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A childhood sexual abuse survivor who has been sorting out her abusive relationships and dealing wit

05 Jul
A childhood sexual abuse survivor who has been sorting out her abusive relationships and dealing with her PTSD, has come upon a stumbling block - her negative connection (or disconnection) with her body

I''ve been fortunate to have used your guided imagry tape for PTSD over the last few years. It was one of the few things that seemed to bring a measure of help/hope to overcome many years of surviving abuse.

During the last few years of dealing with my PTSD, sorting out incidents of rape and childhood molestation, and other abusive relationships, I''ve come to one more (?) stumbling block. It''s about the lifelong sense of my physical self that is pretty negative, and frankly, very much detached.

In short, I''ve spent most of my life living in my head, the one safe place I had. Now, at age 56, I find myself rather beset with physical issues connected to weight gain (due to antidepressents and other meds). I bought the imagery for weight loss three years ago, trying to find a foothold to deal with this. I stumbled hard over the notion that my body is my oldest and dearest friend. [Ed. Note: this is one of the metaphors in the narrative.]

That, for me, is simply not true. My body has been this mystery of betrayal and disappointment. Even as a child, as a teen, and an adult my body was often a frustration of feeling hopelessly out of control.

I look back at years of photos to see a younger woman who was atractive, and others still seem shocked when I confide that I still feel disconnected from my body.

My daughter has often suggested I learn how to love my body the way it is, but it brings a clenched pit in my stomach to even consider it. I can accept, however, that my reactions are very normal for a rape and molestation survivor.

I am wondering if you have ever considered preparing help for those of us who have lifelong struggles with finding a way to love and like our physical selves? I suspect I''m not alone as a person who has other needs than what have been addressed so far. Thanks for considering my suggestion, L.J.

Dear L.J.,
Yes, this is a fairly common set of feelings with people who have been through what you have been - a sense of detachment from the body or even a disaffection for it. I’m sorry the spoken reference to the body as your oldest friend and steadiest companion was just so far off the mark that it interrupted your whole, relaxed, listening process. That can happen when what is being said is just too far from the truth, and it’s a calculated risk I took, to put something like that in there. I do it because for some, although it’s a foreign notion, it’s an intriguing one, surprising but one that they can begin to entertain and take in. I hear that reaction a lot too - that it’s a revelation of an idea. But it makes totally sense to me that for you at this time, it was just too far from the reality for you to be able to use. Sorry!

What might help is for you to work with a gentle, trustworthy body worker - sort of like the role Laura Chapman took with my client, Frannie, in my book, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal.

Laura worked with Frannie on the massage table, doing gentle energy work, (Frannie had all her clothes on, by the way) breathing exercises, imagery and simple touch. It was very helpful in re-introducing Frannie to her body and getting her acquainted with it again. The gentle touch and sense of energy moving within her possibly did more for her than months of talking and cogitating about it. The energy work allowed her to focus her awareness on the inside of her body and start to sort out the various sensations inside. At the same time, it was not demanding or uncomfortable, and not sexual at all - just some gentle, nurturing exercises. It was just the ticket.

Some gentle movement, exercise, yoga or qigong could help a lot too. There is a lot of imagery that could help too - if you don’t like the weight loss, there’s always the Relieve Stress or the Relaxation & Wellness, that will serve some of that same function of helping you get your awareness back into your own body.

Right now we have no plans to make the imagery you suggest - too many others in the queue ahead of it - but it will go on the list! Thanks for the idea. One set of imagery exercises that might be just the ticket for you, however, is Peter Levine’s Sexual Healing CD set - it has 4 exercises on it that deal with the trauma of childhood abuse, and he addresses these issues you write about. It’s very good.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award