Breaking the Silence



Breaking the silence is a huge issue with ramifications for the whole of our society. As your clients move into and through the experience at a personal level, they will become aware of the larger societal context, especially as they get in touch with their anger.

I believe it is important for them to stay in touch with the experience as it affects just their lives, rather than avoid that stage by jumping into a social advocacy role. Perhaps the beauty of art therapy in this personal stage is that it helps to keep the clients grounded in their own process, at a felt bodily level.

The stages and levels of Breaking the Silence are summarized below.

Realising how you were silenced : therapy will involve revisiting the past and memory recall, and is a very painful and anxiety producing process. It requires a therapist who can sit with and tolerate both distress and anger, and who is prepared to act as a witness to the child’s pain and fear. Visual art therapy is often found to be a core ingredient in the revisiting of past traumas.

  • Issues around Being Silenced
  1. Recognizing how you were silenced (i.e., lies and/or coercion)
  2. How children try to tell – cryptic language, acting-out behaviour, bed-wetting, etc.
  3. Adults who talk (about adult abuse) and are not believed

Where and to whom the story is told – needs wise counselling and guidance, as survivors can be re-traumatized by hasty disclosures and/or confrontations. Basic rule for both are: do nothing until you’ve worked it through and understand all the risks.

  • Who will you tell?
  1. Individual (ie, partner, a therapist or trusted friend)
  2. In groups
  3. In public
  4. In writing

Levels of telling : arts therapy is invaluable in this process of moving from emotionally disconnected verbalizing of the story to a more integrated telling. Being able to draw the little child (or terrified adult) makes it become more real and connected. Later on, being able to draw, move, dramatize and voice the empowered healing adult is hugely satisfying and healing.

  • Levels of telling
  1. Without any feeling (i.e., dissociated from the feeling)
  2. From the child, in feeling but feeling disempowered
  3. As a strong survivor, with insight, integrated outrage & honouring Self

How to tell safely: The categories are self explanatory. Clearly this issue is linked to the larger issue of safety in general, which in turn is linked to the issue of boundaries. In the early phase of healing from trauma, a client whose boundaries have been broken or shattered, will be at risk of chaotically disclosing to all and sundry. This is linked to the deep and urgent drive of the self to heal. The inner self knows very well that the organism has a desperate need to bring horrors to the surface, out of the dark and into healing sunlight. Your role as a therapist during this stage is to encourage that exposing of the story to be done in the safest ways possible. Offer creative modalities such as drawing/painting, sandplay, writing and clay as ways of telling the story. If the client gravitates to emotional release therapy, do this body/feeling work slowly, in small bites at first. And finally, help the client to understand this key concept: that telling her story to others will not help the wounded child/parts of self if she is not really listening to it herself. Sometimes we talk to others as a way of avoiding the emotional pain ourselves.

  • Stages of telling safely
  1. Telling anyone, regardless of safety
  2. Learning to share more safely, i.e., choosing the who and when very carefully
  3. Being able to protect the inner child when you tell, because you have already witnessed the child’s story yourself.

Formats of telling – is self explanatory. These different modalities may serve different functions in the journey of breaking the silence. And the order roughly approximates the order in which the modalities will be appropriate and useful.

  • Formats of telling
  1. Drawing
  2. Poetry
  3. Story
  4. Letter
  5. As a healing ritual
  6. As a fairy tale
  7. In dance/movement
  8. In psychodrama
  9. In song and music
  • But tell it as if your life depends on it! Tell it so it will never happen again!



Back to “Essential Issues”

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