Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Can We Learn about Trauma from Lizbeth Selander?

I have been reading Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Bundle: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (Knopf; 1 edition, May, 2010). I have seen the Swedish movies based on the first two books. This marvelous series features Lizbeth Selander. Lizbeth has been systematically badly abused and has experienced profound trauma. We root for her so strongly that in the theater when I saw the first movie, the entire audience burst into applause when she achieved revenge against one of her abusers. Yet Lizbeth is strange, difficult, hostile and quirky, much as many of our clients are. In our sympathetic engagement with Lizbeth, we can learn a lot about trauma.
How has Lizbeth been shaped by her experiences?

• She is strong, resourceful, and has many skills and strengths.

• She is fiercely independent. She refuses to take help from any one. Even when she is in the hospital she hates to call the nurse because she wants to take care of everything herself.

• Lizbeth is very private. Even with the person who is closest to a friend (Miriam Wu) she does not want to reveal anything about herself. To her, giving someone knowledge is giving them power they will probably use against her.

• She is covered with tattoos and piercings, and she presents herself as other, as an outsider. Her presentation pushes people away.

• She participates in sex in an anonymous, unconnected way, then disappears from that person’s life.

• She is fiercely protective of her mother.

• She is available for connection, but is very skittish. The guardian who treated her well earned her respect and love. But she put him through many tests, then left his hospital room and didn’t come back when she thought he was dying.

• She assumes people will treat her badly. When (in the third book) some policemen are actually respectful to her, she assumes they have ulterior motives and are trying to trick her. She doesn’t talk with them.

• She forms a strong connection to a man, but cannot trust it. When she sees him on the street laughing with another woman, she immediately assumes that she was crazy to think he would ever want her and assumes that he was just using her.

• She goes to extremes. She doesn’t check out her experiences with him. She refuses to ever talk with him again and runs away.

Do any of these things sound familiar and remind us of our clients? In the context of Lizbeth’s experience, they make sense and seem entirely understandable. If you read these books (and I highly recommend them) maybe we can use them to deepen our understanding of our client’s reactions.

I would love to talk about this further. If you are reading this series click on comment and tell me your reactions.

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