Category Archives: Child abuse

Transference with my Therapist

Wow, this feels weird to be back in the comfort of my own blog. I’ve been on the missing list while I battled with technical issues for a few weeks. Luckily the PC is insured, but why are insurers ultra-efficient at collecting the cash and then so slow to deliver the goods.

Taking a break from writing about my therapeutic journey wasn’t such a bad thing. I didn’t have much choice because my therapist, Paul, went off sick… again. He must have cancelled between 10 & 12 sessions, which make up a significant chunk of time within an eighteen-month programme.

I last saw Paul about four or five weeks ago, but he didn’t see me. I had arrived a minute late for therapy and was dreading the wait at reception, which is a long, narrow corridor situated between three busy mental health units. Paul’s already aware of how my PTSD and agoraphobia struggle to deal with this area, but I didn’t feel confident in his attentiveness.

On this particular day, the reception was crowded with an impending drama unfolding. My first reaction was to hide in the toilet where I stood in the silence, listening to voices escalate on the other side of the door. It was four minutes into my therapy time and I had two options; leave the building or go straight to the therapy room. I chose the latter, which transpired as one of my biggest mistakes.

I approached the closed therapy room door with caution and peered through the small window. To my relief, Paul was alone, fixing something on the floor. I gently tapped on the door. His head half-turned in my direction before turning back to face the wall. I didn’t twig that he was in the middle of some kind of ritual, so I tapped on the window again.

It felt like something had just smacked me hard between the eyes. I stumbled backwards, dumfounded. Paul was bopping up and down on his knees. I returned to the reception corridor feeling humiliated, like a naughty pupil who had just witnessed his teacher in a very private moment. I couldn’t understand why Paul was doing his own thing in our therapy space, while I was on meltdown in an environment that we both know is unsafe.

I sat staring at the reception wall for eternity, but in reality, it was probably only for a minute or two. In those moments, all the previous cancellations came crashing down, one disappointment after another. I thought about Paul on his knees, while I questioned his commitment and his investment in my therapy. I walked slowly towards the exit, looking back one more time.

Over the next couple of days, I couldn’t understand why memories of childhood abuse were streaming through my mind. It became one of the most challenging times of my therapy, but it was about to get a whole lot worse. Two days later, I arrived for group therapy, hoping I might see Paul in the building. Instead, someone handed me a letter to say he was off sick for the next week, which turned into three.

Even though I am vaguely aware of transference in therapy, it took a while to realise this is what was playing out between Paul and I. At first, I was just flat_out_furious and with a raging war imploding deep within, I stomped around ruminating for days.

Transference isn’t isolated to therapy, but it can happen to each of us in different situations. It’s when a person reminds us of someone or something from the past. This might be in a positive way, or it can develop into a very distressing experience.

I blamed myself for his unreliable schedule and felt guilty for sharing my anger in group therapy, as though I had somehow deceived him. It was my fault for going to the therapy room and I was completely responsible for reacting so badly to a catalogue of events that was rocking our otherwise good relationship.

When we experience abuse in childhood, it’s difficult to understand why our caregivers would cause us so much harm. The only way a child makes sense of abuse and trauma is to shift the focus of blame from the abusers onto themselves. We internalise the belief that we are fundamentally bad and the words of our abusers become the sand and cement of our self-blame, “You deserved it… You had it coming… You brought it all on yourself…” Unfortunately, the self-blame doesn’t stay behind in childhood, but progresses into our adult lives.

In my rational mind, I know this is not my fault, but it’s difficult to unravel and dissolve a lifetime of believing I am solely to blame for just about everything. Not so long ago, I would’ve dumped Paul. Why would I want to stick with a Therapist who conjures memories of an abusive past?

Paul certainly didn’t let me down intentionally and his behaviour is not of an abusive nature. I’m quite sure he’s already aware of the impact these absences have on clients, but there are obviously some medical issues. This part of the therapeutic journey has been the hardest, but I realise that it’s also an opportunity to work with the transference. I guess self-blame doesn’t go away overnight, but one of the first steps is awareness.

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Secrets in Big Sky Country Review

FINAL SBSC front cover 44-17-15jpgIt was a great honour to be one of the first to read Mandy Smith’s new book, “Secrets in Big Sky Country.” I’ve looked forward to the release date and the opportunity to share this tragic and courageous memoir, which I highly recommend.

Mandy and Cliff’s childhood changed long before they understood the consequences of their mother’s decisions to divorce their father and then embark on a relationship with his brother. This would affect the siblings for the rest of their lives, but it was never about the children, only the narcissistic mother’s needs were important.

From the age of three years old, Mandy came to know her uncle as daddy, who quickly replaced the attention that was severely lacking from her self-absorbed mother. Mandy was his special little girl, but while her innocence soaked up his apparent attentiveness, he had other depraved ideas of his own. His manipulative grooming techniques and subsequent abuse roamed freely through childhood and into her teens, but Mandy’s most heart breaking experience was yet to come.

I’ve read a few memoirs about abuse in childhood, but Mandy presents a very different story, which is not too graphic or difficult to read. Without a doubt, she is an amazing storyteller of the facts and her book is a real page-turner. Mandy’s ability to dust herself down repeatedly and then move forward in the face of so much adversity is truly inspirational.

Whether you are a survivor looking for validation and healing, or a professional seeking a better understanding of child abuse, Mandy’s book will take you on that journey and stay with you for a very long time to come.

The book is now available on Amazon here and includes a wonderful review by Brad Hutchinson Executive Director of The Gatehouse

This is Mandy’s blog, ‘Healing beyond Survival.’

Contrary to Christian Scripture, spanking is abuse

I am quite sure there will be many who disagree with me, but my blood ran cold when I read thisth (7) statement “Is your child unruly, undisciplined, or disrespectful?” It immediately raised questions over how much love and respect the child might be receiving at home, or if the lack of mutual reverence is behind a lot of the unhappiness.

I shouldn’t have read this particular blog post and it was probably wrong of me to comment, but it’s not okay when Christian’s use Bible verses to justify abuse against children and, yes, I do consider spanking a child as unnecessary and cruel abuse.

The author of this blog was promoting a 20-page booklet, which seems to be the miracle cure for children with behaviour problems. The more I read, the clearer it became as to why this type of parent is experiencing problems in the first place.

If one follows the draconian steps of beating and intimidating a child into obedience, then I’m quite sure the parent’s life may well be a little easier. But, will this approach contribute to a psychologically balanced child who grows into a secure and happy adult?

When I was a Christian, I enjoyed pondering the teachings of Jesus. I remember how he viewed children as innocent and certainly never “little monsters” that deserve “the rod” to teach them the error of their ways.

In the Bible, Jesus said, “Unless you are like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” This doesn’t sound as if he condoned the physical or emotional abuse of a child, so why do some Christian’s justify this by quoting Biblical scriptures that date back to a time when sacrificing your child on a alter was a Godly thing to do?

The author then goes onto say that a child will act like a heathen with no moral standing if they don’t reflect God’s authority. Of course, this is completely incorrect, as well as ridiculous. I’ve witnessed more morals among non-Christian children and adults than those who attend church on a weekly basis. In my opinion, the following statements are testament to the “moral standards” contained in the author’s post.

“We must strive to teach our children to honour and respect the parent, no matter how sick, weak, or incapable we are as parents.”

“The rod is a useful tool for a foolish child”

“Spanking your child is a good and Godly act.”

“Love your child by spanking them.”

“The parent who spares the rod hates their child.”

I don’t see anything in there about Jesus’ teachings of love, honour, respect, and forgiveness. Jesus said in the bible, “Whoever humbles himself as a little child is the greatest in heaven.” This doesn’t imply that it’s okay to humiliate and terrify your child by using violence to address behavioural issues.

I had behavioural problems as a child, which spiralled as I grew from toddler to teenager. I don’t ever remember my parents trying to help ME understand why I demonstrated little ability or willingness to obey any type of rule.

Slaps on the legs as a toddler soon escalated to dad holding me down on the bed as a five-year old while pounding my bare bottom black and blue. By the time I reached nine-years old, until I left home at seventeen, I would get a slap, punch, or kick and sometimes all three, whenever I broke the rules.

Obviously, I didn’t like the violence and I was petrified of my stern father, so I was confused as to why I was unable to be perfect, rather than misbehave and face another potential leathering. It never occurred that a lot of my misbehaviour was actually quite normal, but the expectations and discipline were not.

What their violent discipline did do was create secretiveness and distance. While growing up, I was never able to trust or like them enough to sit in the same room and share family time. When neighbours were sexually abusing their child and then teenager, I was unable to approach either parent for guidance due to fear of a beating.

My parents will defend their actions as unconditional love and guidance, but this does nothing for the psychological damage I’m still trying to repair in therapy today.

th4AG1UDCTSmacking children is a lazy option to parenting and does little to encourage healthy development. A child needs the support and guidance of a loving parent, but fear of physical punishment will only discourage them from discussing and learning from their mistakes with mum and dad by their side.

We wouldn’t smack another adult for misbehaving or making a mistake, hitting out at children is an extreme abuse of power and this is not okay.

Psychology Today on Smacking