Broken Child by Marcia Cameron, Kensington Books, New York, 1995, $20.00, pp. 396

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"The pain demands a tithing in tears."

"I curl up on his floor . . and all the feelings, the hurts, rise up in sobs. . . The tears shed in the presence of Ira are causing a transformation way down to my center."
-- From Broken Child

Of all the many books I have read which recounted the life stories of victims of multiple personality disorder (MPD), Broken Child is my favorite. Its' well-written and fast pace hardly ever slackens as the author tells her, at times, very intimate story of personal hell and subsequent salvation through five years of intensive psychotherapy. She gives a deeper and more in depth explanation of her life and origin of her dissociative neurosis than do other authors writing their stories of MPD.

This no details withheld approach to a description of the symptoms of her mental illness adds to the feeling of having been taken into the author's confidence, but it was not until I arrived at the last quarter of the book that I became convinced that the book was not a hoax.

I had believed it was untrue because the recounting of torment that the author received from her psychotic mother was, to me, unbelievably exaggerated. I thought that the well written book described tortures which could not be true since they were unbelievably sadistic. At first it seemed to me to be a satire, an attempt to outdo other popular MPD books, since Cameron's encounters with her mother were more akin to a description of concentration camp hell rather than parental abuse and neglect.

Marcia Cameron was singled out for the greatest abuse among her siblings. She endured many broken bones, deep cuts which left numerous scars, gross humiliations, beatings, sexual torture, deprivation of food and water, bondage, being buried alive in dirt up to her neck - but enough, I believe you get the idea.

It was not until she met her third psychiatrist that I became a believer. This was when she was able to begin the process of her personalities' integration. As I read the harrowing experiences of the author, I felt numb and mostly horrified. The only time I cried was when she told the story of how, after the book was finished, she gave the completed manuscript to her husband to read knowing full well that his knowledge of the sexual promiscuity of one of her personalities would probably cause him to leave her forever.



Why a book review on MPD in a web-site dealing with the regressive therapies? It would really be appropriate to have such a review if the author of Broken Child had described her primal or deep regressive experiences during her therapy. Even though the book is not about primal therapy, I was interested in some of the elements in therapy the author received which resembled deep regressive therapies with which I am familiar. I felt readers might be interested in contrasting them with the type of therapy Dr. Ira Steinman used.

When the author and her psychiatrist speak of regressions they mean the assumption of the personality characteristics of her multiple egos. Her psychiatrist would probably insist that the last thing Marcia Cameron needed was further regression, certainly not if the regressions meant that she was to assume another personality. To the contrary, a lot of the time during her sessions was used to keep her from regressing in an attempt to give her insight and co-join her various personalities.

I believe that an important element in her therapy was the fact that Dr. Steinman was always "there" for her during the session and even afterwards, when he always accepted her frantic telephone calls in a loving manner. Indeed Cameron feels this caring and respectful attitude of her therapist was a key to her overcoming deep depression and gave her a reason to continue living.

The "safe space" he created for her at his office enabled her to cry throughout innumerable sessions. It seems that it was this assurance of safety and love which allowed her to be able connect to her repressed material. She believes that. But where did crying end and primaling begin? In her book she does not explain the differences in the continuum of weeping. To me this is evidence that she did not have primal regressions. If she would have, I cannot fathom her not mentioning this distinction.

Even so, both pro and con arguments can be made as to whether in her re-livings she was in a primal space. Early in her therapy she began to lay on the floor in a primal mode in her therapist's office. I know that it takes more than being on the floor for primal-type sessions, but that impressed me, nonetheless.

Some contrasts between her therapy and primal therapy include her psychiatrist's continually interpreting the situation for her. But the cincher was when Dr. Steinman refused to touch her ever, which she found to be the most onerous rule of all! She wrote how she oftentimes longed for the reassurance of touch and to be comforted. She had to settle for an occasional handshake and one of his old sweaters which she brought home with her.

Continued recounting of incidents in her past and crying opened up her memories of still more instances of abuse. The most productive of the tears, she wrote, were those shed in the presence of her psychiatrist.

Remembering the abuse, the author claims, was only the first step on the road to her beginning recovery. She writes that, in a sense, she had never really forgotten the abuse, because her body had always remembered it. Her nightmares also revealed her secrets. She wrote, "I would have to say that I never forgot any of it, I just didn't want to remember it because it was beyond endurance." This is typical of repression which is always on a differing scale of recognition. Marcia Cameron (a pseudonym) believes that it was this lack of willingness to face the truth which caused her symptoms and decided that her disassociation into multiple personalities were her way of keeping memories away from consciousness. She felt that because of Dr. Steinman she finally became able to process the correct emotional responses. Without him, she believed that those memories could never have been acknowledged and processed, because they were overwhelming. She became extremely grateful to him and feels that she owes her life to his loving care and compassion.

Don't wait for the movie since there will never be one able to capture the horror of the book!

If you enjoyed reading Sybil you will relish Marcia Cameron's Broken Child.