Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On Losing the Fear

Now that my ankle is almost whole, I’m back at work again. I work in the infirmary of a maximum-security prison for the mentally ill. I missed working with the inmates – running coping skills groups and “doing” counseling. It’s actually great to be back.

What makes it really great is that we have a new team leader – a young psychiatrist who excited about being there, too. He believes in respecting the inmates as human beings and giving them skills, support and hope that they can improve their lives. Just what I believe. I’m looking forward to working with him.

Yesterday, I was at a mental health conference and happened to sit with this doctor at lunch. We got to talking about the difference between working with the mentally ill violent offenders in a prison versus a state hospital (were he had worked before.) How did he do it without the help of corrections officers, I asked.

He smiled and replied that he had a team of “bouncers, bikers and marshal arts experts” who kept things in line. If a patient got out of hand, these men were at the ready and strode into danger as a fireman runs into a burning building. These men were fearless.

“Studies show that criminals seek out victims who show fear. Predators can sense vulnerability,” he said. I can attest to that in my own history – from being a child who was molested to being an adolescent who was raped to being an adult who was sexually abused. It’s the “sitting duck syndrome.” The more afraid or vulnerable you are, the more likely you are to be a victim. Makes sense.

But how do you get over fear when you’re afraid? How do you find the courage when you have no confidence? How do you stop being a victim? How to be a butterfly instead of a caterpillar? (I sound like Lion from “The Wizard of Oz.”)

Well, if we follow the example of those “mental health technicians” in the state psychiatric hospital, then we see that preparation and fitness is a big part of strength. We also see that carrying yourself with supreme confidence – that going INTO the direction of your fear and not running from it – is key. It also doesn’t hurt to have a faith in something greater than yourself to carry you through.

With this in mind, I am facing the world with my story, determined to bring hope to victims and closure for the victim part of myself. In the dead of night, my dreams tell me I am still afraid but in the light of day, with eyes open, I can face my fears and share my truth. That’s what I’m working on these days, since being back to work.


Anonymous said...

The last paragraph of your post is powerful and one I do recognize as a familiar sensibility, I deal with and imagine many others also. Enjoying your blog. It has been helpful and encouraging. Thanks

April_optimist said...

Absolutely right that criminals and abusers seek out fear. What can we do to let go of fear?

Make a list of our strengths. Work on building physical strength, too, as you suggest. Work out contingency plans when we are going into stressful situations. Learn as much as we can about handling bullies. (There's a great book called Take the Bully by the Horns by Sam Horn.) We rewrite the beliefs we took in about ourselves as children.

Each time we stand up for ourselves and succeed, we get more proof that we can.

Anonymous said...

How timely...Just Friday I was in a case conference at the place of my employement. It was interesting to see the difference between one therapist who was able to look at a patient and say "I've never seen such a danger in my 30 years of working with forensic psychology" and the psychiatrist who stated "the guy isn't psychotic anymore so he's clearly not a danger."

At that point I knew that my background of having been a victim in the past combined with what I have learned both in working through my traumas and in my training to become a therapist have put me a step above those who just have some knowledge from periodicals!

The good news in all this is that I was able to speak to the guy face to face, interview him about his fantasies, KNOW his dangerous traits and yet not be afraid (of course I do work on a locked unit, I'm not stupid!)