The article below is a re-release of something I wrote in 2018. I found it too important to bury it in the archives. Shirley
In my research that I have been doing for my book on attachment disorders, I was reminded of a subject I believe I have yet to tackle here on this site. Attachment to the perpetrator sounds like a disorder on its own, but it is the natural consequence of children who are being reared by inattentive, neglectful and downright dangerous caregivers.
It is totally normal for children to bond with the adults in their lives. After all, when we are born we are unable to take care of even our most fundamental needs for our survival. Our human brains are hardwired to seek out the faces and voices of our mother and to coo, cry or whatever we needed to do to get them to respond to our needs.
Sources of Necessities and Terror
I read in Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolks book, The Body Keeps the Score (I highly recommend it by the way) that caregivers who are abusive become both a source to get the necessities for survival terror. He goes on to say that such children grow up not knowing who is safe or to whom they belong. As a result, these children might be overly affectionate with strangers or learn to trust no one.
In my experience, when I was in grade school I sought out adults who would tell me I was a good girl. This included four maids in Tennessee and a very nice janitor here in Illinois. I hung out with my fourth-grade teacher instead of kids my own age when I was a young teen. She was getting on in years, and I loved to sit and listen to her life stories. I didn’t belong at home, so I sought the respect and dignity I needed from strangers.
In my own life, there were two main people in my life who were overtly abusive. Both were relatives, one my mother and the other lived in a nearby town. Remember when I said we are hardwired to seek out mother’s attention to get our needs met? That wasn’t just physical needs, that meant emotional ones as well. However, seeking solace from my mother was a joyless and meaningless exercise full of frustration and broken promises.
All Humans Need Acceptance
Then we must face that our human need for acceptance can take unexpected and dangerous turns. For instance, although my mother was definitely an arid, dry well when it came to meeting any of my needs, there was danger lurking in the shadows for me.
Often, I would choose to spend as much time as I could with the other relative. I chose this even though I knew he was much more violent and unpredictable than my mother. The things he did to my body still resonate today in neck injuries and back injuries that could only have occurred in childhood.
Neither of them was a good choice to get the love and caring I needed, but I was desperate.
What makes us choose to attach to the people who harm us? Why do we find it almost impossible to leave abusive relationships in adulthood? And how do we change this pattern?
In dissociative identity disorder, all three questions are multiplied in the magnitude of their difficulty to solve.
In Childhood We Had No Choice
We were both physically and legally unable to pack our things and move elsewhere. We cannot call a friend, tell them what is happening while weeping, and get picked up to stay with them. When the law does get called in to help us, we are then tossed from foster home to foster home, further disrupting our lives. With DID we are already fragmented, and losing our home situation is heartbreaking, even when it was a horrible existence.
Children have the remarkable capacity to feel love for their adults, even when they are horribly abusive. Add DID into the mix, and this becomes a big problem. Instead of trying to find a solution, get help and maybe escape, we dissociate. Split our head knowledge from our emotions to keep us from feeling the desperation so we don’t have to deal with whatever is happening. We do not have the legal right to leave, so we must choose to stay physically in our homes and be unhappy not by our choice.
In adulthood traumatized folks mirror the behaviors and thoughts we had as kids because we are terrified we will lose what little security we have found. We feel either obligated or terrified of our significant other, so we hang on tooth and nail regardless of how desperate to escape we feel. Dissociative identity disorder again makes a bad situation worse. We automatically call out others from our system to deal with our pain, just like when we were children, only this time we are giving up our adult right to be happy.
How Do We Change These Self-Defeating Patterns?
The first step is to become aware. We need to learn that why we find ourselves trapped in patterns from our pasts, and that they can be changed. Reading articles such as are on my blog, books by doctors like Dr. Van Der Kolk, and talking to other survivors give us an inside track. We learn we are now weird, we are not unusual, and we are not alone.
In tandem with the first step, I would strongly suggest psychotherapy. I know how incredibly hard it is to find a therapist who is willing to work with dissociative disorders, but at least find a trauma specialist. Do your best to bond with them, trust them, and most of all, listen to them. Many trauma therapists are survivors themselves and understand all too well the deep sadness and fear that we live through every day.
Third, I would strongly suggest finding a support group of some type. It can be religious in nature, or a twelve-step group. It can be a survivor’s group or even a DID support group. There many choices as to where to meet these support groups including online or in person events. I found it extremely difficult to find a support group to meet my needs here in the middle of the corn and bean fields of Illinois. So, I looked online and found then joined Ivory Garden a wonderful support group for people who have survived trauma and/or live with the diagnosis of DID, where I found wonderful friendships and people who were like-minded. They helped me to learn to accept myself just as I am and even saw me through my two surgeries after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Another Message from Me to You
I know I harp on this quite a bit, but it is important for you to hear the next few sentences.
You are not alone. You will never be as alone as you once were again. Now that you have found this blog and if you will keep coming back, you will find in me someone who truly cares about you. No strings attached, and at no cost. In fact, I decided not to monetize this site after all. Do I need money? Yes. However, it means more to me that people don’t see my site as a money-grabbing venture where they get nothing for coming to it for help.
You mean that much to me.
“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.” Earl Nightingale