Trauma & Repetition
It was Christmas Eve in rural Missouri. A dusting of snow covers the frozen ground, lights twinkle from the warm farmhouses, and smoke drifts from the chimneys as if it were beckoning Santa and his eight reindeer to the eager children below. It has not been an easy year for Joe and his family; then again, in Joe's eight short years, ease has been a sparse commodity. His parents are hard-working, God-fearing folks who live by the land, and Mother Earth in control of their fate. This life, carved more from brawn than brains, is the only life Joe has known.
He has toughened to meet the requirements of this life and finds rewards in the sweet and simple offerings of his daily routines: the soft gentle muzzle from his mare, the dawn revealing a rainbow of light, the richly-plowed fields lined neatly across the land, the picking of green apples accompanied by vision of freshly baked pies.
Joe also has learned from life's hardships; the monotonous shoveling, raking, mowing, hauling, and plowing. He has lived with the scorching heat of summer, the brutal snowstorms of winter, and the rain and mud of fall and spring. Then there are the fiscal hardships, such as wanting to replace the soles on boots until the harvested grain has been sold. His clothes, twelve years old, are now faded and torn; the scars on his brother's hand-me-downs show the rough-and-tumble life of two small farm hands. Asking for more is forbidden, but wishing for it is Joe's favorite pastime.
Joe still believes in the magic of Christmas and the hope that Santa will bring him the fanciful bounty he imagines. The white sheet under the Christmas tree they chopped down lies barren, but tomorrow it will overflow with packages, and the thought leaved Joe dizzy with delight.
Each night before he falls asleep, Joe says his prayers, the same prayers he's said his entire life. Only in the past few months has Joe added this request, "And please, God, have Santa bring a new toolbox."
As in many children's fantasies, Joe wants to feel special; he wants to feel as if he can ask for and receive the love and nurturing he needs. It is the birthright of all children to be cared for, both emotionally and physically. However, not all caregivers are able to meet a child's needs.
In trying to understand the roots of my patients' illnesses, the childhood needs that have become most relevant are the needs to be physically and emotionally cared for. When the child's primary caregivers properly provide that care, the child safely and lovingly bonds with his parents. In so doing, he is given a model for the world in which he has peaceful expectations of safety and happiness. He develops self-esteem and feels he is worthwhile. Such people do not become my clients.
However, if a child's needs are rejected, he concludes that his caregivers do not think him worthy of love. He doe snot blame them; he blames himself. Even if his father beats him, he blames no one more than himself.
The child suffers a traumatic blow to his self-esteem. If the child were not helpless at this stage of his life, he would express anger or indeed his rage. Instead he feels shame and a form of trauma that will enable him to dismiss the reality of what he has experienced.
(To be continued.)