A client seemed puzzled yesterday– after she'd spent several minutes describing how badly her husband treated her – when I asked her this question.
“Why do you let him do that?”
She took so long to respond that I realized that it was an aspect of their relationship she’d never thought about. She likely had been telling this story for so long that her victimization at his hands was part of her persona, of who she was. When she was stripped of the script that defined her life, she didn’t know what to say.
Inevitably, as I discussed this relationship with her, she would revert to how bad he was and how she had suffered at his hands. Not physical abuse, but emotional and psychological abuse.
The best she could do, when I asked why she was still in the relationship, was to talk about how he was when they’d first many years earlier as a rationalization of why she was still there. My expectation is that unless she’s willing to change she likely will not have this kind of discussion with me because it might penetrate her identity as a victim.
Many of our more troubled clients present us with some kind of life script that defines them.
“I’m an abused wife.”
“ I’m an ex-convict.”
“I have hepatitus.”
“ I was raised in the ghetto.”
“I was sexually abused as a child.”
” I have no education.”
Most of these are presented as an explanation of why they’re an addict, a justification if you will. And if they’re unwilling to take some baby steps toward recovery, this story will keep them sick.
After all, terrible and damaging things happen to people. And there are always sympathetic counselors, family members, or other addicts who’ll feel sorry for us, be understanding.
But if we can’t tear up the script we might remain sick.