"The Ringleader" Tamara's Story
Updated: Apr 18
All names and pictures have been changed in order to protect confidentiality.
Tamara was what you'd call the ringleader of our group sessions. It was clear that she enjoyed making others feel uncomfortable and she reveled in her ability to do just that. It was a common practice for her to seek out the weakest link and use words that set the expectation... I am NOT the one. Her demeanor screamed intimidation and her peers knew that to challenge her in any way would result in a fight that many of them were not ready for.
Here at The F.I.N.D. Design, trauma and behavioral issues are extremely common amongst participants. As a result, it takes weeks to develop a sense of physical, mental, and emotional safety between the girls and the session facilitators. Once the group establishes itself as a safe haven of trust, we begin introducing 1:1 sessions to start peeling back the layers of what brought them into the group in the first place. With Tamara, I found myself mentally preparing because I knew breaking down the walls she had built around herself would require an extra level of determination on my part. As anticipated, Tamara walked into our first session extremely guarded and reluctant to share any part of her life that came close to alluding to vulnerability. Our conversation started with me doing most of the talking and her body language suggesting that she had better things to do and more important places to be.
As the weeks passed, Tamara began to realize that even though she did everything possible to push me away, I was intentional about being a constant positive figure in her life. For many years, Tamara was led to believe that she was "not enough" and she, unfortunately, believed this to be true. Positive affirmations were completely foreign to her and in a certain sense, compliments and encouragement seemed to physically and emotionally cause her distress. Nevertheless, her continual return was the reassurance I needed to confirm that she genuinely longed for a connection and I was determined to show her that authentic relationships did, in fact, exist and that she was just as deserving of love and compassion as everyone else. Over time, Tamara's true "self" started to emerge mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Her growth became more evident the first time I heard her giving herself praise instead of discrediting her hard work like she normally would
— She was finally learning how to love herself. I understood then just how imperative it was that Tamara believe she mattered in this world and that there were no limits to what she could accomplish. There are few things more heartwarming than witnessing that belief for the first time, and I vividly remember when she finally let go of her preconceived notions of personal inadequacy. Tamara continued to evolve into the leader I'd always known she could be, one that even her fellow students felt comfortable going to for advice and constructive criticism, and I watched as her entire crew followed her lead until she changed the entire dynamic of the group.
Over time, Tamara began to share more of her truth and disclose painful past experiences. She explained how the culture in her community and home influenced her to act in certain ways, the systems of oppression were apparent in so many areas of her life. She lived in a single-parent home with a father that wasn’t present, so as a form of protecting herself, her mother would teach her survival skills that inadvertently showed up as negative behaviors. She explained how fighting at school secured the best chance of not being bullied herself while living in a community plagued by violence. As she continued to describe life in her “world," I recognized this familiar pattern all too well, as it was much bigger than just a physical altercation — She was literally fighting for her life. Behind Tamara's threatening demeanor was an intelligent, sensitive and frightened little girl who had been forced to hide behind a brash persona in order to simply survive.
After several sessions, Tamara has now realized that she is much bigger than the behaviors she was so used to exhibiting. The girls she once picked on have become her first choice when selecting a partner for activities and the bond they've created is nothing short of amazing. I feel blessed to have been given a chance to witness first-hand such beauty arise from a girl that just needed a safe place to process her experiences and to be reminded of exactly who she was and where she had come from. Using the tools she'd been given to manage and overcome her emotions and hardship, At the end of the day, Tamara's journey is just beginning, and I can't wait to see just how far it will take her.
In honor of Tamara's unyielding strength and resilience, I leave you with this profound Proverb. I hope it inspires you to find the strength that resides in us all — Until next time.
“They tried to bury us, but what they didn’t know was, we were seeds.”
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