Posted by: Marie | April 12, 2010

(289) Degrees of severity

Post #289
[Private journal entry written on Friday, December 18, 2009]

Today, my friend, Doctor D, highlighted my blog in his weekly Friday Links post. He described my blog in this way:

“I also added a very interesting blog [to my blogroll]: “Coming Out of the Trees”, [which is] about a patient overcoming a history of severe abuse—heavy but fascinating.”

Now, I have always worked very hard to stifle my natural inclination to be overly dramatic. I have always believed I had no valid reason for experiencing such dramatic symptoms in response to such mild abuse. I mean, yes, I was abused, but it was really relatively moderate. So, when someone who exists outside my drama classifies my abuse as severe, it seems very strange to me.

I was very curious how Doctor D arrived at that classification. So, I follow up with him via email . . .

(And I do have his permission to share our email conversation, by the way)


Hi, Doctor D –

I really appreciate the extra attention today in your blog! I have been getting a flood of incoming links from it! Thank you!

So . . . I have a question for you . . .

I want to first make it clear that I have no issue with what you said — I don’t want you to change it . . . I’m just curious how you came to conclusion that you did . . . several other people have said the same thing and it always surprises me . . .

Foot Print by Michelle (beau of Martin Chen)

In the post, you describe my abuse as “severe”. Whenever I read that, I am shocked . . . when I think back over what happened, it seems, at most, to be “moderate” — I have a very hard time thinking of it as severe.

It could be because I recognize that most of it came from the best intentions (my parents were doing the best they knew to do and they did it out of love), maybe it is because my sense of “normal” is still skewed, maybe because people with my history typically minimize how bad it was. Now, I understand the sexual stuff was bad, but that only happened a few times, I think. Overall, I’m thinking things weren’t that bad — I mean, I always had a nice house and nice clothes and good food — my parents often said encouraging things — I mean, I had it good, really.

However, several people have described it as “severe” after reading my blog — and I have kept my descriptions of what happened fairly sterile — so, I then wonder if it really was severe and I just haven’t allowed myself to see it that way.

Anyway, I was wondering if you could offer a bit of insight as to how you came up with that degree of severity — I think it would help me understand the reality other people see. I’d really appreciate it . . . .

Thank you!
– Marie


Hi Marie,

When I said severe I wasn’t making a judgment about what happened to you as opposed to others. Honestly from what I have read I can’t really say with certainty I know what happened and what didn’t. But what I can see is how deeply and painfully what you experienced has affected you.

Some children are tortured to death–thankfully that didn’t happen to you. I’m not sure that acknowledging that other people had it worse makes what happened to you any less bad. It was severe because you suffered greatly and continue to suffer. I think it is the continuation of the suffering that particularly points to the severity of what was done to you.

Every person is different in how painful experienced effect him. A man I knew in college was genuinely one of the happiest, most contented, and well balanced people I knew. Only after I had known him a couple years did he let me know that he had watched his entire family be murdered when he was a young teen. Of course, he grieved them and misses them, but his daily life is not haunted by the thing that happened to him the way that your life is haunted by what was done to you. I’m not saying one of you handled trauma better or worse it just effected you differently. One passenger may walk away unscratched from the same car wreck that killed another person.

I hope that makes sense.

Good to hear from you. Talk to you later.

– Doctor D


Hi, Doctor D –

Ah . . . I really “get” your answer . . . and it makes perfect sense to me . . . . and your wording was very gentle . . .

I have often wondered if I was impacted more than most would have been because I seem to be very spiritually/emotionally aware. For example, I feel other people’s (and animals’) emotions as if they are my own — I can’t handle funerals, even if I’m not close to the person who died or the family — I feel the collective grief and I end up in the bathroom sobbing uncontrollably. And, I have a long history of paranormal experiences (seeing beings from another dimension, premonitions about future events, etc.) Even with complete strangers, I can easily read the “color of their hearts”, which has a lot to do with their intentions in the short-term and over the long-term. I think I’m pretty sensitive in my spirit.

So . . . what you said gives credence to what I have been thinking . . . it “clicked” for me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me!

– Marie


  1. Hi Marie,

    Perhaps those who cliassify it as severe are comparing it to those who weren’t abused and had more ‘normal’ experiences. Rather than comparing degrees of abuse.

    I also agree with Doc D people respond in different ways to similar events.

    • Hey, Evan –

      You could very well have a good point . . . I guess it is all relative.

      Thank you!

      – Marie

  2. I’ve often thought the same about what I experienced Marie. That it was no big deal…mostly I think because my family and community made it out to be my fault. It has been tough to identify what happened to me as abuse since it was dismissed as though “oh well”.

    On the why some do better than others with trauma…I think that when we are violated and are not allowed to develop a sense of self or self empowerment that this leaves us feeling more susceptible to trauma and life in general. We just don’t have the inner resources to cope and easily become overwhelmed…and hyper sensitive to the pain of others around us.

    In other words – would we be able to be less affected if the trauma experience was not also the experience that defined us as persons and beings? I have no evidence to this but this idea seems to be a common denominator in the abilities of some to “bounce back” and not be so affected as your doctors note describes.

    • Hey, Susan –

      I agree with the “oh, it’s no big deal” thing . . . it was considered normal in our religious culture . . . and I would have been a bad child to balk against the discipline. So, of course, I still feel that, if I were a good person, I would now be grateful for the discipline I received.

      I also agree that those earlier experiences have set me up for a lifetime pattern of choosing similar treatment from others. That is something I’m really struggling to now change.

      Thank you for your input!

      – Marie

  3. A great deal of how a child processes trauma has to do with the child’s own personality — two children can experience the same thing with vastly different results. Introverts process very differently from extroverts; people who are naturally intuitive process differently from those who are sensory-oriented, and so on. Studies have shown that the factual “severity” of abuse is less a factor than is the child’s own personality.

    And this is why it tends to be more useful to focus on looking at the result, rather than at the trauma itself. If the result occurred, then the trauma was severe enough to cause it, regardless of what the trauma was, or was not, in factual terms.

    • Hey, David –

      I like the practical way you look at this (if damage occured, the trauma was severe enough . . . ).

      I guess it isn’t really important how severe it was or was not on a general scale . . . what matters is that I deal with whatever it is I need to address.

      Thank you for your thoughts!

      – Marie

  4. I still don’t like it when people say “severe”. I don’t know why… it sounds like it’s harder to overcome.

    • Hi, Paul –

      Good point . . .

      I was told over and over, while growing up, to stop being so overly dramatic. So, now, I struggle to allow myself to be dramatic enough in the healing process to make progress.

      I have this continuous conversation with myself that it really wasn’t that bad and that I am just looking for attention.

      Logically, I know that is not true . . . but, I’m struggling with it.

      Thanks for your input!

      – Marie

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