When I hear severe details about someone’s past, I have learned to filter the information. I do this to minimize my ideas about the severity. So that I can better connect with the client and where they are at in their current unlayering process.
Yet I also have to maintain my own understanding or ideas of what’s been shared. For example, I know that childhood abuse is serious. I understand where we ultimately need to go in the therapy process in order for this person to heal.
And it is my job to not only unwaveringly and clearly bear witness to the injustices my clients have faced, but also prevent them from reverting back to their belief that their life experiences weren’t “that bad.”
However, when the client is in denial about the ultimate impact of this abuse on their life, or they are defensively needing to protect themselves from that severity, I must go nearer to how they themselves portray the abuse.
How exactly do I do that?
I split myself cognitively. So that we are standing together and apart at the same time.
Standing Together and Apart
One part of me strives to see the world through their eyes. To stand with them – even in those situations where they may feel confused and pulled from every direction. I connect with their pain and point of view, so they can experience me as someone who understands and is on their side.
So, when a client nonchalantly refers to having been beaten as a child, I take it in stride. I attempt to match their approach to the event. I try to see and feel what they feel, and treat it as another piece of information.
I enter the encasement of their “self” without losing my “self.” I let myself “forget” traumatic experiences they share, knowing and trusting that I will remember when I need to. It’s like placing some things in the background while focusing on other things in front first.
In this way, I avoid alienating people who are simultaneously asking for help and terrified of asking. I avoid overreacting to information they have learned to diminish about themselves. I prevent scaring people off because they are so fearful about how I might react. Yet all the while, retaining that part of me that knows what information is useful to know.
In this way, my clients feel not only understood, but seen as only another person can see them. Standing together… and apart.