Psychotherapist Laurie Kahn has daringly taken on the sorrows, anger and fears of women who, like herself, were mistreated as children by those they trusted most: “I got sick like many of my clients become sick. It is a sickness that comes from secrets unspoken…of losing your voice to protect yourself.”
Correlating events in her own life to those of her clients—victims of childhood sexual abuse—Kahn has composed a work that is painful at times to read but extremely important to understand. Her clients were betrayed by their parents, their closest family and those who should have been confidants in time of trouble. She demonstrates that those who have experienced this break in the bonds of love find it nearly impossible to love as adults. One client states that the worst aspect of calling it quits with her current partner will be having to leave the cat, illustrating that those who have been abused find a way of separating out their feelings in order to avoid further vulnerability. One of her consultations was with a woman who was so afraid of interaction that she arrived as late as possible to appointments so she couldn’t be seen and scrutinized in the waiting room. This woman, whose mother had been cold and inattentive and whose father by contrast introduced her to art and literature, suddenly blurted out during a session, “Imagine how special it is to have sex with the person whose sperm created you.” It would take years of therapy before Kahn could make her see that, far from being “special,” she was hurt and exploited by her father.
The stories presented by this experienced counselor may shock those who have never known the kinds of manipulation, ill-treatment and, in some cases, violence that Kahn’s patients were forced to endure when most innocent and susceptible. For those readers, advocacy can emerge as a positive aftereffect, as it did for Kahn, who states that she had not originally intended to include her story in this book but did so
(the reader will doubtless agree, courageously) in order to inspire.
For readers who have been through what Kahn and her clients describe, there may be revelations, some form of closure, in identifying with others who have endured the same plight. Kahn writes empathetically about her patients while recalling her means of dealing with the sexual misbehavior in her own family. She tenderly writes about her own sense of resolution with her aging mother, finally realizing that both of them had had losses and lacks to deal with.
Combining memoir and professional observation, Baffled by Love stands out as a personalized examination of familial sexual abuse as a form of trauma that needs to be treated with recognition of the unique damage that it does.