When I said that The Courage to Heal isn’t on my recommended reading list, I thought I knew precisely why I felt that way. Written for survivors of child sexual abuse and popular among people with dissociative identity disorder, the book seems to assume that the reader has repressed memories, even going so far as to say in its first edition, “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.” That quote felt deeply problematic to me, but in hindsight, I see that I didn’t fully understand why. Now I do: it’s unintentionally reminiscent of the mind-bending child sexual abuser logic that helped cultivate my dissociative identity disorder.
Dissociative Identity Disorder Develops in a Deceitful Environment
Trauma alone doesn’t cause dissociative identity disorder (DID). DID develops in an environment of deceit and manipulation that helps foster distance between what is true (e.g. being raped by a parent) and what we wish were true (e.g. being protected by a parent). My father managed to get away with his abusive behavior, in part, by constructing his own version of reality and then manipulating anyone he could into believing his reality was the only reality. In this way, he’s a typical child sexual abuser.
The National District Attorney’s Association Bulletin reported a revealing study that was conducted on group of destructive men: child sexual abusers. The researcher asked each man whether he, himself, had been sexually victimized as a child. A hefty 67% of the subjects said yes. However, the researcher then informed the men that he was going to hook them up to a lie-detector test and ask them the same questions again. Affirmative answers suddenly dropped to only 2%. In other words, abusers of all varieties tend to realize the mileage they can get out of saying, “I’m abusive because the same thing was done to me.” – Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
Abusive people have so successfully convinced others that they are the victims and the real victims are crazy that when I disclose that my father is a child sexual abuser, a common attitude is, “Well, he was probably abused, too. Have some empathy.”
“The Courage to Heal” Wasn’t Written for the Child Sexual Abuser
My father defines reality however it suits him, and that’s part of how I ended up with dissociative identity disorder. Consequently, I feel threatened by anything that seems to suggest that the truth is whatever you want it to be. So it helps to remember that this book’s intended audience isn’t the child sexual abuser. It’s meant for their victims – people who have had their experiences denied and minimized so often that they’ve lost touch with their own histories, believing that what happened to them was a series of bad dreams or shameful fantasies that refuse to go away. For those people, I believe The Courage to Heal can be extremely useful and I freely recommend it.