Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

Literary Memoirs as Trauma Narratives

True stories of abusive childhoods help the writer as well as the reader.

Posted Mar 11, 2014

Bonded to the Abuser: An Analysis of Memoirs

In the mental health field, children who have been traumatized are encouraged as part of their therapy to “tell their story” of their abuse. The written or spoken statement of what happened to them and how it made them feel is called the “trauma narrative” because it is told in a story format (i.e., it has a narrative framework). The belief is that when children “tell their story” they gain some control over it because they are externalizing it. They can look it as something that is a part of them but also apart from them. That is, it is not all of them and they can decide how to understand what it means to them. Literary memoirs written by adults who were abused as children are also a form of trauma narratives. The primary differences being that they are better written (hopefully) and there is more distance between the traumatic experiences and the telling (as the author is an adult). Given how many published memoirs there are by children who were abused, it is clear that there is something to be gained both from the telling of the story as well as the reading of it. 

I have recently undertaken the task to read most (if not all) published memoirs (i.e., not self-published) of abused children (physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional abuse, and emotional neglect) in order to analyze them for common themes and elements, especially as they relate to how and why children form and maintain relationships with abusive/neglectful parents. The results of this analysis will be written up in my new book to be called “Bonded to the abuser.” Memoirs I have already read include the following: Unloved and Mean Old Yesterday for physical abuse; The Kiss and Before the Knife for emotional neglect; Change Me Into Zeus’s Daughter, Sickened, House Rules, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here, Who do You Think You Are? and Driving with Dead People for emotional abuse; How to Cook Your Daughter and Ain’t no Mama’s Boy for sexual abuse; Glass Castle for physical neglect. These books are beautifully written, heartbreaking, and poignant accounts of a child’s longing to be loved and seen by a parent who is not capable of fulfilling that most basic desire. Visually, the experience is captured by the abandonment scene in the movie "Artificial Intelligence" in which the mechanical boy David begs of his mother who is about to leave him alone in the forest by saying “If you let me I will be so real for you.”

Please free to suggest additional memoirs for me to read.