If you’re coming back from my last article — 5 Questions Every Trauma Survivor Asks In Therapy — welcome back to the Arrivals and Departures series! Let’s delve into the question that brings people into trauma therapy in the first place. It is a big one and — shifting that question is the very first thing we do in therapy.
99% of clients come into therapy with some variation of the question —
Why am I broken and how can I fix myself?
Clients often believe they are broken and need fixing because the strategies they’ve relied on for years and years to mitigate the effects of trauma are no longer working. All of us are familiar with these because we’ve either lived them or watched someone else live them. The strategies clients have used for years to mitigate the effects of trauma -- perfectionism, compulsions, over indulgence, and avoidance — are just flat-out ineffective.
For example, the perfectionism that stopped intrusive thoughts of “not being good enough”, isn’t translating to the new job. The nighttime binge eating that took away that aching feeling, “I’m not worthy”, is no longer helping. The avoidance of dating because of a belief, “I’m unlovable”, is preventing partnership.
Before attending therapy, clients have successfully used strategies to cope with trauma symptoms. These strategies, even though many were personally harmful, were actually quite effective at keeping the symptoms of trauma at bay. When people enter trauma therapy, they are at their wit’s end. One of more parts of their life are not functioning properly. And the effects from that breakdown in one area of life ripple quickly to other areas of life.
One of my clients, let’s call her Glenda— she was a dual licensed physician and dentist and ran a large franchised practice. Seemingly out of nowhere, Glenda started to experience chronic pain in her pelvis and recurrent UTIs. Because of the pain, she started becoming irritable with her staff and patients, which then rippled to impatience at home with her kids and husband. This then caused marital problems in part due to their reduced physical intimacy and also because of her sudden change in mood.
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Glenda’s medical team treated her UTIs with antibiotics and referred her to therapy for everything else. Glenda entered therapy with a lot of evidence pointing to — Why am I broken and how can I fix myself?
Take a look at another one of my clients, let’s call her Miranda. Miranda was no-nonsense CEO with more Ivy League training than anyone I’ve worked with. This client started therapy because, during her maternity leave, she started having nightmares about her childhood. Her own Mom was highly authoritarian — hitting her and her brother with belt buckles and spanking them with a wooden spoon when they misbehaved. My client left at 16 and never looked back, believing that leaving her Mom and hometown would mean leaving all the trauma behind her. And this was true — for the last 20 years, Miranda had never looked back.
That’s why she had no idea why these memories were breaking through, never mind right now — the happiest time of her life — caring for her brand new baby. But the memories did break through and they were intense. One afternoon, after many sleepless nights, Miranda’s newborn slipped from her arms during breastfeeding and fell to the ground. The baby was not hurt, but my client was absolutely devastated. She had never felt more incompetent and helpless in her life.
This rippled to my client no longer trusting herself to feed her daughter. Despite pleas from her OB-GYN to reconsider, she stopped breastfeeding and her husband started bottle feeding the baby. Miranda started slipping into a depression, struggling to leave bed in the morning. This client also entered therapy with a lot of evidence pointing to — Why am I broken and how can I fix myself?
Do you want to see the REAL ANSWER that led to Glenda’s healing and learn about another’s client’s story? Check out the next article in the Arrivals and Departures series!
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