“They are survivors. If you don’t have respect for their strength, you can’t be of any help. It’s a privilege that they let you in – there’s no reason they should trust you, none. You can’t know their terror. It’s your worst nightmare from which you can never awaken. It’s unrelenting. There has been no safety: no one, no time, nothing – all was tainted. Hope was obliterated time and time again. That they are in our office is in itself a supreme act of valor.” – Anonymous
Today is my one year anniversary working at Safe Harbor as a Child and Family Counselor. I’ve been a social worker for 15 years and been in the counseling world for the last four. When I took this position I knew very little about intimate partner violence. I had experience with pain; both my own and the pain of others. I had worked with many children, adolescents and adults who had been on the receiving end of abuse. I had walked side by side with families who had been affected by familial and community violence, but it wasn’t until Safe Harbor that I had a name for the abuse and violence that penetrates to the core of who a human being is; that interrupts their development of self and identity and worth. That pain is best described as relational trauma and it can only be healed through healthy and positive relationships.
We are social beings. We learn who we are and that we are loved by our interactions with other humans. When this trust is broken, or for some, never develops, our brain makes up the wildest stories to explain what went wrong and why we are unlovable. Our innate belief is that we are whole and valuable. It is within relationship that we confirm or doubt this truth. If this is confirmed, we set off into the world with great internal hope and connection. If we have been wounded, we lose faith in self and grasp and cling to life. It is this desperation that may have us reaching for hope in despondent places, but it is also this desperation that builds the strength and courage that enables us to redefine self and identity and worth.
And so this is what we do. We honor strength. We recognize courage. We reclaim joy. We challenge the myths of “I am worthless.” and “I am unlovable.” While working with survivors at Safe Harbor, I have meet the most passionate children. They are excited about life. I have meet the most resilient adults. They are determined to work towards a life of new possibilities and are willing to put in the emotionally charged work of relearning how to relate to themselves and others. It is a privilege to witness their work and transformation.
Ruth Harbin, LMSW, Safe Harbor Child and Family Counselor