A Double Life Analogy For Child Abuse VictimsMarch 30th, 2010
The new show Life on the Discovery Channel has an episode devoted to amphibians where Oprah Winfrey states that amphibian means “double life.” What an interesting concept that as a social scientist I had not contemplated in years. Counselors are always using the butterfly analogy. However, given children’s interest in frogs, I think this one deserves a look. This double life refers to 2 distinct life stages: a larval stage and an adult stage. During these different stages, amphibians are distinctly different creatures. For example, tadpoles (frogs’ larval stage) live underwater and have gills and a tail.
During metamorphosis, the tadpoles lose their gills and develop lungs. They also lose their tails and grow limbs. As adult frogs, they live on land. When one sees a frog in the yard, it’s hard to believe that it had to start its life in the water as a tadpole. The skill sets required for each organism is different dependent on the life stage.
When children are in an abusive environment, the focus is survival and self-preservation. They are like the tadpoles, underwater, trying to avoid becoming a snack for a predatory fish. Some of the skills required for children during abuse include: avoidance, trying to diffuse the situation, and looking out for siblings.
I once worked with a very young girl who would make a sandwich and eat in her closet to try to avoid nightly beatings. She hoped that her mother would pass out before remembering she had children. In working with this little girl, I reinforced her positive coping skills and how much those skills would serve her in her life.
Children who have been abused and neglected need to be reassured that the abuse episode of their lives is over. While the tadpole did not have any control over being in the water, the frog has legs and is able to roam wherever she likes.
The overwhelming majority of tadpoles do not survive to become frogs. Clients who have survived physical, sexual, and emotional abuse need to be reassured that they are strong and that they are not victims, they are survivors just like the tiny percentage of tadpoles who become frogs.
In working with adult victims of child abuse, I’ve seen individuals who have difficulties leaving that part of their life behind. I think if we can help clients see that before they were one way- vulnerable and weak. Now that they have undergone their own metamorphoses, they are strong, with a completely different life. Just like the frog is completely different than the tadpole, they now have new lives where they can flourish.