Posted by: Marie | October 28, 2009

(173) Choosing numbness over pain

Post #173
[Book study – Tuesday, July 7, 2009]

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
(Third Edition, 1994)
by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

Part One: Taking Stock
Coping: Honoring What You Did to Survive

[Table of Contents]


Green text: Quotes/Summaries from the book
Gray text: My words

This transformative work (the entire series of blog posts relating to this book) constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright law.


When the Pain Gets Too Great

Mental illness: Problems occur when the line between fantasy and reality blurs. For many survivors, “going crazy” makes a lot of sense.

To a significant degree, yes. I think Borderline Personality Disorder could easily apply to me although I’m not sure where I would fit on the continuum.

Self-mutilation is one way survivors control their experience of pain. Instead of the abuser hurting you, you hurt yourself. The physical pain distracts from the emotional pain.

Yes – skin picking, big time – hours a day.

The Rise by Martin Chen

The Rise by Martin Chen

Suicide attempts: Suicide sometimes seems like the only option left in a life that feels out of control. Attempts at suicide are not always so overt. One woman spent her childhood saying the prayer “If I should die before I wake” with her fingers crossed.

Not so far, but I often hang out in the space that is a few steps prior to suicide.

Addictions are common ways of coping with the pain of sexual abuse. They are usually self-defeating and self-destructive. You can be addicted to dangerous situations, to crisis, or to sex. You may have turned to drugs, alcohol, or food to keep the memories down, to numb feelings. Addictions must be curbed if you want to heal.

Food, yes, big time. Alcohol used to be an issue, but I think I was craving the numbness more than the alcohol. I never have gotten into drugs, thank goodness.

Isolation is often coupled with addictions. If no one is close to you, no one can hurt you anymore. Survivors often shut others out, creating a half-life of their own making.

Absolutely. Especially lately.

Anorexia/bulimia: Young girls who were sexually abused sometimes develop anorexia and bulimia. In a rigidly controlled family system where the abuse is hidden and all appearances are normal, anorexia or bulimia can be a cry for help.

This doesn’t apply to me.

Compulsive overeating is another way of coping. Survivors may feel that being large will keep them from having to deal with sexual advances.

Yes – sometimes a full-fledged binge (eat as much as possible as fast as possible), but more often a slow-motion binge (eat until I feel overfull, then sleep or get otherwise distracted, then eat again until I feel overfull, wait for the food to settle a bit, then eat again until I feel overfull . . . usually it is centered around high-sugar and high-fat foods). The slow-motion binges often last for weeks, sometimes months.

Lying: When children are told never to talk about the abuse, or don’t want people to know what’s really going on at home, they become adept at lying. Sometimes this pattern of lying to cover up or protect continues into adult life.

At first I answered “no”, then I realized I do lie about who I am . . . that is what the “Pretend Marie” and “Real Marie” deal is all about.

Stealing is a totally absorbing activity. It is a way to create distraction or excitement, to re-create the feelings you had when you were first abused – guilt, terror, the rush of adrenaline. Stealing is also a way of defying authority, an attempt to take back what was stolen, to even the score. It can also be a cry for help.

This doesn’t apply to me.

Gambling is a way to maintain the hope that life can magically change. It’s also a thrill, a way to escape the difficulties and challenges of day-to-day life by entering another world – one that is totally consuming and in which the risks and payoffs are well defined.

This doesn’t apply to me.

Workaholism: Survivors often feel an overwhelming need to achieve, to make up for the badness they feel is hidden inside. Excelling at work is something that they can control and that’s given a lot of support in our high-achieving culture. While working to excess can show a strong motivation to succeed, it can also be a way to avoid an inner life or a connection to the people around you.

This used to apply to me. However, when I got laid off in 2002, then couldn’t find a job, lost all my material possessions, had to live with family and friends, and filed for bankruptcy – my workaholism disappeared. I lost my confidence and I have become somewhat of a non-achiever. I’m starting to get my confidence back, but the over-achiever part of me is nowhere to be found, at least not right now.

Quotes 085


  1. Me, too, all of them except the last three. This is distressing to know. I think it is because these symptoms were obvious in my childhood and it’s just one more example of how much my mother ignored me. :(

    • Hey, Ivory –

      I am so sorry that you were suffering as a child and your mother ignored your suffering. I can imagine that was unbearable.

      For me, the good news is that, by doing these exercises, I am starting to see the causes and effects. That means I can start shifting the cause.

      It doesn’t change my history nor does it dismiss the pain I felt. However, it can shift my experience now and in the future.

      For me, that is from where I draw the hope.

      – Marie

  2. This is an important post! Thanks for sharing so much about your journey.

    • Hi, Anon –

      I really appreciate that you provided the feedback! It is always good to hear. Thank you!

      – Marie

  3. This is very valuable information. I enjoyed how you shared your own thoughts along with the excerpts from the book.

    • Hi, tobeme –

      Thanks for letting me know what is valuable to you! I really appreciate your comments!

      – Marie

  4. Really glad to hear you are starting to understand the causes and effects. It can be big so I hope you aren’t feeling overwhelmed.

    • Hi, Evan –

      Actually, what I find most overwhelming is not knowing what is going on . . . the causes of my distress . . . how to shift it . . .

      So, I find this kind of exercise very helpful because it feels like someone finally turned on the light! I am finally starting to understand how to dig myself out of this hole. And, that is very good.

      Thank you for the good wishes!

      – Marie

  5. A good number of these I experience, some to a greater extent then others. What I find interesting is that I didn’t connect some of them to the causes and effects idea. That’s why I like reading your blog. Hope you have a good holiday!

    • Hi, lostinamaze –

      Isn’t it cool how we can all learn from each other!

      Thank you for your continued reading . . . it is good to hear from you!

      – Marie

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