Dealing with pain

QUESTION: Masters, at age 4, I was sexually molested by neighborhood boys. Until the age of 7, I would put myself to sleep with the exact concert memory of what happened. At 7, though, I turned the memory into a fantasy of being captured like a large deer or tiger. Hundreds of men would jeer me and in camp they would stuff all my orifices with food till I grew immensely fat, and then spear me. How did that strange fantasy arise in my 7-yr.-old mind? I was 39 before I knew that I had been assaulted for real. ~Margaret, USA

ANSWER: The human body and mind are very resilient. When trauma occurs and the consciousness is not ready to deal with all the implications, you remember it in a way that you can tolerate. With your limited understanding as a 4-year-old, you knew something was not as it should have been so you relived the incident to try and understand it. When you became 7, you understood that something very wrong had happened to you, so you morphed the incident using things you had witnessed on film and read or been told about, things that were symbolic so it could have happened to you or someone else.

Many of the aspects of the 7-year-old remembrance parallel the story of Hansel and Gretel, along with information on fattening up animals for slaughter. From the beginning, because of what your attackers said, you maintained an air of guilt that you were partially the cause for your discomfort. At seven you wanted to make your memory a fairy tale in order to try to take the fear out of it. Hansel and Gretel is a dark tale about abandonment, cannibalism, and lack of control that fits the way you felt. The abuse made you feel abandoned by your protectors, consumed by the older boys, and totally without control over anything that happened.

Just like belief systems taught to you in your childhood by parents, teachers, and society, scenarios you adopt for protection remain a part of your life until you unearth them and replace them with a new or more complete view of the facts. Some of these coping skills are still buried in your psyche and influence your life from time to time. Don’t let them hide. If you detect any discomfort, stop and go looking for the cause.