When Doug first started counseling, he was an expert at beating himself up. He was unbelievably quick at finding fault with who he was and what he did. As quick as he was to find fault, he expected a similar velocity at finding a fix. When he made the same mistake twice, and three times, he would skirt the edge of despair and question what good it was to continue our work together.
At first, my job was to point out Doug’s progress because he had not yet developed skills to see it. Doug’s internal compass was so set to the negative; he was blinded to anything positive. His recalibration happened through weekly visits for months, and it was not easy. I remember at least three times when he called and canceled his appointments. I would convince him to come in, just one more time, for “closure,” and then use that visit as a way to help him recalibrate.
The rapport I established with Doug helped him come to better understand both his relationship with others and, first and foremost, his relationship with himself. To help give him a visual for his recovery, I went online and showed him before-and-after pictures of natural disasters. We viewed several scenes of flooding and tornadoes. In each case, I would ask him if the person standing in front of their ruined home was responsible for either the rising waters or the gale-force winds. At first, Doug was reluctant to absolve the people of any responsibility. He would bring up flood plains and construction values. I would ask again if the people were responsible for the waters or the winds. He finally had to admit, no, they were not.
“You weren’t responsible for your abuse either,” I told him. “Your parents flooded you with negativity and knocked you over with their hatred towards each other. You were just a child and had to way to defend yourself.”
I showed him the pictures of the destruction again and said, “Given the weather, was it any wonder the damage?” Doug, again, had to admit, no. I asked him, then, why would he be surprised to find damage in his own life. He responded by asking if I thought he was a wreck.
To answer, I went to the “after” pictures. We talked about the work, energy, and optimism that goes into rebuilding after a natural disaster. I explained that those were the very components needed to rebuild after a disastrous childhood. I asked him to look at the people in the “after” pictures and assign them probable characteristics. He said words such as tough, proud, capable, and resourceful. I told him I found him to possess those very same characteristics, which he could put to work in his own rebuilding.
Together we settled on a visual for his counseling; we were working on a Doug “remodel.” He didn’t want to tear down everything about his childhood but recognized the areas that needed considerable updating, as far as attitude and perspective were concerned. This analogy helped Doug be more patient with himself. As a do-it-yourselfer, he was extremely familiar with having to go back to the plumbing or electrical section multiple times until he found just the right fitting or fixture that would do the job. He had to concede that installing a new attitude could be even more complicated than installing a new toilet.
Many people, like Doug, have asked me a variation on these questions during their recovery: “How can I forgive? How can I heal and move on with my life?” The answers to those questions come from different sources. The counseling relationship can hold answers. The family and personal support systems can hold answers. But when those answers aren’t enough, when the destruction of childhood abuse overwhelms a person, where can that person turn? I believe the power to restore and recover lies in the divine, redemptive power of love. I have seen the power of faith and spiritual belief provide the answers to overwhelming questions.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE, and author of 37 books. The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others. If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.