When The Familiar Is Radically Unfamiliar
Life cannot be lived without loss. We know that, but many of us don’t have to think about the implications of that truism on a daily basis until circumstances, either within or beyond our control, compel us to attend to it. If, for example, we are fired or choose new employment—whether with anxiety or excitement—we face the loss of familiar routines and co-workers and must find ways of adjusting to our changed condition.
Some losses seem significant in the moment, and then fade or lose meaning with time. Parents may mourn the loss of one phase of childhood as they prepare for their child’s first day of school; there will be only one very first day, but the beginning or end of every subsequent school year means that another phase of childhood is left behind. These, like many losses, will likely shed their noteworthy status and be taken in stride as just one more marker of the passage of time.
This is the opening of the introduction to Relational Treatment of Trauma, released this week by Routledge. I am quite honored to have been given the opportunity to create this volume, which brings together papers and book chapters that I have written over a number of years. Writing is for me, as for so many, an interesting and maddening process. Reviewing years of my own writing was also an interesting, though quite different, process and, happily, not nearly so maddening as approaching a blank sheet of paper or computer screen, waiting to be filled with the words that sometimes easily tumbled from my mind and sometimes could be pried loose only with great difficulty.
This book about loss and hope centers on foster children and those who care for them—a community that knows all too well the painful vagaries of loss. Those in and around foster care also know the power of hope in keeping organizations, as well as individuals from plunging into despair.
Uncertainty virtually defines life in foster care. It interferes dramatically with mourning, yet paradoxically helps to keep hope alive. Uncertain loss permeates every aspect of foster care, and anyone who comes into contact with a foster child or teen—from caseworkers, attorneys, and teachers to judges, therapists and community volunteers—will come to know more than they wish to know about uncertainty and unpredictability. Everyone including the adults responsible for their care and the peers who befriend them will be affected–some more and some less—by the instabilities of life in foster care.
I enjoyed creating this book, both the process of writing the individual pieces and the process of trying to make them come alive as a coherent work.
My personal hope is that in the chapters in this volume you will come to a deeper appreciation of the inexorable connection, despite a tidal wave of failures, between determined, creative thought and the capacity to hope. This volume spans my thinking and writing about loss, anxiety, trauma, and hope. Some of the chapters focus on the therapeutic process—when it works and when it doesn’t, including clinical work with children who have suffered emotional, physical, or sexual abuse yet remained with their family of origin. Other chapters reflect on the psychological meanings and constructs that emerge from life that includes trauma, whether from abuse or the chronic loss that marks life in foster care. Some chapters include clinical material that illustrates the protective nature of functional families, in contrast to the personal and systemic consequences of relationships that harm or fail to protect children.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you also take the time to read the book, I would very appreciate hearing your comments.
By Toni Heineman