Greetings gentle readers. I have returned safely from a wonderful, refreshing vacation, but re-entry was a bit bumpy. 🙂 We brought back a stomach virus, to which I added some asthma and sinus problems, so I’m sloooooowwwwly getting back into a normal rhythm. It was really nice to be away, but it’s also really nice to be back. 🙂
I wanted to share with you an analogy about healing that I thought many people might find helpful (h/t to Blackbird as it was during a discussion with her on psychcafe that I first came up with this one :)). When I first started seeing BN, the prism through which I saw myself was one of pathology. That I had been injured and damaged by the abuse and I needed to be “fixed.” One of the greatest gifts that BN has given me (which is saying a lot as the list is quite long) was instead seeing my struggles as development gone awry. That there was nothing fundamentally “broken” or “wrong” about me. I just had not gotten what I needed or been taught what I needed to know. That anyone who had endured what I did would have similar struggles with similar issues; my reactions were reasonable, it was the circumstances that produced them that were unreasonable.
Now telling a victim of abuse that they are not damaged can be something that feels accusatory. As in “there’s nothing wrong with you, so why don’t you just stop whining and get on with things?” So we need to acknowledge that there is fallout from what we experienced that needs to be dealt with. On the other hand, most abuse victims carry a sense of being fundamentally flawed (as in beyond repair or the hope of actually possessing any worth) so re-enforcing that belief by telling them they are “sick” can make it feel like they face the impossible task of changing who they are in the most basic sense, rather than making changes in their behavior.
We often think of ourselves as someone who doesn’t have arms when everyone else had them and how difficult that makes things. But I think the truth is closer to being people who had invisible shackles placed on their wrists as soon as they were born which made it impossible to use their arms. I know it’s a small distinction but here’s the difference. A person without arms is fundamentally deformed, markedly different from anyone. There is something intrinsically wrong with them so to speak. We want this recognized because we want someone to understand just how difficult things really are for us. (May I interject right here, that I do believe it is very difficult for us, not because we are lazy, dishonest, damaged or anything like that, but that we have experienced deprivations that have literally made it harder for us to function. I don’t want to come across as expressing ANY condemnation, because I think you’re all worthwhile just as you are and face real challenges that people without our experiences do not.)
But if you’re really a person whose arms have been shackled their whole life with invisible chains, then you face the same problems as a person with no arms. BUT your problem isn’t visible to anyone else, so to an outside observer, unaware of the facts, it makes no sense that you’re struggling. However, it also means that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with you; you are not deformed. You are having normal reactions to abnormal circumstances. If you put invisible shackles on any human being, they would be facing the same types of problems. Maybe not exactly the same ones you are, as they might have different strengths and compensate in a different way for the non-use of their arms, but they would also face the horrible uphill struggle to survive without arms.
So the purpose of therapy is to unlock those shackles and allow you to develop as someone who has always had two good arms but was never taught to or allowed to use them. You’ll never quite react as well as someone who could always use their arms. When things get hard and you react automatically, you may act like the shackles are still there. They were invisible after all, so it’s easy to forget you don’t wear them anymore, and you have a lot of ingrained reflexes from when you wore them. But then you remember they’re gone and suddenly you have so many more options because you are learning to recognize that those impediments have been removed and that you have two healthy arms, capable of everything arms were intended for. You just need to remember that the shackles are gone.
So both understandings are helpful because with either scenario, your pain and struggle can be heard (which is vitally important) but when you’re missing your arms, there’s no hope to change it. You can’t grow new arms. When you’re wearing shackles, they can be removed, and you can go back and develop the skills with your arms you should have been taught. With shackles you will have hope of healing. So next time it feels impossible to heal, remind yourself, I have arms, I just need to take off these shackles.