This is work by Pete Walker, someone very insightful into complex trauma and the needs of the client. He is a complex trauma survivor himself, and it is my opinion, that only another survivor truly understands and knows, what another survivor feels and needs.
A child with parents, who are unable or unwilling to provide safe enough attachment, has no one to whom she can bring her whole developing self. No one is there for reflection, validation and guidance. No one is safe enough to go to for comfort or help in times of trouble. There is no one to cry to, to protest unfairness to, to seek commiseration from for hurts, mistakes, accidents, and betrayals. No one is safe enough to shine with, to do “show and tell” with, to be reflected as a subject of pride…to even practice the all-important intimacy-building skills of conversation.
In the paraphrased words of more than one of my clients: “Talking to Mom was like giving ammunition to the enemy. Anything I said could and would be used against me. People always tell me that I don’t seem to have much to say for myself.”
Those with Complex PTSD-spawned attachment disorders never learn the communication skills that engender closeness and a sense of belonging. When it comes to relating, they are typically plagued by debilitating social anxiety, and social phobia when they are at the severe end of the continuum of PTSD. Many of the clients who come through my door have never had a safe enough relationship.
Repetition compulsion has compelled them to unconsciously seek out relationships in adulthood that traumatically re-enact the abusive and/or abandoning dynamics of their childhood caretakers. For many such clients, we are their first legitimate shot at a safe and nurturing relationship; and if we are not skilled enough to create the degree of safety they need to begin the long journey towards developing good enough trust, we may be their last.
As the importance of this understanding ripens in me, I increasingly embrace an Intersubjective or Relational approach. I believe that it is the quality [rather qualities] of the clients’ relationship with me that can provide a corrective emotional experience that saves them from being doomed to a lifetime of superficial connection, or worse, social isolation and alienation. Moreover, I notice that without the development of a modicum of trust with me, many of my PTSD clients are seriously delimited in their receptivity to my guidance, as well as to the ameliorative effects of my empathy. In this regard then, I will describe four key qualities of relating that I believe are essential to the development of trust and subsequent relational healing. These are Empathy, Authentic Vulnerability, Dialogicality and Collaborative Relationship Repair.
Later Pete states…..
Therapy was actually counter-therapeutic and shame exacerbating for me as we co-created and re-enacted a defective child/perfect parent dynamic.
Gratefully, I eventually realized that I had unresolved attachment issues, and sought out a Relational therapist who valued the use of her own vulnerable and emotionally authentic self as a tool in therapy. Her temperate and timely self-disclosures – “God, the holidays can be awful;” “Sorry I missed what you said, I got a little distracted with anxiety about my dental appointment this afternoon;” “I feel sad that you’re mother was so cold;” “It makes me angry that you were so bullied;” – helped me to deconstruct a veneer of invincibility I had built as a child to hide my pain.
Her modeling that anger, sadness, fear, and depression were emotions that could be healthily felt and expressed rather than buried in shame and “gotten over” helped me to renounce the pain-repressing, emotional perfectionism that I had adopted in the hope of being loved. I needed this kind of modeling, as so many of my clients have, to begin to emerge from my fear of being attacked, shamed or abandoned for having dysphoric feelings
This is partly why I am struggling in ‘Christian focussed’ therapy.
Far too much emphasis on hearing how bad it is for the ‘abuser’. How I must not label, or view them as bad. And not enough hearing how vile, disgusting, heinous, evil and horrific it was for ‘me’.
I have emailed my counsellor many times now, including ways in which I have been invalidated and hurt more, by the ‘Christian agenda’ driven counselling.
I need to know my counsellor understands and validates, what these ‘abusers’ did to me was horrific, planned, intentional and to not flaunt compassion for them in my face, because I need to feel the compassion for ‘me’. I have never had it. And I need it.
And this is where empathy for the client comes in.
I’ve told my counsellor I believe she minimizes abuse, and hurts me by talking about abusers in a compassionate way, and that I need to view them as bad. Because they are. They make choices to do evil things. Yes, there may be reasons, but ‘I’ need the focus to be about ‘me’. Not the ‘Christian’ agenda. (And actually, Jesus always sided with the abused and hurt. He did stand up and act for them and stood for ‘them’ – not for the abusers).
Despite all this, my counsellor, who I do respect, gave me the choice of remaining in counselling with her if I felt safe enough. She did – after 2 years – say yes – the abusers are ‘bad’, “manipulative’ – although seemed pretty uncomfortable saying that. Yet still could not resist the need to say to me at one point ‘we must love our enemies’. *sigh. I felt like saying ‘you are not listening to me!!!’.
But, I realise, some people are just so set in their ways, as to how they think, they feel this deep need to say things they feel compelled to say, which overrides the empathy needed for the client. Or maybe the empathy level required, is just not there.
Right now….I do not have to ‘love my enemies’.
I feel about them exactly how I am meant to feel. No hatred. No retaliation. Not wanting anything bad to happen to them. Not seeking apology from them. Leaving their final fate to God. That is ALL I need to feel. And I have always felt this way….I didn’t need ‘Christians’ to tell me this.
The word ‘love’ should NEVER be used in the same sentence, as the abusers, especially while we are still healing, still processing, still enduring PTSD symptoms. It is actually quite sick to use ‘love’ in regard to how we must feel about people who have deliberately and intentionally harmed us and abused is in such horrific and life impacting and soul destructive ways.
There are different words used in the Bible for ‘love’ and when it comes to abusers, there needs to be a different term in the English language used. The word ‘love’ is far too emotive and not in any way appropriate when applied to the psychopaths, paedophiles, narcissists etc that abused us so badly.
It’s not that hard to see this and have that level of empathy, is it?
I was ‘told’ in my childhood, ‘I’ was bad if I ever considered my abusers as ‘bad’. And they fucking were! I won’t let anyone minimize that, not anymore.
I had bonds to people I thought loved me, who did evil, heinous things to me.
Please don’t use the word ‘love’ in connection to how either they felt about me, or how I must feel about them.
I am praying that my therapy, becomes more of what Pete Walker talks about, and it is ‘my’ therapy and should go how ‘I’ need it to go….not any other agenda.
I know what I need and I know what I don’t need.