Herewith is another excerpt from my forthcoming book for survivors, clinicians and caregivers on healing from extreme abuse, PTSD, DID and self-abusive behaviors. It is written by Caryn, survivor and founder of Survivorship. It is a reprint from Survivorship, Volume II, Issue 11:
My name is Caryn Stardancer. I have very strong opinions about Therapeutic Touch, and realize that what I am writing here is an opinion piece, based on my own personal experience. Still, I think this issue is one that is indicative, in some ways, of some of the crucial dynamics that are the seeds of the detachment and depersonalization that can lead, at the far end of the continuum of human relationships, to a parent who is able to emotionally abandon and ritually abuse a child. How far have we come from what is basic, instinctual and most healthy in any relationship that so many can abstractly justify as healing a stance that mandates that one human not touch another who is suffering???
This could be made into a complex discussion, weighing boundaries, dependence, appropriate transference and counter-transference, sexual pathology of the abused, etc. It is not that I think that the gradual introduction of healing touch into a therapeutic relationship will not produce challenging moments .. but the issue is, to my mind, actually a very simple one. Touch can harm, lack of touch can harm, but touch can also heal. Abuse is often abuse of touch. When I went into therapy I knew that touch hurt, that I was afraid of touch, that touch signaled sexual demand. (Fortunately, for me, I had been able to bond with my children due to circumstances that are outside the scope of this article, so I had experienced some positive touching.) It took me 1 ½ years of therapy before I could make eye contact with my therapist for more than a searing moment (although he had me practice every session, for just these barely tolerable moments), and much longer before I could tolerate being hugged (always asked first) without risking suicidal feelings or without my child selves asking repeatedly, “You’re not going to hurt me, right? You’re not going to change your mind? You don’t like to hurt people, right?” etc.
I was incredibly fortunate in having a stable, loving husband that has been an integral part of my therapeutic process for several years. Few survivors are so lucky. Even so, I learned non-sexualized touch in therapy, and was not able to introduce it into my marriage until I learned it from my therapist. Now I am able, through my marriage and through the nurturing friendships I learned to develop (also through therapy) to receive the comfort that is necessary to heal the pain.
The process of recovery is that of entering and re-entering the state of trauma, bringing the agony and loss and grief and fear to the surface so that it can be “worked through”: that is, released, understood, mastered, but also comforted! This re-entry provides a window of opportunity for healing or for revictimization. For a human being to sit by and watch someone reliving excruciating pain without reaching out with the only real thing that we have to offer a situation that cannot be changed, because it has already happened, replicates the trauma and in that sense is revictimizing the survivor. It is also “crazy-making” to be given lip-service that what happened to me did matter, that it should have been cared about, that I should have received, at the very least, opportunity for restorative care, while at the same time the care-provider maintains an artificial boundary that does not allow that caring to reach me. It makes me feel disoriented, unreal, and somehow ‘bad” again for needing something more. Having my hand held, my head caressed, an arm around my shoulder, or to be held and rocked, enabled me to tolerate the full release of overwhelming trauma. It also brought me my first feeling experience of what it meant to be a human that made sense to me. I learned that touch doesn’t have to hurt, that it doesn’t have to be sexual, that it can not only be safe, it can provide safety.
Certainly, being cared for was terrifying and agonizing in itself. It caused me to fully feel just how abandoned I had been, how little I had had, how little I would have required in order not to have shattered. It fully connected me not only with the pain of the abuse itself, but the emotional agony of the neglect and abandonment. Had I not felt that aspect of my abuse, however, I could not have healed those wounds. I could not have grieved my loss, and my parents’ loss, nor would I have learned how to provide for and comfort my inner child, for I would have continued to believe that that loss was negligible, that compared to the “real” losses of those literally sacrificed, my pain had no meaning. It is this very detachment from the reality of the agony of simply not being cared for in our pain that, in part, drives our perpetrators to re-enact the perceived meaningless of their own loss.
I not only brought the expectation of being hurt into my relationship with my therapist, I also brought the expectation of sexualization of that relationship. It was from the actions of my therapist .. that he could hold a child or woman without responding sexually, and in fact could help me learn appropriate touch by modeling it .. that that difficulty was breached.
In the reparenting role there was definitely confusion over what I meant, how much I meant, how being cared for in relationship to the therapeutic dyad compared to my therapist’s personal life and personal relationships, but, as a good parent helps a child to understand that they are loved in spite of siblings, friends, work and lover or mate, and that the differences in those relationships do not preclude the value of what is offered, a therapist can model honest and appropriate caring without taking on the role of actual parent, or best friend, or lover. If the difficulty of disentangling confused attachments is used as an excuse to prevent those difficulties from arising to be worked through and corrected, the therapy has failed to do the job for which it is intended.
This is the work of therapy. Without it, the best that can be hoped for is the creation of a sufficiently controlling self-state to somehow balance the demands of recurring pain with socially more-appropriate displacement coping mechanisms to manage that pain. In order for growth and actual healing to take place, we must be returned to the best that nature has to offer … helping hands, loving hearts, a shoulder to cry on, and the realization that independence is based upon healthy interdependence.