Detachment was what I did in order to survive the abuse in my childhood. It was my handy, trusted source of escape. Eventually it became a automatic response to anything too difficult to bear. As a result of my mother’s daily abuse it became a much ingrained pattern I depended on to make it through each day. It was not safe to have emotions, not at home or at school or even with my Dad who I suspect I was always trying to protect. At home, my anger was met with fury; my tears were met with further intimidation and so I tucked them away so far down that when it came time to unearth them, I couldn’t find them.
My detachment from the sexual abuse in my childhood, was so deeply ingrained that no matter how hard I tried, I could not connect with my emotions. I could talk about being molested without a hint of emotion displayed in my voice or in my eyes. I never hid it and pretty much anyone who knew me, knew about it. I could reveal it; as if I were merely talking about something I did one summer. Out of my mouth tumbled the words that would so often leave the listener speechless; “I was molested by several men when I was a kid”. No one ever knew what to say and I took pride in telling the tale. Perhaps this was my way of keeping it at a distance, putting it out there- away from me- outside of me.
It was difficult connecting to any pain associated with the sexual abuse because it was not only painless physically; it actually felt good at times. Once the act was over, I did not crawl into a corner and sob over what was done to me. I did not understand what was done to me or how terrible it was. I could not foresee the damage it would cause and how it would alter me forever and so I remained detached as it was happening and beyond. Even when I was old enough to understand, the emotions continued to escape me. I chose to leave my body to save myself from the horror and now after all these years it became my way of life.
This original detachment stayed with me and when I looked back to recover the emotions and pain I knew existed within me, I felt empty. In therapy I discovered how deep my detachment was. No matter how much I talked about it, I could not touch my sorrow. Six years of therapy and I could not shed a tear for the sexual violations I experienced as a child. No matter how many times I saw it in my mind’s eye, I could not experience it emotionally. Intellectually I knew how heavy it was and yet I could not feel the weight of my words, the weight of its true devastation.
I wanted to feel the anger, I wanted to cry. Intellectually I believed that I should have those emotions and until I did, I would not be “normal”. I thought, shouldn’t I be outraged for that little girl? Shouldn’t I be banging, breaking something, releasing my resentment and indignation? Where were all these emotions? I felt guilty, abnormal for not having what I thought were normal responses. The truth was that my reaction was very normal for a child under such duress. I had to disconnect myself from it because it was so odd, confusing, strange and scary. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings and so I buried them.
I became very skilled at removing myself emotionally whenever I perceived a threat to my emotional wellbeing. In my teens, when I had sex with men I barely knew, I detached. When I saw myself gaining weight, I detached. When my husband was unfaithful, I detached. Even smaller conflicts with family, caused me to go further inward. I just wouldn’t feel for them, I just wouldn’t love them as much. This way they couldn’t hurt me. Any time I perceived that they were hurting me, mistreating me, disrespecting me, I would withdraw internally that loving trusting part of myself and isolate myself physically as well. It was a habit I used throughout my life; any time my mind perceived something as too painful. It was a part of me from such an early age that I could not even see that I was doing it. It was quiet and subtle. I could press the off button in a snap and remove myself.
In the end, it was my detachment which was not allowing me to heal. Instead it was allowing me to get away with minimizing the abuse, saying, “it was not so bad”, “others have had it worse”. It was filtering into my relationships with people I loved and most of all the almost nonexistent relationship I had with myself. I could not connect with who I saw in the mirror. I felt disconnected from my body, like it was someone else’s body. I did not know what it was like to nurture myself, love myself, care for myself physically, emotionally or mentally. I didn’t even know who I was. I could not really see myself for the gentle and loving spirit that I was. No matter how hard I tried, I could not find love for myself. Detachment allowed me to commit perhaps the worst crime against myself; denying myself the love and joy of who I really was.
How do you detach?
How do you know when you are detached?
What do you fear will happen if you allow yourself to feel?
What is your detachment keeping you from? What could you have if you allowed yourself to feel again?