Positional Power ~ When Your Therapist Doesn’t Get ItBy
Child abuse and neglect result in low self-esteem, depression and a whole lot of other issues. Part of the grooming process that occurs in ALL abuse including emotional abuse and psychological abuse is that the blame is transferred to the child and in order to cope and survive children accept that blame and focus inward in order to try harder for the love and acceptance they long for. In the dysfunctional family, the abuse doesn’t end in childhood and often the child who is now an adult will seek professional help in order to overcome the damage that the child abuse caused. Just as our parents and all adult abusers, controllers and manipulators had positional power, doctors, therapists and helping professionals have it too.
When we have been convinced through actions, inactions and words that there is something ‘wrong’ with us and we finally go to a helping professional such as a therapist, counselor or psychologist ~ if that mental health professional defends our parents, or focuses on US as the problem it serves us as confirmation that we are in fact the problem and it is very much a re-traumatization.
Mental health professionals have tons of positional power ~ they are endorsed and accredited as being able to help and therefore we often see them as an even bigger authority then the way that we saw our parents when we were kids, so if they AGREE with our parents or if they focus with us on what WE could do or could have done differently, it very often causes a bigger problem than the one we went to talk about.
Just as abuse and neglect invalidated me as a child, a therapist who asks me what I could have done better or differently, or asks me to understand the abuser by suggesting that they did the best they could or suggests that I was part of the problem ~ those things all VALIDATE the abuser, controller or caregiver or whoever had the power in the situation I am talking about. Sometimes worse was when the therapist remained neutral. In all cases I was still stuck in the pain of the story. When a therapist or helping professional has any of those reactions they aren’t HELPING.
Years ago when I was in my twenties, I volunteered to be in a group therapy situation. We all sat around looking for the ways that we were accountable for what happened to us as kids and thinking about what we could have done differently. There were some serious situations being discussed; one girl admitted that when she was 17 years old she snuck out of the house after bedtime to go to a party where she had been raped. Her parents found out that she was out, and then she got a severe beating from her father who used his belt to thrash her for over a half an hour. She told us that she thought he was literally going to kill her. Then she told us that she realized that she had brought the whole thing on herself by sneaking out of the house. She admitted that she was selfish and ungrateful for the boundaries her parents set in place for her and that she deserved what had happened to her.
She was willing to be accountable for having been raped and for also for the beating. And the therapist just sat there. I remember looking at him to see what our ‘leader’ was going to say about this. I was so brainwashed in that kind of accountability myself that I don’t think I questioned if she was accountable or not but I know that I didn’t have “my own thoughts” about what happened to her. I looked to the therapist and relied on his authority, waiting for his opinion.
Here is the shocking truth about this though; two things happened to that girl that night and both were horrific and illegal but the only thing that was addressed was that her own actions resulted in what happened to her. She was blamed, she was shamed, she accepted the guilt and responsibility for all of it.
She went home from the party where she had been raped; maybe she didn’t have a chance to tell her parents what happened, or maybe she knew she could never tell them what happened, that part was never discussed or revealed, but she went home and got a severe beating with a belt. She got raped and beaten and then (because she was blamed and shown why it was her own fault) she blamed the whole thing on herself.
So where was she supposed to go from there? How does someone reconcile something like that? How does a teenager get her head around something like that?
Think about it; She was raped. She was sexually assaulted; brutally raped by a man who had no regard for her as a person. He disregarded her human rights and then he cast aside like the object that he used her for. Imagine her devastation. And then she went home to what should have been a safe haven. She should have been allowed to fall sobbing into the arms of her mother and blurt the whole story out. And then her father, after a bit of ranting and raving and threatening to KILL the bastard who violated his daughter, would have phoned the police and reported the entire thing. She should have been taken to the hospital where they would have checked for damage and taken some DNA samples so that the perpetrator of this crime would have been convicted of it. Then her parents would have taken her home, made her some tea and stayed with her for as long as she needed.
But that isn’t what happened.
She came in the door and without pausing for any explanation from her, her father took off his leather belt and began his brutal and unrelenting physical assault on her. The second crime of the night was perpetrated against her. How do you think she felt after all that? Worthless? Shameful?
And there she was many years later, trying to get some help and willing to take the blame for the whole thing; willing to accept responsibility for both the crimes against her. And the helping professional in the room said NOTHING! He nodded his approval when she said that her bad choices had resulted in her having been rapped and then beaten by her father. He nodded as she related that if only she would not have snuck out to that party, none of it would have happened.
BUT it did happen! So how was she able to deal with having been raped that night? Well quite simply, she wasn’t able to deal with it in any way that enabled her to heal from the damage that it caused to her.
Nobody EVER validated for her that it wasn’t her fault and believing it WAS her own fault, she could not let go of the guilt and shame and she was stuck in the invalidation of it all.
Mental Health Professionals have a lot of positional power. I gave many of them my power because I didn’t know any different. I believed that because they were certified and licensed to help me, that they knew best and that they certainly knew better than I did. I believed that they WERE helping me and when they encouraged me to take blame that didn’t belong to me, I was stuck in the pain of being objectified, unheard, unseen and invalidated, believing that once again something was wrong with me because I STILL struggled with depression, sadness and low self-esteem.
That day in the group therapy, that therapist could have set the record straight for the young woman who had been raped at a party and then beaten by her father. He could have told her that first of all, rape is always the fault of the rapist. Rape is an illegal crime and is always the fault of the perpetrator of that crime. And then he could have also told her that the violent beating she received was also a crime that the responsibility for that crime also belonged to the perpetrator of that crime. And each of us sitting there in that circle would have walked away with a totally different experience of the way that we thought about our own life experiences.
I didn’t tell my real story that day; I guess I knew it wasn’t safe.
Positional power applies to anyone that we give authority to or a person who is respected AS an authority for their title or training. Please share your thoughts about positional power or any other thoughts you would like to share. Perhaps this story reminds you of a different situation where you were invalidated by someone with positional power such as a teacher, grandparent or a police officer.
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