When we’ve suffered abuse in childhood, we often experienced pain. And that pain was reflected back in the eyes of our abusers as pleasure. We then take that template and expectation into our adult relationships, expecting only to be able to get close to people or be approved of by them if we’re in pain. This is the topic of Carolyn’s blog post in which she draws on her own experiences in one particular therapy session.
For a number of years, Carolyn was a foster carer, looking after many traumatised and abused children whose trauma, although unremembered and unspoken, was plain to see. In this post she describes the impact on her of hearing the cry of one particular baby, and how this acts as a metaphor for our own inner child.
Trauma focuses our brain on danger based on the ‘there-and-then’, and one of the hardest, but most helpful, things to do is to be able to just notice and be curious about our present experience in the ‘here-and-now’. In this blog post Carolyn talks about her experience of learning to do this.
‘If I could just get over it, I would,’ I say, and I’m trying not to sound irritated or hurt but I’m not quite sure what emotion my face is displaying and my throat is tight and my fists are clenched and really I’d rather not be here, and neither am I convinced that I’m a good enough actor to hide all of this.
‘Christmas is optional!’ I announce, loudly and excitedly and with an uncharacteristic degree of gusto, at the beginning of my session. We haven’t even sat down yet. Mostly sessions begin with a tense stand-off as I battle within myself to be present.
The therapist’s eyes widen. I can tell she’s wondering if I’ve switched to another part. In particular I have one whom I call ‘Play’ who is larger-than-life and copes with social occasions for me. She is skilled at banter, although not so skilled at reading social cues and divining if its recipients are edified by it. But this isn’t ‘Play’. This – surprisingly – is me.
Like a slow leak, drip-drip-drip, things changed. Trauma leaves you with a brain dedicated to danger. Fear isn’t a choice – it’s an inbuilt survival mechanism. And I used to berate myself for it. What is wrong with you?! Get a grip! Just let it go! But my survival-based back brain wasn’t listening. It’s not safe here, it would whisper back at me. We’re going to get hurt. When I heard it, I got annoyed: We’re perfectly safe. There’s nothing the matter. Stop overreacting!