Recently I was talking to a 27-year-old female who had been arrested for the first time on various drug charges. Emotionally she was a wreck. I could tell she was really a good person on the inside, but emotionally she obviously wasn’t as stable as she could be and I immediately sensed that her childhood was filled with some type of neglect or abuse.
Why was I able to sense that? Because from my years of working with people, especially teenagers and women who have been abused and/or neglected as children, I’ve noticed that a large majority of them present very similar including being angry, shy, depressed, manic or lacking boundaries coupled with other cues such as body language.
This young lady was at some points crying, then angry, then laughing, and then crying again. Her life was “a mess” as she put it. She had two children, was in an unstable relationship (like all the other relationships she had been in), couldn’t seem to get her life together or in her words, “do anything right” and she had started smoking crack cocaine, a secret she kept from her family until she got arrested.
She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t get her life together. Why every time things would be going good, she would do something to mess it up. She was living almost in constant chaos and was using drugs to escape it. She had never been diagnosed with anything before and blamed herself for not being able to stop herself from making bad choices over and over again.
And then I asked her if she was ever abused before. I already knew the answer, I would have been shocked if I was wrong, I was hoping I was wrong, but I was right. She started crying and told me she had been molested repeatedly from the age of 8. Her childhood from that point on was filled with abuse, neglect and abandonment. No wonder now as an adult her life was “a mess”.
One of the things that happens to children and even adults when we experience abuse, neglect, trauma, abandonment or anything that is so mentally and emotionally painful that we can’t make sense of it, is that it doesn’t get fully processed and it becomes clutter in our minds, thoughts and emotions.
Our emotions and thoughts become fragmented with a lot of unprocessed feelings and those unprocessed feelings are what eventually will cause us to express ourselves in unhealthy ways, especially if we aren’t naturally resilient or have great social-emotional supports. However, even if we are naturally resilient and have great supports, chances are that fragmentation will still affect the way we think, feel and interact with other people.
That is what was going on with this young lady and until I explained to her how the trauma and pain from her past was affecting her future, she had no idea that at least some of what she was going through wasn’t totally her fault. Deep inside she is holding on to feelings of rage, insecurity and hurt from all the abuse, trauma and abandonment. All that unprocessed, raw emotion has to come out somewhere consciously or unconsciously. In a lot of people it comes out in the form of rage towards themselves or others.
They may cut themselves, or do other things that demonstrate a lack of love for themselves such as being promiscuous, abusing drugs or alcohol and getting into abusive or neglectful relationships over and over again just to name a few. Some may even attempt suicide. Drugs, sex, self-mutilation and even suicide may be used as ways to try to control the rage they have inside.
They may turn their rage outwards and inflict hurt on others by being abusive, bitter, and pushing people away sometimes to the point where they wake up one day and realize they are totally alone and will blame other people for abandoning them even when they were the one pushing them away.
On top of that, they become so used to hiding their real feelings and emotions that they have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves in a healthy way. In return, they often end up feeling misunderstood and often blaming others for everything that doesn’t go right. Their psychological defenses will leave them blind to their own role in their interpersonal difficulties.
When someone has all this stuff going on in their conscious and subconscious mind, there’s no wonder their lives are continuously in chaos. Almost nothing they do will fix it if they remain unaware and blind to how their past is influencing their present. If they aren’t willing to try to change and get help, then it’s very unlikely that their lives will ever be all that it could have been.
Change Starts With Insight
Sometimes the toughest part of therapy is insight building, which means getting the person to see things as they really are and how they are truly affecting their lives. Many people like to place blame on others and take absolutely no responsibility for their circumstances. Even this young lady at one point was trying to blame her boyfriend for calling the police when he couldn’t find her. When the police found her and search her, they discovered the drugs so this was all the boyfriends fault according to her.
Once I got this young lady to see that she had to take responsibility for her current incarceration, I pointed out to her that it wasn’t all her fault. Much of her current issues, the relationship instability, the drug use, the emotional instability, all had roots in her past. Once she got this she had an “aha” moment. She had never even put the two together. Even in that moment I could see the light bulb go off as some insight started pouring in.
That was amazing, but now it was time for the real hard work to begin. Now that she had insight, she had even more responsibility to start taking charge of her life and to stop letting the garbage from the past stink up her present and future.
Where To Start Healing
Immediately she said she wasn’t strong enough to do that, that she was too weak and that might be true which is why I told her the first thing she needs to do is to get into rehab. She needs to get clean and then to also find a good psychotherapist. She is going to have to be determined, patient and emotionally open because she will have to face a lot of emotional pain she’s been avoiding and she’ll have to resist the urge and the fear to do what she’s always done which is to get angry, runaway from getting help or to sabotage herself again.
This is not something that is going to be resolved in one session, one month or even one year. This will likely be a life long battle for her, but one that is worth fighting.
She has a long road ahead of her, but if she is willing to do the work, she will have a much better life. Until she does the work and gets the help she needs, nothing in her life will make sense the way it should and she will always be left feeling like a victim. It’s not all her fault, but she now has the responsibility to take control of her life and to at least minimize the hurt from the past.
This one young lady’s experience echos that of hundred of young women I have dealt with over the last several years. Many of them due to their experiences, stressors, and predispositions to certain illness will go on to become drug addicts, alcoholics, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, etc. Some of them will be resilient and despite their past live incredible lives as relatively emotionally healthy people.
It may not be all your fault, but it is your job to take responsibility and control over your life.