It is so interesting being a psychologist and I feel very privileged every time people talk to me about their innermost thoughts and feelings as well as share with me some of the events of their lives.
Let me tell you there is nothing like counselling people from a variety of backgrounds and from all walks of life to gain some appreciation for what some people have had to overcome in life. I am amazed at the strength people often have deep within to handle some of the most horrible situations from being beaten and abused as a 5-year-old child for 5 years by their step mother to being raped by their step father or cousin at a very young age. These people come to counselling often having never discussed these issues with anyone before, especially when they come from a background where seeing a counsellor or psychologist was either not affordable or would be frowned upon.
Some come to counselling having managed to keep their lives together like one of my recent clients who lived with an abusive husband for over 20 years who continuously beat and abused her and her children. She stayed in the marriage because she wanted to protect her children from her husband and would often physically put herself in front of her children to protect them. As the children grew up, started to get married and move out of the home she realised that she needed to get away before it was too late. She described days where she just wanted to give up but she kept all the abuse quiet and to herself, not even allowing her family who lived overseas to know about it because she didn’t want them to worry about her. Her family even thought that her husband was an amazing husband and father for over 20 years!
When she first came to see me, she had just left her husband and he was desperately trying to get her back, crying and acting depressed and desolate (and he would often say that he was going to kill himself) to try to guilt her into taking him back. But my client had reached a threshold. I suspect many would have reached this point much earlier on however the point is she had finally reached it. She knew she would never again allow herself to be treated that way.
She was feeling very anxious and was quite weepy when we had our first session but as she told her story and allowed herself to reflect on what had happened in her life over the previous twenty or so years, she seemed to gain a sense of relief and further resolve to continue walking away from her abusive husband. By the time she came to see me for a second session, her husband had gone back overseas but was still texting her to take him back and even went to state his case to her family saying she had left him and how horrible of her! However, she came in and looked like a different woman. She looked younger than her 50 or so years, she looked well-groomed and she had a sense of peace about her. She told me more about her story explaining that at her instigation, she and her husband had started a business when they were together but he had put them into a large amount of debt when it was first set up. He then didn’t want anything further to do with the business and she took it over and made it a success and started paying down the debt. When she left her husband, she had a successful business and all her children were working in it. So as I reflected back to her on her life and where she currently found herself, it struck me that this woman had over the past 20 years seen herself as weak and completely lacking in self-esteem. Why else would anyone allow themselves to be beaten by their husband and not say a word to anyone about it? However, as we discussed it she started to realise that she had come across other women in those years who had either had nervous breakdowns or committed suicide being in similar or even less abusive situations. I reflected back to her how strong she really was to have made it through, to have protected her children in the best way she thought she could and to finally have made the choice to leave her husband and tell her family what had happened over all those years.
Whilst I would never condone a woman staying in an abusive relationship for any reason I had to show this woman that she was not the weak person she thought she was. Along with getting her to feel good about her ability to finally stand up for herself and say “no more”, we discussed what her future was starting to look like with a successful business that her children were now able to be a part of and her starting enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life and the freedom she now had. She described feeling like she had been let out of jail or a cage and how she felt lighter and could not believe how long she had lived with anxiety, fear and a sense of desperation about her life.
Sometimes it only takes two sessions and being a psychologist is about being a mirror to your clients and showing them not the distorted circus mirror they have been using to look at themselves but the crystal clear mirror depicting their true selves, their true heroism, their true strength and ability to overcome some of the most unimaginable things in life.
In life, we often think that everyone else is coping better than we are. That everyone else has better self-esteem and is stronger and able to handle more difficult situations than we can. However, with the mirror of truth held up in front of us by someone who cares and is more objective about us and our lives we can finally see that we are truly much stronger than we ever believed possible. We can see that so many people out there are struggling with similar feelings of guilt, fear, grief and depression and that we are not alone in our pain. We also realise that life always give us a choice. That we can choose to walk away from an abusive relationship even if that means more pain in the short-term but greater self-esteem and freedom in the long-term. We can choose to be healthy each day or not. We can choose to go for that run each day or not. We can choose to keep training our minds in thinking more positively or not. We can choose to be more empathic towards others and be more open to new adventures in life or not.
What will you choose to do today? Will you change your life?