The 7-year-old Psychotherapist


Psychotherapy

When your life has been tumultuous, you develop an amazing set of skills.


In some perspectives, these skills are not perceived to be skills at all, alternatively, they can be perceived as personality flaws. However, I believe that when we change our perspectives, we change our lives.


An example of this is when you’re told, “You talk too much.”


You may have heard this said to you, or even said it yourself. I know that it is a sentence I hear almost daily – and I love it.


YOU TALK TOO MUCH

You see, for me, my perception of the world is very different to the average person – as are the perceptions of a lot of trauma survivors. I grew up in an environment where the atrocities that occurred were not to be discussed; dirty secrets were kept hidden and remained unspoken, as if they never occurred. So hidden, in fact, that the perpetrators of these awful acts were invited to family functions.


The victims of these vile acts were made to pretend nothing had happened, and to not dare speak of what was done.


Speaking about our trauma would cause pain to such and such, and we weren’t allowed to do that. The feelings of THOSE individuals were always prioritised over the innocent victims.

At seven years of age, being made to remain silent by the very people who I believe were meant to protect me, made me ask a lot of questions about my world.


At seven, I knew that this was not normal behaviour; How could adults just sweep these things under the carpet? How could the other victims be around this individual, and not say something about it? I knew how he made me feel – I felt threatened, intimidated, betrayed, and disgusted. Yet, I could not speak of any of it, even with those who knew how I was feeling. I had to keep my mouth shut and pretend it never happened.


Through having to remain silent, I developed an incredible gift. I discovered that I had a LOT to say about what went on, however, I could only converse with myself, inside my own head. And in doing so, I was able to ask myself questions, and really think about the answers, in order to make sense of the world I was living.


I would say to myself, “I feel scared of that man, yet everyone else isn’t? Am I wrong for wanting to speak up, for wanting to kick him as hard as I could in his balls, and for screaming at the rest of my family, “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU ALL?? CAN’T YOU SEE THIS IS SO WRONG?”

I would then ask myself if I was being overly-sensitive, or unreasonable. Did I do anything to make this man think it was ok to do that to me? Did I encourage it?


NO!

NO was always the resounding reply I would give my-self. No! I am NOT wrong, THEY are. I was a young, innocent child and it was their job to protect me, not constantly put me in harm’s way.


And I was more than happy to stand by that. I would refuse to go to family events in which he would be present. I would carry on whenever my parents said we were going to see the family – I did not want to see them, for they made me feel unsafe and unimportant.


As a result of digging my heels in, I was called stubborn, disrespectful, and pig-headed.

I discovered this stubborn streak, and this inquisitive, self-conversational technique, was a way of helping me to survive. By asking questions of myself, and assessing how I felt about things, I could form what I considered an educated and balanced view point, and make decisions based on what was right for me. It also helped me to shape my values.

And it served me well. It didn’t win me any favours in the eyes of the adults around me, but I didn’t care.

Self-talk and Imagination

At the age of nine, I had another traumatic experience at the hands of a male. For eight long months, I was sexually abused.


I had learnt my lesson though; don’t speak up about it, because A) no one listens, B) no one cares, C) I will be called a liar or told that I am being silly, and D) nothing will happen if I do speak up anyway; that was apparently not the way in our family.


So, for many months, I kept silent on the outside, all the while I was screaming on the inside.

While my young, innocent body was being violated in the most heinous of ways, I retreated into my mind and immersed myself in my self-talk. In my world, I was the only person I could trust, and I was the only person I could talk to (I felt I was smarter, wiser, and more aware than the adults around me; I had no respect for any of them).


I would talk to myself about a movie I had recently watched, or about the next Barbie Doll I wanted to have. I would talk to myself about my pets, or my favourite toy. I didn’t have any friends to think about or pretend to chat to; having gone to so many different schools made it hard for me to form bonds with people. Besides, I had some serious trust issues. I had no one to talk to about what was happening to me, other than myself.


When I was returned to the dark loneliness of my bedroom, and I felt it was safe for my mind to return back to my body, I would begin asking myself questions again; “He said Mum and Dad would be so disappointed in me if they knew what I was doing. But I’m not doing anything wrong? Or am I? Is it my fault that he is doing these things to me? Am I a bad daughter for not telling my parents? If I tell my parents, they will blame me, so who do I tell? I need to tell someone, but I have NO ONE I can trust. No one! And why does this keep happening to me? Am I a bad person? How can I stop this?”


And from my answers, came strength.

I affirmed that I was not doing anything wrong; I was a nine-year-old girl, and he was a 35-year-old man – he knew better. Yes, the answers created rage inside me, but it was that rage that pushed me forward.


When I did finally speak out about what had been happening, nothing was done about it. I was not taken to counselling. The police weren’t contacted. It was not explained to me that I would be kept safe, or that it was his actions that were wrong. I was actually told by one of my parents that if I ever kept anything like that a secret again, I would be disowned.

Hearing that statement, that I would be disowned, hurt. I felt angry – but yet I tried to understand why that was said to me.


Sure, I could have argued that it was culture in our family to keep that stuff silent, and that the perpetrator had threatened my life, as well as the life of my family. But what would have been the point?


I simply reverted back into my mind, and told myself that what had just been said to me was out of fear – this parent of mine obviously felt guilt and was scared, and was trying (in vain) to urge me to speak up “next time”.


As I said, at 9 years old, my “talkative nature” helped me to understand my world and my own emotions, which helped me to empathise with others.


The sad thing was that there was a “next time”.

And I did speak up.


I told my parents that there were two particular men in our lives that made me feel very uncomfortable. I told them that I do not like the way they look at me, or hug me. After living through sexual abuse twice, I was very adept at reading signs of danger, and these men made me feel threatened.


To my utter despair, when I spoke of my fears regarding these men, I was told “Don’t be silly, he won’t hurt you. And if he did, we’d kill him”.


In my mind, my internal chatterbox said, “Yes, like you protected me from the last ones who hurt me; they were still living and you had done nothing about them”.


My talkative-self had come up with the conclusion that my parents had no clue about a lot of things, or didn’t care. The latter thought hurt too deeply to consider for too long, so I pushed it aside and decided that I was the only person I could ever rely on to keep myself safe.


It had seemed as though my parents would rather maintain their friendships with these men, than to listen to my fears and demonstrate to me that I was worthy of being taken seriously. By listening to me and taking action, they could have shown me that I was important enough to be heard, and that I was worthy enough to be seen as a reliable judge of my own feelings. Instead, I was always left justifying my thoughts and feelings to myself. I was not safe to speak up.


There was always so much I needed and wanted to say, but was never allowed to.

I was made to attend the house of one of the males I had spoken of, by myself, as he wanted to pay me to do some cleaning for him. I begged my parents not to make me go. I told them he made me feel really scared and uncomfortable.


They told me I was being stupid, and made me go anyway.


The anger and resentment I felt towards them was almost unbearable, but it was made very clear to me that I had to shut my over-opinionated mouth, as I was only a child and I needed to know my place – it was to be seen and not heard.


But I had become so fed up with being seen; seen by filthy men with depraved desires, and not heard by those who should have ALWAYS been in my corner.


This was the beginning

These events were the kick-starter for my ability to delve inside my own mind, assess my thoughts and feelings, and make a decision for myself DESPITE what others around me were saying. I learnt to check in with my-self for guidance and direction, even when I am speaking with someone of authority or stature. No one knows me like I know me.


Talking a lot, has enabled me to become a great communicator. I have accumulated many skills, both in speaking, and listening.


The skill of being able to understand the underlying message in people’s words has allowed me to keep myself safe, and get a feel for that the other person is REALLY saying.


To talk through any issues that I face has helped me to make sense of the world, and to respond more than I react. I have so many observations about the world around me, that my hope is to share them with others so that they may see a different point of view.


Due to my trauma, and ability to use my imagination to escape from the dark realities I faced, I see the world so vibrantly – I am a natural born story teller and I aim to “set the scene” in my conversations, so that the listener may travel my story with me. Talking is about sending a message to someone, and clearly, I have a lot of unsent messages.


The skill of talking a lot has allowed me to remain true to myself, and to never be swayed by the opinions of those around me. It has given me the ability to ask the questions that need to be asked. It’s allowed me to truly understand the meanings of the conversations I am involved in.


And do I keep quiet about things now? You can bet your life that I will NEVER be silenced about the things that matter to me most. And nor should you.


Speak your truth, and don’t hold it in for anyone. Being talkative is a skill which requires quick thinking, an ability to see patterns in conversations that you can latch on to, and to keep up with changes.

To be talkative means you would have strong opinions, and a passion for sharing them.

And what a gift to be faced with someone who speaks so openly! It is a chance for you, as a listener, to get a small insight into that person’s world, as they are happy to share their thoughts, visions, opinions, passions and fears with you. Take the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes, and remember – there could be a deeper reason as to why that person is so willing to share so much.


If you are blessed with the gift of the gab, use it to your advantage - never be silenced over the issues that set your heart on fire.


It is only now that I look back at my seven-year-old self and realise, that I had in fact been my own psychotherapist.




**If this article has raised any issues for you, please contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or go to www.beyondblue.org.au