PEACE

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In that place that is not now, distracted from the present, and not knowing why, tears fall. Then fall more.

Sometimes an instinctual urge has no name or explanation. Get out. Walk. Doing will help you feel productive, not paralyzed as this new wave of unspoken needs and change take hold.  

Eventually the mind will meet the emotions and the unnamed feelings will make sense; or they won’t. Until then ride the waves and do the work needed to maintain health in all realms; emotional, mental, spiritual and physical. 

Walk, confront the negative voices, bring that dissociated mind back to what is around you now. A scent lifts me, the aroma of lilacs or lily of the valley. The cat splays out on the floor in the sun stretching her expansive furry body able to look adorable even in her sickness. Life goes on…

The feelings move through. Another day arrives, each one a new flavor. 

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WHOLENESS?

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photo by patricia

I wonder at the tattered cloth, can it ever be whole? Feelings of wholeness seep in then despair. A depth of dark and cold with no succor. The yearning for something unnamed. Resolve to have it. Then tears.

And more tears. An awakening. The present so infected by the past. Go back? Must I go back? Others say, “Be happy.” My happy is back there to that little lost girl I abandoned. I hurt, she hurts.

“Why?” she asks. “When you had college age women to explore your sexuality with. Others who were willing and your age. Why a little sister? Only a child. A little girl who looked up to you, adored you, trusted you?” And she cries as she asks.

Like a tattered cloth that needs mending, the needles pierce with every stitch. To make it whole again the wounds must be lanced and it hurts. To come to the present I must visit the past and I don’t want to. Yet the visit brings me back to the present more fully.

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TENDER HEART

photo by patricia

When hurt by those close to me in the present day, the hurt, more like a surface scratch, becomes infected by the past. It expands, deepens, and the old wound opens up bleeding causing more pain than what presently occurred. It can take days to move freely from it. It happens again and again because some wounds from the past don’t heal. Like trust, or the inability to trust.

People being human have feelings and their own stuff. Their ‘stuff’ causes them to react unkindly, insensitively and hurtfully. The instinct is to hurt back when one is hurt. Knowing this helps to move beyond another’s flaws and also can become a nod as to what needs looking at within myself.

Why did that cause tears to flow, and flow, then well up again days later? It is not what my loved one has done, but what others have done long ago. This needs attending to; careful dabbing of the wound, attentive, gentle love, a cool caressing hand to the forehead, rocking one’s tender heart lovingly in curiosity, openness and acceptance.

That is what heals… attention to what is internal with warmth, tenderness and as much care as one would offer their most loved one. Because aren’t you one?

GIFTS

Each morning is a gift, cool but also warm, the sun against an azure blue sky decorated with white puffs of cottony clouds, post-card perfect and burgeoning with life. Flowers, fruit tree blossoms, grass, leaves, buds, it is all exploding yet I am calm.

Learning to go into my feelings rather than avoiding them has helped, not trying ‘be happy’ or be like how others appear to be, but allowing for my own inner workings to be felt, then to come up and be released. And for me, a sensitive soul, that involves a lot of crying, crying yet absorbing the wonders around me. Once it seemed impossible to do both. Now I accept it as a way of life.

Walking the lush grass in the meadow is like floating on carpet as the songs of various birds guide my way. Pausing at the creek garden to enjoy the tender opening of the tiny blue forget me knots, a startled duck flies away. Ripples reflect like diamonds and the once dull brown at the water’s edge has turned a lush green mirroring its lively color on the water’s surface doubling the colorful effect. It is an emerald wonderland rich with every possible hue!

“So much is happening I can’t take it all in!” I exclaim to Samuel bent over his work in the garden as he gently loosens the dirt around the asparagus. He nods and smiles as I continue by on the path.

And it is, so much new life, and some appears to happen after every lap around the meadow.  The hostas seem to grow by the minute and so do the lilacs and snow-ball bushes. Under the old, majestic, gnarled cherry tree the ground holds a confetti of its blossoms. Stopping to pick one up the delicate petal feels like a wisp of a feather in my hand. It has a light sweet fragrance. I toss it in the air smiling, walking on.

I’ve done enough if at day’s end one moment of extraordinary beauty has been savored and remembered. It is a gift to behold this wonder of spring!

FEELINGS

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photos by patricia

Tears fell on the puzzle as my head bowed. Samuel said, “Go outside and enjoy the day!”

The tears stop. Thinking of a reply to help him understand seems futile, and instead I fervently wish for him to go so that I can have my feelings and release them. So much sadness is yet to come up, sadness’s I learned to squelch. New sadness’s need airing. Feeling feelings is a good thing Samuel.

Upon return from the vet’s I learned Molly has lost a good deal of weight. The tumor behind the eye may have progressed to the lung, or she may have hyperthyroidism. Whichever it is, she is twelve and not feeling well.

My buddy. I have not had a cat I was this close to before and I’ve had lots of cats since childhood, relating to them more closely than any other living being. Molly is more like a puppy-cat following me everywhere. And lately more so. The thought of losing her hurts.

Other sadness’s crop up especially walking the meadow. The first lap brings tears, almost sobs. I look around assuaging my fears that anyone can hear. Both neighbors are working, have your cry.

Now that Chet is dead it seems I think more about what he had done, how much damage. While alive the most I thought about him was what a pathetic life he had; I felt sorry for him and not much more. The tears come for the little girl who feels like someone else…not me.

By lap three my excitement for spring, the green grass and bursting flowers takes over and I go in for my camera. Laying in the dewy grass I snap shot after shot. It feels good to allow tears and sadness, to allow it with no one around to tell me different. It feels good and I feel good, more whole.

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The Deck

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While Samuel’s hard at work, first the deck, now the landing and retaining wall, I have no project and feel a bit lost. For such a small project it certainly is a lot of work and the trips to the local lumber yard are adding up surprisingly in cost. I was even invited to go to pick out the stone path. That was a hot date on a rainy morning, bumping into another couple even older than us also picking out stone for a small garden project. 

“What is our purpose?” I ask Samuel, “Do we just get up and do it again day after day?”

“Yes, maybe that is our purpose,” he answers, barely looking up from his magazine. 

I press on, “You have a purpose. I don’t. The studio bores me,” I stated. 

“Well, maybe you need to do something different,” he responded.

He is right. I need to do something different. But with all the supplies gathered over the years, kiln, clay, glaze, and all the corresponding tools, it had better have something to do with all that. New horizons await. In the meantime, maybe my purpose is caring for this body I’ve spent a life-time escaping.

Being in it scares me, every little nuance making me wonder what is going wrong next. Yet being in it is what can also bring great joy if I work at it and try. Like caring for the burn that turned crimson and scaly. Taking the time to open a vitamin E oil capsule and gently applying it helped, rather than just ignoring it like I might of done.

That’s what others do naturally, care for themselves. And when they do they do great things like become exercise fanatics, yoga experts, lean bicyclists or runners, something physical to complete the whole. 

So my purpose is learning about my body, being in it as fully as possible, which takes work, time, and overcoming the fear. I tend to flee it residing in my head or hovering anywhere else but in it. What wonders await if I allow myself to go deeply into my given gifts?

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HAVOCA (Help for adult victims of child abuse) full Article

For those who did not want to sign up the newsletter noted in the previous post, this is the article I was referring to. The sentence in bold is the one I quoted…

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A person-centred approach in working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. by Justin Slaughter

Person CentredIt was whilst I was in training that I first worked with a client who had experienced childhood sexual abuse (CSA). I drew upon the resources I had acquired through my training and practice – a working awareness of the person-centred approach (PCA). I relied, in part, on PCA developmental theory, as a framework from which to understand and work with CSA. Since that time, a majority of the clients I see have been survivors of CSA. This article outlines, in brief, how a person-centred approach is both suitable and beneficial for working with this client issue.

Childhood sexual abuse is endemic, and the NSPCC report: How Safe are our Children (2016) highlights the prevalence and incidence of CSA. The report suggests that in 2014/15 there were 47,008 recorded sexual offences against children in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. This figure is an increase on the previous year’s figures, and is said to represent the increased willingness of victims to come forward, as well as a better recording of offences. The NSPCC (2016) define abuse as: ‘persuading or forcing a child to take part in sexual activities or encouraging a child to behave in sexually inappropriate ways’.

The impact of abuse can be far reaching. Abuse is a misuse of power, invading an individual’s sense of self, their psychological safety and the fundamental integrity of their being, thus having far reaching ramifications on an individual’s life trajectory. Survivors of CSA may experience mental health problems later in life, which include PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. Survivors may have difficulty coping and managing with everyday struggles, historically, in the present, and later in life. Survivors may also find adult sexual intimacy difficult. Survivors may develop non helpful ways of expressing their emotions – through aggression or other self-destructive ways, such as addictive behaviours and self harm. Abuse affects individuals differently, and nothing is set in stone. Working through, articulating and exploring the powerful conflicting emotions and experiences of abuse are crucial aspects of the work.

The person-centred approach explains psychological problems with the concept of ‘incongruence’. Rogers (1951; 1957; 1959) wrote that organisms are motivated by growth and development and, given the right environment, individuals can actualise and reach their full potential. The right environment consists of a climate where the person feels genuinely understood and unconditionally accepted. However, there are climates in which individuals do not feel understood and unconditionally accepted, leaving them to feel they are worth less in certain conditions than in others. The person introjected these values as if they were their own. It is when a significant level of experience is either denied or distorted, to fit self concepts that incongruence occurs. Joseph (2015) highlights how this way of thinking can account for the avoidant and intrusive features of PTSD.

As the self structure is formed, and a person begins to act in compliance with introjected values that are not congruent with the organism, conditions of worth develop. Power (2012) highlights conditions of worth as having a lasting impact with survivors of CSA and describes survivors of CSA as having many different conditions of worth when processing the trauma of abuse.

CSA experiences affect the client’s locus of evaluation, with survivors often developing more of an external locus of evaluation, which means survivors are likely to distrust their organismic valuing process. They have difficulty in trusting their ability to influence their own experiences, and may feel that their lives are in the hands of others and external forces which are beyond their control. This can, at best, put them in a difficult and frightening psychological position.

Thus we may come to understand that CSA happens at a time in individuals’ lives when they are developing ideas or assumptions of self and others. CSA happens at a time of the establishment of internalised states. We are relational beings and our earlier experiences are shaped by our caregivers. This no doubt impacts upon our intra- and inter-relationships, with our ability to trust others and develop healthy relationships being thwarted. Abuse ‘lives’ within relationships, in which – more often than not – individuals have no choice but to place their trust; trust in CSA is significantly broken and impacted upon. The feelings and experiences of which are palpable. Trust therefore needs to be developed within the therapeutic relationship, with the client’s space and pace of their therapy respected, with the counsellor acting as a witness.

In trusting and valuing the client’s process it is hoped the client learns to trust and develop those experiences that enhance their internal locus of evaluation. In utilising the core conditions it is hoped that, through a process of therapy, clients may move more towards an internal locus of evaluation. That is, they rely on their own thoughts, feelings and inner capacities and are less concerned with external influences. To function in this way is to be in the present moment, accepting strengths and weaknesses, seeking authenticity, and valuing the self; this is healthy functioning. Thus it is hoped they develop trust in their own intrinsic wisdom and abilities.

Joseph (2005) accounts for the adequacy of a person-centred approach in dealing with traumatic stress. Merits of the person-centred approach toward therapeutic change include, as Levitt (2005) states, ‘non directivity’, which can be said to allow our clients to accurately symbolise their moment to moment experiences at their own pace. Hyper-vigilance may be common for individuals who have suffered abuse, and any attempt at pushing individuals psychologically may be seen as threatening. Therefore, providing conditions in which the client’s space and autonomy are respected are essential. This is demonstrated in the emphasis placed on the maintenance of the core conditions, creating the climate, the environment for growth and change to occur.

Empathy may offer clients the opportunity to remodel how they think of themselves. Clients may learn self-empathy. Clients may come into counselling and feel so ashamed, worthless, guilty and responsible, angry and confused. To experience the counselor sitting with these feelings, being a witness to them as they present themselves, has the potential of being incredibly healing.

Vernart and Webber (2012) concur that counselling with trauma needs to engender empowerment, working towards a positive self view. The embodiment of hope is significant too, in our ability to reflect back clients implicit strengths and resources as they are presented. There is a premise that it is relationship that can break us. Relationship can heal us too – by offering a relationship which involves deep empathic understanding, a relationship that respects and regards the individual positively and realistically. Given, then, an environment where trust is worked at, maintained and developed, and whereby the core conditions of acceptance, empathy and unconditional positive regard are held and attended to, post traumatic growth and resolution can and does occur.

It is, therefore, hoped that by offering a different relationship, individuals may better process and move forward, developing trust in both themselves and others, developing their self esteem, resilience, feeling validated, worthwhile and hopeful. It can be said individuals thus place meaning on their experiences, and reach a better place of self understanding, towards better healthy functioning.

Not feeling judged, feeling valued, heard and respected all go some way in aiding healing. The work can feel like a long road, with many bumps, but there is an implicit trust in process. We sit alongside clients, witnessing the terrible traumas they have sustained and the aftermath of such experiences. Providing a safe environment, attending to process, and listening to clients find meaning and a better understanding of their experiences, is a move towards potential growth and psychological change.

References

Joseph, S. (2005) Understanding Post Traumatic Stress from the Person Centred Perspective. In S. Joseph and R. Worsley (Eds.), Person Centred Psychopathology. A positive Psychology of mental health. Ross on Wye: PCCS Books.

Joseph, S. (2015) A person centred perspective on working with people who have experienced psychological trauma and helping them move forward to post traumatic growth. Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies, 14 (3). pp. 178-190. ISSN 1752-9182

Levitt, B, E. (2005) Embracing non directivity: Reassessing Person Centred Practice in the 21st Century. Ross on Wye: PCCS Books.

NSPCC. (2016) How Safe are Our Children.

Power, J. (2012) Person – Centred Therapy with adults sexually abused as children, In Tolan, J. And Wilkins, P. Client Issues in Counselling and psychotherapy. London: SAGE publications. LTD.

Rogers, C.R. (1951) Client centred therapy: its current practice, implications and theory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C.R. (1957) The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 21, 95-103.

Rogers, C.R. (1959) A theory of therapy, personality, interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client centred framework. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology : A study of science, vol. 3: formulations of the person and the social context (pp.184-256). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Vernart, E and Webber, J. (2012) Healing trauma through humanistic connection in Humanistic Perspectives on Contemporary Counselling Issues. Scholl, B, M. McGowan, A, S. and Hansen, J,T. Routledge: Hove

Justin Lee Slaughter is a Humanistic counsellor in private practice; he also volunteers as a sexual health counsellor in Brighton and Hove.