Whenever You’re Ready to Tell Your Story, Your Therapist Is Listening

Person wearing coat with hood stands on end of dock looking out over lakeEditor’s note: This article contains themes of abuse and may be triggering for some readers.

“Trauma is a time traveler, an ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before.” —Junot Diaz, author

Learning how to tell our own stories is how we grow and change. We might say we were born under a bright star or a threatening one. Maybe we felt we were doomed from the start and never had a chance. Somebody else might say, “Yes, life was tough when I was growing up, but I knew I would overcome.” Telling ourselves what happened is part of the process of finding out who we are. Creating our stories is how we create ourselves.

Many children who experience trauma never go on to tell their stories. They never say, “This happened, and then this happened to me,” because they are frightened and ashamed. They have been threatened into silence, abused and taught that no one will rescue them. Maybe they feel they deserved the abuse—even though, of course, they didn’t. No one does! They may isolate and put themselves in danger. They may treat themselves as worthless objects, just as they have been treated. Their universe as they know it may feel devoid of hope, compassion, and love.

Listen to what you say to yourself. Do you call yourself names like “stupid loser,” “ugly,” or “slut”? Are you scared? Do you have bad dreams?

Everybody wants to forget a nightmare, but pay attention to what you’re dreaming; the stories you’re making up in your sleep are telling you something important. Is someone chasing you? Is your life in peril? Try to figure out what’s happening or has happened in your waking life—your dreams may be a message from you to you.

In The New Yorker, prize-winning author Junot Diaz writes that when he was a small child he was raped repeatedly by a trusted adult. Fear kept him silent for most of his life, although hints of his experience leaked out in his writing. He kept the events secret, but their effects were on display in his novels, his dreams, his addictive activities, his inability to form and preserve intimate relationships, and his suicide attempts.

This is what persistent, brave effort and commitment to therapy can do. Your therapist will hold space for you and walk with you where you need to go—where you hate to go. Your therapist will hold hope for you, listen as you tell your story, and help you understand how its trajectory was influenced.

He was alone in his life and felt threatened, just as he had been isolated and threatened by his rapist. Still, he told no one. He tried hiding from his past, but he was continually under attack. “As any Freudian will tell you,” he writes, “trauma is stronger than any mask; it can’t be buried and it can’t be killed. It’s the revenant that won’t stop, the ghost that’s always coming for you.”

He struggled, he stumbled, and he struggled again. After many years, he was ready to work with a therapist toward healing.

But he was far from confident therapy would help.

“It took years—hard, backbreaking years—but [the therapist] picked up what there was of me,” Diaz writes. “I don’t think she’d ever met anyone more disinclined to therapy. I fought it every step of the way. But I kept coming, and she never gave up. After long struggle and many setbacks, my therapist slowly got me to put aside my mask. Not forever, but long enough for me to breathe, to live.”

This is what persistent, brave effort and commitment to therapy can do. Your therapist will hold space for you and walk with you where you need to go—where you hate to go. Your therapist will hold hope for you, listen as you tell your story, and help you understand how its trajectory was influenced.

People sometimes ask, “Why talk to a therapist when you can talk to your friends?” You should talk to your friends. To serve you well, a therapist cannot be your friend.

No matter how hard they may try, a therapist cannot undo what has happened to you. But a good therapist will help you find strength within and empower you to dream bigger than a nightmare—on your terms.

Like Junot Diaz, you can take your life back.

Reference:

Diaz, J. (2018, April 9). The silence: The legacy of childhood trauma. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/16/the-silence-the-legacy-of-childhood-trauma

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

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.

  • 3 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • JunotFan

    JunotFan

    May 9th, 2018 at 3:04 PM

    Junot Diaz went through hell and came out the other side. If he can do it, you can do it. Thank you for writing about this.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 9th, 2018 at 6:59 PM

    You’re welcome, JunotFan, and I’m one too.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Alex

    Alex

    May 10th, 2018 at 8:22 AM

    I wonder if this article has crossed over with recent media discussion re Junot Diaz? Not having heard of him, I just googled.

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