She came to us at the age of 16, referred by Child Protective Services.
Her father had raped her and her mother blamed her for ruining their lives and did not want anything to do with her.
Understandably, she had some issues to deal with that resulted from her complex trauma
, and they manifested in forms of opposition and defiance. She was borderline ID (intellectually disabled) and had an extreme esotropia. It was a challenge dealing with her behavior, as she constantly questioned every decision and attempted to sabotage relationships by playing one against another.
I have always believed in turning something negative into the positive, very much like the Integrated Experience that I teach in CPI training, and decided to use her negativity and turn it into something positive. Every time she challenged a decision, I would ask her opinion as to the best course of action. I considered her input important.
For a young woman, appearance and self-worth are empowering factors. I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist at the VA hospital and he assured us that he could correct her eye and she agreed to undergo the procedure. The difference was astonishing and the glasses she had to wear complemented her new look. Shortly after the surgery, we took her to a hairdresser for a perm and instruction on how to maintain her hair. Eventually, we found a volunteer to help enhance her appearance and who would come to the house every other weekend and maintain her hair.
She did a good job of disassociating her new self from the old one to a certain degree, but the anger and opposition still manifested itself here and there.
On one occasion, she began complaining about the food, the environment, and the situation she was in. We had a long discussion that night about her future and what her goals were for when she turned 18. She wanted to move out, be on her own, and get a job.
We mapped out a plan for her to achieve those goals. The first thing was learning to plan a menu for a healthy diet, cook her meals, and understand kitchen and food safety. Next was being able to live on a budget, make a grocery list, ride the public transportation, purchase her groceries, and return home. She was very focused and determined to meet her goals and worked very hard to learn as fast as she could. It took about two years for her to learn most everything she needed in order to live on her own. With her focus shifting from her sense of being out of control to being fully in control of her life, most of her behavior issues dissipated.
We live about six thousand miles apart now and I have not seen her since 1984, but she calls me every now and then. She began working for the local courthouse cleaning offices shortly after I left and she turned 18. She owns her own house and car and has been thriving under the watchful eye of the volunteer who used to come and do her hair, who she calls “mama.” During the last conversation I had with her, I asked, “When are you getting married?” Her reply was “Never, all those boys want is sex.”
A natural response, given her background. But it’s laudable how much she has accomplished in spite of her challenges and her complex trauma. It makes me feel great to share stories like this that really need to be told for others to see that everyone has value and much potential.
Mahdee Raieesdana is an administrator with Pathfinder, Inc., where he helps people with developmental disabilities build skills and get the services they need to lead happy, productive, and self-sufficient lives. As a Meritorious CPI Certified Instructor, Mahdee also trains his coworkers in strategies for defusing difficult behavior.
For more from Mahdee, check out One Reason Why People Get Violent. And if you're a Certified Instructor, look for Mahdee in your Instructor Community!