I sit across from children and adolescents and see their enormous pain and confusion about their worlds. Some have been hurt physically, sexually or emotionally. Others have watched spousal abuse. Some have watched their parent or parents deal with substance abuse or mental illness. While others have experienced neglect. Whether the parent has left the home and in effect abandoned them or is in the home but not able to provide the love and caring that all children deserve, the impacts are equally devastating.
Yesterday I sat across from an adolescent and saw his pain. He could not talk about it but his silence and body language told the story. He thinks he is unlovable, deserving of the messages that he is ‘bad’, ‘stupid’, and ‘never going to amount to anything’; and responsible for the chaos in his home. What can I possibly tell this young man that he will hear and understand that he is deserving of all the good in life?
I remember me as a child, feeling unloved, unprotected from the abuse in my home, feeling responsible for the safety of my siblings and think about what somebody might have told me that would have helped me understand that I could make a choice to live a healthy, happy, and safe life. When I was a child it was just my life. I read in my books of others having different lives where their parents loved and cared for them. I read of parents who did not hit and yell at each other. I read of homes where dads did not come home drunk or bring their girlfriends home so their moms could cook them dinner. In my friend’s home I saw parents delighted to talk to their daughters about all the things they were doing, telling them they loved them, protecting them, and encouraging them to be all they could be. So I got glimpses of other ways of living but I don’t remember anyone actually telling me that it was possible for me.
So I sat facing this young man and told him that he was not responsible for the chaos in his home. It was not his fault that his mother had a drug abuse problem and had chosen to leave the family and marry another man who emotionally abused him. It was not his fault that his mother never included him in her new home and seldom saw him for more than a coffee. He was not responsible for his father’s inability to talk about how he felt towards him and show him love in a way that he understood. He was not ‘stupid’ nor ‘unlovable’. He still was not ready to talk about it but for a few minutes I saw him hold his head up, his eyes look into mine with some hope, and the expression of sadness lift. Maybe soon he will be able to talk about it. Maybe soon he can come to really believe that he deserves to live a healthy, happy, and loving life.