The harms of childhood abuse whether physical, psychological, emotional or sexual are carried in to adulthood and can have life enduring implications. Of the twenty-three parents on my current caseload, twenty have experienced some form of child abuse and they all cite childhood maltreatment as the root of their substance dependence. Sadly research supports this.
Those who work, or have worked, in any helping field understand the time and energy invested in establishing a therapeutic relationship with a person who has a history of abuse in childhood. It takes time, and patience, and compassion, and empathy; and an ability to hear beyond words … because a wounded soul has none.
A committed counsellor becomes an ally who provides a safe ‘holding environment’ where their distress is contained, their anxiety and pain are recognised. Distress can be caused by a person’s inability to regulate emotions leading to feelings of shame and guilt. These difficulties are linked to childhood experiences where parents/caregivers were not attuned to the child and their needs. When parents are constantly stressed,distracted by issues in their own lives, depressed, unresponsive because of mental health issues or preoccupied by alcohol and or drug dependence, children experience abuse through neglect.
These children come to expect rejection, struggle with anxiety, emotional pain and frustration when they have emotional needs that parents are not attuned to. They come to believe their needs are shameful and wrong, and to avoid them and the intense distress and anxiety they cause they develop coping strategies to help get them through the trauma.
Substance dependence is one ‘coping strategy’ the inner child finds helpful to protect against and help cope with unmet emotional needs of childhood. The therapeutic alliance is about supporting that inner child to find trust; an adult who will be reliable, competent, trustworthy and able to meet them at their point of pain, in this moment.
“It takes two to do the trust tango–the one who risks (the trustor) and the one who is trustworthy (the trustee); each must play their role. –Charles H. Green, The Trusted Advisor
This post has been written as part of NaBloPoMo’s blogging challenge to post every day in November.