Leaving Yourself Out in the Cold? Thaw with a Therapist

Waiting by the stepsI saw him as I was walking in Central Park in late December. The paths were cleared, but all around the snow was deep and cold. Up ahead, what appeared to be a small family—man, woman, young boy—were trudging along when suddenly the woman loomed over the boy and began roaring at him at the top of her lungs.

The boy looked scared and ran away, across the snow banks. The man shouted at him to come back. The boy ran a bit more, the man called again, and then the boy turned toward the man and woman and sank face down into the snow. He rubbed his face in the snow, side to side, slowly, seemingly hopelessly, possibly to console himself. It seemed to me that he was in complete despair.

The man approached the boy, who got up. Hand in hand they returned to the woman. I wondered whether to call 911. It was a cruel scene, but no apparent crime had been committed and there were few concrete facts to report to the police—mostly just my feelings, which were sharply afraid, angry, and sad for the little boy.

“Child abuse in his past,” I thought to myself, “and more to come when he gets home. He’s gonna get it.”

For several years I worked with abused children until I couldn’t stand it anymore; now I work mostly with grown-ups, some of whom were abused when they were kids and who as adults are in abusive relationships. If you were raised by mean people, you easily find more of them—they are what you are used to, and you’re like a magnet for abuse. We learn to look for what we know because we don’t know anything better. I’m acquainted with the territory.

Abused children turn off their feelings because they are unbearable; they numb themselves out, freeze out their feelings in a measure of self-protection. Sometimes they manifest gestures of despair, like the boy in the park seemed to do when he rubbed his tender face in the cold snow. When you are freezing, you don’t feel much physical pain (or pleasure, either), but you’ll die if you don’t thaw out.

That works with emotions, too. It is a brave person who faces his or her history and deals with the unbearable to heal it. The safest way to thaw out and open up is to be in a therapeutic relationship with someone you can slowly learn to trust. In the meantime, you learn to trust yourself, too, as you gradually become less frightened and miserable.

You start by rubbing off the crusty armor that has protected you. Your therapist will be your witness, your guide, and your defender as you work together to discover YOU! What can be better, after all, than finding the deep self, learning how to nurture yourself, and feeling the joy of recognition and acceptance for who you really are?

Give yourself time. Get to know yourself deeply. Find out what and who you love, who you are inside, and what is truly satisfying, and then give yourself those satisfactions. Nourish yourself.

Imagine that inside you there is a small flower needing to be nurtured and fed, given sunshine and water, and that the flower energy within will prevail. You, too, will thrive when you are treasured and cared for.

It’s February, frozen, cold, and snowy in many places, but it’s also a time of love and kindness. Give yourself a Valentine. Be kind to yourself.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT, Object Relations Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Jeremy McAllister

    February 13th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    Gentle and well-written. Thank you.

  • ellen

    February 13th, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    I know that there have been times when I have probably said things to my kids that I later regret, but I am so thankful that I have always been able to for the most part hold myself together and not abuse them like I know that some kids have encountered. Things like this just make me question the rationale of people, why they even choose to have children in the first place if all they see fit to do is bully them and yell at them? It does not make any sense to me, and for those adults who are finally taking the steps to overcome what they must have en countered when they were young, it might be hard in the beginning but once you start working with someone whom you trust and who understands you then things will all start to come together in a very healthy way for you.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    February 13th, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Thanks, Jeremy.
    Take care,

  • Hannah

    February 13th, 2015 at 1:58 PM

    What better way to celebrate than give yourself what you need? Happy Valentines Day!!

  • Dakota

    February 14th, 2015 at 9:08 AM

    There are times in my life when I have immediately felt so comfortable with someone that it makes you feel ok to want to share everything with them, and then there are those times when it does take a little bit more of a grace period before you can truly get comfortable with them and let them in. I think that the same would be true with therapy. There will be times when you meet someone and you instantly feel like it is ok to share with them everything about yourself and then there might be those that could take a little more time. But that’s ok, as long as you are willing to give it that time and see if things can grow from there.

  • landon

    February 14th, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    It is hard to see when you have been abused for so long that you are deserving to have love in your life too

  • Anonymous

    February 15th, 2015 at 9:46 AM

    I wish I could get help. I wish I could talk to someone about what my dad did to me and about how all I’ve ever really wanted is to do die. But I can’t. I can’t reach out. I’m trapped inside my own head and I’m never going to get out. People talk about getting help like it’s something you just do, but it’s not that simple for me. I’m incapable of making myself vulnerable and revealing how broken I am. It’s never going to get better for me because I’m never going to be able to get help.

  • Tamara

    February 16th, 2015 at 5:15 AM

    I cannot begin to describe to you the relief and the ease that I began to feel in my own life once I began working with a therapist who I felt like GOT IT with me. She understood what I had been through, she made sure to try to understand even more deeply the things that I felt, and she helped me navigate a very tough emotional period in my life.

  • Jeremy McAllister

    February 16th, 2015 at 9:59 AM

    Anonymous, thank you for modeling the courage right here to share your fears. This is incredibly difficult for many, and conversations like this normalize that fact. It is not easy to step out, to ask for help, when all of your initial experience in life tells you that external support is not available or that seeking it will bring judgment or abandonment by others. Feeling ‘broken’ and ‘unfixable’ is not at all uncommon following any form of abuse or neglect. Many therapists (not all) are aware of how difficult that first contact can be.

  • Jack

    February 17th, 2015 at 6:36 AM

    The things that we learn to do as children to ward off our bad feelings are the things that ultimately we will continue to do as adults to try to avoid those same feelings and emotions. Not a healthy lifestyle to be sure but when you have done this from such a young age then it becomes more and more difficult to cope with it any other way.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    February 17th, 2015 at 6:05 PM

    Dear Anonymous,
    I know that you’re very scared. Sometimes just dealing “anonymously” with the fear is a start. You can learn to handle fearful and scary feelings without saying what those fears are about. Working with a supportive teacher or counselor can help and you don’t have to start out by using words to say what you’re afraid of– instead you can start by learning ways to calm yourself.You could seek help to learn how to deal with your scary feelings with a therapist, a counselor, or a yoga therapist.
    Good luck! and thanks for writing in.
    Take care,

  • Lewis

    February 20th, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    Letting down your guard at first can be the scariest part.
    If you were abused then most likely you have worn that as protection for a long time and the thought of letting someone in that you don ‘t really know that well and you will tell all of your secrets to? Well that can be pretty scary.
    Just know that when you are ready to take that step, they seriously do have your best interest at heart and would never use anything that you have to say against you.

  • lm

    August 18th, 2015 at 8:18 AM

    “they seriously do have your best interest at heart and would never use anything that you have to say against you.”

    Lewis – that all sounds very nice … but I’m going to assume then that you’ve never had a negative experience with any therapist that did exactly that (and/or any further negative experience with a therapist who gets defensive with you when you try to share with them about the previous negative experience in therapy).

    Which is … very nice for you, at the end of the day. But I think – emphasized by the nature of the modality – that to pretend that everybody has the same experience in therapy in terms of it being a universally safe space is an … artificial construction, to put it as mildly as I possibly can.

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