Humpty Dumpty

Illustration of Humpty Dumpty from “Denslow’s Mother Goose” by William Wallace Denslow, Source (Literary Work – Author’s Life plus 70 years, PD)

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 [1].  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 [2]. 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.

[1]  Mayo Clinic, “Dissociative Disorders”, 3/26/14,

[2]  Web MD, “Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)”,

Have a great 4th of July!



Filed under Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

29 responses to “Humpty Dumpty

  1. lynettedavis

    I like the analogy of Humpty Dumpty with abuse victims. We are very resilient although the abuse does take its toll on us. Side note: Is it just me or does Humpty Dumpty’s fall sound like suicide? Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

  2. lynettedavis

    Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

  3. Thank you for posting this.

  4. Great post, Anna–and I understood what you wrote. Nonetheless I have a strong emotional reaction to the word “resilient”–not to you, Anna, or what you say here about it; but, a strong audio-visual memory surfaces of my mother declaring that “kids are resilient”. The context was likely in regard to our repeated relocations around the country–with no explanations given–one day we would simply be told to pack up our bedrooms for “the move”… I heard my mom utter that phrase about resiliency many times during my life with her, and to me it sounded like a too-convenient way of abdicating any responsibility for checking in and communicating with offspring, children who badly needed reassurance and assistance to adapt to significant changes. Whether the change was illness/death of a family member, or being uprooted once again and facing another new neighborhood/school/”friends”–we were just little soldiers, small adults, “resilient”; not allowed to express any feelings whatsoever–certainly not fear, resentment or confusion. Questions or complaining were punished–the sting of being judged “ungrateful” was a common response. So yes, if having survived to write comments in a box makes me resilient, truly I am. But the cumulative mental/emotional instability which resulted in a past littered with failed college, failed employment and failed relationships is an indicator, then I’m not so sure.

    When we arrived at the new home where I would begin my 3 yrs of high school, I recall carrying in a box and with sincerest optimism saying, “I think I’m going to like it here”. I’ll never forget my father’s face, much less his harsh tone of voice as he replied, “Well, I wish you’d try!!” The implication was clear: I hadn’t tried very hard up to then, and I needed to make a concerted effort toward insuring that his job as parent was easier.

    Sorry for going on and on…my parents are long gone and the pain is still raw.

    • How distressing, Shadeau. I can only guess what prompted your parents to move so often. But I can well understand how difficult the many moves must have been for you. I am sorry to have triggered such a painful memory.

      That you survived to write comments in a box may not seem like much to you. In my mind though, it does make you resilient. You are the heroine of your own life — someone still capable of caring about others, despite all you went through. That alone is astonishing.

      Failed college, failed employment, and failed relationships are evidence of the emotional abuse you endured. They are not reflections on your strength. That is reflected in the fact you can get up in the morning. It is reflected in your poetry and in your faith. ❤ ❤ ❤

      • Oh my, how your words act as balm and encouragement–thank you, Anna! I will be ‘meditating’ on “you are the heroine of your own life”–WOW, how that ministers to me today. You are truly a blessing, and I’m so glad we could meet on the blogs. (As to the reason for all the moves in my early life–on the surface, I’d say it was dad’s job changes–but I suspect there was much more that’s been relegated to “mysteries I’ll never have answers for”. After leaving home, I continued the nomadic lifestyle–but 19 yrs ago God set me in the place where I now live. I hope He moves me to some place better–a less oppressive atmosphere–but man, have I done some growing here! I think He is fast-tracking me in my faith–and I LOVE it!) Thanks for letting me share so much 🙂

      • I’m glad to be of some small help, Shadeau. We all need to unburden, from time to time. The weight of abuse is too heavy for us to carry alone.

      • It is–and I am more inspired than ever to keep this blog going, and encourage others 🙂 The guest speaker at church was David Roever, a Vietnam vet who was badly scarred, physically, and miraculously survived. He answered a question all survivors of abuse ask, after they’re settled that God didn’t author/send their abuse– “Then, why didn’t He intervene?” Mr Roever says that God didn’t prevent him being so badly burned and scarred–“because God knew He could trust Dave with the scars”. Dave’s been ministering to wounded vets since 1969.

        To think that God trusted me to begin living a purposed life at age 59 (2011)–scars and all–is very empowering 🙂

      • Glad to know you’re empowered! Joni Eareckson Tada, an Evangelical author and radio host who is quadriplegic, talks and writes about this, as well. It is only natural for abuse victims to question God’s purpose, even His existence. But God can use us for good at any stage of our lives. ❤

      • Glad to know you’re empowered! 😉 Joni Eareckson Tada, an Evangelical author and radio host who is quadriplegic, speaks and writes about this, as well. It is natural for abuse victims to question God’s purpose, even His existence. But God can use us for good at any age. It may, in fact, be our scars that serve to encourage others.

      • Yes, I’m familiar with Joni–she’s been a role model for many! And I think you’re so right, Anna-our scars serve God and others, giving them great value to be honored 🙂 God bless you again and again, always.

  5. jacky

    Of all the nursery rhymes I remember it is ‘little red riding hood’ and ‘humpty dumpty’. It would be interesting to know where it originated from but I too like the analogy with abuse victims. I thank God that my King Jesus is putting the pieces back together again but it is not in the way Anna that I thought. I love your analogy about the omlette! I love omlettes! I used to go to this cafe where I used to live and I would have omlette every time, they got to know me so well I didn’t need to tell them I liked it ‘well done’. I went to this cafe for therapy, they were all ‘mental disabled’ people who worked there and were not complicated at all, I fitted right in. I still drift off in my mind to this day Anna and socially I am not good, except meeting my daughter. It is the one area that is taking the longest to heal, being around people physically. I cannot have any physical space invaded at all even after all these years. I am learning to understand about DID which I have and still there is not much awareness of how this affects day to day living. I have a housing crisis at the moment and I’m having to go meet a lot of people and open up why I am classed as ‘vulnerable’ and it is very hard indeed, but each time God makes me stronger and also my daughter who is now an adult understands so much more than I realized and is actively supporting me through this. Thank you Anna for bringing this out in the open. jacky xx

    • Thank you for sharing your story with others, Jacky. You were the one who inspired this post, but there are thousands like you. I will pray about your housing crisis. I am so glad to know your daughter is there to provide you emotional support. May God watch over you. ❤

  6. Anna, you are giving us a real education about abuse and how it effects the victim.

  7. The main “benefit” of dissociation is survival. God gave the ability to dissociate in order to save the abuse victim from total insanity and in His time He will bring healing with lots of work and perseverance.

  8. Monochrome nightmares

    “make omelets out of our broken eggs.”
    sums up your post.
    Excellent Anna.

  9. Excellent post. Unfortunately, too many do not realize the devastating effects of abuse on the brain and then do not believe the victim when parts of their story is unclear. Thanks for sharing.

  10. My Dear Anna,

    I particularly like the way You have summed up Your thoughts here as:

    ‘The challenge for abuse victims now is to make omelets out of our broken eggs.’

    As Abuse Victims, Children do take the top place as they cannot understand what has happened, cannot verbalize and get over it, and often remain traumatized for life, often becoming negative themselves.

    Would also like to add to the list of Abuse Victims:

    Adults, victims to daily verbal and physical abuse,

    Just Abandoned, as children or in old age,

    Deprived of Land, Home, jobs, etc, or Denied these same,

    The list is Endless.

    I Congratulate You on Your Tireless Efforts for these. Love and Regards.


  11. The egg analogy is wonderful! Broken eggs are not the end: Once you are broken, you can become an omelette, a fried egg, a poached egg,a boiled egg, a scrambled egg. Brokenness can lead to so many things. Once you realise that you can come together again in another form the possibilities are breathtaking. You can be even better than you were. You may never forget the pain and trauma of being broken, but you do have a choice: you can stay raw and formless, or you can mould yourself into a whole new self. With that new self you can be a writer, a poet, a musician, a pastor, a lawyer … And at the heart of it your brokenness will be the building block, the platform for your most authentic self. We have to thank Anna for handing us the frying pan (metaphorically speaking!)

    • What a fabulous comment! How clever you are! And how apt that I should hand off the frying pan, since I am a miserable cook (LOL).

      But seriously, this post was not intended to make light of abuse or minimize the destructive impact it can have. The aftereffects of abuse may cripple victims or, at very least, keep us from pursuing a cherished dream. However, the new direction abuse dictates can be gratifying in its own right.

      • Thank you so much although I don’t feel clever at all. The frying pan analogy did make me smile to myself because I knew you would get it! Yes of course your post is serious and not meant as a source of amusement. Your final sentence I hope echoes to your devoted readers what I was trying to say in my own way. Eggstraordinary, Anna! 🙂

      • What a fortunate woman I am to have you as a friend, Sam. All this talk of eggs, kind of puts me in the mood for ham. 😉

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