When I first started trauma work, I has so many fears surrounding sharing my memories of abuse with my therapist. Of course the first fear was that she would judge me or tell me that it was my fault. I was so afraid she would criticize me for not telling anyone about the abuse, or that she would tell me that it was “just kids experimenting like kids do.” While I didn’t disclose many details about my sexual abuse memories with my previous therapist, I did share one memory with her. I distinctly remember her asking if I thought it was more like kids just experimenting, which is normal, or if I thought it was abuse. My response was, “I don’t know.” This is my typical response when I don’t want to talk about something.
My second fear was that my therapist wouldn’t believe me. When I was 14, I started seeing a therapist after my school guidance counselor called my mom to tell her I was cutting. Of course I made up a slew of lies trying to cover up how the cuts got there, why I started cutting, and how long I had been doing it for. The therapist that I saw then didn’t believe that I actually self-injured on a regular basis. At the time, I cut primarily on the palms of my hands and on my hips – it was easier to hide. When I showed my therapist the cuts (because she didn’t believe I was cutting myself), she accused me of being “attention seeking.” 😒 And then, somewhere in all of that, my mom started to believe that I was a pathological liar and that I “was so bored with my own life that I made up stories about cutting”…..trust me, that thought process confused the hell out of me too!
I’m actually a really bad liar. I’m pretty sure my shrink always notices when I’m practicing “selective truth telling.” And usually, it’s because I’m not quite ready to go there yet. But for whatever reason, when we started trauma work, I was petrified that she would treat me the way other therapists had. I didn’t want to hear that what happened to me was “normal.” I didn’t want to hear that I was attention seeking. I didn’t want to hear that I was making it all up.
Being vulnerable with my trauma therapist those first few months was so challenging for me. Even now, when we go through a new memory or work through something that I feel ashamed or embarassed about, I worry that I’ll hear one of the phrases that I’ve gotten from past therapists. I worry that she’ll tell me it’s my fault or that I’m just making it up to get attention. I worry that she’ll tell me what happened to me was ok. She never does though.
Because she trusted me, and met my vulnerability with empathy (and answered like 52,000 emails), I learned to trust her. And by trusting my therapist, I learned to trust the process of trauma work. It isn’t always easy; but now that I trust the process, I do a much better job at being able to function in my day to day life without being consumed by what I work on in therapy. I can walk out of a session and, for the most part, leave my trauma work there and carry on with the rest of my life. I think being able to do this has, overall, lightened the load a little. Even though the memories and occasional flashbacks are still there, my mind and body feel a little more free. Not every day is perfect, but I have more good days than bad now.
Trust the process.