A Story that Healed
Dr Robert Rich, MSc., PhD.

She was ten years old. Three years before, her mother had caught a man sexually assaulting her. He was charged, and the little girl suffered secondary trauma through the processes of the legal system.
    I was called in because the school, the neighborhood and the family all found it impossible to cope with her behavior. Neighbors had contacted the Police over 30 times in one month because of her aggressive acts, and at school she spent more time in the 'Quiet Room' than in the classroom.
    At the same time, she was happy. She had isolated herself from all horrible things in the past by withdrawing from her emotions. Her imagination was peopled by fairies and angels, wishy-washy creations in a make-believe world where everybody was nice to each other.
    Through several sessions of detective work, I found out that all her apparent crimes of aggression were actually acts of defense. She could not, would not, tolerate anyone intruding on her private space. This was not just her body, but all her possessions, and even things she only temporarily identified as 'mine': the chair she had just stood up from, the person she was talking to, whatever. Anyone cutting into a conversation was likely to be punched. So was a person picking up her pencil, touching her schoolbag, being friendly to her dog.
    Also, through a fair bit of Gestalt work, I found out that she had hardly any thinking in terms of words or visual images. She knew how she felt from observing her own reactions. 'I've hit him, so I know I'm angry.' I think this was her way of eliminating the risk of verbal and visual memories of the terrible events of her past.
    So here was this intelligent, creative, graceful, lovely-looking little girl who seemed to be uncontrollable. I definitely didn't want to do anything that might weaken the defences she had built against horror and pain. Instead, I decided to strictly limit myself to the symptoms: her reactions to other people.
    She and I together wrote a story. Here it is:

The Painful Pencil

    Danny was a nice boy. He had many friends, and everybody liked him. He loved to play football. Other boys liked him on their team because he scored lots of goals, and didn't hog the ball.

    Danny had a special friend. Adrian was a little fat, and wore glasses, but was a good kid. They were in the same class, and often did their homework together.

    Danny had a little brother too, called Charlie. The two brothers loved each other a lot, and Danny didn't let anybody bully Charlie. Of course, Charlie was a lively little kid and often did annoying things, but that was all right. After all, he was still very young, just had to learn. Danny didn't hit him, ever, but explained to him why something he had done was annoying. Then Charlie tried not to do this -- while he remembered!

    One day, Danny woke up, feeling strange. I seem to be much bigger, he thought. Not taller or fatter, but somehow, there's a lot more of me. He got up, had a wash, brushed his teeth, then got dressed.

    In the kitchen, Mum had breakfast ready. Danny started to eat, then went to the toilet. While he was washing his hands, he suddenly felt a terrible pain. "Oh my spoon!" he shouted, and rushed back to the kitchen.

    Charlie had picked up the spoon Danny had been eating with. Danny was in agony! He snatched the spoon from Charlie's hand, and the pain disappeared.
Charlie started to cry. His big brother had never been rough with him before. Mum of course didn't understand why Danny had done this. She shouted "Danny! Don't you dare hurt Charlie!"

    "My spoon. That was my spoon." Danny tried to explain, but only got into more trouble.

    Anyway, thank Heavens, it was time to go to the bus stop. Well, almost time. Danny was the first. He sat on the bench for a while, but got bored and walked around.

    Suddenly there was a new pain, in his backside. My seat! he thought and whirled. A kid was sitting in the place Danny had been a moment ago. Danny rushed over and pulled him aside. The kid started to cry, because Danny had hurt him. But Danny's pain stopped, so he sat down just to stop anyone else sitting there. He didn't want to be hurt again!

    During the first class, Danny was working away when Adrian reached over and took one of his pencils. The two boys often shared their things, it was no big deal. But now, as Adrian picked up the pencil, Danny had a great stab of agony in his arm. "Don't touch!" he yelled. He snatched the pencil back, and gave Adrian a hard push. Adrian fell, and his head hit a desk. His glasses broke.

    Now Danny was in trouble! Mrs Carlton told him off, then sent him to the Principal.

    The Principal was called Miss Cee. Danny sat outside her office for ages, while others were having fun in the playground. It's not fair! he thought. This terrible thing's happened to me, and now I'm in the poo!

    At last the door opened, and Miss Cee looked out. "Danny," she said. "I've never had you being sent to me before!"

    Danny was so scared that his legs shook as he stood up. What was she going to do to him? He walked into her office.

    "Sit down." She looked at him, then said something surprising. "Danny, I see the trouble. It's a bad case of mythingitis. I can see the swelling in your aura."

    "Oh." It sounded bad. "Is it, um, dangerous?"

    Miss Cee laughed. "It got you sent here!"

    "But, Miss Cee, what can I do?"

    "Tell me how it affects you."

    "When anybody touches something of mine, it hurts!" Just then, a really bad pain hit Danny, all over. "Ow!" he cried, and wriggled.

    "What's wrong?" Miss Cee asked.

    "My friend! Somebody's playing with Adrian, and it hurts terribly!"

    Miss Cee put her hand on Danny's forehead, and muttered something. It must have been a foreign language. Her hand felt cool and soothing. The pain eased. Danny could still feel that Adrian was playing with somebody, but he could bear it now.

    "Do you want to beat this thing?" she asked.

    "Do I ever!"

    "Describe why you were sent here."

    Danny told her about the pencil, and how bad he felt about Adrian's broken glasses.

    "Right. This is what you must do. Every time somebody touches something of yours, it hurts. If you give in to the pain, and hurt the person, the inflammation will get worse. That's why each time you did more damage to the other person."

    "So I could really hurt somebody?" Danny asked, worried.

    "Yes. You might eventually even kill somebody! But if you can ignore the pain, and just get your thing back peacefully, then the illness gets no worse."

    "But no better?" Danny was disappointed.

    "You can make it better by offering the thing to the other person. If you could have managed to say to Adrian in a friendly way 'Adrian, you're welcome, use the pencil.', then the pain would have eased. And next time somebody touched one of your things, you would have felt less pain."

    Danny sniffed. "So I can't get out of being hurt?"

    "My dear boy," Miss Cee said, "I'll show you a secret, if you promise to tell no-one."

    Danny nodded. Miss Cee was suddenly hidden within a swirling golden mist. It cleared, and she stood there, changed. Her face was still the same, and her smile, but she was much taller, and covered in shimmering golden feathers, and great golden wings were folded along her back.

    Then the golden mist hid her again, and she stood before Danny, just a neatly dressed middle-aged lady.

    "Now you know," she said. "Keep my secret. And just think of me when you're fighting this dreadful mythingitis."

***
At first, the story seemed to have had no effect, but in the month following, she'd had NO incidences of aggression. Even several months later, all her conflicts were about issues other than intrusions on her personal space.
   After this, other issues were more readily dealt with, perhaps because of her discovery that not defending her extended feeling of self did not lead to any disasters.

Postscript

   Sadly, the family had to move out of my area. A year later, I was contacted by a social worker. Her new school expelled my little friend, who'd gone back to her old ways. I guess, influenza and stomach ache and back pains can recur. So can mythingitis.
 

Read another story, written for a suicidal boy.

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