I don’t know about you, but I bloody hate it when I have therapy dreams. This is because the dreams that feature my therapist are rarely positive for me and almost always leave me reeling and doubting the therapeutic relationship.
More often than not these dreams are incredibly detailed, emotionally intense, and feel real – so much so that I struggle to snap out of them and move back into reality when I wake up. There have been times when I have woken up from one of these dreams and have literally sobbed into my pillow because the pain of my therapist rejecting me (in the dream) has been so overwhelming.
It gets worse, though! Sometimes I am so affected by a dream that I then go and sabotage my ‘real life’ therapy sessions. If, in my dream, I’ve been really badly hurt by my therapist, it can feel as though all my trust in her and the relationship has eroded and needs building from scratch. I struggle to maintain connection with her from week to week anyway, but a bad dream can totally derail our sessions. Despite the fact that nothing has happened in reality, when I see her in person the hangover from the dream just kills me and I retreat into myself.
I wish I was joking, but sometimes I will have a great session, will talk and process loads, and leave on a real positive; then I’ll have a dream; the next week I go in and literally shut down on her for weeks on end because of something she hasn’t even done!
Recently, I didn’t talk to her properly for a month because of a dream where she basically annihilated me emotionally. It was total agony in the dream and then excruciating being with her in session feeling on guard and alert to any potential replay of that situation. Part of me knew that none of it had happened but the residual feelings that were left over were just horrific. Once I finally settled down and built up trust in her again, I could tell her about the content of my dream but until that happened she got stonewalled.
(Just to be clear. If you haven’t worked it out by now, I really am just a catastrophic mental mess!… which is why I am in therapy 😉 )
I dream a lot and take a lot of dream content into my sessions but I really struggle with talking about therapy dreams. I feel reluctant to tell her how much she features in my waking thoughts and my dreams. I know that dreams are all about processing both conscious and unconscious material but I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit creepy. I mean it must just seem like I am obsessed with her.
I am so aware of not wanting to come over as ridiculously needy but it seems to me that this is what attachment trauma does to you when you finally find a new attachment figure. All the repressed feelings and needs come flooding out and it’s all-consuming.
Generally my therapy dreams mirror how a session would usually go. However in these dreams my defences are down, I am always really vulnerable with her, pour my heart out, get really upset, cry, and let everything out that I usually hold in in my actual sessions. In these dreams she is always kind, caring, understanding, and empathic – she is everything I would want her to be in real life- and because of this I take a risk and decide to reach out to her for a hug or some kind of physical holding and containment.
That’s where it all goes to shit. Apart from once (and that was literally the happiest dream I have ever had) she always violently physically pushes me away or jumps back from me. She suddenly goes cold, formal and stiff and tells me to leave, that she can’t see me anymore and literally turns her back on me. It is totally devastating.
The fact that I absolutely, more than anything else, want to be able to hug my therapist when things feel awful (which is clearly why it features in my dreams so regularly) makes these dreams incredibly painful. It also makes me absolutely sure that ‘the hug’ conversation will never happen in real life. The feeling of intense hurt from being rejected for asking for this in a dream shows me just how much I can’t cope with a real life refusal.
I suspect some of you are thinking, ‘how do you know you’ll be refused, if you don’t ask?’ Let’s be clear here, after 31 months in therapy with her I know the score. There have been enough times where a hug would have been appropriate but it’s never happened. All the hoping and wishing in the world is not going to make touch happen in my therapeutic relationship. I’ll win the lottery before I even get a gentle pat on the shoulder as I leave after a hard session. And so what’s the point in even bringing it up? I don’t need to hear ‘it’s not you, it’s just one of my boundaries’ – I can’t even bear the thought of that conversation.
I applaud and admire those of you that have had the courage to ask for physical holding and then have somehow managed to cope with how it’s felt to get a ‘no’ and work through it in your sessions. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would cope with that. It’s hard enough knowing it’s not going to happen when I want and need it so badly but to ask and then be told ‘no’. OUCH! I’m brave but not that brave.
I guess right now I am so caught up in the feelings of abandonment and attachment trauma that I can’t ever envisage not being in this painful place. Maybe one day things will change and I’ll be strong enough to have that conversation and process the feelings. I understand that at some point this stuff actually needs to come out and be dealt with….just not yet! I’m still so caught up in the feelings of shame and embarrassment about wanting this from her that I can’t rationally talk about it.
So yeah, ummm this is meant to be about dreams but we’ve moved into ‘my therapist doesn’t hug me and I feel rubbish about it’. Sorry! I guess it’s just on my mind a lot at the moment. My little ones are so active at the minute and they are fixated on this issue. They can’t work out what is wrong with them to make them so unlovable, so untouchable, so forgettable? It makes me want to cry.
Having said all that, I think I am slowly getting flickers of how it could be in my head in the future. Yesterday another blogger commented on one of my posts and said something about listening to the critical voice and working out and asking it why it is so present rather than running from it and trying to shut it out. It made me realise that I need to be kinder to myself and accept that although my needs for physical contact with my therapist and her boundaries don’t align that doesn’t automatically mean that I am somehow wrong or disgusting or pathetic for having those needs or wanting that kind of comfort. That’s a huge leap forward in thinking for me.
So much of this anxiety stems from the fact that my real-life mum has never hugged me or shown any sort of physical (or verbal for that matter) affection and it sucks for it to feel like this is repeating in this therapeutic relationship. I get that my therapist is not my mother but the transferred feelings make it feel like that’s how I am relating to her. She is the idealised replacement, and yet this mother is also withholding.
I suppose I’m meant to mourn for the biological mother I have that doesn’t hold me but sheesh, sometimes I just want a bit of nurturing in amongst all the pain that therapy is uncovering from the stand in mother.
Anyway, those ‘not getting a hug’ dreams are bad but lately I’ve had a couple of nasties which, in some ways, are worse. There’s a lot coming out about fear of the mental health system and being too much as well as abandonment. I woke up in the early hours from a dream that has shaken me. I had it last week too. Yuck.
I was standing at the door of my old therapist N’s building but was there to see my current therapist Em (let’s call her that for now). I rang the doorbell and she opened the door. She was with someone else, a colleague, and seemed surprised to see me. I was a bit early and she was obviously leaving the building. At the time it didn’t seem strange that she should be leaving when I had a session imminently. The exchange we had was a bit awkward in the way that seeing someone slightly out of context can be – i.e she wasn’t inside the building in the therapy room. Em didn’t make eye contact but told me to go and wait in the therapy room and left with the other person.
I went in and the room was set up with a large conference style table and chairs round the edge. I sat down in front of the window. I couldn’t understand why the room was different. It felt a bit like an interview room for a teaching job I had years ago. I wasn’t especially bothered by the room being different because all that was important, that day, was actually being with and talking to Em. It felt like I had lots I wanted to say. I felt vulnerable but like I could talk and was ready to get deep into the therapy.
Suddenly three people came in holding clipboards and introduced themselves. I asked where Em was. No one wouldn’t look at me but one of them said she might come back in later, although not at all convincingly. They said that they wanted to ask me some questions. I got really agitated and felt myself shut down. I said I didn’t want to talk to them, that I needed to talk to Em. They said they needed to do some assessments.
I could feel my child parts getting really scared. I just wanted Em. ‘Where is she? I need her. Please tell her to come now. What’s going on? Why isn’t she here? Who are you? Please get Em.’ They ignored me and kept pushing with questions: ‘So, what would you describe as the main issues that affect your mental health day to day?’ I felt myself switch into my Teen state.
I felt incredibly protective of the little ones that were so terrified, and just rattled off a sarcastic list: ‘Oh you know: depression, anxiety, eating disorder, self-harm, feeling like I don’t fit in, a dysfunctional relationship with my mother, childhood trauma, cancer, bereavement and complicated unprocessed grief, not feeling like I am worthy of being cared for, oh, and I guess the bit where I keep dissociating and switching into parts of different ages, you know? That kind of thing … can I leave now? Where is Em? This is a fucking joke. I need to get out of here.’
They said I couldn’t see her, that she was busy now, and that based on what I had just said it would be unlikely that I’d be seeing her again. I got up to leave the room, but they said I couldn’t go yet and they had to do some more tests. I begged for them to let me see Em. They said she didn’t want to see me anymore. I started crying and jumped up and over the table and ran out the room before they could stop me. I had to see her.
There was another room on the other side of the hallway with a window in the door, like a classroom and I could see Em in there teaching a group of people or maybe doing a group therapy session. She looked at me through the window and she mouthed, ‘I’m sorry’ at me. I stood staring at her, not quite believing what was happening. She’s always said she wouldn’t leave unless something happened that was completely outside of her control and here she was terminating me without even giving me a reason.
The people from the room caught up with me, restrained me and took me to hospital where they did all kind of tests, shining lights in my eyes, and some kind of CT type scan. Then I woke up.
AAAAARRrrghhhhh. So twice in a week. That’s a bit of a head fuck.
Guess how I feel today?
Today is only Wednesday and so there’s another five days until I can (perhaps) bring myself to talk this through in therapy along with another horrid dream where I was very little, maybe eleven years old lost in the countryside, screaming, trying to find her in the dark. I kept meeting other younger children (different parts of myself) and all of them were searching for her and desperately frightened.
Whilst I know these are only a dreams I’m left that horrible feeling in my gut. What if she is going to leave me? I feel terrified by that thought. My adult is trying hard to shake the feeling off and remember that this is just my insecurities about the relationship coming out in the dream. I have been worrying lately about whether she can handle everything I am throwing at her. I guess I am subconsciously wondering whether she’ll be like my last therapist N who told me that my issues and needs were too complex for her and that she didn’t have the skills to help me.
It’s times like these when a transitional object would really help. I need a physical reminder that things haven’t suddenly gone to shit and that I am safe in the therapeutic relationship. We need to get down to writing that card together that she was on about a couple of weeks ago with a helpful holding message! Although I can’t see the little ones holding it close like a teddy (honestly I will let it go at some point!). I can feel that my little ones are absolutely terrified that she is gone, that she has left us. That we are finally too much for her.
The Teenager is a little less rattled by the dream but that’s because she’s riding on her usual ‘fuck her and fuck this’ attitude. For her it’s a case of, ‘She hasn’t left us. It was just a dream, but she will leave us one day. It’s only a matter of time before she destroys us. By staying in therapy you are going to let her hurt us. What are you doing? We’ve been through enough already. When it all blows up, which it will, I am blaming you. You are crap at looking after us. I hate you.’ So she’s a delight to have wandering in my head but I sincerely hope that the Critic doesn’t start up as I can’t cope with that right now.
Anyway, I have sort of run out of steam with this now. I’m so tired and I can’t tell you how much I just want to go to sleep and dream of nothing at all!
I HATE THERAPY DREAMS AND I HATE ATTACHMENT TRAUMA!
As someone who has had the hug talk and gotten a no and then run off trying to find a therapist that would and been utterly devastated by it all, I would like to say that… I would do it again. I don’t regret it. Yes it was fucking hard (forgive the language) and yes it was so painful I couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days but I’m still here and… bizarrely my relationship with my therapist is stronger than ever. If you cannot express this core need to her, then you will struggle with other needs too. Hitting rock bottom for me also meant I felt ‘it’s now or never… things can’t get worse so I may as well ask…’ I have gotten so many of my other needs met now because I risked everything in asking that actually I feel closer, I feel held and wanted, I feel met and heard. In a way I kind of thought I did before but NOTHING like this. Letting her into that vulnerable place will strengthen your relationship even though the answer may well be no. It takes balls to ask for something you want and reaching the level of vulnerability required to do that WILL ultimately (eventually – once you’re over the initial kick in the stomach) bring you closer together. It’s not about the pain of the no… yes that bloody hurts… but being vulnerable with her will advance your therapy in ways you can’t understand yet. I urge you to ask, be prepared for a no but ask anyway because it will do something unexpected for you, eventually xx
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It’s comments like this that give me hope. I do get that I need to have this talk before too long. I’m scraping my knees along rock bottom anyway so to be honest I’ll probably cope with flat on my face for a bit. It just feels so hard. I know you understand that. Right now I feel so short of emotional energy that I feel stuck in this place. I probably need to give myself one more big shove. I’m so pleased that you are feeling better in the therapy as a result of all this. Thanks for this x
Poor you. Those dreams are SO visceral. It’s the fact they stay with you all day or days even that make them so hard.
Like all the little parts says, there’s other way to feel more held by Em even if she has a no touch policy. I think the biggest problem right now is the lack of object constancy which is leaving you feeling like something is missing. That;s something she can definitely help you with.
Yes. It’s all totally exhausting. The object constancy stuff is a nightmare. Right now I feel quite brave and ready to talk about everything but no doubt on Monday it’ll evaporate and I’ll be mute again 😕
you are not bad or disgusting or wrong to have those desires! i am sorry she wont hug you. it hurts my heart to know your little ones feel so bad. everyone deserves a hug. i am sorry it wont happen in therapy for you. xoxoxo