Written by Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, BCC, NGHC
One of my friends is a remarkable, prolific, and famous writer. Another close friend said of her, “What is so wonderful about Leah [not her real name] is that she is never going to need a therapist. She just writes it all down… and puts it out there… and then publishes it as a play or novel.”
A Dark and Stormy Night
The beginning of therapy is not often a joyous time. People are confused. They may have been hurt. They may imagine they have lost everything. Relationships can seem broken beyond repair. Lines may have been drawn and sides chosen. Families may have been shattered. Life itself can resemble chaos. It takes great courage to face dark nights of the soul and greater courage to walk through them into the light. Therapy is a period of painful assessment, possible grief and anger, gradual understanding and, finally, forgiveness.
When my Clients like to write or journal, we have an advantage. Therapy is also a search for insight; and writing is a tremendous help in looking within. The things that my Clients write are keys to their self-understanding as well as a basis for important questions that their therapist might not know to ask if she were not their reader.
The Divine Child
Much of present pain is due to an incomplete understanding of childhood events. That pain can come to overshadow any other aspects of growing up. The Client’s family of origin must be closely examined to find the roots of current uncertainty, sadness, or fear. Even a happy childhood can leave us with misunderstandings about life.
Indeed, a child’s misunderstandings can become an adult’s dysfunction. When a troubled person looks into the past, he will frequently see only the sources of his guilt, blame, and imagined dysfunction. Writing The Childhood Story is the start of rescuing today’s feelings from the past.
Each of us must come to terms with all of our story in order to rescue the child who still lives within us. Carl Jung called this child The Divine Child. Emmet Fox, the noted Christian philosopher, called him or herThe Wonder Child. If you are unfamiliar with Inner Child work, please read John Bradshaw’s Homecoming.
The Hero and Her Journey
Sydney’s childhood was fearful, chaotic, complex, and difficult to assimilate. It was a source of confusion to her – even as an adult. She did not know how to approach it… so she didn’t. I asked her if she could write about it; and, from her very first journal entry, it was clear that her extraordinary gifts as a writer could help her save the Divine Child and enable both of us to understand her life’s journey.
Her Therapy Notes began with an organizing principle: a description of places where she had lived growing up with parents who struggled to raise their children and to keep food on the table. Both parents had addiction issues, so The Trailer Chained To a Tree, The Cold House, The House That Burned Down, The Trailer in the Middle of the Road, The Blindbuck House, The House by Margret, and The New House were the sites of secrets, fear, and mystery.
The living spaces were frequently visited by strangers who seemed dangerous to the little girl. Was there trauma? Probably. But what was the nature of the trauma and what exactly do its remaining symptoms reveal? When Sydney had the night terrors that so many young children have, she walked in trance like a small ghost from room to room, unable to awaken even when held and comforted. Her grandmother and aunt may have whispered, within her hearing, that she was ‘possessed’. At some level, Sydney believed them and may have carried that belief into adulthood. Is that the source of her current panic attacks?
Sydney’s parents were loving, unstructured, impaired, and unpredictable. They could not heal themselves, and their children simply survived as best they could. Sydney is highly intelligent but did not have what she needed to do well in school. She never had the ‘right’ materials, the proper pencils and paper, a place to study, or an adult to assist her. Her homework was never ready to hand in, her gifts never recognized. She acted out her shame and disappointment by becoming, as many disappointed children do, a rebel.
Dream Animals and Archetypes: A Mythology of the Self
Sydney’s dreams have always reflected the turbulence of her childhood. A preponderance of dark shadows, fog, and murky river banks with jagged, clawing tree limbs slow her escape from impenetrable forests where she is relentlessly pursued by a dark Unknown. What is it? Is it Evil or simply the self-knowledge that we all fear?
Animals often come to help her. A bear rides with her in a convertible. A friendly tiger, his eyes closed, puts his head against hers. They are a part of her extensive private mythology. We will try to use them to assure her safe passage through the troubled land of her dreams. There remains, however, something that Sydney has not yet discovered within herself. Her narrative continues.
Twice Told Tales: A Different Perspective
As she tells the Story of Childhood again and again, the elements are examined and reexamined until, one by one, they lose painful intensity and settle into place. After many retellings of her story to relieve the hurt and fear of the sensitive child, music and laughter can finally be remembered. A tremendously gifted family of comedians, actors, and musicians can be honored. A beautiful mother can, at last, be seen. A father as humorous and eccentric as he could be destructive can now be a friend. Memories emerge… the entire family at Christmas, drinking Brandy Alexanders and acting out their favorite characters’ roles from John Denver and the Muppets: Christmas Together… a young, wild Sydney breaking into the school on weekends and making announcements on the PA system… the closeness of sisters.
In early therapy, Sydney appeared hesitant about family visits. After doing a great deal of work in therapy, last week she told me, “I want to go home and spend the whole week making my mother laugh.”
Look Back With Compassion
Telling the Wonder Child’s Story may allow us to reach the kind of understanding that enables us to accept and to love ourselves. When we understand and forgive ourselves, we may be more able to accept others exactly as they are. As anger and hurt drain away with multiple reworkings of our narrative, we may realize that most people have been hurt in some way and that the pain that we share can unite us in tolerance and peace.
Do you need to tell your story? Will you have the courage to read it aloud to yourself? Can you read it and respond to it and then write about the new self born of your understanding? Will you allow your writing to change you? If you like to write, then you may want to try.
Here is one of my favorite anecdotes about someone who wrote his story.
The great 19th Century French writer, Henri Beyle, whose pen name was Stendhal, wrote a brilliant autobiography which he fully intended to call The Life of Henri Beyle. Writing his memoirs, though, changed him; and when he went back to read what he had written, he realized that he was no longer that man. His understanding of himself and his life had changed, and he knew that it would continue to evolve each time that he took pen in hand. So, at the last minute, before sending the manuscript off to his publisher, he changed the title to The Life of Henri Brulard – a fictitious name.
Why don’t you become the hero of your own story and witness the miracle of the ever-changing, ever-developing self?