The Challenge of Every Day Life
Updated: Mar 1, 2019
A friend of mine, Kim, was struggling to deal with her 8-year-old daughter’s sadness. Kim was a single parent raising Becky on her own. Becky would cry every night about not having a dad. Kim, a psychodynamically-oriented therapist, tried her best to soothe Becky. Kim would tell her, “I know that it’s really hard. You’re very sad. You wish you had a dad.” Unfortunately, Becky continued to be inconsolable.
When Kim discussed the situation with me, I suggested a different approach. I said that she should tell Becky, “I know that it is hard for you. But we are doing fine! We have a roof over our heads and enough food to eat. I have a good job, and you are going to a great school. We’re doing well!” After reassuring Becky a few times, her evening crying spells stopped.
Although Kim was trying to be supportive, she was inadvertently sending the message that their family situation was bad, hopeless, and deficient. What Kim needed to do was to help Becky feel more secure.
I was thinking of Becky and Kim after I glanced at a book called, “The Trauma of Everyday Life, ” by psychiatrist, Mark Epstein. I have not read the book so I can’t speak to its quality. However, I am concerned about the message that the title sends. While life can be very challenging indeed, calling it “traumatic” sounds as though every day is potentially scarring. Similarly, Kim was unintentionally communicating to Becky that their situation was traumatic.
A difference exists between true trauma and challenges. Calling almost everything “traumatic,” confuses the line between them. Also, telling ourselves that a situation is “traumatic,” creates a mental imprint that is hard to change.
In addition, challenges can build character, empathy, resilience. Even after trauma, there is the potential for recovery and building courage and strength.
Traditionally trained therapists, such as Kim, may at times send a similar-type message to clients that their situation is sad. While it can be helpful to tell a client once or twice, “That sounds hard,” continually reinforcing this may make the person get stuck in sadness, as was Becky.
What is needed is hope. This is what I aim for as a therapist, to convey hope regardless of life’s circumstances. No matter what a person has dealt with in his/her life, there is always hope and the potential for growth and meaning.
(Note: any reference to a person in this blog, or any blog, is not a real person, but a composite.)
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