There are many questions in the counselling room. Questions are an attempt to gather information, explore, understand, and set goals for the work ahead. Clients can come in confused, fearful, anxious, and with no clear vision of how to address the challenges they are facing. Then, there are clients such as one young woman, in her early thirties, who presented at our clinic, knowing what she wanted from me; she needed a witness.
What she did have, for many years, were those who observed, and acted, as if they had no cause or influence in what they observed happening to her. Significant family members stood apart, whilst she was being abused and neglected. They stood apart, believing they were independent of what they observed.
When her son was born, she could for the first time acknowledge the enormity of her childhood abuse experiences, and the impact on her sense of self. With the support of her doctor, and a specialist in adult survivors of childhood abuse, my client could acknowledge she coped, and was a survivor.
When my client made the appointment with our service, her son had just turned five (5) years old, and she was aware this was the age her own abuse and neglect started. She found it difficult to manage her son’s emotions when he got upset and angry. What she wanted was to learn how to empathize with her son, teach him about his emotions, and have a trusting and loving relationship with him.
After years of therapy this was a self-aware, whole, and intelligent young woman, who had established a strong foundation of who she was. I was to be a witness, who became an integral part of the process of her building a healthy, and nurturing relationship with her son.
Here’s what we came up with together:
- ACKNOWLEDGE HIS PERSPECTIVE AND EMPATHIZE
Knowing there is a name for what he is feeling, allows him to feel understood and acknowledged.
- ALLOW EXPRESSION OF HIS EMOTIONS
Teaches him emotions are not shameful, they are in fact part of being human, and manageable. He learns even those parts of himself which feels unpleasant are acceptable; he is okay.
- LISTEN TO HIM
When emotions get stuck inside his body, he could feel frightened of strong emotions such as anger, and behave in ways which allows him to vent, such as a tantrum. Teach him to breathe through, feel, and tolerate his emotions without needing to act out. Help him to trust his own emotional experiences, and he will learn to manage as he grows and matures.
- TEACH HIM TO PROBLEM SOLVE
When the plan of a friend coming over to play for the afternoon is not possible; what else could he do instead? Brainstorm together.
- PLAY AND HAVE FUN TOGETHER
Help him ‘play out’ those big emotions symbolically, for example, when he feels angry, he can put on his lion costume and roar.
My client did all the work which needed to be done, and was now free to rewrite, and experience a new way of being in the world. This provided her with a freedom to love, teach, connect, and create a healthy and positive relationship with her son. Her painful family history finally stopped with her.
As a witness, I could attest to the truth of what occurred, I carried intimate knowledge of the work my client did to change the script of her life, and I was present as she worked out how to be a mother to her son.