I remember how it felt sitting on the couch holding her newborn baby in my arms as my client, her mother, and her sister recounted the events of the night before. Her boyfriend was jumped and held at gunpoint, while a black SUV pulled up in the alley in back with guns out ready to shoot up a house full of women and children. She cried as she told me how she was screaming for help hoping the neighbors would hear her pleas. As I listened to the details of that night, I looked down at the sleeping baby girl resting in my arms.
I have helped many people in processing their pain, but I can’t say it’s been without a cost. I decided to start therapy about a month ago because I was struggling to cope with all the suffering I’ve been exposed to in my work. It was like the light went out in my life and all I could feel was this gravitational pull toward darkness. I thought that in going to therapy that I would just simply get strategies on how to take care of myself better and give in a healthier way and that would be all–short, sweet, and to the point. I have quickly learned that there are no shortcuts on the road to healing.
A couple weeks into my therapy she started reflecting on the dynamics of my personal relationships I brought up in conversation. I told her that it has been harder for me to feel like I can trust people with my pain which was making it almost impossible for me to genuinely connect with the people I care about. I often feared that if I told people how much I was hurting that they would respond in a way that was insensitive or judgemental which would make me feel even more alone. Then my therapist said something really profound to me, “Not sharing your painful experiences could be amplifying the pain you feel in your life–it could really be adding to that sense of being disconnected, leaving you fearful and guessing or assuming people may react in a way that is hurtful when in reality they could be really supportive.”
I’ve been studying attachment theory for a training at work and it describes love in a way for me to help parents form healthy bonds with their babies, but it also impacted me and how I view my relationships with those around me. Love is described as this process of sharing layers of yourself with someone. The more you receive acceptance, kindness, empathy in that sharing process the more you feel safe with that person and your relationship deepens and love grows.
However, we all have parts of ourselves we can be afraid to let others see. We either create or relive the horror stories in our mind of the times we have been rejected and wounded by offering our true selves to someone else. So it becomes easier to develop a laundry list of reasons not to trust someone and assume the worst in them as an excuse to disengage. When we accept the assumption that people are out to hurt us it steals the potential for them to respond to us in ways that can be even better than anything we could have ever hoped for.
I often say that my clients are the ones who have impacted my life more than I have theirs because it’s true. I’m a stranger they have chosen to let into their story. They offer to share their pain and assume that I will be sensitive and kind to their unarmed hearts, and the moments I have been along side them in their tears, laughter, suffering, and joy have been the moments when I have felt most alive. These women have taught me that the greatest gift we can give to others is ourselves, and I am forever in their debt for that.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. –Romans 13:8