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#451174 - 10/24/13 09:30 AM The confusion of chronic abuse
focusedbody Offline

Registered: 02/03/13
Posts: 428
Loc: NY
Below is a book excerpt that touches on some ideas of where things can go wrong between parent and child. It sums up a lot of how I've trudged through my understanding of what happened in my life.

Confusion is so fucking boring, and yet it slowly has become a way of life for me. I find that it takes a lot of effort to simply know how I feel sometimes. Working through it is like walking through a daily labyrinth of walls lined with humiliation. I feel like I don't understand who I am to others.

Unfortunately, covert incest is not graphic enough to spell out to others. If only the dynamics were simple enough, based on clear events. Sadly, it seems that the very relationships that my life was based on had undercurrents of strangely communicated feelings. Nonetheless, when the words are missing, pictures of what happened and where the feelings went help a lot.

Here is the excerpt:

In his long suppressed, extraordinary final paper, “Confusion of Tongues” (Ferenczi, 1933/ 1980), Ferenczi did much more than point to adult sexualization of children, rather than infantile sexuality and fantasy, as a cause of serious psychological damage the child carries into adulthood. Ferenczi went further, identifying the complex, cumulative emotional trauma the child who is neglected and/ or abused experiences in the context of the developmental relationship. He went on to describe how parents project their disavowed guilt (and shame) on to the child; and how resentful they were, no matter how well masked, of the child's dependence on them— because of their own disavowed wishes to be the focus of attention and care. He recognized that such parents dissociatively take advantage of the child's instinctive willingness to “introject” the guilt and shame the parent disavows. The child, Ferenczi understood, does this by becoming self-blaming, self-loathing, and self-sacrificing. He becomes the caretaker of the parent, while dissociating the awareness of his own needs, along with his concomitant grief and rage about feeling abandoned and exploited…. The confusion of tongues Ferenczi observed, when the boundaries differentiating adult passion from childhood tenderness are violated by adult caregivers, is one of the grossest possible examples of parental narcissism. Aside from understanding the profoundly confusing, exciting, humiliating, and terrifying feelings of the child who is sexually abused by an adult, Ferenczi points to another layer of trauma involved in such violations: the utter failure of the parent to recognize who his child actually is and what the child actually needs. Instead, the child is sexualized and told that it is she, the child, who has caused the sexualization. This catastrophic misrecognition and misattribution is an extremely destructive and cruel rejection and betrayal of the actual child— the child whose links to her own subjectivity are being destroyed, and replaced by the projections of the abuser.

I'm curious if this makes sense to anyone else. If not, that's okay too. Like I said, I'm used to feeling confused.

Lose the drama; life is a poem.

#451178 - 10/24/13 12:11 PM Re: The confusion of chronic abuse [Re: focusedbody]
concerned_husky Offline

Registered: 08/29/12
Posts: 699

I've been pretty scarce lately because I feel I'm not "fit" enough to respond on the forums, but I felt compelled to reply to yours.

In a nutshell, yes, it makes sense.

I think your brief description of the nature of the abuse touched on a lot of important, crucial points. I'm glad you verbalized what I was afraid of stating. The subtlety of the abuse, the covert, veiled nature of it all - yes, the mere process of knowing and understanding what happened is immensely complicated, requiring a very wide-ranging conceptual framework, the vocabulary for which was largely not given to us throughout childhood. With more effort and studying, the words gradually come to us - the labeling and the conceptualization of various aspects of the abuse become much easier, yet to internalize such a complicated truth, to stay conscious of it for a long period of time...those are monumental tasks. I think, if I may say such a thing, that the state of confusion is simply a coping mechanism preventing the brain from going into overload because of the sheer intensity of an incredibly complicated and intricate reality. And to touch upon another point you mentioned briefly - "I don't understand who I am to others" - I think that's a manifestation of identity loss, something that our abuse (if I may generalize) conditioned us into doing; if, for one's entire life, one was brought up as a mere "cork-screw" object to fulfill another's needs, and never as a separate, individual entity, one hardly hardly exists. I hope I'm on the right track here.

I just wanted to add a little more perspective. Lately, I've been revisiting more and more eerie memories, and I've started to realize that much of the "undercurrents", as you neatly put it, were the result of non-verbal communication. The more I explore this, the more I'm enriched with the necessary vocabulary to label and conceptualize what was happening. So much of what we communicate to another person is done non-verbally - how we behave, how we speak (intonation, pace, rhythm, coarseness of voice, volume), our facial expressions, our use of our eyes, our posture, body language, our use of physical and emotional space, our use of time (how much we spend on one thing rather than another indirectly demonstrates what our priorities and values are, including human beings), what we speak about, the nature of our utterances (e.g. commands, questions, statements), what we assume when we speak...the list is endless. What all of this has made me conscious of, is that the confusion which you speak of, which I can largely relate to, was the result of a mind-boggling inconsistency between what was verbally (semantically) communicated, and what was non-verbally communicated. In other words, the inconsistency between the literal, semantic meaning of words uttered, and the meaning inferred through the context of past and present non-verbal communication. It is an aspect I'm still exploring, but it has helped me greatly - I hope it may have the same significance for you (assuming you have not already looked into it).

I'll leave it at this for now; I do hope I haven't veered too far off topic. It's decades of plural meanings we're trying to resolve. Confusing, exhausting, and yes, absolutely fucking boring sometimes...but I still have faith in internalizing the truth being possible.

Edited by concerned_husky (10/24/13 01:36 PM)

#451202 - 10/24/13 06:31 PM Re: The confusion of chronic abuse [Re: focusedbody]
Jacob S Offline

Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 617
Loc: where the shadows lie
That is an amazing paragraph and incredibly connected to exactly with what I'm dealing with right this very second. What book is it from?
I come here now, and I see lots of anger.
I don't blame anyone for that. It is perfectly understandable.
But it is not healthy for me.
So I'm going somewhere else.

Goodbye and good healing.

#451227 - 10/24/13 09:34 PM Re: The confusion of chronic abuse [Re: focusedbody]
don64 Offline

Registered: 10/09/13
Posts: 1054
Loc: St. Croix, USVI
Hi focusedbody,

The excerpt is quite simply, me. My damage was done from 0-4. My mother systematically tortured me into submission. I always knew she hated me, even while telling me how much she loved me. I knew she hated all her children. At 64 I am having a very difficult time finding a ME inside. Subjectivity is elusive. I make unhealthy choice after unhealthy choice. At least I am becoming conscious of my unhealthy choices and I do learn. Posts like yours are invaluable in helping me understand myself. I am grateful for MS.


Divine Law is not judgment or denial of self truths. Divine Law is honoring harmony that comes from a peaceful mind, an open heart, a true tongue, a light step, a forgiving nature, and a love of all living creatures. Jamie Sams & David Carson, Medicine Cards

#451261 - 10/25/13 09:53 AM Re: The confusion of chronic abuse [Re: focusedbody]
focusedbody Offline

Registered: 02/03/13
Posts: 428
Loc: NY

You summed it up well: the irony of looking for the simple truth in situations and circumstances that at first present an overwhelming complexity. While I find confusion boring, I also find getting through it makes me truly happy and reminds me of who I am. I can do all kinds of things in a state of confusion, most of which I am not proud of. But then that is the nature of survival.

Yes, the area between verbal and non-verbal is good to explore. Many of the difficult experiences began during stages of development when we didn’t have words. When I do discover something, I like to find words that describe it. It feels important to do that because it helps me recognize when feelings are being “disavowed’, as the passage mentions. These days I want to know who’s feeling what around me. I want to know what I’m feeling and what another person is feeling. It helps me feel safe. Perhaps this is the legacy of the damage. Doing something about it calms me down and helps me get back to the present moment.

I think what caught my eye most of all about the passage was the lack of differentiation between “adult passion” and “childhood tenderness”. Especially now that I have children, I feel the need to make this difference clear but often lack the means. This probably reflects the fact that I was in the midst of adult passion as a child. When I actually think about it, I would say that like confusion, I find tenderness initially boring. It simply has not been on my emotional map. I feel kind of sick inside for saying that. In raising my kids I see the need to have that kind of connection with them and I treasure it whenever it occurs. What it could mean to me personally is still a painful thing to consider.

Thanks for your response. It helps me move some of this along. Please take care of yourself.

Jacob S

The book is called Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation by Daniel Shaw. It's slow-going but full of helpful insights.


The learning process ain’t fun. I feel like I lived outside of any experiences of subjectivity between myself and others for too long. I'm angry for having made myself numb and look forward to making better choices.

As you might gather from my moniker, bodywork has also been part of my process of opening up and letting go. Repressed memories felt in my body ache for recognition, but I have to take it a day at at time and remind myself that healing is possible when the pain and confusion set in.

Thanks for sharing your courage and your journey.


Edited by focusedbody (10/28/13 10:05 AM)
Edit Reason: unnecessary reference
Lose the drama; life is a poem.


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