A Child Who Transformed His Trauma Into Inner Strength
Picture yourself on a magic carpet. It’s soft and ready whenever you are, to fly. It weaves through lush, scenic forests and all you hear is the sound of nature—animals, birds, leaves rustling in the wind. It’s taking you to a cave where you feel safe. A cave filled with toys and spaceships. A cave to which you can always escape. This cave is Leo’s safe space. Leo didn’t always have this cave and there were times when he felt he couldn’t go on. But months of sessions with Mary, his psychologist, and a touch of imagination, have given Leo renewed strength to heal from his past and cope with challenges in the future.
Unfortunately, the relationship between Leo's parents was never healthy. After several bouts of domestic abuse, his parents separated when he was 2 years old. Leo spent weekdays with his mom and weekends with his dad, but the domestic abuse continued. His father’s rage peaked when his mom met a new partner. A strong male figure made it difficult for Leo's father to continue abusing his mom. Then one weekend, he didn’t return Leo to his mom on time. She worried that he would turn his rage to Leo. Tragically, she was right. He came home bleeding and crying. His mom took him to the hospital where they confirmed that he had been sexually abused. His grandmother reported the crime and his father was arrested.
The trauma Leo experienced impacted him deeply. Leo was depressed, angry, afraid, and anxious. As he got older, his trauma manifested in ways interpreted as difficult behavior. At school, Leo lifted girls’ skirts, urinated in classrooms, and struggled to focus. At home, he struggled to make friends and even told other children that he was going to rape them. Their parents reported these threats to Leo’s mom, stepdad, and school, and he was reprimanded for his behavior. At first, Leo tried therapy, but his therapists forced him to relive his past repeatedly until he refused to return. But when Leo expressed suicidal thoughts for a second time, his mom knew they had to find a different way to help him. That’s when Colombia's Ministry of Family Welfare recommended trust-based relational intervention at Los Pisingos.
When Leo met Mary, his psychologist at Los Pisingos, he quickly developed a special connection with her. For the first couple of months, they didn’t even talk about Leo’s past. They focused on breathing exercises and other tools that would help Leo regulate his emotions. His behavior began to improve, and he no longer lowered his glance. Leo told his mom that Mary was helping him find his superpowers; helping him turn his trauma into inner strength. As Leo and Mary worked together to design his safe place, his mom saw his smile return to his face.
Leo is now 11 years old. He lives with his mom, stepdad, and older sister. After a year of therapy, he’s doing great in school, finds it easier to make friends, and routinely uses the breathing exercises he learned. Unfortunately, Leo’s challenges aren’t over—he and his mom have been asked to attend hearings deliberating his father’s release and he’s afraid his father will be able to hurt them again—but he keeps the drawing of his safe place in his room, ready to jump aboard his magic carpet when he needs a moment of imagination to regulate his emotions. He still visits Mary, and their connection has become a life-changing source of support.
This piece was written for All God's Children International and originally appeared on their blog.