Shattering and Dissociation (Miss America by Day Re-Read-13: Chapter 2 – The Night Child)

(The following is the 13th in a series of posts related to my re-reading of Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayal and Unconditional Love, by Marilyn Van Derbur.)

Ms. Van Derbur begins the second chapter of Miss America By Day by describing her father’s abuse in detail and the effects that it had on her in passages such as the following:

He pried me open night after night, lacerating my mind, my body and my soul. Like a delicate piece of crystal smashed into concrete, my father took my belief system, my sense of self, my very soul and shattered it into shards.

Such body- and soul-shattering effects of child sexual abuse are, based on my own experience as well as the experiences of a number of other survivors I’ve known personally or read about, commonly shared by child sexual abuse survivors.

Something else often shared by children being sexually abused is the defensive response of dissociating the abuse experiences from the rest of their lives. Ms. Van Derbur describes this in terms of a “night child,” who experienced the abuse her father inflicted upon her in her bedroom at night, and a “day child,” who led a normal life during the day and had no memory whatsoever that any abuse was occurring. As Ms. Van Derbur says,

In order to survive, my mind created another separate self to stay [in her bedroom] and endure the invasions of my body.

As described in my ebook, Preludes, my mind utilized the same survival strategy by protecting me from all memories, when I was going through my normal daily and evening routines, of what my father was doing to me when he would come to my bed in the middle of the night:

In the daytime the boy did not remember what happened at night. Even at night . . . as . . . he would make his way, despairing, from bed to bathtub, he would begin to forget what he’d seen when he opened his eyes and lifted his hand to look down his body at what his father was doing to him . . . .

For anyone familiar, personally or through reading accounts by survivors of their abuse, with the psychological dynamics of child sexual abuse, it’s not at all difficult to imagine an abused child’s mind utilizing dissociation as the best possible stop-gap solution to the overwhelming onslaught of their abuse experience.

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