Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Object of Comfort: a Butterflies Process is a Journey

Dr. Deborah A Russo
Clinical Psychologist
Remuda Ranch Treatment Programs

As a mom of toddler twins and a five year old, emotional ups and downs are a daily reality.   When my last minute nerves are just about fried, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am a mirror for them.  My own emotional regulation affects theirs.  When I talk slowly and calmly, I notice they calm as well.  Sometimes they calm in a moment, other times longer as they work it out within themselves, and we figure out together what they need.  

Each child has his or her their own unique way of dealing with their emotional and relational world.  One recovers quickly from upset; one will discharge into humor, and the other holds on to things like they just stick to him.  Deep thinking and sensitive, he has been this way since I can remember seeing his personality at 4 months old.  My children soothe differently as well.  One reaches for a worn teddy bear, one a sock monkey, and the other a silky blue blanket. One wants a hug to help ground himself, and another needs a few minutes alone. 

My precious children make me think about the precious young people I work with as they make their way to find their needed soothing objects to healthfully cope with aching hearts and souls.  I remember one story in particular of a young woman as she  worked hard in coming to terms with letting go of her eating disorder, grieving,  finding the pieces to the puzzle  of her trauma background and bringing words to the reasons for her pain and anguish.  She also struggled with cutting. Since she was a teenager she recalled being unable to soothe herself, to redirect her mind in another way.  It was her object of comfort. 

In therapy, she worked hard to first reduce self harming, and then succeeded to completely stopping with only few weekly thoughts that she was able to manage with healthy tools.  She opened her world to loving people and to self love.   But, she was still afraid to let go of the self harm object that she had by her side for years.   She said that she kept it in her back pack.  What else do you have in that bag?, I asked.    Anything else that is comforting?  Well not really, books, stuff for school, she said.

We talked about the power she gave to that object- its’ presence was an illusion of safety.
I know now it is not helpful to me, she reflected.   But, there is still somehow comfort.  I understood better than ever before as she spoke.  If I let it go, really let it go, it is like a relationship.  One that seems to help me survive, but actually keeps me from all my possibilities.

We talked about what she could add to her backpack that would be comforting. She needed a replacement to symbolize the true comfort that a consistent, loving and non judgmental relationship could bring.  I thought about the numbers of times per week one of my children cries.. Boo hoo, mommy, Ouchy! – as they run over to show me their wounds.  There is no blood, no visible wound for me to know for sure if they need first aid.  I know that a mommy’s kiss helps mend that moment of anxiety or fear or just that need for touch, love, reassurance, or distraction.  This young woman never had that.  She could not recall one memory, or one moment of being held or protected.  
Band-Aids, how about Band-Aids?, I said.  Would you be willing to add them into your backpack?  Let’s talk about some other things that would help you….,

She began to talk about all the ways she felt like people cared. We reviewed her lifeline of memories of true support.  First was when a friend realized that she was self harming and was concerned, but did not judge her.…. It was when someone noticed what I needed, she said.    I replied, So if someone notices that you carry this harming object, would they see what you needed for yourself through their concern?

Now was the point of contemplation of letting go of that security blanket ….    What would it be like to walk free of the object you depended on for all those years?   All it represented?    Would you have to lose those meaningful things as well?   

We addressed what it is like to see herself letting go of this, putting other things in her back pack to replace it. I have something!   I see it!  I can visualize it! she said.  A friend gave me a Butterfly – I sometimes hold it at night, it is soft and squishy.   The colors always remind me of warmth and hope. 

A butterfly is delicate and powerful at the same time and it must come out of its cocoon when it is time, no sooner.  The butterfly was given by someone who understands her and never judged her...  You are  like the butterfly and it is more then the butterfly, but what it represents to you, the persons who gets you, comforts you and cares for you …     Yes, that is protection to me, she said. I can carry a Band-Aid. I like that, it makes sense to me.   We smiled together.

Many individuals struggle with the battle against an eating disorder, and self harming behaviors.  If you struggle as well, you are not alone and deserve to find the help you need.  Seek counsel and open yourself up to taking the risk of letting others in.   With the support you need, learn about why you self harm and why you suffer.  

Letting go of old things, bad relationships or old behaviors to provide the feeling of security is a multi leveled process.   It isn’t human nature to let go of all our old security blankets at once.  In our humanness we may hold on to things for years…..   Like fingers hanging on to a cliff, holding on for dear life and fear of the fall.   But you must figure, what are all those things you may hold on to that don’t really serve you in the long run….  Will they get you to where you want to be in life?   Will they help you achieve your dreams?

We all want to feel in control, and many people suffer with painful thoughts, memories and emotions.  We all feel vulnerable.  Letting go is a process, grieving is also.  Moving on is a gift and a challenge.   It can be scary… whether it is the silky blue blanket, or another object of comfort, it is a journey.  Have you read the Lessons of a Butterfly?, I asked her.  Read it and think of the metaphors for you.  

No one can make your decision how, when and what to challenge and change but you.  However, you do need others to help you figure out how to fly.  

Please Note:  The information contained in this article is intended to provide readers with helpful information and inspiration.  The story has been adjusted to honor and protect confidential details of all individuals. This article is not to be used to diagnose or treat.  Consult licensed medical, and or mental health professionals for assistance.


Last reviewed: By Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on 7 Feb, 2012
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com.

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