When we have a difficult feeling or experience, we tend to want to wrap it up, bury it or let go of it completely. We hope that if we do so, it will no longer be there, will no longer be part of us. However, memories don’t work that way. Unfortunately, the pushing down and hiding away only lasts to a point, some remnants will still exist, even if it takes a different form - it still reminds us of that deeper, more intense pain.
Having someone help us unpack a difficult situation can feel impossible; if we can’t manage our own experience - how can someone else? What if someone is trusted to listen to our experience, but they rip it open, careless and critical to our thoughts? Understandably this causes further hurt and shame. Yet, if we can find someone who will not only listen, but also hold that difficult feeling with us and think about the experience in a way that helps us make sense of it, then real healing is possible, we can then start to see a way forwards.
Often in schools, when therapy may be time limited, the therapeutic support focuses not just on empathic listening to the young person, containing their feelings and helping them find a narrative; but also on helping them find ways to find support themselves in the future. For younger children I help them imagine developing antennas like butterflies; so they can learn to identify kind, emotionally warm people around them.
If you are a young person reading this, or someone in need of support, can you think about someone who could help you, someone who can hold your feelings with you?
Having someone listen to us doesn’t make a problem vanish, but it certainly helps it become more manageable. Complicated feelings are understandably confusing and kind, well-meaning friends and loved ones can help us organise our worries so that we can see a clearer way forwards.
Teenie Weenie in a Too Big World by Margot Sunderland is a helpful book for discussing help-seeking with children.
I am a child psychotherapist (UKCP Registered); a counsellor; arts and play therapist, covering Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. You can contact me here