp with a base made from a plain Balthazar-sized green wine bottle with a beige shantung shade handmade by our former neighbor. My mother sits on the other side in her brown and tan lounge chair doing counted cross-stitch as she calmly tells me that one of my half-brothers molested me when I was three. I am surprised to find that I am not surprised. I’m mostly numb, the hot anger of “how could you let that happen?” does not arise. It’s not safe to show emotion in front of her. I know somewhere hidden inside of me it does not make sense that she, who prided herself on being a nurse and caretaker, who was an incest survivor abused for a dozen years by her stepfather, would allow it under her roof.

  Baggage Claim by Diane Sherlock

After my mother told me about the abuse, the pain vanished. I still experience low back pain when I’m dredging up the past to write and mid-back pain when I go through extended lonely periods and feel unloved. My trauma therapist taught me that self-compassion goes a very long way in healing mind, body, and spirit.

Here’s Peter Levine on traumatic memory and the body (it’s only 4 min):

Emotions are stored in the body and when there’s been trauma, the body does what it can to signal there’s a problem and one of the most common signals is pain. Thankfully there are somatic therapists, rolfers, physical therapists, and yoga instructors who have been studying trauma and how emotions become locked in the body, developing a number of ways to release them. One of the most common releases is to complete the gesture that was originally ineffective, such as the motion to push away a stronger person. Completing the entire motion is often effective in allowing the emotion to leave the body. Here’s another case study using running and temper tantrum gestures. As the case study notes, caution must be exercised in cases where there’s dissociation, psychosis, or BPD and then only proceed with a trained trauma therapist or find other solutions.