It is a common experience to have had an emotionally overwhelming experience in early life, and to have found no source of comfort, understanding, help or support to cope and recover; or none which really reached the place deep inside where you were so badly hurt. The overwhelming experience could have happened a long time ago, when you were a very young child, and someone abandoned you, abused your trust, or wounded your deepest sense of who you were. Or maybe as an adolescent you were bullied or betrayed, or subtly undermined or ridiculed by the way a parent, teacher or peers spoke to you about your appearance or your way of being in the world.
An experience of separation or loss can be almost unbearable when we are growing up; a time away from one or both parents, the arrival of a new sibling which changes forever your own relationship with your mother or father, a move to a new area and a new school, leaving your roots and all your friends and familiar places behind, or parents separating and suddenly one world becomes two. Or someone dies - a family member or friend – and it can feel as though there are no words, no help for the way you feel torn apart inside.
Any of these experiences in your formative years can leave you emotionally stranded, if there is no one who can listen and really understand your feelings, and not try to ‘fix’ you or advise you or just want you to cheer up. Over time you can begin to doubt the truth of your experience, the thoughts and feelings you have about what has happened, if you never have a chance to hear yourself say them out loud, and be heard and acknowledged by a reliable and supportive adult. You may bury your memories and try to get on with life, to ‘move on’ as best you can. But somewhere you know there is a place inside where you are still hurt and alone. Inside you are on your own on an island far out to sea, dimly hoping for someone to come and rescue you, or maybe you’ve given up long ago on that possibility, and just try to be self-sufficient and ‘get on with it’. Socially and at work, other people often prefer to believe you are ‘fine’ than to notice the subtle ways you are showing your hurt, like becoming depressed or anxious, or maybe drinking too much, or getting angry a lot.
Relationship difficulties, bereavements, illnesses or accidents, losses, and major changes we experience as adults can suddenly make life seem unmanageable. Or there may just be a nagging feeling that ‘something’s not right’ as you go through life. Sometimes it’s when you have children of your own that you are confronted with intense emotions that seem too big to deal with, and you feel the depths of you stirred up in ways that are not easy to understand, and which may begin to worry you.
Counselling or therapy can give you the opportunity to let another person find you on your island. Without a feeling of pressure to explain everything, you are invited to take time to explore and to reflect on your unhappiness or distress, to take it seriously, and gradually, with the therapist’s help, to find expression for difficult feelings. Little by little the experiences that have left you stranded can be acknowledged, and as and when you feel you want to, explored and understood. You discover that another person cares, and is able to recognise how painful and difficult your experiences have been. A skilled and supportive therapist will listen to your hurt and pain, and accompany you as you come to know these places inside you where you have felt so alone, so sad or lost, angry, depressed or anxious. This can in time help you to cope more easily with your life, feel better about yourself, and learn new ways to manage the inevitable challenges and losses we all sometimes face.