These days I don’t always find FaceBook to be all that useful except as a tool to observe people desperately trying to appear to be something they are not. But I recently came across an unattributed quote that gave me hope for there being some value in social media. It goes like this: “If you don’t heal what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you.”
That is such a simple sounding statement with such incredibly profound implications. Let me expand my thinking on this a bit.
As a professional counselor working primarily with clients who have experienced trauma of all types (abuse, neglect, enmeshment, domestic violence, etc.), I encounter people everday who have been through some type of “hurt.” I never judge their hurt on a “level” because “one person’s feather is another’s millstone” and I can tell you that each hurt is significant to that person. However, some people come in seeking help for what they perceive is a particular problem (marital communication problems, anxiety, depression, etc) and we discover through working together that often there are “deeper” issues driving the problem for which they sought counseling. This might be an attachment issue: not feeling loved, nurtured, or protected.
A little side note here: If you seek me out for counseling, I WILL be looking for those “deeper” issues so get ready to dig….. One example follows:
As a result of developing years of “coping mechanisms” to deal with the “hurt,” these people often don't even realize how lost they are. They think they are doing “OK” but the people around them think differently. Their spouse or partner may wonder why they keep “going off on” them for seemingly benign statements or actions. It often may seem like their partner is “channeling” someone else when they get into an argument. Actually, this makes sense when you really consider it. For example, if my father was constantly critical of me and used statements like, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all” and then berated me for “not doing it right” even when I gave my best but just could’t meet his standards, I might be sensitive to “doing things right.” So when my wife, innocently, asks me one day, “Have you cleaned the garage?” instead of hearing that as a simple request for information (which it was, I later determined), what I “heard” was, “You can’t do anything right, can you?” and felt demeaned and angry. And I vented my anger on her (which was not deserved).
With many clients who are seeking help for anger management, working through a marital separation, or having trouble keeping a job due to emotional issues, there seems to be “someone else” that is driving their decision to seek counseling. In other words, they didn’t just decide one day to seek self-improvement. They were informed by someone (or some entity like a court or CPS or an attorney) that they needed to seek counseling help before they could continue at their job or in this relationship or have contact with their children. While these people are often motivated to “get back” whatever has been “taken from” them, they are also often unwilling to look at whatever role they are playing in the process. They are, in essence, “bleeding on people who didn’t cut them” but denying that anything about them or about their past could have caused the “cut.”
When asked about past traumas, even when they admit or acknowledge that they were molested as a child or physically or verbally abused as a child, they will often follow that admission with the statement, “But I’ve put that behind me….I’ve gotten over that….what does that have to do with my problem now?” Or even more difficult, as a therapist, to work through is when they were neglected in some way that does not seem obvious because it does not look like abuse. For example, a boy’s father may have provided physically for him, sent him to school, maybe even played with him at times, but the boy (now a man) does not recall ever hearing the words, “I love you.” If this man is now completely honest with me as his therapist he might admit that he seldom says, “I love you” to his wife or children but he “provides for them” but feels something is missing. Yet to look at the fact that he never heard “I love you” but NEEDED to hear it brings the man face to face with the idea that maybe his father did not do everything right. Depending on what he believes about how he should “treat” his parents, he may be unwilling to admit that maybe his father did not do everything right.
Another side note here: I’m the father of six children and I can guarantee you that I don’t do everything right. My wife and are very aware of gaps in our parenting and have even told our children, “Growing up in this family, we’ll either pay for your college or your therapy...but not both!” But we also have these conversations with our children (age appropriate) and we seek to repair breaks as soon and as completely as possible when they do occur.
So what do we do about the “bleeding on people who didn’t cut you” problem?
So for the man (or woman) who feels pulled between discussing needs they had that were not met and feeling like they are betraying their parents by doing so, let’s just drop that guilt. I don’t believe in “blame the parents” but I do believe that we need to place responsibility where it belongs. I believe we need to acknowledge “what hurt” us. My 22 year old son is still fond of holding out his left arm and pointing out a scar near his wrist. “Remember when you were pushing me down the driveway (he was 3 or 4 years old) on that scooter and you pushed too hard and I fell over and cut my wrist?” Yes, I remember that. I felt awful about it but I was playing with my son, got a little too excited to make him go fast, and he was hurt. He doesn’t hold it against me, it’s just a little dig he brings out now and again. But when it happened, I also remember running to him, holding him, bandaging his wound, and affectionately loving him through it. There’s no trauma there now. He knows it was my fault but also that it was an accident and not something I did maliciously to harm him.
But for those children that experienced that “hurt” and had no follow up care or “I’m sorry” or worse, “It’s your fault I’m doing this” there is ongoing and unrelenting pain. These adults need to begin the process of recognizing first that they were hurt and then move on to realizing that this hurt was not their fault but the result of actions by people who were mostly likely wounded themselves. NOT that being wounded makes it okay for you to wound someone else. But it goes a long way when we as adults recognize that our parents were not perfect and had wounds of their own and therefore made mistakes that were a chain reaction of sorts. In other words, understanding the “why it happened” does not excuse what happened, but the explanation in and of itself is often healing.
What most adults seeking counseling for these types of wounds need is attachment therapy. This is something I engage many clients with using Development Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS) therapy www.dnmsinstitute.com. Just as Sylvan Learning Center seeks to fill educational gaps, DNMS seeks to fill emotional development gaps. As those gaps are filled with relationships with positive “Resources” and experiences with the therapist where they are allowed to express needs and have them met, there is an internal healing that occurs that “heals what hurt you” in a way that is difficult to describe but is very real, tangible, and life changing for many clients. There’s more to come in another post but for now, just understand and have hope in the fact that attachment (deep) wounds can be healed. When you’re ready. And with the right person. Praying that both will be in place for you right now.