When a teenage girl wears black and veils her pain with sardonic smiles and sarcastic tone of “hi, ya I’m great you know, never been better”.. one has to know that all is not well. If you haven’t picked up on the sarcasm or inconsistent body language it could prove to be a complicated back tracking session. First impressions matter and we go nowhere without building a level of rapport, a time to show we have heard the undertones without being accusatory about it.

Monica* seemed to be fighting more than one battle… her inner struggles and the one that comes with seeking help; opening up to someone and being vulnerable, talking about deep struggles, to who, for what, what if they go talk about me afterwards, what if when I open up I lose my power, I become broken and open and empty and can’t pull myself together, what if…

“I heard you offer counselling? I don’t need it but I came here for the experience and to get my friend off my back.” Monica was resolute, and if you did not look into her eyes you would think all was well, she was together on the outside, well presented, exuding confidence and determination, not a stammer or self-conscious tone in her voice.

There was however an internal conflict happening; I’m here- but I don’t need to be here- but my friend thinks I should- I’m strong- I need my friend to leave me alone so I’ll do this to please her… It’s complex, there’s a lot of voices that come behind someone’s wall, understandably so.

“I know I have issues but nobody is perfect. You also have your share of bad days. You tell me some of your issues then I’ll know you are for real.”

It took awhile but Monica opened up, inside her wall, so delicately and intricately build was oblivion, a deep dark empty hole; she called it a gomba.

“People know me for being intelligent, argumentative, introverted, classy, beautiful and bold, I have this facade to keep up, I can’t imagine if people knew the truth… I have to be this ‘Monica’ to hide all the rest I have such shame over, the real Monica underneath it all. No one knows my father is verbally abusive, or that my first and only boyfriend raped me, or that my family is struggling financially. When I look around me all I find is a judgmental friend, an abusive father, a weak mother and a pervert boyfriend. I have so much rage in me and I find I love it, I love lashing out at people, it makes me feel in control, it lets them know I am independent and need no one.

During our sessions on the Friendship Bench Monica realised she could have a power and strength different from the rage that would be explosive, coming out uncontrolled and misdirected.

Monica began to talk about her father, seeing that he wasn’t entirely abusive, she connected the financial struggle with his moody outbursts, she laughed and said maybe she got if from him. One of Monica’s goals was to work on her relationship with him, to try talk more and express how his language affects her. Her weak mother was to be a strong woman of her own right, it occured to Monica that sometimes it takes more to keep quiet rather than engage in an argument in which there will be no winner. Her boyfriend of many years was to be confronted for the crime he committed, their relationship was not fulfilling, the baggage of the past wasn’t what Monica wanted, she had had enough of her gomba.

* Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

Author: Friendship Bench Zimbabwe

The Friendship Bench provides sustainable community based psychological interventions that are evidence based, accessible and scalable. OUR MISSION: Creating Safe Spaces and a Sense of Belonging in Communities to Enhance Quality of Life ​OUR VISION: A Friendship Bench Within Walking Distance For All OUR VALUES: Empathy & Connection; Anchored in Research

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