Have you gone through something as a child that was really challenging for you emotionally? Many of the clients we work with have. And these experiences can have long lasting impacts.
When children experience such emotional challenges, they will find a way to cope that helps them to get through and survive. For many, that may include “turning inward” and coping with things on their own. A message may then be internalized that says “my suffering isn’t that important” and “if others knew of what I have been through, they may not love or accept me.”
What worked well at an earlier time in your life should be honoured as an important strategy that helped you cope and survive, but over time, that exact same strategy may start to act as a barrier between you and the closeness, comfort and safety we all want to feel. We know how hard it is to feel this way. It can feel so confusing and unfair. I had the chance to meet with a client who was doing this exact type of therapy work, and the experience of this session was so moving.
An Emotional Journey
This client experienced a childhood trauma. It never felt safe to talk to anyone about what happened so this client learned to cope alone and to avoid thinking about it or having any feelings about it. Avoidance became a way to be okay. Over time, as this avoidance strategy became less effective, other ways to numb or distract from the emotional pain of the trauma were used. These can show up in the form of excessive or addictive behaviours related to substance use, gambling, eating, shopping, sex, or use of porn to name a few. They often work for a period of time, to numb and stop the feelings, but then they create other challenges.
During a very moving session, this client was able to be honest about the strategies that were used to numb the pain. The key interventions and therapeutic moments that created a new emotional experience for this client included the following:
- Acknowledgement of the hurt they experienced
- Organizing the emotional impact of what they experienced
- Honouring the strategies that helped them cope and survive
- Identifying the fear and shame that has kept them from “turning to other” for comfort, support and caring
- Identifying the foreign experience of looking at themselves and their experience in a new way that was more gentle, compassionate and understanding
- Acknowledging their courage to do this work and their capacity to experience healing
Working through painful childhood experiences is a process and it takes some time. Trust is also required between the therapist and the client in order to engage in this delicate healing work. The work highlighted in this session gives a glimpse of what is possible.
If you have experienced something difficult in your childhood and feel stuck and unsure how to move forward, you don’t need to suffer with this alone. We are here to guide you on your healing path. It is possible.
by Mary Joan Brinson MSW, RSW