Are you the kind of person that takes words for face value or do you read between the lines and try and make your own meaning? The other day I did an exercise with a mother and daughter in which the mother had to speak about something that was on her mind and the daughter was to reflect back what she had heard. It was fascinating. The daughter heard a completely different meaning. Her reflection was one of feeling attacked rather than the genuine concern that her mother had for their relationship. Why do we do that? Why do we infer our own interpretation on the words that are said? I am terrible for it too. It might be a girl thing, but I think it might also be a mother/parent thing.
As a play therapist, I work with a lot of children who have experienced trauma before they are able to either physically speak or actually comprehend the effect of the trauma. We call this the pre-verbal stage. As a therapist, I observe the expression through their play to help them make sense of the feelings they are expressing. We do this in a way which doesn’t enforce a feeling onto them but instead encourages them to think of a number of different feelings. They can then start to make their own stab at which feeling it might be for them.
What do I mean by this? Well, play is a child’s language. It is their form of communication. I have mentioned previously that I often know when there is something the matter with Poppi as her little doll, Amy, will experience it first. I have also shared how Poppi played hospitals again and again after her admissions last year. Poppi isn’t literally telling me this is what she is doing, but her play helps me infer meaning. This is all good and healthy stuff and allows the child to make some sense of their situations. However, without a safe environment in which to do this children can become quite internalised or their external expression can be one of confusion, often seen in the form of anger.
In play therapy, the playroom can sometimes be viewed as an external expression of an internal state. A number of years ago I worked with a little lad who had witnessed some horrific things. One session he requested that all the blinds were pulled down and the lights off (it was the middle of the day so not dark, but still created a sense of darkness). He stood on the table and expressed a need for power and control. Along with keeping him safe, I needed to help him understand these overwhelming feelings that he was struggling to manage.
My little Poppi has a very busy mind. Once she is in bed she will often get out to remind me of something she needs or I need to do. The other day I came to find Poppi sitting amongst a sea of paper. She told me she was sorting it. I could have gotten cross with the absolute mess (and usually I might have done) but I was struck by the external expression of her internal busyness.
We all need an avenue to express what is going on inside us. It will find its way out and if we can be a little more in control of how that happens it might not always come as such a surprise! As adults, we might be more inclined to talk, but not necessarily. I certainly find talking helpful. But, also running (when I don’t have a knee injury!). I find running clears my head and allows me to physically exert my internal busyness. In turn, these forms of expression give space to decipher actual meaning rather than playing a constant guessing game. This learning starts as children. They need opportunities to express themselves, make their own sense, and sometimes have adults help them make sense. It would appear it’s a good skill for us all to learn!