Breaking the cycle
Walking through an East Sussex coastal town at 8 o'clock one Saturday evening in early February, with wind and sleet beating my face, I saw a young boy, aged about eight, hanging around outside McDonald's with a group of older boys. I paused for a couple of minutes to note how small he was and how assured he seemed as he did wheelies on his bicycle. And I thought, why isn't he at home? Why is he here on this bitterly cold night without an adult present? But of course I knew the answer. Many young people aren't so much attached to families, as hanging by a thread. The cycle of not-quite-good-enough parenting is hard to break, because without positive role models from their own parents, how do new parents know what's appropriate and necessary to provide a safe and secure environment for their children?
In my therapy practice I see so many young mums and dads who are trapped in poverty, inadequate housing, have no formal schooling to speak of, and while they're doing as much as they can, they are falling short of providing a secure and stable home for their kids. When these young people come for counselling, they know something isn't quite right - something is broken but they don't know what. When they fail to show for their second session and I phone them, I hear surprise in their voice that I care enough to enquiry where they are. They seem equally confused about why they'd have to be accountable to me as to where they are.
You see, like the eight year old outside McDonald's, these young parents have never been shown what accountability or responsibility is; they haven't ever been shown that they matter enough to worry about or to know that they're safe. When I tell them, as a counsellor, that I care, they respond with a mixture of distrust and disbelief. Some have said to me "why would you care?". Further, the idea that I do care is unsettling, and the fear of relying on me or trusting me is so dangerous that they can't risk it going wrong. What if I abandon them and figuratively leave them out on the cold icy street at 8pm? Their innate sense of survival kicks in and they leave counselling almost before it's started. They can always comfort themselves with the knowledge that they tried counselling and it didn't work.
These young people live in survival mode, and in a strange way, they're safe there. But living in survival mode limits their horizons and keeps them trapped in an endless cycle of chaos and unsatisfactory lives. By engaging in counselling and developing a relationship with their counsellor, they can break out of that cycle, develop new ways of trusting and being. This can then lead to more fulfilling and contented lives.
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