Doubting My Own Abuse History (Again)

I have clear memories of abuse I experienced starting in my teen years. Sometimes I feel sure that I am also aware of experiences that occurred even earlier. Other times, I think the earlier experiences are a figment of my imagination, scary stories I somehow made up to “explain” to myself how I could be so confused, so depressed, and such a sucker for repeated abuse even after I entered adulthood.

If there is one aspect of my years of work in therapy that has tortured me, it has been the way I doubt myself on this topic. It’s torturous because Doubt doesn’t visit me by herself. No, she always comes with Self-Loathing. Only a really disgusting person would think members of her own family would sexually abuse her as a child. What is wrong with me?!?

I first entered therapy in 1995. Yes, that’s right, more than 20 years ago. And in the course of that first therapy, the abuse I’d experienced as a teen rose up and hit me smack in the face. I’d tucked them away and forgotten them almost immediately after they happened, and so when they came up in therapy, I felt all the shock and shame and fear and whatever else I didn’t allow myself to feel at the time.

In the course of working with Hannah, my first therapist all those years ago, she asked whether I had also experienced abuse at the hands of my father. I answered her, no, yes, I think yes, no, I don’t know. Or something to that effect. I felt like the answer was yes. I had foggy images in my brain. But I didn’t have concrete memories. The doubt nearly ate me alive.

I didn’t get to process those memories and mixed emotions very much, however. I was in the process of getting out of an emotionally abusive marriage at the time, so that escape and the care of my very small children had to be my priority. And while I’ve been in and out of therapy at various times over the past two decades, it’s only really over the past three years, with my sons out of the house, that I’ve had time to focus on myself and my healing again.

I think I opened this whole can of worms in my therapy with E starting around the fall of 2014. It’s been a rocky road, to say the least, but I think I’ve made tremendous gains in my ability to love and care for myself, my ability to reject the old shame around what happened to me as a teen or young adult. Those of you who have read along for any length of time know that I have found mindfulness, body work, quitting my job and slowing down my frenetic schedule to all be enormous contributions toward greater emotional stability.

But when it comes to the earliest stuff, I am struggling to make much progress.

You might think that after all these years, if I still can’t believe my own story, I would just give up that story. I’d tell myself, well, you were in a terrible state when you told Hannah no, yes, maybe, I don’t know. You couldn’t think clearly. You were in the midst of a terrible marital crisis. That story seemed like an explanation that made sense at the time, but now it doesn’t feel right. Good thing you never told anyone in your family, right? You don’t have to retract it in front of the world. You can just retract it in therapy, and E will accept that and forgive you.

Some days I go into therapy thinking that is what I am going to do. And yet I never quite do that, either. Some part of me hangs on to the story. Why? Am I too ashamed to say it was a big mistake?

Recently I spent quite a bit of time in therapy trying to focus on emotions. I worry that my inability to cry is an indicator that my heart has solidified into a frozen rock. I worry that I am numb too much of the time. That’s why E and I worked this month to cautiously provoke some emotions related to things that happened to me when I was a teen or a young adult. I have found that very helpful. I still don’t cry, but I think I’m reducing my fear of strong emotions.

This past Monday, when E asked me in session what I wanted to work on, I said that I wanted to continue the emotional work, but with a focus on a different story, something from my younger  years. She thought that could be a good idea, but she also recognized immediately that going back to earlier years could well trigger a visit from Doubt.

“You are right,” I said, “so let’s allow her to come, but make some rules for her.”

And we did. We made them from the point of view of my wise woman self, my grounded true self who works to protect me from the worst criticisms of Doubt or Cynicism or Nagging Self-Criticism. My wise woman self is learning that all these parts may exist inside of me–it’s only natural–but that they don’t get to take over and run wild.

So, the rules for Doubt:

  1. You are allowed to come around. You get to be part of the conversation about what happened in my early life. However, you do not get to dominate the conversation.
  2. When you come around, you don’t get to bring Self-Loathing with you. You need to express yourself in a more neutral tone.
  3. You may raise questions, but you may not derail the healing work.
  4. You will accept that my focus needs to be on my own underlying emotional experience, not on whether there are enough “facts” to make my case in a court of law. I’m not interested in making a case in a court anyway.
  5. I will acknowledge that you probably served a useful self-protective function for me in the past. I want you to acknowledge that I now have a lot of other skills and no longer need you to deny everything for me.

I left Monday’s session with this list of rules and with an assignment. I was to write up a different story that we’d take up later in the week to work on. And in fact, I did my assignment. The only thing is, Doubt didn’t follow the rules. So here I am again, doubting that I have a real story at all.

Here I am, at the same place I was 20-plus years ago. I can’t remember now any more than I could then. There’s nothing there. I am an idiot, banging my head against a concrete wall, as if it’s going to open up and reveal some secrets behind it. 

I’ve definitely spent some time this week berating myself for even trying to tiptoe into this minefield again. Tonight, however, I’m trying to soften that scolding voice a little. Instead of What an idiot I am, how can I even think about this? I can tell myself, How humbling it is to realize that I can make a lot of progress in therapy, and yet a particular topic can trigger all my old negative thinking patterns again. It is incredibly difficult to do this differently. I can tell myself, There are probably kinder ways to work on this painful question. If I can’t do it right now, I can work some more with E to find those kinder ways. I’ve tortured myself enough.

It’s also a good reminder, I think, to be gentle and non-judgmental of others who have a hard time getting past their own “stuck” places. We can work a long time and learn a lot of new skills, but our most tender spots stay sore and reactive and irrational and fearful for a long, long time.

For me, that tender sore spot is called Doubt. She makes me crazy. But the thing is, she may be right.


  1. Oh I really feel the struggle here, poor you having to try and fight against all the different parts of you – doubt and the critic shaming you. It’s so unfair.

    I think a lot of the reason we go between believing our story and doubting it is a mixture of shame and denial. I guess if we can explain away our story or tell ourselves we are being idiots making it up then it didn’t happened, it isn’t true and it didn’t wound us in such an extreme way.

    I often bounce around in thinking “my mum wasn’t THAT bad, have I exaggerated it all to T for pity?” One say I can answer that and say absolutely not, and the next I think yep….

    Keep fighting back against this voice that tries to shame you. If you doubt the actual events, look at your “symptoms” the things you struggle with that are clearly caused from that abuse, that’s what I try to do. When I think I’ve made it all up, I think why am I nearly 3 years into therapy wishing my therapist were my mother and crying when she goes on holiday….

    Sending you love x

    Liked by 1 person

    • For others, I agree that Doubt or Denial creep in to play a protective role, guarding them from the pain of the story. For myself, I don’t feel that. Instead I experience it as the truth. Doubt seems to speak the clear, impeccable truth: “Come on, Q. We both know nothing like that happened.” She’s so believable.

      Yes, so where do all the symptoms come from? The many years in therapy? Must be because I desperately crave attention or am so deeply flawed. These at least are the answers that my psyche has offered up at various times. I recognize the limitations of those answers but I still keep circling back to them. Or at least I appear to be revisiting them this week. If I’m lucky, maybe I won’t stay her too long (?!?).

      Thanks for your encouragement. It does really help to know others go through the same cycles of doubt and denial.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I get so discombobulated at moments like this, and I honesty don’t know what is right. You say you have the same trouble – how do you handle it? What do you tell yourself?


      • I tell myself I’m allowed to believe myself. I wouldn’t be in this state of disarray mentally, spiritually and yes even physically if there wasn’t/isn’t serious trauma. It is indeed the physical symptoms/reactions that points to the problem. That one even has to be there!


  2. Doubt is a curse. It’s hard to hold onto the belief that it DID happen, and it WAS that bad, but really, who would make that shit up? Get out that giant bottle of BELIEF windex and clean off all the dirty smudges of doubt that are obscuring the truth you’ve accepted in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Who would make that shit up? Yes, I’ve asked myself that. But Self-Loathing loves that question. She puffs herself up and says, self-righteously, “Only a very bad person would make that up. An attention-craving narcissist perhaps. A depraved crazy person unable to cope with ‘normal life.’ A quivering, cowardly liar.” It’s so confusing. It’s easy to see SL is excessively cruel, but sometimes Doubt seems to make more sense than Belief.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Something I find myself “testing” a particular thing against the rest of my life. For example I worry that maybe I’m “trying on” the role of victim and “pretending” to myself that I am more hurt than I really am for some unknown reason (so I can be special???) – but then I look at the other times I’ve tried on roles and they just don’t fit, like ‘being religious’ – and it feels different from that, which reassures me that this is real and not just pretending.


  3. I don’t think you’re holding onto the story, I think it’s holding onto you which tells me there’s unfinished business there. This post truly resonated with me. I too go between absolute no doubt those things happened, to complete doubt and and a disbeleif that I could ever have thought that. I have no idea what the answer is to that, except time.
    I like the ground rules, doubt is powerful but she’s there for a reason I guess.

    Liked by 2 people

      • well isn’t that the million dollar question? I think it takes as long as it needs to. Until it is resolved for you I guess?


  4. I connected with this deeply. I struggle with this so much! But no matter what I do to make it go away it just comes back. It’s interesting to me that there are already such a handful of others who are saying they can relate as well. Doesn’t that tell us something? That doubting is normal for this process?! There is strength in numbers. There are a number of people out there who experience this same thing. That should tell us something. We can’t all be crazy and psychotic and searching for pity or attention. There’s a pattern for those of us who are abused or have trauma. I’m starting to see this more and more and I’m starting to believe that maybe I should believe…

    Liked by 2 people

    • “There’s a pattern for those of us who are abused or have trauma…” Yes, I can see this, for everyone else except for me. I know! That sounds crazy right there, doesn’t it? Why should I be any different from others? But that is absolutely how it feels to me. I’m always afraid I’m the one who made things up.


  5. There’s a lot in this entry I can relate to but the one I think I want to respond to the most is here:
    “I worry that my inability to cry is an indicator that my heart has solidified into a frozen rock.”

    Nope. Your inability to cry doesn’t mean your heart is solid rock, it may mean it’s been so often saturated with pain and the expression of it, that it refuses certain expressions. You show emotion other ways. Your writing isn’t just intellectual, it’s emotional. In this entry alone you show insight and you great frustration, enough to symbolically bang your head against the wall.. Self loathing is a feeling. Doubt is a virus with tentacles and the response to it is emotional. Chaotic is an experience that causes anxiety, anxiety is a feeling. So I have to ask, what emotional response other outward emotion other than crying are you stating this heart of stone theory on?

    I’ve seen you reach out in a supportive role for others. That’s caring. Caring is an emotion. Crazy is a belief. It is build on experiences that caused a strong reaction. Your husband going back to work was hard for you. He is needed, for many reasons he’s needed. Need is based on emotion. You know I could go on and on and on but the question is still there – what evidence of this rock hard heart do you have because, I don’t see it.

    I’m a survivor. You know I know you’re thinking to yourself, “she doesn’t really know me” and “if she knew how bad my heart is” or “that I’m genuinely bad” then she’d too understand that my heart is stone. Q, I’m going have to tell ya again, I disagree with all those statements because I know where those messages originate. Let me tell you this. I thought for many, many years I was cold hearted because I refused to give an emotional response to anyone expecting it. However, it took someone important in my life to shut up everyone around me and tell them I am not heartless. …. and now I have to go write an entry. I was so going to try to read today but I’m going to have to punch out this entry about the cold heart I was accused of having. Thank you for your openness and honesty. It really is a help. In many ways your words are helpful.

    Until soon,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Faith, you know what, I can’t really argue with you. I read your response and felt such a surge of warm affection toward you. Affection is an emotion, I can just hear you telling me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Doubt…. Ughhhh, I’m still struggling with it as well. I have moments where I am totally in belief and it all makes sense and I can’t explain it but everything just falls in place and I briefly believe myself. But then I start to feel insanely stupid and none of my story really happened and just like you, I made it up to explain my adult abuse that I know for almost certain really happened.


  7. I can relate to what you wrote. I have felt the doubt and self-loathing also but we have to remember that healing comes when we open up the wounds and expose the source. Our stories may all be different but the wounds of abuse are the same… and need to be healed. God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

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