Ann has been a client of St. Martin’s for quite some time, frequenting the shelter as a teenager after leaving an abusive home at age 14 and eventually entering the CRT program for wrap-around support in her late twenties. Ann, like many of us, has deeply ingrained core beliefs about herself and the world that negatively impact her life. From a young age, Ann has been told in more ways than one that she has no worth. Most of us have these beliefs working their magic behind the scenes, quietly playing puppet master to our unaware minds. Ann’s beliefs about herself are worn overtly with a hurtful self-evaluation to counter any praise given to her. If Ann received a compliment her immediate reaction was, “No, I’m ugly and stupid and no one likes me and I know I always smell bad, so stop with that bull.” Ann’s response could shut anyone down and put them on the opposite side of the mile-thick wall she built.
When Ann first sat for therapy she was clear; she didn’t want to talk about her thoughts about herself or her trauma or any of that “crap”. Ann decided that she wanted to focus on her physical health via exercise and nutrition and hoped that in turn this would help her build confidence and change the way she thought of herself (Ann is very clever). After a month of building rapport and honoring her goals and direction in therapy, Ann slowly allowed me to point a finger at her internal monologue. Soon, Ann opened up about her trauma; she seemed to be re-organizing her story so that things weren’t her fault. She didn’t deserve what she was dealt and maybe, just maybe those people in her life who were telling her horrid things about herself weren’t so smart anyway. Ann began to let down her lines of defense when she received praise. She began to hold eye contact when I reflected positive interpretations of her. She wasn’t just doing this in session though. Natalie, another therapist here, has Ann in the parenting group and one week she had the parents give each other compliments. Natalie was initially concerned with how Ann would take this as she was well aware of her habit response. Natalie was taken aback when she watched Ann smile, blush, and say “thank you”. It seems St. Martin’s has been able to provide Ann with a safe space so that she can explore relaxing her grip on these long-held beliefs and in turn build a new relationship with herself.
We hold strongly to our patterns, even when they are causing us pain. The ability to become aware of our habits and to actively change them is among the most difficult and never-ending practices we can participate in as humans. It may seem small in a world of grandiosity, but it is the meat (or hearty veggies J) of existence.