Amber was 28, mixed ethnicity and had a young son. Amber felt incredibly isolated; the relationship with her mother was either intense or distant depending on her mother’s needs; Amber often found herself at the centre of family feuds, attempting to keep the peace whilst trying to avoid being further isolated by the blame associated with not keeping her brother out of trouble with the Police. Her father eventually left the family home when she was 11, leaving Amber feeling disconnected from his new life.

At 19 Amber met Darren, within 2 months she was living with him and fell pregnant. Initially Darren was kind, caring and supportive; listened to her and said he wanted to protect her from her family. Once their son was born, Darren chose a house several hours away from Amber’s family in an isolated village; she did not drive or have an income.  Amber was manipulated into doing all the household tasks and cooking to which Darren would complain. Darren expected sex on demand and manipulated Amber into having sex with other men whilst he watched; he took photographs of her which he threatened to send to her family if she ever refused sex. She was kept in the house to care for their son unless Darren allowed her to go out the house with him; Darren controlled the finances and she felt completely trapped.  Darren became more verbally abusive, would accuse Amber of cheating; put her down continuously both in respect of her mothering abilities and appearance. He started to threaten to hurt her physically; he would often threaten to kill her. Darren was a doorman and trained in martial arts, he started to use his training to overpower her. Amber suffered from anxiety and depression; she felt overwhelmed and fearful every day and knew she needed to protect her son. When her son turned 5 she decided that she just could not allow him to grow up as she had and sought the help of a local Woman’s Refuge.  Over the next 3 years Amber stayed with distant relations and 3 Women’s Refuges in various parts of the country. She desperately wanted to feel settled, have a place she could call home and be connected to family; however Darren would find, harass and threaten her, including reporting their son as missing.

Not only was the environment she grew up in non-supportive, she suffered from the imposition of many punishing conditions of worth which created an overwhelming need for approval and acceptance from others which continued into her relationship with Darren. So great was this need for acceptance, approval and love from others that Amber supressed her own desires, goals and ability to strive to be the person she wanted to be.

Amber was offered an assessment session with space for her to explore what had brought her to counselling and what she would like from her time. Amber had little confidence or self-esteem; she did not know herself or her needs. She had lost all desire and motivation, she felt disempowered; she could not make changes to her life and had no hopes for her future. Amber’s desired outcome from counselling: “Self-awareness, focus and to find what I am passionate about. I feel like I don’t know myself and I want to understand my relationships. I want to feel less isolated; I want to feel safe and settled; I want to give my son a place we can call home. I no longer want to be afraid”.  Amber was provided an initial set of 12 sessions with the option to negotiate a further 8 sessions if it was felt necessary. Amber attended 20 sessions consecutively.

Darren had imposed a negative identity on Amber, she felt worthless, pathetic and inadequate, in the absence of contrary evidence from family and friends, Amber had no choice but to absorb the imposed identity. The sense of mistrust she held in relation to herself and others and a lack in confidence led to an impossibility of effective decision making. She was obligated to do things for her family that made her unhappy and described herself as putting herself through hurt in order to keep others happy.  Amber was a frequent user of agency services of various kinds, she was frustrated and felt helpless; she always needed more, feeling totally incapable of helping herself.  Amber spoke of private suicidal thoughts, she felt safe to share related thoughts and feelings which contributed immeasurably between client and counsellor. Once this trust had developed Amber was able to take more risks, knowing with a high degree of certainty, that she was accepted without judgement.

Through person-centred counselling a safe, gentle, kind, supportive and trusting relationship was formed in order to initiate positive lasting change. This relationship gave Amber a secure base from which she could start to draw on her inner resources.  Amber focused on rebuilding and re-establishing interpersonal relationships with a stronger sense of self and healthy boundaries. She decided that she no longer wanted to be a trapped in her relationship with her mother and she no longer felt compelled to do things that she did not want to do, including social gatherings, being drawn into family arguments and lending money. Priority was to rebuild a support network and for Amber to reconnect with others to assist in the process of healing. Amber made friends with a mother from her son’s school and remained in contact with a resident from the Refuge to whom she could relate. She was able to make informed choices about appropriate relationships, those who would empower her and those who may hinder. Amber decided that she felt safe in Colchester and wanted to make this her home, her son had settled nicely into his 8th school. Amber recognised that for both herself and her son they needed a secure base and stability, moving again was only running away, she no longer wanted to run away in fear.  Amber says that she feels safe in Colchester and is enjoying putting her identity on her new home. Amber contacted a solicitor and there is now a court order in place for Darren to see their son, Amber has to do the handovers which has been difficult but she is incredibly proud of her strength and resilience. The agencies that Amber was working with, including Family Solutions, ceased support as they felt that Amber was managing well; this was a very proud moment for Amber as she feared abandonment from such agencies and now she appreciated the ending as a sign of their belief in her ability.

Amber is passionate about writing poetry and is looking to support others who have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse through her writing. She is looking to start college in the new academic year, possibly fashion design and plans to start driving lessons. Amber is able to move through life with a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment; she smiles when she is happy, her body language now mirrors her thoughts, feelings and emotions, she is congruent. She says she knows what she enjoys and has hopes and dreams for the future. She no longer needs others’ opinions, does not just accept what others say or do and makes her own choices. Amber looks in the mirror and likes the person she sees, she is proud of the woman she has fought to become. Upon finishing counselling Amber wrote “Counselling was a long journey. I feel positive, powerful and weightless. Everything was so heavy on my shoulders”.