Judy Rebick, Early Childhood Trauma, and Telling Our Stories

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If you are Canadian and a Boomer, or a feminist of any nationality, you know the name Judy Rebick.  She has been at the forefront of humanitarian causes since the 1970s, and her fearlessness as an advocate and activist is legendary.  She championed Dr. Henry Morgentaler and Dr. Robert Scott when The Morgentaler Clinic was under assault from extremists in the Right to Life movement.  She also advocated for deaf-culture individuals and agencies and for labour unions threatened by NAFTA.   The author of several books, her new memoir, Heroes in My Head, is a must read for anyone concerned with early childhood trauma, it’s long-term health and relationship effects, and its profound power to unleash the protective genius of a child experiencing assault.

Dissociative Identity Disorder, Dissociation, and the #metoomovement

Judy Rebick’s memoir is a primer on what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, now Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and its function as guardian of a child’s fragile psyche when experiencing the horror of betrayal at the hands of a more powerful person.  In Rebick’s case, this person was her father, the dominant and domineering parent in Judy’s childhood home.  When Judy told her grandmother about what her father was doing to her, her grandmother slapped her face and called her dirty.  This moment in Rebick’s life epitomizes the destructive force of patriarchal belief and practice.  Not only was Judy left to face her abusive father alone, the care-taking women in her life had been conscripted into supporting the father-knows-best culture of the time, a culture in many ways only currently entering its death throes in North American traditional families, thanks to the #metoomovement.

As women come forward with stories of violation, the ubiquitous criticism  used by their detractors is the length of time between the experience of abuse and the accusation of it.  Rebick’s experience of punishment for disclosure is common; dissociation is as well.  The psychic escape from physical and emotional pain through dissociation helps children and adults function – at school, at work, and in social relationships.  Eventually, for people who find support, the building sense of safety creates a metaphoric womb, a nurturing, expanding space in which to re-member – that is, to revisit the scenes of the crimes after years of protective forgetfulness, often in the form of disembodiment – to at last acknowledge through image and sensation the experiences of the body and its guardian emotions, and to tell their truth.  Often, because of fear of the consequences of disclosure, this sense of safety comes decades after the offenses, so that telling earlier is not an option.

The Support to Speak the Truth

While not every violated child or adult develops DID, it is highly likely that most, if not all children dissociate during traumatic violations since this is their only form of protection during these identity-threatening events.  Complicating the matter further is the toxic patriarchal culture in which these violations occur.  Only now, in our deteriorating relationship with traditional media, are girls and women speaking out.  Only now, because of the sheer numbers of women and girls standing together, do traditional media reporters (mostly dominated by privileged white males who have been enculturated to believe in and act on the belief of their superiority) feel compelled to report these stories.

Girls and women who hold accountable powerful men for their criminal actions are changing our culture.  In numbers too great to count, we are ending our long and painful isolation by joining the #metoomovement simply by telling our stories.  Judy Rebick’s memoir is sure to increase women’s sense of safety regarding our ability to tell the truth about our personal experiences of abuse.  We vitally need this sense of safety if we are to affirm and act on our right to speak our truth.

The Healing Power of Telling

Unearthing from our bodies our memories of violation is challenging work.  Many who experience abuse become, like Rebick, champion advocates for the marginalized in our culture, channeling their ferocious sense of indignity into positive actions and careers as teachers, nurses, lawyers, and counselors.  Many find healing in the arts, becoming dancers, painters, writers, athletes, and musicians.  The expressive actions we take, along with the psychological insights we unearth in therapy, become the powerful medicine that makes it possible for us to become present to the painful realization that we have been betrayed on the deepest levels.  The expressive arts help us to not only tell our stories but to shape them into beautiful landmarks for others on similar journeys into renewed trust in themselves and others.

Telling, perhaps more than any other action, is a powerful generator of the healing energy required to make a difference in the world.  Telling ends our isolation, invites witnesses to bless our suffering, and creates the energy we need to rediscover the deep pleasure and meaning of a unique, embodied life.  Telling is self care.  Telling is self love.  Against all odds, when we find a way to speak our truth the violations that have robbed us of the security and joy of life in a trusted and wise body lose their power.  Our emotion-rich homecoming is more often than not a series of unremarkable and vivid sensations.  Quite unexpectedly, we might notice the power and beauty of our hands or feel the strength of our thigh muscles.  We might take a breath and experience the overwhelming joy of pure relief.  We might  begin to sing, to dance, to paint, to engage with the world in more primal and satisfying ways.

Removing the Blocks to Telling with EFT

Fear of retaliation in the form of shaming, physical violence, and isolation prompts us to form the protective habits of silence and stillness, of distraction and compulsion when we are young.  When we are older, a somatic-story- telling intervention such as EFT helps us to move mindfully and lovingly into the arena of terrors our violating experiences have created in our viscera.  Working slowly and reverently, we honour our violations with attention and anoint them with tears; as we do, we  feel the release of tension, of withholding the truth, little-by-little.

Statistics can suggest the number of suffering individuals, but only story-telling can touch our hearts in ways that encourage and nurture the journey into recovery. Others’ stories of healing fill us with hope for and trust in our own healing possibilities, because discovering and telling our stories is the natural progression of healing.  And so we tap . . ., tell . . ., tap . . ., tell more.  By candle light in the early morning, on a break from work, in libraries and coffee shops, tucked in our beds at night, we listen to our visceral eloquence, we sense its rising wisdom, and we welcome the healing energies supporting a new way of being in the world.  As we do, we feel the world shudder with the pleasure of one more reclaimed body, one more open heart, one more shining example of beauty and resilience.

Until next time


Jane Buchan, MA Accredited, Certified Trainer NQT

Jane is an EFT coach, writer, and educator specializing in neutralizing the long-term effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)  as well as the cultural limitations that interfere with our ability to imagine, create, and live the lives we desire.  To engage Jane for individual or group coaching services, AAMET Acredited, Certified Supervision sessions,  and EFT Level One and Two Training for your workplace, call Jane at  (802) 533-9277 or email jane@winterblooms.net .  Visit www.winterblooms.net to learn more about how Jane supports and inspires individuals, groups, and communities.