Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued

A Shifty Shafting

Anyone knows that’s not what violence is about. But then there was Lucy. Lucy was a gentle and loving lady in her mid-thirties. She always did as she was told, and she did it at once. She was terrified that someone might not like her or, worse, that someone might get angry and even attack her.

She did not adopt the solution to her fear taken by Linc, another of Felicity’s patients. Linc was a big, well-built young man in his early twenties. Out of fear that he might be attacked by others (there had never been any event to justify this fear), he had gone into body-building and the martial arts. He had invested so much effort in the martial arts that he had become a black belt and a trainer in his own right. He remained terrified about others’ anger and possible attack on him.

But Lucy did not go the route of self-defence training. She married a big strong man partly so that she could feel ‘safe’ under his protection. But then she became fearful of his size and strength, fearing that he might get angry with her and attack her. To protect herself from this risk, she made herself utterly sub-servient to him.

One evening, her husband returned late from work. He was very drunk. He picked a fight with Lucy and, presumably sensing her fear and vulnerability as she cowered in front of him, he began to beat on her. He continued the beating for some time, and then, half in fatigue and half in alcoholic stupor, he fell back on the bed and went to sleep.

She was already in a panic and was feeling a great deal of pain from the beating. Now, she feared he would wake and begin to beat her again. She looked desperately around for some means to placate him. The first thing that caught her eye was the iron sitting on the ironing board. Doing the ironing might pacify her husband. She picked up the iron. But she didn’t know what to iron. So, to remind herself that she was doing this work for her husband, she put the iron down on his stomach. Then she went to the closet to get one of his shirts, put the shirt on the ironing board and plugged the iron in. Her attention was drawn back to her husband again as he emitted a snort. She thought he was waking up and she became panicky again. In her panic, she forgot what she was doing and she cowered in a corner.

By the time her husband was awakened by the searing pain on his stomach, the slowly heating iron had produced fairly severe burns. He threw it off, leaped up and started once more to beat on Lucy. In time, the effort tired him out and he fell back once more exhausted on the bed. Her blind, traumatic panic aroused Lucy and she repeated the same action she had been doing just before the traumatizing attack. She put the iron back on her husband’s stomach, plugged it in once more and then returned to cower in her corner. The iron had been pulled out of the wall when it was thrown off by her husband, and it had time to cool down again while he beat her. So when her husband was again awakened by the searing pain on his stomach he had even more severe burns. Once more he started to beat upon Lucy.

This cycle of events continued through the night. Finally, a neighbour was awakened by the commotion and phoned the police. When the police arrived, they found Lucy’s husband suffering from extensive burns over most of his abdomen. And they found Lucy badly bruised and bleeding all over from the beatings she had received, and in a state of utter exhaustion. They admitted her husband to the nearest general hospital for treatment of his burns, and they admitted Lucy to the mental hospital to get first aid and to deal with her advanced state of exhaustion.

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