Isn’t it funny how a therapist can repeat the same thing over and over again over a period several months (or in my case years) and although you understand what they are saying, agree with it wholeheartedly, you don’t really do anything about it? It’s like you get what they are saying, on some level, but don’t then go on to apply it to your life because the way things are now is the way things have always been and you are used to it: ‘it’s not all that bad’.
And then, one day, after treading the same ground again in session, albeit perhaps talking (complaining) about another relationship or area of your life, and about how exhausted and drained you feel, you receive the same response you and actually ‘hear’ what the therapist is saying. You finally take it in, absorb it, and start considering how to make changes based on the information that you have always known deep inside but have been reluctant to do anything with for fear of, what – rejection, upsetting someone?
What on earth am I talking about? (Honestly, after that convoluted mess I’m not even sure now!!) Well, it’s about being mindful of ‘what goes out’ and ‘putting in boundaries to protect yourself’.
My therapist ALWAYS tells me that ‘too much goes out and not enough comes in’ so far as my life goes. I have lots of things plugged in that drain my energy and very little that recharges or replenishes the battery. She is right about that. And sure, on some level this is adult life isn’t it? You grow up, take on responsibilities: work, family life, and friendships all require energy. Sometimes these things seem to take a lot of what you have to offer and both your physical and emotional energy gets drained.
There are some things that you can’t do much about; the house is always going to need cleaning and clothes need washing etc. That’s a bore and unless there’s a magic fairy about to come into my life I have to accept that there are some chores that just have to get done and take a bit of energy. That’s fine.
I also know that often I don’t help myself and I frequently add more and more draining things into my life at the very time I need to be unplugging them. Like, let’s face it, Easter was a complete fucking mess wasn’t it? Not eating and heading down the path of full blown anorexia wasn’t exactly replenishing or rejuvenating. I can’t beat myself up about it. It was what I felt I had to do at the time and is a well-worn coping strategy. It’s not ideal but it’s ok right now. I have found some balance with food and exercise again. That’s not really what I am talking about, though. I absolutely do need to work on my negative coping strategies but there is another area of my life where I can unplug a lot of the ‘drain’.
There are things in life that are unavoidable that drain you but there are some things that ARE TOTALLY AVOIDABLE if you just put in some boundaries about what you are prepared to accept and tolerate… and we all know how big a fan I am of that word! (has my therapy actually worn a path in my brain where boundaries are seen as a good thing…actually yes!).
The idea is that on balance, work, family, and friendships actually give you something back too! No shit Sherlock! When you need someone they’ll be there for you in the way you have been there for them. Relationships are about reciprocity. It’s not fair to be the one that is always taking just as it is not fair to expect someone else to always be the one that gives.
I think this is an especially sore spot for many of us that over the years have sacrificed and hidden our own needs from our narcissistic mothers in order to survive our childhoods. We are so used to giving and listening, being amenable… and being ‘used’ that it can take quite some time to realise that this is not the blueprint for relationships. It doesn’t have to be like this. We should expect for our needs to be met in relationships too… not plain ignored!
Actually, I was whinging on about something at the end of Monday’s therapy session as a bit of an afterthought and suggested that a person in my life was an emotional vampire and I was beginning to really resent it. I don’t know where that came from but it was exactly what I was thinking! Then I said to my therapist ‘I don’t know how you do this job because it must be like being sucked dry all the time’.
But then I remembered some things that are sometimes really difficult for those of us that struggle with ‘the authenticity of the therapeutic relationship’ and they are 1) she is not my friend (I know that!) and 2) ‘SHE GETS PAID’ to do what she does. That is the fair exchange in the relationship. That’s where the balance is restored (to an extent) and how her need gets met.
It’s not always easy when those upset teen parts start chiming in about how ‘the relationship isn’t real because if we stop paying the relationship ends’ but actually that is completely how it should be, we pay our therapists to listen to us because it is not an equal relationship. They keep their needs out of the space so that we can get what we need. That doesn’t come for free. The care absolutely does come free. The relationship is real. It’s different in other relationships. The currency we exchange is our time and willingness to listen to the other. It is not a one way street.
It’s funny because since Monday, and finally hearing what my therapist has been saying for a long time about being allowed to put my needs first and not having to please others (especially those that give nothing back), I am feeling pretty pissed off! Like fully annoyed! Not with her, but with myself for allowing people to take the piss for such a long time. Like seriously, why have I been so willing to put the needs of others first often at the expense of my own emotional wellbeing?
This week was basically the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the event that made me draw a line in the sand!). Another person has started unreservedly dumping their shit on me, unfiltered, with no regard for what I am going through. It happens quite a lot! But this week something shifted and I was like, ‘be a bit sensitive; please don’t talk to me about X when you know that I am struggling with Y and at least acknowledge that you are writing to an actual person!!’
This is one of the dangers of Blogland, I think. Whilst, for the most part, us bloggers are really very supportive because we try and build up a sense of being there for one another via comments or whatever – sometimes people just come out of nowhere and flood your inbox don’t they? I know I am not alone in this.
I guess, maybe, it’s because we write so openly and so people feel like they know us and identify with us. I guess maybe there’s a part of them that unconsciously thinks that because they have read all about us and our woes that must open up a space for them to unload on us. I sort of get it. The thing is, people have a choice whether to click onto this page, to follow, and to read. No one is asking you to do that. When I open my emails I have no idea what’s going to be there.
The other important thing to note here is this: I am not a therapist and whilst I absolutely understand how agonising it can be in therapy I am not here just to absorb your emotional angst outside your sessions. I can’t do that. I have enough of my own!!! I absolutely can be here as a listening ear but if you want to engage with me then hey, remember I am not just your blank screen! My inbox is not your journal space. And the person that writes this blog has a shit tonne going on!!
I do want to make it clear that I have made some amazing friends via my blog that I speak with daily, and so this is by no means directed at everyone. It is possible to forge meaningful and reciprocal relationships here and I am open to that! BUT basically, the place I have arrived at this week is this (with the help of my T and those blogger friends):
I am not some receptacle for another person’s emotional shit. I need to protect myself from burn out.
Great Mantra right?!
I’m not suddenly going to become some unempathic, hard-hearted, arse hole – far from it! But what I am going to consciously start doing in my life is realising that I can make boundaries around what I am prepared to accept from others, look at what I’m giving out, and let some relationships go that aren’t giving me anything back. I need to look after myself so that I can continue to give to those that actually deserve my care. I want to spread myself more thickly on those I love! And actually, I want some energy left over to love myself….
Did I just say that?!! Eeek!
*Do you know what is really rubbish? Is that I have just written a post about maintaining my personal boundaries and emotionally protecting myself and there is a part of me that feels like there will be some backlash to the post. Like ‘Don’t write a blog if you don’t want people to contact you’…FFS!!!!