Remember the moment in “Lord of the Rings” when Frodo gets trapped in the spider web? He is caught. Giant spiders are everywhere. The web is wrapped around and around Frodo. The more he struggles, the more tied up he gets.
That picture of Frodo caught in the web of the spider shows the life many struggle to survive. Caught in a tangle they don’t understand, the emotional response to trauma (while it might be physically over) isn’t in the past. Each moment of life is lived through the lens of difficult experiences which tie them up.
Many who have not experienced trauma are able to see and understand the timeline of their lives. There are high points and low points, but they live in the moment with good and hard memories in the past.
The survivor, however, may constantly make each decision based on the hard experiences. They may not have the gift of thinking about life in a linear way. Each new situation goes back through the trauma loop and comes out the other side with the tangle of trauma making it difficult to move forward in the journey.
What solutions do we have?
In “Lord of the Rings” it is Sam who rushes in to save the day. Unfortunately, we cannot serve as Savior for our children.
Common solutions include medication, weekly therapy, or behavior charts. While sometimes necessary, those are not my favorite solutions.
Start with felt safety. Felt safety does not mean that I know the child is safe. There may be a warm bed in a beautiful bedroom in a house with doors and windows that lock. There may be plenty of food and water, pets to love, dad and mom who actively seek to meet needs.
None of those things mean the child has felt safety. When the child viscerally understands safety, then there is felt safety. As caregivers, we must find and meet the needs of each individual child in order to help our children find felt safety. It takes time. Sometimes years.
In that space of emotional felt safety, the three T’s are required.
Time. Talk. Tears.
Time because even after a child begins to understand felt safety, it takes time to find words for all those feelings. Eventually when the words are inside, it takes courage to say them. Talk is scary. And often the words can’t come without tears. Tears from the child. Tears with the child.
It’s a long process. Patience is required.
It is necessary to look at time just a little bit differently. Your 16-year-old may have lived with you since birth. But for our tweens and teens, all the new thoughts and emotions arriving daily require new time to process and speak.
Be present and ready without pushing.
Give each child their safe space. They will slip in when you aren’t looking. In a moment of their choosing, emotion and words will spew all over.
There it is—a brief moment to begin again to develop trust and relationship.
By Gail Prutow