If you are looking for people to help in your healing journey, this article is for you.
Whether you seek a therapist, a life coach, a pastor, a supportive person, or a caregiver, this article gives you some guidelines that are a must for that relationship to be safe.
I specialized in helping the survivors of extreme trauma for 35 of my 45 years of clinical counseling practice. In that time, I encountered courageous men and women who had experienced atrocities that left them deeply wounded in heart, mind, body, and spirit. Courage drove them to seek answers that led to healing and freedom in spite of encounters with trained professionals who either were naïve or intentional resulting in continued woundedness.
My Journey to Becoming a Genuine Support
I felt a calling in 1966 to help people who were struggling in life. My undergraduate training in psychology was to prepare for an understanding of the human struggle that led to mental illness. Masters level graduate work was to prepare me to identify mental illnesses and to provide services that led clients to healthy mental functioning. Doctoral graduate work prepared me to research, evaluate, and treat difficult clinical cases.
I opened my office with great enthusiasm in 1972 with my Masters in Counseling Psychology. One of my early cases was a teenager who became depressed and suicidal because his girlfriend called it off. He tried all kinds of ways to get her back. Gifts of flowers and jewelry did not persuade her. Next, he resorted to phone messages and stalking. Finally, he threatened to take his life. He would shoot at her bedroom window with a BB gun. So, her parents got involved with the young man’s father who was a local pastor.
His father pointed out to me in no uncertain terms that I was not helping. I naively was accepting the young man’s narrative without seeing the whole picture. My training to that point was based on a Rogerian approach of non-directive listening. I had not been prepared in the necessarily active process of intervention with suicidality.
The early 1970s was a period in psychology where standards of care had not been developed. A standard of care was intended to provide intervention with therapeutic issues no matter what style of therapy was used. I quickly realized that all my formal education had not fully prepared me to help people. So, I went back to school. Continuing education courses were available to train the practicing therapist in specific interventions. I devoured the knowledge these weekend courses provided.
In 1985, I encountered something totally unexpected. A woman presented to therapy with a history of depression and much time under psychiatric care for Multiple Personality Disorder. I was supervising a therapist working for my counseling center at that time. On this particular day, I heard loud voices and banging in the next office. I found the therapist on the floor in the corner with an angry woman standing over him, fists raised. “I offended my client with what I said,” was John’s comment. I left because things had quieted. I staffed with John after the client left.
The story that unfolded was that John had called the client by the name on record. The client said to John, “Becky is not my name! I am Sheila! I want to leave. I don’t come to you for therapy, she does.”
John’s response was to agree to stop. “Okay let’s go to the reception desk and schedule your next appointment.” Sheila’s response was, “You stupid *^&)%@!$ M__F__er. Don’t you get it! I don’t need an appointment. I don’t come to you for therapy, she does.”
John, “Okay, the fee for today is $.” What followed was a barrage of swear words you would expect to hear from a trucker.
“What don’t you understand? I am not her! Why should I pay for her therapy?”
The client walked out the door as Sheila.
While there was something slightly humorous in the scene, it showed the sad reality of a person who was so wounded that her mind and identity was fragmented. That began my education in how traumatic events impact the human mind.
What Wounded People Need from Healers.
I know you have many questions you would like answers to regarding the person in the story I just shared. My purpose here is to address the healing process that I learned by walking alongside very wounded people over the past 35 years.
First and foremost is the need to be safe, and to know without a doubt that one is safe, to begin to heal. Safety must be experienced first in the external world in which one lives. The following narrative comes from a standard of care that I developed and applied to every trauma survivor who sought my help. I told the hurting person that I had six specific sets of words and actions that promote and support healing. I called them rules that a healer or support person must follow for the safety of the wounded person. These follow and have a collective purpose to introduce how one can also experience internal mental safety. It begins by learning that relationships exist in which you can feel safe. This is the first step in finding your Core identity that the Creator intended for you. Embracing your Core identity is the beginning of your healing journey. Experiencing loving, gracious relationships anchor your Core identity to the present day and forward in time.
1. I Will Accept You Without Labels
Seeking therapy begins with a clinical assessment to assign a diagnosis so therapy is covered by insurance. That diagnostic label can go in one’s health records and affect a person financially. For example, the diagnosis of depression may limit one on an application for life insurance. The medication you take for your mental health issues may affect eligibility for certain jobs. Truck drivers or airplane pilots may lose their operator’s license deemed a public risk while medicated.
The stigma with the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is among the lowest. If the client needs insurance to cover therapy that diagnosis is worth accepting.
I learned to explain to the trauma survivor that they were not mentally ill but rather they were wounded.
Mental illness implies something is wrong that has a genetic, physiological, or organic reason. Woundedness tells the person that something he or she encountered in life hurt him/her. That hurt affects one’s thoughts and feelings about self, others, and life.
Wounds can be healed. Illness needs ongoing maintenance. Sustaining health requires medical intervention. Some diseases can be treated with vaccines to prevent the disease. But, traumatic events and their effects are not preventable! By nature, these events are either accidental or intentional. Accidents happen without any design or thought. They just happen. Fires, storms, car crashes, and earthquakes are examples. Intentional events are those which are caused by a human being who sees a benefit to act against another person or group for his own end.
The charismatic leader of a social group wants control and power. His purpose is accomplished by coercing his followers to believe he is the one and only who has answers to help them attain the desired goals. These charismatic leaders, most often men, can operate in a wide range of areas: success in corporate management, excellence in retail sales, ability to speak confidently in public, finding happiness in life, or the assurance of spiritual acceptance.
That leader has a plan and the means by which he gains power. Isolation, doubt-fear-shame, suspension of critical reasoning, compliance to the leader’s directives, and loss of personal identity are tools by which the leader reaches his goals of power and control.
When you seek supportive people to help you heal, make sure that person does not have anything in mind but a desire for your health and welfare. That individual will use a language of love that clearly accepts you as a person. He or she will acknowledge that you are a hurting person, without labeling you as flawed, wrong, or sick. S/he acknowledges your hurt as real, even if s/he does not fully understand it. Your gut will tell you whether this person is genuine. Listen to your gut. If there is doubt, back away for a while.
2. I will respect your physical boundaries.
The second aspect that will determine a safe relationship is one that does not intrude on or assault your physical being or neglect your physical needs.
Neglect prevents the individual from having the basic needs met. These are as simple as providing for needs indicated by hunger, thirst, coldness, and discomfort. An infant is obviously dependent on a caregiver to provide for those physical needs. How well those simple needs are met will determine if the infant develops trust.
That is obvious when considering an infant. But if you desire to support healing of a wounded adult, you must check that they have eaten, have had enough fluids, that they are warm, and/or that they are comfortable.
Ask about the physical status whenever you encounter the wounded person. Have snacks, juices, a blanket, and a bathroom break whenever needed. This sends the message that you are concerned about his/her physical wellbeing. It may be a novel idea for the wounded person. Attention by you to those physical indicators of need will begin one of the first relational encounters with the plausibility of trust.
The next aspect of physical safety is that the wounded person learns that the body is hers and does not belong to others.
Stating that you will not touch her body in any way that is sexual, not even as much as expecting a hug from her gives the clear message that you are supporting her ownership of her physical being.
I would tell those whose healing I supported that if it was acceptable to them I would give a handshake for greeting and saying, “Goodbye.” But, I did not give hugs, nor would I touch her in any other way. Her body was hers alone. No other person had the right to touch her body whether for comfort or harm. She had the right to say “No” to any physical encounter.
I further supported that idea by teaching her to report any unwanted physical encounter to law enforcement as an assault. I further encouraged her to take a support person with her when reporting to assure she was heard.
3. I will not shame, guilt, or blame you for things that happened.
Shaming is how harmful relationships take away personal identity.
Guilt is the emotion that is felt when you know the right thing to do, but you do not make that right choice. You learn about right and wrong from your environment and what others model for you.
Shame comes from someone else passing judgment on your choice. Shame comes from outside of yourself. It is the social judgment of an authority figure or group telling you how you should act or how to feel about your actions. Those labeled actions in reality serve the authority figure in your life and not you.
Control, power, and belonging to are the messages that you are not your own being. Abusive relationships that want compliance from you tell the authority figure that he has control over your mind and actions. Power is what the authority figure receives when the social environment sees your actions as the result of the authority figure and praises him for it. It gives status to him but none for you. When he has your compliance that makes him look good socially, he asserts that as proof that you belong to him—ownership of you. That puts you in the position of being an object and not a person.
I specifically stated that, “I had made my own reputation in my life and that I did not need her /him to act or feel a certain way around me to make me happy or to look good in the eyes of others. There was no reason for my image to be dependent on her. As a result, I would not scream or yell at her for the choices she made. I would gently help her make healthier choices when necessary.”
4. In our relationship, there will be one way secrets.
Confidentiality means that anything that I share with her she may tell whomever she wants to tell. But what she shares with me is a one-way secret that I may not share with anyone else what she told me.
The wounded person often held many of the secrets of the abusers and could not speak them at the risk of severe punishment. This silence and compliance is another way of supporting the social image and power of the abuser.
I would often encourage the person to check out things that I said in the healing process with others she trusted. This served to strengthen the healing and establish a foundation of reality and truth that could be relied on for reality-testing into the future.
5. I will accept your narrative or story at face value.
In accepting her story at face value, I was expressing agreement with her woundedness. I further asked that as she shared her story, could we explore the lies she was expected to believe about herself. The reality of her experience though not within the range of plausibility to you as a support person, should still be respected.
Support people who come alongside wounded people who are seeking to heal, will eventually have a reality crisis. The human mind wants to accept that evil is non-existent in the real world. If you believe that, you are not a safe support person for hurting people. Don’t let your worldview become the only acceptable realty. Human beings have throughout history proven to be agents of evil in spite of social appearances. To be a support person for those hurting people means you are going to encounter implausible impossibilities. You can’t embrace naiveté and also be an agent for healing. You may find yourself rationalizing that what was perceived as a result of hurt could not have been that bad.
Get over yourself! It was probably worse! Wounded people will downplay the severity of experiences to protect the naive support person. When that happens, you are no longer a safe person in her healing process.
A Biblical description of human reality is found in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah in this way, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Jeremiah goes on to say that only the Creator understands it and has the cure for that wickedness. (Jeremiah 17:9ff NLT)
6. I will take responsibility for myself, so I do not expect you to take care of me.
One of the first trauma survivors I ever met introduced me to this reality in a dramatic way.
About six months before she ever made an appointment, I received a potted plant for my office. I was an employee assistance counselor for Northwestern Bell Telephone Company in Davenport, Iowa. I had just opened the office space where I provided my services. I wrote the potted plant off as an “office warming” gift. There was no name attached to it. The next month I received another plant anonymously. This continued for six months. People could make their own appointments or difficult cases were referred by management. A woman called for an appointment. On the day she was scheduled, another plant arrived. These were expensive plants beautifully arranged in elegant vases.
Betty was an unassuming lady who presented herself timidly. She apologized for wasting my time but thought she needed to see me. Her employment was as a telephone operator. Her supervisor referred her out of concern for her emotional wellbeing after calls dealing with hostile people. These individuals yelled at her because she wasn’t responding as desired. After such calls she would break down in tears and ask to be excused from the switchboard.
We scheduled our next visit in two weeks. Again, on the day I was to see her, another potted plant arrived. That was when my “aha” happened. Betty believed that if anyone was going to take her seriously, she had to earn their favor. Thus, the potted plants. But she never told anyone that she was the source of the plants. I had guessed. I told her that I would care for her without gifts. The company was covering the charges and for me to accept the plants, I was not treating her fairly.
Betty had been raised by a very abusive mother to whom she had to constantly prove herself worthy to receive care. The event that began her belief was when at the age of 2 her six-year-old sister who had Down’s Syndrome, died. Her mother told her she wished that Betty had died instead. Betty’s mother began to systematically take away her cherished possessions. Within the first year after her sister’s death, Betty’s mother put her pet duck in the trunk of the car and drove around until the duck died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Next time, I’ll put you in the trunk!” was Betty’s mother’s comment on finding the duck dead. Obviously, the mother had issues that were complicated. Betty’s father had divorced Betty’s mother shortly after Betty’s birth. The mother’s attachment to a Down’s syndrome child seemed unusual. When she came of age for school, Betty was sent to an elite boarding school in the community because her father was very wealthy.
But the message Betty heard from her mother was that she was undesiring of whatever she received. So, in every relationship, she believed that she had to earn acceptance. That spoke to her lifetime of pain and rejection. Telling her that I accepted her, and that I would help her without accepting any gifts began her healing emotionally and spiritually.
Trauma survivors were taught they were responsible for an authority figure’s social image and state of mind. The victim of trauma tries to appease the authority figure with the hope that by pleasing him/her it will lessen any pain or suffering that might come from the contact. My words to survivors were that I am responsible for my own health and wellbeing.
I did not expect them to take care of me. If I looked tired on a day we had a session, that did not mean s/he had to hold back on expressing his/her struggle. I was there to help him/her no matter what s/he thought my personal need was in that moment. That assurance allowed the person to continue on the healing journey. When the survivor was trying to take care of what s/he thought i needed, those were the times I became frustrated because we weren’t getting down to the issues that we needed to address.
When the support person was allowed to do self-care, the client experienced healthy boundaries, a clearer sense of Core identity, and increased trust.
Look for People Who Will Keep These Rules.
After I stated these rules, emphasizing that these rules were the rules I had to keep so that she could know she was safe. Safety was an absolute necessity for healing to happen.
I would follow up with this statement. “Knowing that I am going to work hard for your safety by respecting these rules, may I ask one thing of you? That you will not hurt me.” That statement sounds rather puzzling and open-ended. It was a way that I could say that she had choices in our relationship. There was potential for her to have control and power. But because she had seen the consequences of control, power, and ownership of others, I was trusting her to make different choices over the course of our relationship.
As a hurting person, don’t be afraid to question people as to how they would handle your woundedness. Ask your support person if s/he understood these rules and will agree to honor you by keeping them.
Keep your eyes and ears open. Look and listen for the people who are willing to keep these rules to protect and respect you as a hurting person who deserves unconditional love.
The Woman Rising Project, Inc., is proud to have Dr. Lowell Routley as a lead contributor to The Healing Project. Dr. Routley is a life coach to our founder, Julia McCoy.
About the Author
Lowell Routley is a Christian mental health professional with 42 years of counseling experience. His four decades have been the training ground that Dr. Routley credits for his understanding of people. Thirty of those years were ministering to people who were suffering from a lifetime of extreme trauma, torture, and mind control. Those individuals bear witness to the amazing resilience of the human mind and spirit resulting from the Creator’s design. When our Creator made humanity in His likeness, He endowed each of us from conception with a Core identity and He knew each of us by name. His desire was for humanity to be reconciled to Him through the death of His Son whom He sacrificed to demonstrate His love. Witnessing the assault of evil on innocence as reported by the survivors has convinced Dr. Routley that the Creator designed the human mind to survive horror, sustain hope, and seek healing. Based on the ability for restoration of Core identity demonstrated in dozens of lives, Dr. Routley presents this series to help anyone who desires find a rich, fulfilling life by living from one’s Core being.