Why The Courage to Heal Isn't on My Recommended Reading List
The Courage to Heal is a self-help book – “A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse” - that has enjoyed widespread popularity among both those living with Dissociative Identity Disorder and many of their treatment providers since its first publication in 1988. I first read it six years ago and found it helpful in some ways. But subsequent readings have illuminated for me the book’s biggest flaw: its reckless approach to traumatic memory.
If you are unable to remember any specific instances [of abuse] but still have a feeling that something abusive happened to you, it probably did. - The Courage to Heal, 1st edition
A Hunch Isn't A Traumatic Memory
Thanks in large part to Laura Davis and Ellen Bass, authors of The Courage to Heal, this if-you-suspect-it-happened-then-it-probably-did idea is still circulating among pockets of Dissociative Identity Disorder treatment providers and sufferers. While I respect instinct, referring to hunches as memories is at best absurd and at worst dangerous. There is no scientific data to support something so disturbingly reminiscent of witch hunt logic and in fact, there's plenty of research that speaks to the opposite. The Innocence Project, an organization working to overturn wrongful convictions primarily through DNA testing, reports:
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.
While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.
Traumatic memory is not infallible. I believe it's vital for both those of us living with Dissociative Identity Disorder and our treatment providers to remain aware of that fact.
Let's Not Make Assumptions about Traumatic Memory
As uncomfortable as it is, living with Dissociative Identity Disorder means making peace with a fair amount ambiguity. It's tempting to try and rid ourselves of that discomfort by jumping to conclusions about traumatic memory, which is precisely what I believe The Courage to Heal promotes, purposefully or not. But we owe it to ourselves to exercise more caution than that. Those of us with DID have the capacity to discern our own truth without relying on hunches to do so. And our treatment providers should be able to aid us in that endeavor without minimizing feelings or inflating the facts.
As for the book ... I appreciate the authors' compassionate message to people struggling with their pasts. I just wish they'd delivered that message with more balance, and a healthy respect for the potential ramifications of confusing hunches with memories.
As a reminder, Dissociative Living reflects my own research, experiences, thoughts, and opinions; all of which may differ from yours. You are the authority on your own truth. As such, and as always, I encourage readers to offer their own perspectives.
Gray, H. (2011, March 3). Why The Courage to Heal Isn't on My Recommended Reading List, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 29 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2011/03/why-the-courage-to-heal-isnt-on-my-recommended-reading-list
Author: Holly Gray
I wish more people would have told me this when I was starting the painful journey through abuse, dissociation, and not-quite-clear pieces of memory. I fell into thinking that only one kind of abuse was indicative of a diagnosis with such weight as DID carries. It must be SO traumatic that I couldn't remember any of it. I spent two years having vivid nightmares about the abuse that I must have suffered, and nearly drove myself to a breakdown. Having other friends who fit the "expected" history didn't do much to assuage my paranoia and fear. It wasn't until fairly recently that I started trying to accept that, actually, the past that I *did* remember was more than enough of a reason for my psyche to shatter in this chaotic, protective way. I'm having to come to terms with the fact, for instance, that my chosen sister was horribly physically abused her whole childhood, yet her psyche still remained in tact, and try to find peace enough to stop comparing my past and diagnosis as proof to why I'm weak, worthless, and manipulative... the same this I was told growing up. The threat of physical and sexual harm could, in fact, be just as damaging. The constant "on alert" setting with random acts or violence thrown in, was enough to exhaust my psyche to split. Emotional and mental torture, with some physical abuse, wasn't "nothing" and my psyche's need to fragment wasn't a weakness. It was how I survived and thrived.
I still sometimes convince myself that I'm weak for not having come out on the other side fully intact, but I'm taking it one day at a time.
I rambled quite a bit, but thank you for the post. You said things that I wish I would have believed when I started this journey. DID is scary and traumatized enough without the belief that "more is to come."
"I wish more people would have told me this when I was starting the painful journey through abuse, dissociation, and not-quite-clear pieces of memory."
Me too. Unfortunately what I heard in the beginning was a whole lot of misinformation about memory. While I don't count Bass and Davis as entirely responsible for that, I believe The Courage to Heal played a very large role in spreading false ideas about memory.
"The constant “on alert” setting with random acts or violence thrown in, was enough to exhaust my psyche to split. Emotional and mental torture, with some physical abuse, wasn’t “nothing” and my psyche’s need to fragment wasn’t a weakness."
Yes and yes. There are a whole lot of factors that come together to foster the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Trauma is just one of them.
"DID is scary and traumatized enough without the belief that “more is to come.”"
I agree. And there may very well be more to come ... but I'm not going to live my life from that perspective. I've got enough to contend with without worrying about what I don't know. If I need to know something, I have faith that I will when the time is right.