The Power and Truth of Interpersonal Neurobiology
Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.
—William Blake, “The Clod and the Pebble”
To “..build a heaven in hell’s despair” is to build her interpersonal neurobiology. I want to share basic concepts for connecting with a Princess Warrior who has PTSD related symptoms and is beginning to reach out for support.
1. Please say
“I am outraged and hurt that this ever happened to you. You are amazing for walking through this difficult journey. My respect and admiration for you go beyond what I can express. This must be very difficult. I want to help you in any way that makes you know that I am with you and you are safe with me. Here are my ideas. [Provide them.] Would that help you?” Another way to put it is, “I am stepping up for you in any way that feels safe and respectful. I have the following ideas and want to run them by you. [Share them.] Would any of this help? Are you comfortable if I share this with anyone who might also be able to step up with me?”
2. Ask permission to act
But please don’t say anything like, “Glad you felt safe to open up. Let me know how things are going. If there is anything I can do, know that I am a phone call away.” A princess warrior (survivor of sexual trauma) likely won’t reach out to you again if this is what you say. She is not going to call you. And you just simplified her complex pain. She feels naked after she lets you know something like that. Don’t leave her that way.
3. Offer what you can
Whether it’s a weekly text with an encouraging statement like, “You are lovable and precious and so brave. I am with you in Spirit,” or a small gift you place on her doorstep.
4. Be very careful with Scripture
Some Scripture makes the princess warrior cringe, such as “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord.” Equally upsetting is “Love covers a multitude of sins.” The upsetting thing about these sorts of passages is that the princess warrior can infer from them that she is supposed to be okay or that she is unlovable and has contributed to the lack of justice and love she already feels.
5. I urge you to be consistent
Let her know that you are on her team. Mark it on your calendar to do this weekly, biweekly, monthly—whatever you can do. If you find her favorite chocolates or food item at the store, pick it up for her and send it with a card.
6. You don’t have to pay for counseling
But you need to offer something. And frankly, there is an opportunity for you to grow and understand the underbelly of the effects of sin on the front lines of the battle. God is entrusting you with this. Her shame is too overwhelming, and her distrust is in every emotion she feels, so I urge you not to overpromise and under-deliver. However, as Christians with the holy love of God in our hearts, we are able to do something.
7. Honor her need to feel wrath
It is usually not until there is anger, when the deadened nervous system awakens to the reality of the crime of sexual violation, that princess warriors begin to heal. Yet it is too often seen as sin. We honor God by honoring who he created us to be. He created us to have a visceral response to violation so that we can be discerning and wise.
Below are practical ideas to get her to connect her past experience with her in the present so that she can begin to heal in the community context:
- Share with her that you want to make her tea, watch a movie, read poetry, or read Scripture until she falls asleep.
- Let her know that you want to go for a walk, join her in an exercise class, or go for a run and let her cry and run or cry and walk.
- Make dinner for her and with her.
- Get her a sewing project, a needlepoint kit, or a knitting kit and do it with her if possible.
- Teach her how to do her hair or her nails, or maximize her wardrobe.
- Make a collage or dream board with her. In this project, you and she find images in magazines that tell her story and point out who she is beyond the trauma.
- Drive her to counseling and wait in the waiting room, and offer to join her and hold her throughout her counseling session.
- Give her an axe to chop wood until her hands bleed and let her scream with primal rage.
- Give her a boxing bag and gloves so she can hit back against all that she suffered at her perpetrator’s hands.
- Attend a self-defense course with her. These classes are offered at karate or tae kwan do centers.
- Sign up for art classes with her so she and you can draw, paint, and sculpt. Many recreation centers offer such classes for a nominal expense.
- Develop a fund for her to seek therapy, legal support, massage treatment, chiropractic care, or medical or nutritional support.
- Give her access to condos or homes in idyllic places.
- When survivors of sexual abuse develop a clear understanding of what has happened to them, they are generally unable to sleep. Do what needs to be done to get them to sleep. They need lots of rest, safety, and care.
- Find a CD or downloadable file of Scripture being read to play while she sleeps.
If you walk alongside her process, you will see the heart of the princess warrior bloodied and full of fear. While you are not responsible for this, you are responsible to this pain. I reiterate that the only thing we take with us from this world is what we gave away and how we treated people. I am well aware that we have seasons where we simply cannot do much. There is no shame in that. But again, we just need to do something. Please remember that healing is accelerated with even one of these overtures.
Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.