The Power of Understanding

Working as an in-home counselor, I can do things that typical counselors cannot. Just the other day I took one of my clients out to lunch for our session. This young man has been on house arrest  for a little over two months. He turned eighteen years old in the midst of all this and has been unable to experience his freedom as an adult. To say the least, he looks forward to seeing me because he can leave the house for our appointments. The reason he is wearing bling around his ankle now is due to an incident with his ex-girlfriend at a high school basketball game. I obviously cannot get into specifics, but it was bogus to say the least. My goal for the last few weeks has been to simply stabilize his mood and help him advocate for himself waiting for his court date. My client was in a good place to finally discuss his feelings surrounding the incident.

When I asked him how he felt about his ex-girlfriend, I got the answer I expected, “I hate her. She is such a b*tch.” His words full of rage and resentment rightfully so. I inquired about what initially attracted him to her.

“She was funny. She was smart as hell.” “She also played softball, so we could relate. (He is an awesome high school baseball player.) His eyes softened a little. His speech was more even keel. I asked him to describe what her family was like. My client described a truly dysfunctional, broken household. His ex’s father allegedly hit his wife regularly and then would go cheat on her with a neighbor. My client described his ex’s relationship with her mother and two older sisters as “good and bad.” I prompted to explain further.

“They were there for her when she needed them. They normally bitch at her and then leave.” I realized that this poor girl was a hot mess in disguise. She had no personal relationships in her home to provide a strong model for her own intimate relationships. She witnessed women being victimized and losing all sense of control. She was also the bottom of the food chain in her home being the youngest and with no escape being only sixteen years old.

I followed up with, “Was she a perfectionist? She needed things to be a certain way? She was constantly looking for control in the relationship?” My client’s eyes widened, as he nodded in response. I explained to him that she suffered her own form of trauma. This contributed to her behaviors in their relationship and even in the isolated incident at the basketball game. I discussed how she likely perceived his actions as a threat based on the domestic violence she has witnessed.

I knew how my client felt. I experienced a similar rage when my ex-girlfriend of three years cheated on me with my best friend. I could have easily let the rage consume me and dictate my reaction to the situation. I made a conscious decision to take a different approach. I wanted to understand why she did what she did. I did not want the last three years to go to waste. If anything, I took what I knew about her and our relationship and used it to my advantage. I went to counseling, which provided designated time to bounce my thoughts and feelings off of a professional. She gave feedback and an outside perspective. I did the same with my friends and family. I wrote poetry, short essays, and even colored based on my feelings in an effort to reflect. This occurred over the course of three months.

I gave my client this example to make better sense of the point I was trying to make. When the movie Jaws came out, it struck fear into the hearts of millions. If you look at pictures of the shorelines in the weeks following the movie’s release, the beaches were either empty or full of people that would not enter the waters. The human race nearly hunted sharks to extinction. A few decades later, Discovery Channel dedicated an entire week to these big fish. Now people are itching to go swimming with these underwater beasts, and shark populations are slowly being restored.

What caused such a drastic in public attitude? People were afraid and full of rage towards a creature they did not understand. Then, we took out time to learn about them. We educated ourselves and reflected on our own relationship with them. This goes for sharks, relationships, feelings, and thoughts. It does not matter. I am not saying you have to be best friends with your enemy. By gaining an understanding of them though, it lessens the sting and removes some of the negativity.

I will be the first to tell you that I will never go swimming with sharks, but I can coexist with them.

-The Caring Counselor

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