Warning: This post contains some detailed discussion of child abuse, neglect, and sexualized violenceHistory
I am a survivor of pervasive ongoing child abuse, neglect, and sexualized violence that occurred within my home and my community. My exposure to trauma began shortly before I was born and proved to be extensive through my early 20’s, with my earliest memories being of sexual abuse at the age of 2, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) insomnia from age 3, and medical reports of failure-to-thrive in toddlerhood. In the first 16 years of my life there were at least 7 different perpetrators of sexual abuse, abandonment and extreme neglect at home, and physical abuse and humiliation at the hands of my child care provider. From the age of 12-15 years I experienced over 30 separate acts of rape and an immeasurable amount of sexual exploitation that I was taught was a desirable, normal, loving relationship. Even though the final set of crimes was prosecuted, I didn’t receive comprehensive treatment for trauma, but at least got a few counseling sessions to manage my constant suicidal ideation that had resulted in two failed suicide attempts at age 13 and 16. My first reported suicide attempt was at age 4.Dissociation
Without the benefit of therapeutic counseling and as an independent minor at age 17, I did the best I could to stop thinking about my childhood and stay in the present moment in order to maintain a modicum of functioning at school/work/life. And why not forget about it? While the abuse and neglect was happening, I was continually told overtly and covertly that it was “the way things were” and it became obvious that my upset over the situations was the real problem.
Between the ages of 15 and 20 I explicitly developed and refined thought and emotional control techniques that I now know as forms of dissociation. While I did not study a specific method, my influences were many and it is difficult to extricate the cause and effect relationship of specific concepts, so I release them here as a cluster bomb: Candle flame gazing, zoning out, transcendental mediation, astral projection, Reichian psychology, Dianetics, Eckankar, the Aloha Spirit, Carlos Castaneda, Herman Hess, Nice Girls Do, remote viewing, detachment, acceptance… I lived in Seattle in the 80’s & early 90’s and spent much time walking the city streets talking with and believing everyone. I had virtually no protective boundaries.
I couldn’t sleep at night and was plagued by nightmares or trauma reexperiencing when I relaxed, so I would astral project instead. I became a classic case of PTSD (unbeknownst to me) and cultivated avoidance unaware that the accompanying hypervigillance was anything but my “personality.” I managed for 20 years to control my thoughts and emotions about the abuse and torture I experienced in childhood and became a high functioning perfectionistic driven work-a-holic kind of a person with chronic life-time insomnia and nightmares. I controlled everything I could, I just couldn’t control sleeping.
Very much like the method of The Work that Byron Katie has developed and is marketing all over the globe, I independently determined that “thinking” about the bad things that happened to me was the problem in my life and that I would be stuck thinking about those things until I fully accepted responsibility for what happened. I read something like, “blaming others is a curse we put on ourselves because we are not willing to face our own wrongs.” I don’t know where I came across that concept, it’s still a muddle, but I latched on to that one and tried to force myself to face my wrongs. Well anyway, to use a turn of phrase that Byron Katie is so fond of, that all worked great, until it didn’t.Triggering
At the age of 37 I was very suddenly and somewhat gruesomely triggered into a PTSD collapse by the simple mention that the man who had raped me for five years was now, at the age of 41, accused of raping a child several times between the ages of 5-7. I had had nightmares about this man from time to time, but apparently had barely discussed the details of his abuse once with my husband. I just wanted to be past all that so much.
The symptoms were once again classic PTSD which were drawn out by being called as a witness in the rapist's current criminal case. This time, as nightmares, flashbacks and crying became constant for months, I was wise and financially able enough to consult not one, but four licensed mental health providers for a diagnosis which I simply wouldn’t believe: PTSD? No- I just can’t stop thinking about how worthless I am… The level of self-hatred and intense suicidal ideation was nearly unmanageable. I had a daughter, a career, a husband. All this crazy stuff I was feeling about accepting my responsibility in the past rapes made no sense at all. My mind literally felt like it was breaking and the most intense anger I felt was at myself for not holding it all together.
Fortunately, I finally got some true psychotherapy and trauma treatment (it’s a year and a half later and I’m in it still). I started paying for it with credit cards and ultimately convinced the State to authorize treatment and recovery services for me as a crime victim. It is incomprehensible to me still, but it seems more crushing to realize the humiliation and dehumanization of my experiences than to accept responsibility and paint myself as a hopelessly masochistic, flawed being. The latter assumption also seems to be where Byron Katie suggests we all find solace.
I came across the process called The Work about two months ago while researching exposure therapy online. The first link toward The Work came from a comment posted on this site [http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-exposure-therapy.htm], which I have since responded to in warning against evaluating The Work to address trauma without the help of a licensed mental health provider.
As I perused [thework.com
] reading worksheets, testimonials, and viewing videos I had an initially mesmerized reaction. I had just returned from a trauma treatment session using the technique EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which can leave me feeling spacey and full of recovery insights at the same time. I had an unusual amount of alone time and found myself standing at my laptop in the darkened kitchen for about an hour and a half as the sun went down and I kept watching Byron Katie do The Work in youTube videos. She had individuals on stage with gripping and paralyzing fears who were crying and laughing and seemingly feeling better about their stresses in the course of about 7 minutes. I was hooked. The videos were cut into parts and some were hard to find. I felt compelled to get to each resolution to make sure these people were making it out OK.
While my interest in applying this method (also called Inquiry Based Stress Reduction by Anil Coumar of the University of Washington Hall Health Student Medical Center) to my own terrible feelings about having been abused as a child was growing, my comfort suddenly shifted to a *triggered* frightful reaction when I saw a video of Byron Katie (also known as BK, Kt, Byron Katie Mitchell, Byron Katie Reid) telling a young woman who had been overtly controlled by a domineering parent that she, as a child, made the choice to comply with her father's threatening requests. Katie went on to say that if she were being tortured, it would be her choice to comply with the threats- no terrorist could make her give in, if she did, it was her choice. Other videos and transcripts of Katie's process show similar emphasis on what I think is essentially victim-blame couched as personal responsibility.
I did some research on Katie, which wasn't easy because her background is not transparent, and learned that she has no psychology training. I asked my licensed counselor about Katie. Before I had a moment to express my reservations, the counselor was looking for one of Katie's books on her shelf that she says she shares with many clients. When I mentioned that Katie is not licensed or educated in mental health, the counselor realized she had never looked into Katie's background. Then my counselor said that she does use elements of Katie's approach in some of her work….Connections1. Abusive Thought Control
Byron Katie’s process called The Work, when applied to trauma, seems to me a pseudo-therapeutic recapitulation of the kind of thought control used explicitly and implicitly by the abusers in my life. As hyperbole, it is a reenactment of the bully who pins you down and hits you repeatedly with your own hands while chanting, “stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, why are you hitting yourself?” The confusing tactics and high level of victim blame likely cause a short circuit for many trauma survivors and very well could be triggering implicit memory flashbacks for the listener/reader/viewer. Implicit memory recall is not typically experienced as a thought but rather an emotive state that comes on suddenly (see Daniel Siegel, Parenting from the Inside Out). Once an individual is in the flashback state, they are incredibly vulnerable to further abuse and coercion (see Judith Herman: Trauma and Recovery), which is why I think trauma survivors should not consider “inquiring into” their thoughts using The Work at all. And please note, there are many trauma survivors out there who aren’t aware of the impacts that their experiences have had on their neurophysiology and self-concept. I still feel nauseous when I use the word trauma to describe my childhood, as if I am telling a terrible lie. But that is how I was made to feel and it is a terrifically strong program that I have worked arduously to break with highly skilled help for the last year and a half.2. Schemata
I think that my previous investigations into Dianetics and detachment, conducted during childhood and young adulthood when I was still experiencing high levels of trauma and neglect without mental health care, set up a schema for consciousness subverting persuasion that was lit-up immediately upon exposure when Byron Katie stepped into my awareness.3. Stockholm Syndrome
Byron Katie and her children have candidly admitted that Katie was a rage filled parent whose children had every reason to be afraid of her (see: Allison Adato, How a Self-Help Guru is Born) [a fitting description for my mother as well]. Then when she came back from the half-way house, her teen daughter Roxann was parentified as she held Katie by the hand and managed the woman who interacted with others without respect for personal boundaries. Next Roxann had her own struggles with addiction and was parented in a fashion via The Work. Now Roxann Burroughs, who has never left the Byron Katie thought-control system, is a parent and advocate of developing a parenting system based on The Work that Katie and Burroughs hope will spread worldwide. Has Roxann Burroughs ever had a chance to look at her life through a lens different from the skewed, detached portal constructed by Byron Katie?4. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What happens when those with trauma histories who are able to control their emotions and thoughts using The Work are triggered back into reality as I was when I was confronted with the truth that I really wasn’t in any way responsible for the rapes that happened to me? That it really was a terrible thing that really felt terrible and still really feels terrible to think about? Who is there to support these people and their families as they attempt to integrate a healthy sense of self with the knowledge of their helplessness as abuse victims?
5. Story as Healthy Cognition
STORIES MAKE US WHO WE ARE: Lev Vygotsky knew it instinctively and was able to study the role of language in learning in order to support healthy development. Sharing our stories with others helps us make sense of the world, which appears to be one of our fundamental traits as human beings. Daniel Siegel and other contemporary neuroscientists have found that the ability to construct a coherent life story reflects the quality of our attachment experiences and our ability to create secure and loving emotional attachments with children, a trait that we share with most mammals and that is necessary to our survival and health as is demonstrated by discovery of the negative consequence of failure-to-thrive. Especially as it is applied to children (and frighteningly, Byron Katie has been hosting “Children’s Days” for years), The Work deconstructs an individual’s painful story as it makes sense to them and substitutes in its place self-negating self-hypnosis. The person is left with Not-a-story. Not-a-thought. I believe that wholesale implementation of such a parenting method could dramatically and negatively alter the quality of human attachments.
My hope is that sharing my story (which I have yet to construct into a concise narrative) on this forum will help people to protect and nurture their mental health. I’ve lived through the experience of not being able to afford mental health care and I understand the desires and pressures for self-help. What Byron Katie offers as help via The Work seems carelessly dangerous. Even if you don’t spend a dime on one of her books (as I haven’t ) you can be harmed, possibly irreparably, by internalizing the notion that you are “better” without your “story”. Before anyone attempts to do The Work by themselves, my wish is that he or she consults with a licensed mental health provider already familiar with Byron Katie, non-dualistic meditation, thought-reform, and trauma recovery and that if just one part of The Work seems dismissive or negating- kick the whole box to the curb without looking back. There are other valid methods for reducing distress while keeping your idiosyncratic sense of self intact. And, unfortunately, bad things happen to good people, and it feels terrible. Sometimes for a very long time. That is my story.