We tend to have little sympathy for Humpty Dumpty. What was he doing on that wall, anyway? Surely, he must have known how fragile and ungainly he was.
No one is certain of the origin of the nursery rhyme. Some have speculated that Humpty Dumpty may have been a parody of the evil (and humpbacked) King Richard III. Other possibilities have been put forward.
Whatever his origins, Humpty has found himself in a number of literary works, among them Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll and Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce.
Abuse victims have a surprising amount in common with Humpty Dumpty. Our lives, like Humpty’s, were shattered by traumatic events. And we, too, may find ourselves in strange places.
The human mind is amazingly resilient. When subjected to severe trauma it may involuntarily disconnect or dissociate from reality. Many abuse victims describe this as “going away” – somewhere far from the pain, somewhere the abuser could not reach us. Victims speak of leaving their bodies, watching events involving themselves from above or from a distance.
A defense mechanism, dissociation is protective, in the short term. It can shield us from intolerably painful experiences.
Depending on the severity of our abuse, however, awareness, memory, and identity may be disrupted . In extreme cases, alternate personalities (“alters”) can develop. These may assume different physical and vocal mannerisms, even different ages, sexes, and races from one another. They may or may not be aware of one another’s existence.
Once known as multiple personality disorder, the problem is today called dissociative identity disorder . A controversial diagnosis, dissociative identity disorder is far less lurid – but far more distressing – than movie portrayals would suggest. Continuity is interrupted. Education and work history become fragmented. Forming and sustaining relationships can be difficult.
The “benefit” of dissociative identity disorder is that it allows victims to exhibit strengths and characteristics they might not otherwise recognize themselves as possessing. One alter may be assertive; another, flirtatious.
Dissociative disorders (which include amnesia and depersonalization) are treated with talk therapy and medication. Many sufferers develop coping skills enabling them to lead productive lives.
Like Humpty Dumpty’s, there is no putting our lives back together again, after abuse – not as they once were or, at any rate, might have been. But we are not as fragile as Humpty was. One way or the other, we survived the fall.
The challenge for abuse victims now is to make omelets out of our broken eggs.
 Mayo Clinic, “Dissociative Disorders”, 3/26/14, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dissociative-disorders/basics/definition/con-20031012.
 Web MD, “Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)”, http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder.
Have a great 4th of July!
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