Slamming Doors: The Power of Safety


by Mark Freado

Fourteen-year-old Angelique sat in the dining room of her group home explaining to her favorite staff member, Ms. G, the fight that happened at school that day. This incident resulted in Angelique’s one-day suspension from school to be imposed the following day, and she was not allowed to attend the group outing with the other girls that evening. As I listened, Ms. G asked her to talk about what happened. 

Since Angelique did not know me, I asked her if she wanted me to leave so she could talk about it more privately. She said that I could stay, and as she talked with Ms. G, I noticed that she included me with eye contact, an acknowledgement I appreciated. I remained in my seat at a table next to where they were sitting.

The fight happened in a classroom at the alternative school Angelique attends and involved a boy in the class. “He was sayin’ stuff about me and talking about my family. I told him to stop, but he kept talking,” she said with a strong, justified tone in her voice. Ms. G asked what kind of things he said and if he knew anything about her family. Angelique said that he did not know anything, but he said things about her mother.  She added that even though her mother did terrible things to her, no one else could talk bad about her. Ms. G suggested that she ignore things like that. Angelique replied in a quiet voice, “I can’t ignore things that hurt so much.” Gone was the aggressive and justified tone. Now, she seemed more reserved and reflective. There was a brief silence, and she glanced over at me. Wondering if it were a bid, I inquired if I could ask her a question about what she just said. She agreed. As a further gesture of invitation to include me the discussion, Angelique turned her chair slightly in my direction. 

I told her that I noticed two things that made me wonder what she was experiencing. First, her voice became quieter and softer, not as sure and strong as it had been just before that. Also, she said “things that hurt so much.” I asked whether she had chances to talk about the things that hurt her. Her response was typical, “I don’t know.” She then began to talk about beatings, neglect, and sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her mother and “men.” Regarding the sexual abuse, she specifically used the word rape. She said she believed that she would never get over it. I responded by acknowledging that it seemed like there was a lot to get over. I also noted that although she said that she did not know if she had chances to talk about the hurtful things, she was actually talking about them right now with Ms. G and me. Angelique sat back in her seat and glanced at Ms. G who affirmed her by saying that she just communicated very clearly about what had hurt her. Ms. G then suggested that Angelique share these things with her therapist. She responded, “I can’t talk with everyone about this!”

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The Art of Kid Whispering, July 26-27, 2017

Mark Freado, author of this article, joins J.C. Chambers of Stronghold Counseling to conduct a training in The Art of Kid Whispering, July 26-27, at the Black Hills Seminars. Don't miss it!