Updated: Oct 31
Imagine you are walking through a busy town centre. A car mounts the pavement and runs you over, breaking both your legs, before careering back into the road and speeding off out of sight.
What will you do?
If you are capable, you will call for an ambulance. The ambulance comes, you are taken to hospital, and you are fixed up. In a few months, you should be okay again.
Now, imagine if you handled this injury in the same way that many people deal with an equally damaging level of psychological and emotional trauma. You don’t call for an ambulance because you think you should be able to just “get on with it”. You don’t trust the paramedics to be able to do anything, anyway. You feel ashamed of your injury, treating yourself as though its subsequent debilitating impact on your life is the fault of deep weakness in your own character.
So, what you do is crawl along the pavement, dragging your broken legs over the cracked and uneven paving slabs, leaving a trail of blood in your wake. You pretend you are okay, that nothing is wrong. You smile up at passers-by and talk about the weather. If your thoughts turn to the hit-and-run driver, you scold yourself for being a “victim” and indulging in “the blame game”. I am responsible for me, you say. No one made me like this. I did it to myself.
Eventually you force yourself to stand up. You grab hold of a litter bin to steady yourself. And then you start lurching and limping in agony along the pavement, still trailing blood behind you.
You “get on with it”.
And that’s how you continue to live. Every time you fall over, you get back up, over and over again. Relationships, jobs, training courses, new homes, new towns, new cities, new friends – you keep trying, again and again, forcing your crippled body into these new situations with fresh hope. ‘This time it will be different.’ And with each new attempt to live a “normal” life, sooner or later, down you fall.
Because your legs are broken, and you are pretending that they aren’t. They have stayed broken. Except now, the shattered splinters of your bones are slowly forging themselves back together, in some weird, misshapen way. And the wound has become infected. Now it’s not just blood trailing behind you. There is other stuff mixed in with it. And when you meet new people, you think they can see it. You think they can smell it.
You retreat. You withdraw. You stop trying. It never works. It never has and it never will. You become bitter and isolated. You grudgingly acknowledge that you are broken, but you can’t remember how it happened. You think it must have been your fault. You believe there is something fundamentally wrong with you.
And then, one day, as you sit in your armchair, a strange, silent calm descends. You look at your damaged legs. You stop fighting. You stop pretending. You submit to the stark, unchanging truth, fully, deep down in your guts.
‘My legs are broken.’
Yes, you are responsible for you – for what you do now. For your own healing. However, if your damage comes from things that took place in your childhood, you are not responsible for those things happening. You were not the driver. It is not your fault.
You finally understand that now. So, to yourself, you quietly speak the most important words you will ever say:
‘I can’t do this anymore. I need help.’
Therapy is trust.
It’s also qualifications and experience and knowledge and expertise and credibility and accreditation but, before it’s any of that, it’s simple trust.
It’s not my legs; it’s my heart, my soul – they’re broken. My inner world. My “me”.
I knew all that needed healing, and I knew I couldn’t do it myself. So, where does that leave me? With no option but to trust someone. But you can’t make yourself trust someone. They must inspire trust in you. When the walls are thick and high, it takes someone special to be able to break through and establish that level of trust.
The faintest whiff of you trying to “fix” me to fulfil some private agenda of your own, and we’re finished. I might say the right things, but what I’m thinking is, ‘We’re done.’
I need to know you care. I need to feel that care, nestling warmly under my skin. Then maybe I’ll take a look at the framed certificates on your wall.
I need to know that, if I’m going to start talking in a way I’ve never talked before, about things I’ve never discussed before, we’re not going to hit a point where you turn and run. Because, if that happens, I am never doing this again, with anyone.
I would rather stay broken.
I don’t want you to do anything for me. I want you to come with me. You know the names for things, and that’s going to help. You know the right questions to ask, and the right times to ask them. You know what to suggest when I get stuck. You encourage me to make connections, but you don’t tell me what those connections should be.
You listen to my inarticulate attempts to describe what’s happening inside me, and you give it language – language that already exists. And that reassures me. It shows that I’m not alone, that other people have done this, and they’ve drawn maps. I feel validated and strengthened. The unfamiliar terrain is now not only terrifyingly strange; it’s also excitingly new and exotic! I want to see more. I want to go further. And you’re still here? Good!
I have learned that after a therapy session, I need to take things easy. I let things settle. I don’t “do” anything. I let it all be as it is. It’s important that I keep out of the way because I don’t actually know how things are going to work out, and I don’t want to interfere with it. The process needs to unfold the way it’s meant to. The sessions are becoming more intense, going deeper, as I grow in trust and curiosity, pushing out the edges of my internal world to explore the unknown. It’s a moving and fascinating adventure. It’s going into oneself and sorting everything out into piles – keep, chuck, change, not sure yet.
For me, therapy is like having a time machine and revisiting the past. It’s going back to situations where I didn’t – and couldn’t – know what was going on and seeing the unconscious patterns I’m following. Then it’s tracing those destructive patterns back further to where they originated. With this new insight, I can change what I do now. A situation arises and I am now presented with a choice: follow the old pattern or create a new one. With a bit of faith and courage, I can begin to tread the path of the new pattern and see how it works out.
So far, the results have been infinitely better than following the old pattern. The more I do it, the stronger those new pathways become, as the old paths become overgrown with disuse. The work is demanding and exhausting at times, but so, so rewarding. To make connections I couldn’t see before, to understand the previously inexplicable, to grapple with stuff that has been a baffling roadblock for so long, and to know that it’s working.
The relief and excitement, the curiosity and hope for the future – those things are worth getting my hands dirty for.
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