FREEMAN REFLECTIVE JOURNAL
My life has been one where most nothing was as it should have been, yet through it all there were glimpses of a world I longed to be a part of and one in which I fought hard to be a part of. The “I” in “who I am” has always been defined in my mind as the person who rose beyond my circumstances to be something more.
Erikson’s Stages of Development
Trust VS Mistrust
I was born into a home full of domestic abuse, alcoholism, and mental illness. The trust verses mistrust stage occurs between birth and one and my circumstances were not conducive to developing trust (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). My mother reports that I was a very intelligent baby but did not seek out adult attention. According to Erikson as presented by Henderson and Thompson (2011) this is because I learned that adults could not be trusted to be responsive, affectionate, or meet my needs.
Autonomy VS Shame and Doubt
Between the ages of one and three years old a toddler develops a sense of autonomy or shame and doubt as they begin doing things for themselves and developing a sense of independence (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). During this time my father overly controlled me. The slightest mistake on my part was met with severe abuse. This caused me to develop shame and doubt highlighted by fear of my environment and those around me.
Initiative VS Guilt
From the ages of three to six a child begins interacts more socially with the world around them (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). Through play they plan activities, make up games, and interact with others. Children who are allowed to do this develop initiative; I was not allowed to do those things in a healthy way and developed guilt, feeling like I was a problem for those around me and did as much as possible to stay hidden. At the age of five my mother finally left my father. While it stopped the abuse for a while, it lead to me becoming the mother figure to my five younger siblings and providing care for my depressed mother. I grew up very quick.
Industry VS Inferiority
During the industry verses inferiority stage I spent most of my time taking care of my mother and five younger siblings. Children are supposed to be developing a sense of initiative rather than feelings of guilt for never doing anything right (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). In an odd way, I was able to meet this developmental task. My siblings and the significant adults I interacted with treated me as an adult. I became very confident in my skills as a mother at this time, though I now realize that was not appropriate. From the age of eight until ten the abuse by my father became quite bad as a suicide attempt by my mother lead to me living with him. My only relief was time I spent with my stepmother or when I was at school. I excelled at school and thrived on the attention I received there. In 1990, at the age of ten, my father killed himself and my stepmother. I lost all hope. 0
Establishment of Identity or Role Confusion
In adolescence a person develop their self-image and identity (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). During this time teens develop autonomous self-identity through “separation and individuation” (Kopla & Kietel, 2003, p. 200). My identity was that I was worthless, an object to be used and treated however anyone chose. At the age of fifteen I became involved with and married a man ten years my senior. I was content allowing him to control me and fill in those previously unmet needs in an unhealthy way because in my mind it was better than them not being met at all.
Establishment of Intimacy or Isolation
As I entered into the intimacy or isolation phase I remained confused and conflicted, yet through becoming a Christian and starting college, I began to develop a healthy mind state. I began to have healthy and supportive relationships and seek out ways to improve my life, which included counseling. The unfortunate consequence of this was that when the man who had previously been able to manipulate and control me could no longer do so verbally, he began to be incredibly abusive. I went into a five year tailspin where I forgot everything I knew and reverted to old behaviors. After fourteen years of marriage we got divorced. It was one of the biggest blessings in my life. My faith, therapy, and lots of hard work on my part have allowed tremendous healing and growth.
Grief and Loss
When someone experiences a loss, grief is the appropriate response (Clinton & Langberg, 2011). Grief can occur during any significant change in life and is highlighted by a “complex set of emotions” that varies depending on multiple factors (Clinton & Langberg, 2011, p. 161). According to Clinton and Langberg (2011) Grieving may be experienced psychologically, socially, and physically depending on “personality, coping mechanisms, and past experiences” (p.161). As a woman grieves the loss of a loved one she may experience feelings of guilt and regret related to how the relationship played out and what role she felt she may have played related to the death (Clinton &Langberg, 2011). When the death is sudden, the shock factor makes the feelings more intense and difficult to handle (Clinton & Langberg, 2011). There are five stages to the grieving process that may be experiences in a cyclical process: denial and shock, anger and blame, bargaining, depression, and acceptance which will be experienced differently as the women grieving and their experiences are unique (Clinton & Langberg, 2011). People who try to comfort the person grieving may actually make the problem worse by trying to help her get over what has happened as the grieving process takes time (Clinton & Langberg, 2011). Grief may also be cumulative as new losses awaken old unresolved losses, thus intensifying the feelings of grief and loss (Clinton & Langberg, 2011). While God can be a comforting factor in a time of grief and loss, it is important to understand that the grieving may be blaming God or questioning God. By presenting the women with pop Christian statements such as “trust God” or “He works all things together for the good of those who love Him” there is a risk of cheapening the women’s grief and push her further away from Him (Clinton & Langberg, 2011).
When I was a child I experienced a world that was chaotic, painful, and full of uncertainty. My life was a series of grief and losses. My mother was neglectful; my father was physically and sexually abusive. Most times I was either alone or wishing I was alone. My world simply hurt me all the time. There was no hope, no love, and no concept of safety. And then my stepmother Lynn came into my world. She exuded kindness and love. She did not allow me to be a mom to my siblings, but rather, insisted that I play and be little. I look back and I see how she singlehandedly walked me through so many developmental tasks outlined by Erikson and allowed me to meet the goals of each one. In effect she re-parented me. Through her consistency, affection, and responsive nature I learned that the world could be a safe place and that some people could be trusted (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). My stepmother taught me autonomy by allowing me to do things on my own and praising my efforts (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). Her encouragement and praise helped me to “achieve competence and become productive” as well as develop my artistic talent and creativity (Henderson & Thompson, 2011, p.38).
I absolutely flourished under my stepmother’s care, through her I even began to believe that there might be a God and He just might care about me. And then it happened; on October 3, 1990 my father killed my stepmother and then himself. I was ten years old at the time and had recently been sent back to live with my mother due to the severe abuse by my father being discovered by the authorities. There I was, ten years old, and every ounce I hoped in the world shot down. I completely shut down, being almost robotic in nature. I did everything I was supposed to do. I made good grades, I took care of my siblings, I took care of the house, and I even attended church every single Sunday. I went because I got attention and food, things still missing in my mother’s home. I could have cared less about God because I knew he cared nothing for me. Like many who experience grief and loss, I blamed God and felt that He must hate me to have taken my stepmother from me (Clinton & Langburg, 2011). Her death seemed to open up every wound I had ever had in the past and pour acid into it. The pain was so great I simply shut down.
My response to the abuse, neglect, and loss of my stepmother was also to engage in self-injurious behavior as well as develop an eating disorder. While many women develop and eating disorder based on an unhealthy self-image, in my case it was not about weight, it was about control (Clinton & Langberg, 2011). For the most part, my cutting remained hidden. Anytime even a hint of dealing with the past rose up, I cut it away. Rather than face the real hurt I was feeling, I created pain, on my terms. These behaviors continued into my late teens.
In April of 1996 I attended a youth outreach event at the insistence of my now Christian mother. As the speaker talked about his story, of abuse, neglect, self-harm, and most importantly to me loss, I felt the walls around me shatter. An alter call was made and I walked down and sat down. I remember saying God I don’t know how to forgive, I don’t know how to let go, but I’m tired and I need you to help me. I sat on the floor crying hysterically for hours with one of the event’s workers. It was like each broken piece presented itself in my heart and mind so I could see it, acknowledge it, and ask God to help me let go and heal. The next several months were a roller coaster of emotions as I allowed myself to feel things I had spent my life ignoring and then rested in God’s embrace. I understood that Jesus grieved with me so I was not alone. I finally grasped the fact that God cared for me even though bad things had happened to me and that I could “cast my cares upon Him” (Psalms 55:22, NIV).
I spent the next ten years of my life speaking publically and sharing my testimony with hundreds of other people. The gratitude I felt was immeasurable. I had been given a new chance at life. My husband became a Christian and while we did not start out right, God seemed to bring healing and wholeness to our relationship and we spent several years ministering to various youth groups together.
I can’t discuss why, because the reality is, I don’t know, but in 2007 my husband changed. Some have suggested that it was because I was healthy and whole and he could no longer control me as he had when I was sick, but I am not certain of that. I only knew that one minute I was praising God for delivering me from a lifetime of abuse and neglect, and the next I was laying in the middle of the road, broken bones, gravel embedded in my skin and bleeding from being thrown out of a moving truck at the hands of my Christian husband. I went right back to old thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I stayed stuck in this until 2012 when we finally separated and divorced.
Thankfully the recovery from this seemed to go much more smoothly, perhaps because I knew then truth of who God said I was even if I had gotten it twisted for a while. I sought treatment for dealing with the effects of the abuse and the loss experienced in divorce. Even though the marriage was bad and harmful to me, it had been the only thing I knew for fourteen years and required me to work through letting go and moving forward.
There are scars from my past, and there are times when certain things remind me of them, but I have learned that in those moments I can also remember how God has brought me through them and how a moment in my story is not the end. My past and the healing I have found has been the guiding force to my desire to be a counselor. I have experienced things that many people do not understand and no one talks about. I have been given a voice and the bravery to use it. It is a gift I have been given and something I feel I need to share with others. As stated by Clinton and Langburg (2011), the goal is not to avoid difficulties or exude a false sense of strength through them, but rather to lean on Jesus and rest in knowing that He is faithful.
Clinton, T., & Langberg, D. (2011). Quick-reference guide to counseling women. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Henderson, D. & Thompson, C. (2011). Counseling children (8th ed). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole
Kopala, M., & Keitel, M. A. (Eds.). (2003). Handbook of counseling women. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.