I 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.
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