Gina was 29 years old and she was angry as anything. She had a right to be. She had been abused sexually by her uncle from age 8 until 14. She felt ashamed, dirty, demeaned, and never shared this with anyone. Gina had boyfriends over the years but these relationships were superficial and inevitably led to abuse. It became her strange comfort zone - Gina felt she didn’t deserve better. As time went on, she started hating herself more and more. This led to all sorts of self harm, which then led to psychiatric hospitalizations. When I introduced myself (and I always had a female staff member with me when I saw her), Gina was understandably guarded and made no eye contact. She said she just wanted medications, lots of medications, anything to numb the pain. She said this would help her to stop harming herself. So I medicated her - not that I believed it was what she needed ultimately. But it was a first step, an attempt, for Gina to feel she was being cared for. What soon became clear to me was that Gina’s previous therapists were a disaster. They failed to help her see the distinction between victimization and victimhood. Victimization comes from the outside, as in Gina’s uncle. But victimhood comes from the inside, Gina’s self perception. Sadly, someone who views themself as a perpetual victim is essentially handing their life over to others. True healing can only happen if one refuses the self-definition of victim.
I cannot claim that I am an expert on trauma. There are great therapists who have more direct experience with this than I do. But I do know that the victimhood mentality is not healthy and often perpetuates itself. In my judgment, therapy with someone who has undergone horrific sexual or physical abuse should not be based on defining oneself by one’s trauma. Sadly, this is what happens all too often. Gina and I talked about how she can begin to build a positive self-image. This starts with connecting with her true self, her soul, which is innately good. And then to know that this goodness can never stolen from her - and never was. With this in mind, she can then let go of her anger and love herself again. As Gina left the hospital after a one week stay, I certainly encouraged her to share these themes in her outpatient therapy work. We knew her journey would not be easy; terrible trauma never is. Years later, I heard that Gina was happily married and a mother to three beautiful children. With that, I assumed that she had done the hard hard work that it takes to say goodbye to the demons of her past. I’d like to think - and I pray - that anyone who has undergone horrific abuse can find a way to connect with their true selves - and then move on, wonderfully and powerfully, with their life.