Dustin is a counselor at the Granite Springs Counseling Center – who writes periodically for the Granite Springs Blog. You can visit the Granite Springs Counseling Center website for more information on the amazing work they are doing to care for our community at granitesprings.org/counseling.
As a counselor, it is a deep privilege to sit with a survivor of trauma and abuse and listen to their story. The person is one who has likely been in hiding for a countless number of years. This hiding can take many forms, and many times, from the outside, the person looks like all is well. Yet on the inside, to them, the world is a profoundly dangerous and chaotic place.
One person I had the privilege to take this journey with was a man in his 40s who had been abandoned by his mother when his father tragically died in the Vietnam war. He had experienced abandonment as a young child and was placed with a family that reinforced that abandonment by continually insuring that he knew he was not a part of their family. He was made to stand at the table during meals and would be sent off to the basement for long periods of time. These experiences profoundly affected this man. Although married and a veteran of the Army, he was constantly in need of assessing whether he was doing enough to maintain the love of those around him. Such a posture towards life left him on edge and paranoid about the motives of others. He eventually developed addiction and this led him to a place of utter despair.
Our way of being in the world is largely formed in the first couple of years of life through relationship with our primary care givers. These relationships form a relational template that supports our self-concept, that is, who we understand ourselves to be and in turn how we experience the world. This relational template is implicit and is formed before language is developed and as such is largely inaccessible through language, however there is hope. It is in deep and authentic relationships that this relational template, like a frightened deer in the forest, will make an appearance. It is when trust is established and a safe environment is maintained that the traumatized person will reveal their true self.
In therapy, just such a posture is taken. As a therapist, I sit in curiosity and genuine humility with clients, seeking to experience their life through the stories they tell. In telling stories, the client is rehearsing a narrative that is reshaping who they understand themselves to be.
In particular, a therapist’s invitation to a trauma survivor is one that is wholly encompassing. That is, the invitation is a promise the therapist is making to the client that states, “I am here with you and I will be here with you and yes, I can help hold your pain and fear and I will not abandon you.” In this way, there therapist is providing an opportunity for the client to experience a deeply spiritual and psychological transformation. The client is having the opportunity to experience what it is to be known and in that knowing what it is to be fully and unconditionally accepted for the unique person that they are. In the end, this a universal longing for all of us, to be known and accepted and even celebrated as beloved children of God.