I am reading ‘How We Heal and Grow- The Power of Facing Your Feelings’ by Jeffrey Smith MD and I would like to recommend this book to every survivor of childhood trauma.
I am reading it to complement my therapy sessions and I have gained a lot of insight so far that is helping me in my journey of healing. I would like to share what I have learned so far.
Firstly, Smith talks about the importance of being able to feel safe enough to share your feelings. When a trauma survivor has found an empathic listener, they are able to reveal the feelings that are hiding behind all the shame and guilt. This is essentially described as catharsis. Personally, I can say that my therapist has created a non-judgemental space in which I have been able for the first time to talk about all the dark secrets within me. Catharsis is a powerful way to relive these feelings in a safe place and be able to move on from them.
What is very interesting though is that, it is not only the feelings that have to be uncovered. Being abused as a child causes us to internalise values and attitudes that are a result of the abuse. These values and attitudes are part of the mental content that we have to examine and analyse. Without doing so, we will continue to use coping mechanisms that were developed at the time of the trauma despite the catharsis that has happened.
The book reveals how our own minds can work against us and be a barrier to growth and healing. We have a complex motivational apparatus that impacts on our free will. In fact, it is as if half of our mind doesn’t belong to us. There are inner agents working in our mind to maintain the status quo. This means that when we try to enact change our inner agents will send us impulses and thoughts from our conscience and other layers of the apparatus to resist the intended change. The inner agents are so powerful that we can be overcome by shame and guilt and even become depressed, restless or anxious when we try to change our behaviour patterns.
I feel like this is where I am in my journey. I have started facing the feelings and am trying to break old behaviour patterns based on internalised values such as ‘I am not worthy’, ‘I am bad and shameful’, ‘I don’t deserve a voice,’ ‘My feelings and boundaries don’t matter’ etc. These were the values and attutudes towards myself that I internalised as a result of the sexual abuse by my father.
As I try to make decisions based on MY comfort and well-being for the first time and as I move away from toxic people, my mind is flooded with impulses and thoughts pulling me back to the familiar dark places. My mind tells me that I am selfish for keeping my son away from his father, that I need him even though he is abusive, that I won’t find anyone else to love me and that what I am trying to do is too difficult.
Who could have known that our greatest enemy could be our own mind! It is one of the most damaging consequences of sexual abuse that we victimise ourselves long after the abuse has stopped.
Can anyone relate to this?