Safety of intellectualisation

Please note: This entry may trigger due to talk of sexual abuse.  When reading this, also consider that our point in the healing journey is still firmly in the intellectual, and it is one of our more unemotional ones writing this.

Reflecting upon my abuse, I can see how such an ‘‘unpopular topic’’ as child sex abuse can be influenced by the discourse of scholars and ‘‘experts’’ who attempt to categorize sexual abuse in terms of severity, based on levels of intrusion, duration, trauma, and the relationship between the victim and the offender (Kemp, 1984). From this ‘‘abuse degree perspective,’’ one can rationalize that my abuse wasn’t all that bad. After all, look at how horrible other people had it compared to you. In fact, you should be thankful, for the trauma could have been a great deal worse. In the words of Rambo-Ronai (1995), I begrudge this clinical analysis and, as many of my friends and acquaintances would attest, ‘‘resent the idea that my situation was in any way fortunate.’’ Indeed, the problem with this quantification of abuse is that it sounds strangely like my mother’s denial of these events. I wonder if any abuse-crisis counselor would rationalize physical abuse by stating ‘‘It’s really not all that bad, you can’t see the bruise, and you can still walk, and you didn’t get a broken neck. I wouldn’t worry about it. It will be gone in a week.’’

(Harvey Lemelin, 2006, pp. 342-343)

This quote  speaks volumes to me.  I’m so caught up in trying to learn the mental health system and how it operates that it’s easy to get lost in the labels, diagnoses, degrees of severity etc.  I know I do this to try and gain a sense of control over something that has a huge influence on my life.  Because of this desire for control (and therefore a layer of safety), I learn the language they use and what questions they ask in the assessments.  But what does this do apart from perpetuate the intellectualisation of my experiences?

I do find that some of the language has helped to describe my experiences and demystified many things that feel incredibly crazy.  But I also buy into that intellectualisation because of the barrier it provides to the horror it describes.  As an example, we regularly experience derealisation.  That sentence is easy for many mental health professionals to understand.  But it only touches the surface of that experience.  It is much harder to describe the feeling where your perception of the world shifts so that you are now looking at three movie screens; where the world suddenly appears brighter or more blurred; that feeling as if nothing is real or here and you are not part of anything.  We’ve spent over 5 minutes explaining our derealisation experiences to assessing psychiatrists, it’s much easier to just say that one line.  It makes it feel plausible, acceptable and real.

I constantly struggle with understanding our abuse.  We constantly play mind games with ourselves in an attempt to deny, minimise or prove that it didn’t occur.  Then we’re caught in a flashback or a memory “leaks” into our common awareness and we’re thrown into chaos.  We learned very early that emotions didn’t do you any favours – they were met with hostility, scorn or ignored.  Because of this, we’ve relied on the intellectual.  This is not to say that we’re incredibly intelligent, but rather there are very few of us who feel emotions.  We realise that we need to move beyond that façade of intellectualisation in order to be able to heal, but that also means moving into the abyss of emotions.

I’m not sure when we’ll be ready to take this step.  It will mean altering the way we look at the world and how we cope within it.  It will mean breaking down or modifying all of our coping mechanisms.  What is become obvious over the last few months is that we’re slowly starting to move back to the place we were about 6 years ago – incredibly high-functioning, high achieving and in the depths of denial.  We’re torn between wanting to find a therapist who can help us heal, and continuing down the road of denial and suppression.  While the mother was here she mentioned that we’re very withdrawn from everything, it’s a very easy and comfortable place to be in.  Realistically, I’m not sure we can stay there for long.

Reference:

Harvey Lemelin, R. (2006). Running to stand still: The story of a victim, a survivor, a wounded healer, a narrative of male sexual abuse from the inside. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 11(4), 337-350. Retrieved June 9, 2009, doi:10.1080/15325020600663128

Unfortunately, the article is only available through subscription or purchase.

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10 Responses to “Safety of intellectualisation”


  1. 1 lostshadowchild June 13, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Meanwhile, I know that I’m since 3 years the host for our internal system. It was necessary because for the first time we had a partnership and I’m the only one, which is relationshipable and has some feelings and emotions.
    Unfortunately, that had as effect that today, we are not as highly function as before. But this also had some other reasons.
    Nevertheless,I’m still very grateful for it, because it has contributed with to the fact that we know today more about our abuse and are working hard to solve us from our abusers, which have determined our whole past and present life.
    I understand your fear. But I think real healing isn’t possible without the emotions.
    Take care, and many hugs to those who wants them (((())))

    • 2 castorgirl June 15, 2009 at 8:46 pm

      It sounds like you’ve taken huge steps in your healing over the last few years – good on you! That takes strength and courage…

      Take care with (((warm safe hugs))) to those who want them :)
      B

  2. 3 fromthesamesky June 14, 2009 at 12:01 am

    I guess all defence mechanisms have an important function, and it’s not wise to throw them away before you have alternative methods of coping with what they are defending against. Thankyou for a wise and insightful post (and LOVE the quote!)

    • 4 castorgirl June 15, 2009 at 8:51 pm

      It’s a great quote isn’t it…

      We’re working on broadening our coping skills, it takes time and patience to bring them into daily life. Sometimes we’re not good at patience :)

  3. 5 Ivory June 14, 2009 at 4:05 am

    I used to get hung up on not understanding my abuse. I’d practically wail to Mr.S that I just didn’t understand how someone could do those things. finally one day, he said, “You will never understand, I wish you could learn to accept that it happens, or just let it go, but you will never understand it.”

    That took me by surprise. I asked for clarification and his response was, “You are not capable of doing those things, so you are also incapable of understanding them.” Since then, I have been able to go back to those words and loosen the grip of frustration a bit.

    I hope your journey thru the emotional turmoil of abuse is a swift and fruitful one.

    • 6 castorgirl June 15, 2009 at 8:54 pm

      Mr S. sounds like a sympathetic and caring therapist…

      I can see how those things happened – but only to other people, not to us. It makes no sense when a perfect childhood is so vivid within our internal landscape.

      Take care
      B

  4. 7 mindparts June 14, 2009 at 6:32 am

    Great post. I have read many times that intellectualizing is a stage in healing. It’s not that it’s bad. It can be helpful. You can use it as a foundation. Intellectual knowing is necessary. But, yes, there is a place beyond that where more healing comes. And that’s emotional knowing. You will get there. Maybe try not to worry about where you are so much (I know easy for me to say). Maybe accept where you are at and that you are trying as hard as you can, which you are. Paul.

    • 8 castorgirl June 15, 2009 at 9:09 pm

      We’ve used intellectualisation as a denial and suppression tactic for so long, that we’re a little scared of filling up the cracks in the concrete and going on as if it never happened. In keeping with this fear, Sophie (our most gentle and emotive one) has only been present sporadically over the last few weeks. She’s usually present for part of the day at work and keeps us up to date with the online social networks we’re part of.

      Just one day at a time right?

      Take care
      B

  5. 9 kerro June 17, 2009 at 1:16 am

    Castorgirl, your story rings true. I am (or was) an intellectualiser as well. I started emotionalising (if that’s a word) some months ago and, boy, what a mess! I really should have taken my T’s and The Same Sky’s advice and built my repertoire of coping mechanisms first. But… having said that, I’m glad I did. My healing journey has moved forwards (inch by inch) since then. Good luck. Hang in there. But don’t push it. Do take it one day at a time. Kerro

  6. 10 The Intellectual Alter June 17, 2009 at 2:40 am

    @ kerro – yes, I agree with you. The discovery of an unknown ability by someone who never “felt” anything… really does deserve a new word (emotionalising) and some kind of internal dictionary explaining to the “feeling” alters that it means in my language what they probably mean by the word “feeling”. Great! (oh , I feel)


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