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Hurting Hearts

By admin
December 12, 2011 4:43 pm

Ready to Launch on Montrose Beach

 

Today I’d like to tell you about a young person who we had a harder time connecting with than we do with most of our youth.  We found it challenging to connect with her because it was a little bit challenging to like her.
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There were several things that made it difficult for us to have the empathy we strive for.
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  • She lied
  • She was manipulative
  • She was very good at pulling each of us away from the group
The hardest thing for me, though, was how hard she worked to convince us she was inept and incompetent.  She learned, somewhere in her 13 years, that it was beneficial to her to hide her strengths and convince people she was helpless, worthy only of pity.  She seemed to crave connections, but only knew how to create them through weakness.
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We don’t know a lot about her life or her home.  She told us disturbing things about her family.  She told us disturbing things about how much food she got at home.  We had to talk with our partner agency several times to figure out which of us was going to follow up on some of the things she said.
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One thing is clear to me.  She desperately wanted to be loved.  And she thought she needed to be someone different than she was in order to get that love. 
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So she told us lies.
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  • She tried to get us to pity her.
  • She tried to get us and her peers to admire her.
  • She tried to get us to give her enough attention to fill up the hole in her hurting heart.

Learning to Surf at Montrose Beach

The responses she tried to elicit from us, sometimes successfully, didn’t make her feel better.
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They didn’t make us feel better either.
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So we thought carefully about how to respond.  There were lots of ways we knew we DIDN’T want to respond:
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  • We didn’t want to let her take any of us away from the group
  • We didn’t want to let her isolate HERSELF from the group
  • We didn’t want to ignore any real fear she had
  • We didn’t want to ignore any lack of basic resources at home
  • We didn’t want to pity her
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What ended up seeming to work was something that I found difficult to do.
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  • I’m a good social worker – I like to think I’m compassionate and that I respond when people need help
  • I’m a good guide – I don’t let a group get spread out, especially when the group is kayaking
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I let “Cora” go farther from the group than I ever let people go.
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I didn’t go after her or give her individualized instruction when she took off away from the group, looked back at me to make sure I saw her, and then plaintively called to me that she couldn’t turn her boat back around.
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“Use your turning strokes.”
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We had all seen her use her turning strokes.
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            — So I paid little attention to her.
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That is, I paid little apparent attention to her. I knew exactly where she was, how fast she could paddle, how fast I could paddle, where our staff were in relation to her, and how fast they could paddle. But I gave her little attention.
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“Use your turning strokes.”
“I can’t turn.”
“You can turn.  I’ve seen you.  Use your turning strokes.”
“I’m scared.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
“I need help.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
“Come get me.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
She cried.
“Use your turning strokes.”
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We didn’t go after her. 
She used her turning strokes.
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When she got back to the group, we gave her lots of attention.  We congratulated her on her turning strokes.  We told her exactly what it was about her turning strokes that we thought was good.  We welcomed her into the activity the group was doing.
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We learned to pay enough attention to her to know what her skills were, where she was, and whether she was safe.
We learned to give her attention when she paddled back.
— When she paddled back to the group whose admiration, respect and acceptance she craved.
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It broke our hearts not to give “Cora” the sympathy she so expertly and plaintively elicited from us.
We think it healed her heart just a little bit to coax her to show us her strength.
To relate to her around her strengths, not her limitations.
To empower her to paddle into the group instead of away from it.

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