A Clinical Psychologist is nudged to realise her past relationship was abusive... and left scars.
As I sat across from her, I could see the gifted psychologist before me seeking guidance in both her professional confidence and significant career choices. It wasn't an uncommon scenario, as I often find myself coaching other psychologists.
As she shared her journey of balancing a demanding career with single motherhood, I caught glimpses of her introspective abilities and her remarkable dedication and generosity as a parent. Her face lit up when speaking of her daughter, but dulled whenever she mentioned her work or, more subtly, herself.
I summed up my impression of her as strong, capable, and independent. In response, she teared up, struggling to hear those words and feeling a stark contrast with her own self-perception. We agreed that this was an issue that needed exploration.
We delved into her past, which was sparse on details. It unveiled an absent father to her child, a long-gone relationship, a distrust of future relationships, and a lengthy stint in a toxic workplace riddled with bullying.
As our session neared its end, I inquired, "Was your previous relationship abusive?"
Her life story had familiar patterns I had seen before in others who'd experienced domestic abuse, even some echoes of my own life: a distant relationship with a powerful impact, a single-parent outcome, the avoidance of repeating past mistakes, loving another while self-love waned, enduring abuse and bullying, and ultimately, a loss of self-worth and confidence with lingering self-blame.
Her answer was a firm, "no."
I proposed sending her an audio file from our Get Out Get Love program and gave her the choice to listen or disregard it, with no obligation to discuss it further. She agreed.
The audio, part of the program's first act, describes cognitive dissonance and how one can rationalise a relationship, blame oneself, and only escape when crisis forces action. I'll include the file at the end of this article. I chose this audio file, as it would likely resonate with her training and curiosity about Psychology in general and in relation to herself.
A month passed, this being the scheduled gap.
We met again and reviewed the past month, to which I then asked, “did you listen to the audio file I sent?”
“Well, I did yes… and I thought, ‘f**k off! How dare you assume this of me’ and wondered if I’d even come back.”
I know this response well, I had it myself and I’ve seen it in many who are asked to connect the word abuse to their past. Anger.
“But three days later, I was in the car with my daughter (now an adult) and I stopped the car suddenly and shouted out loud, ‘I survived abuse’”.
“I came home and wrote a letter. A letter to my ex. At first it was about my feelings and how I’d felt love, but then it moved into how he treated me and how it was wrong. I cried through it all, and it helped”.
Her decision to write that letter, a technique I've often recommended, showcased her clinical instincts. We continued working together, focusing on present-day issues while acknowledging that the past abusive relationship played a significant role.
The work that followed is not the lesson in this article - it is the inability to notice abuse in our past, even when we are supposedly tooled up to know. This story highlights the challenge of recognising abusive experiences in our own lives, even when we have decades after a relationship to think abou it. Grooming, cycles of drama, coercion – education and experience don't always equip us to confront our past and heal - in fact, they usually shape us to disconnect with what truly happened and hold the blame on ourselves.
She went on to later tell me that this realisation set her free, as she had wrongly assumed blame and issues in herself that now made sense, based in a bad relationship. The awakening to reality, was the foundation of growth - this being ACT 1 of the get out get love programme - for this very reason. An updated narrative bleeds beyond just processing the past, to include new potential stories in the future and new stories about self and worth.
Her story serves as a reminder of the need for understanding, healing, and the power of transformation.
If this story resonates or sparks curiosity, I encourage you to listen to the audio file I shared with my client. Leaning into the question and confronting the answer is a vital step on the path to recovery.
The audio file I sent to her:
Note: This article was written with consent from the client referred to, who read it prior to release.