Once abused, this counsellor now helps hurting people heal
During Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10-16), Salt&Light affirms all mental health professionals and remembers those who struggle.
Gracia Yap // May 12, 2021, 4:24 pm
Carolyn Lim's first-hand experience of trauma reassures clients that she has been in their shoes and she understands what they are going through. All photos courtesy of Carolyn Lim.
When Carolyn Lim was hit and had vulgarities hurled at her, she thought it was normal. Such behaviour was so common for her, Lim did not know otherwise – she felt hated as a person and did not know who she was.
When she walked away from two abusive relationships 14 years ago, she had nothing except a two-year-old who gave her a reason to live.
“Everything that affects the lowest social sector, I experienced them all,” Lim, now 51, told Salt&Light.
They included homelessness and poverty. She had no job, no income, homeschooled her children and did volunteer work.
“I fell through all the cracks.”
Now a counsellor at Care Corner Singapore, she understands what her clients are going through.
Walk along the river
“A lot of times, I didn’t know what I was caned for,” said Lim of her growing up years.
For instance, fascinated by the rain, Lim did not hear a question that was asked. She was caned. The relative assumed she deliberately did not want to respond.
Lim was threatened with irons and brooms. And her face bore scratches and bruises. She was humiliated and called “ugly” in front of others. She experienced gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse that makes victims question their reality.
“I was thinking about killing myself … (but) even if I wanted to go, God wouldn’t let me go.”
Vulgarities were commonplace over trivial instances like a cup left on the table, when she was not the one who had handled the cup.
Controlled and manipulated, she became depressed and suicidal.
While walking along the Singapore River one night, Lim was surprised to receive a call from a friend from her Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) group. This friend attended a different church, and had been praying when Lim’s name came up. She was prompted to call Lim and tell her to return home.
The call had come just in time.
“Though I didn’t think I would act on it, I was thinking about killing myself,” said Lim soberly.
She went home.
“Even if I wanted to go, God wouldn’t let me go,” she said with a chuckle. “God will not abandon us even when we give up on ourselves.”
Lim went back to the family seven times. Once, she went down on her knees and begged for forgiveness. During her seventh attempt, vulgarities were shot at her “non-stop like a machine gun” over another trivial incident.
She blanked out. “I could not hear anymore.”
That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. She realised that things would not change. When she finally decided to flee the two relationships, she left with nothing except one child, age 2. (Lim has another child that she hopes to be reunited with.)
“God saved me. He sent this international village of people to help me recover and find myself again.”
In her pain, Lim experienced God’s love through the people He sent. One man drove a long distance to take Lim and her child to safety.
“He told his wife not to disturb me for three days and three nights. Just put me in a room and let me rest. They looked after my child until I came out of the shock,” said Lim.
Different church members and their friends – as far away as Malaysia and Indonesia – took turns to host Lim and her child over the seven years that she was homeless.
She experienced God’s provision over and over again. Friends gathered clothes for Lim and her child. They received meals, funds, toys and education until Lim became financially independent.
“God saved me. He sent this international village of people to help me recover and find myself again. We never lacked anything from that day until today. It’s amazing,” said Lim.
A friend eventually took her to see Anthony Yeo, who is often called “the father of counselling” in Singapore. He suspected that she had been abused and it was the first time anyone had suggested it to her.
“I felt peace, even though I was in turmoil.”
“‘Huh, abuse? How could it be?’ I thought. I couldn’t believe it as a lot of what I went through was very subtle.”
After each of her monthly sessions with Yeo, she would sleep well at night.
“I felt peace, even though I was in turmoil. Anthony was so sharp. He doesn’t waste your time. Everything he said clicked with me,” shared Lim.
Lim was “very inspired” by Yeo and wanted to pursue a job like his. But eight months into their counselling sessions, Yeo passed away.
Yet, God would provide stepping stones for her to help others, as Yeo had helped her.
In what Lim called “a miracle”, she secured a one-year internship at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). She had previously volunteered with them for two years.
As an intern counsellor and research assistant, she had the opportunity to work with people in vulnerable situations.
Much to her surprise, Lim was subsequently accepted into a Master in Counselling course offered in Singapore by an Australian university. The university wanted a homeschool teacher like her for diversity.
Lim pawned her jewellery to pay for the first semester, not knowing where she would find the rest of the fees.
Her first-hand experience of abuse reassures clients that she has been in their shoes and she understands.
But God provided yet again. An elderly couple found out about her predicament.
“They asked me to carry on. They would pay for me to finish up my course. All I needed to do was look after my child and myself,” said Lim.
The experience at AWARE led to a job with a Family Service Centre. There, Government funding partially paid for her Master of Social Work at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. While she studied and worked, her ‘village’ was “standing in as godfather, godsister, godauntie” taking her daughter out, and “chipping in to do different things that I couldn’t”.
In 10 years, Lim accumulated two masters degrees.
In time, Lim began to counsel couples at Care Corner Singapore.
Her boss sent her for training and therapy for her trauma with a US trainer in The Therapeutic Spiral Model (TSM). It uses psychodrama – and actions such as bodily movements and gestures – to help victims open up. Many are unable to verbalise the trauma they have experienced.
As Lim benefited from the therapy, her boss saw that she could be a good role model, and suggested she take it on as her specialty to help others heal.
Her first-hand experience of abuse reassures clients that she has been in their shoes and she understands what they are going through.
It also reminds her of God’s promise that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)
In their shoes
The hardest part for Lim was forgiving herself “for allowing the abuse to happen”.
As she gradually came to understand the principle “forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) which Christ cried out when He was on the Cross, she chose to forgive herself and the other parties.
“The power of forgiveness sets oneself free to move on, even if the other parties are not ready yet.”
Knowing “God’s love for us” helped her to embrace brokenness. In turn, it led her to have greater empathy and altruism for others, receiving “abundance of life’s joy” in giving back to others in the community.
“Nobody can heal alone. The power of forgiveness sets oneself free to move on, even if the other parties are not ready yet,” said Lim.
In one way, Lim sees her own trauma “as a blessing in disguise”. Through it she has been able to “help others find their voice”.
“When you eventually heal from your trauma, it accelerates your growth,” said Lim.
In her own healing journey, Lim clung to the Word of God and believed that “God is still sovereign”. Her greatest joy is seeing her clients recover when they themselves had not thought it possible.
“A lot of them are amazed and full of gratitude and appreciation. I’m just happy to see them have a breakthrough.”
Do you need counselling?
If you are in need of a counsellor, you can contact Care Corner Singapore here:
Care Corner Counselling Centre: 6353-1180, for a counselling appointment.
Care Corner Mental Health Department (INSIGHT): Instagram @insightccs, for resources suitable for youths and young adults or email: [email protected]
Other Care Corner services: www.carecorner.org.sg
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