But it was my fault...
That is the clients’ truth, it is what they were told, it is how they have survived. Because quite simply, that truth is perhaps more manageable for them at the age they suffered the abuse than the annihilating fact that it was the adult who betrayed them... Perhaps their very survival depended on this truth, that it was their fault, because somehow, in a terrible way, this kept some safety in their world. They internalised all the badness of the adults who had betrayed them in order to protect both them and their selves.
The danger, I have felt as a therapist, is to get stuck in a place of “knowing” that this simply isn’t true. Indeed, it can feel as though if there is any movement from this place, I am somehow colluding with the abuser, an abhorrent thought that might add fear to my inability to concede to my client’s truth. It is a scary place to be, to be able to safely hold the place, but also be able to enter into the dark side with the client, and know that you can both make it out. But not to be able to add an element of other - that I am right, and you are wrong, and that is exactly how the client would have lived their life. That is a dangerous place to be too.
In my experience, being able to totally be with my client, in their truth, is always where the possibility of change can happen, sometimes it has been enough just to be there, and sometimes extraordinary things have happened, transformational moments that the client knows as theirs. A new truth. Something that emerges out of being truly with someone who is safe, and is prepared to really try and understand their point of view.
Doubt in their own truth is so much a symptom of people who have suffered sexual abuse. It is so easy, unwittingly, to imply doubt by holding too firmly to the actual truth - that of course, in no time, in no way, in no exception is it ever the fault of the abused. It can feel like walking a tightrope holding their truth with one hand and the truth with the other, both pulling different ways I have found though that as long as I don’t let go of one or the other, I can keep my balance, and something, that will be different with each client, will happen that will feel like being able to let go of the fear of falling, and be held by the massive safety net for us both that is the actual truth, together.
Sometimes the work seems to be about getting to this point, and it feels as though some breakthrough has happened, but I also know from experience now that it very quickly can feel as though the work is now just beginning, because it is a breakthrough moment, and can be deeply shocking to the client, to know for the first time, that it really wasn’t and couldn’t have been their fault. What can feel a little like a moment of triumph is also often the catalyst for far more. The truth does set us free, but the road to freedom can be the most painful one to walk.