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DISSOCIATION IN MOMS?

25 July, 2012

21/365

21/365 (Photo credit: anna gutermuth)

A case I once had led me to speculate that at least some mothers of sexual abuse victims may dissociate as a defense against awareness of those events and implications for their own pasts.  I have changed a few things in the interest of confidentiality but the basics are true.

This much is known:   Sexual abuse runs in families and passes along through generations; the mothers of victims are very likely to have been victims themselves; there are factors like vicarious repetition compulsions and a need to defend against awakening involved in the blindness of mothers.  The capacity for dissociation among survivors is also well known, and it makes sense that at least some moms with histories of abuse would have, and quite possibly use, that capacity.

I had little opportunity to actually interview mothers of the adult survivors working on their recovery but one struck me deeply.  The victim’s father was about as perverted as a human being could become.  The survivor described him crawling on his belly into her room when she was a child, hissing like a snake and ‘slithering’ into her bed.  The episodes had a pronounced demonic flavor.  When he was finished, her mother would go into the room and, while cleaning up the survivor, mutter prayers and rebuke the Devil.  One night, awakened by the sound of the perpetrator leaving the room of a son, the mother sat bolt upright in bed and said to herself “My god … what have I not been seeing.”  (Perhaps it was the fact of the son being molested rather than a daughter that prompted the awakening.  That would have been just enough tangent to the usual perpetrator/female to sneak into her consciousness edgewise.) One form of dissociation is called a fugue state in which people may switch off their ordinary consciousness and engage in behaviors, sometimes even quite complex, with no awareness of the behaviors and no memory of them afterward.

The survivor had told me of her mother’s report to her of the awakening and I had the opportunity to interview the two of them together.  Prior to learning of the fugue-like element, I had an image in my head of the mother being just as perverted as the perpetrator but have no doubt she was describing her true experience and amnesia.  To her credit, unlike many mothers of survivors, she dumped the perpetrator immediately after her epiphany.  I was convinced the entire scenario played out repeatedly with no conscious awareness on her part of her role in the repeated rapes of her daughter.

I have since wondered what percentage of cases involve dissociation in mothers.  It is all too tragically common for the survivor to have been called a liar (and worse) if/when she revealed the abuse to her mother.  Might, at least in some cases, dissociation in mom be involved … not just ordinary, raw denial?  It certainly was in this case and common sense would say that wasn’t the only incident in history.

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