I’m really aware that I have been AWOL here since before Christmas and have kind of left everything hanging for weeks on the ‘live rupture’ that started in the last session before the break. There are a few reasons for me not writing here, but the main one is I don’t even know where to begin. Things have been so bloody awful that I haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts or ideas about what’s happening.
I have been flipping massively between, ‘I have to leave therapy with M’ and ‘Maybe it’s just me and things can get better’… I guess deep down I have been hoping this stuckness we’ve been experiencing and the feeling of being on completely different pages might resolve and I could come back here and basically go, ‘Haha, look at me being an idiot, freaking out and creating another Christmas rupture… but it’s ok now.’ Only I can’t say that even a few weeks and sessions down the line and I am not sure that it’s all me. Lots has happened and it’ll have to go over a few posts which may take some time.
Also, I just want to quickly say a huge thank you to all the people who have been checking in with me on email. It means a lot that this community cares and we notice when people might not be ok. Also to my closer friends, thank you for putting up with me these last few weeks and not muting your WhatsApp but also being patient when I haven’t responded to you.
So here goes. I am the ‘ringmaster of the shit show’ right now. I saw a hoodie online the other day with that slogan and I am so tempted to buy it because that’s exactly how I feel.
Christmas break was a bit different this year. I wasn’t drowning in young parts’ attachment pain and managed to immerse myself in my family life (well until my wife had a meltdown and threatened to leave…the joys of menopause!). Actually, I just had a huge resistance to even thinking about therapy on the break and had absolutely zero desire to go back to my sessions on the 3rd January.
Sometimes I can feel a bit distant and detached but as the sessions approach the needy parts come back online and I literally cannot wait to see my therapist. Not this time, though. I just felt so disconnected and disappointed by everything that had happened before Christmas that there was a part of me that just couldn’t face more of the same. There is only so much abandonment and rejection I can cope with. I am sure she wouldn’t see her behaviour as abandoning or rejecting but that’s how it felt to me.
As it turned out I couldn’t get to my session on the Friday because my wife was working and my kids hadn’t gone back to school yet. I spent a good while pondering what I should do. Should I just cancel my session again like I did on holiday? Would it be better to wait til we were face to face to talk? But of course I am no so used to looking at things from a multitude of angles that I began to wonder whether I was just being avoidant and needed to push through and have the hard conversations.
On the morning of the session I text M and asked to Skype which she agreed to. I was not feeling all that great as I dialled in and the moment she popped up on screen I knew immediately that something was up. It was like the still face exercise – she didn’t smile and gave absolutely nothing away. Her voice was cold and it felt like she didn’t want to be on the line. I felt the same.
I didn’t know where to start the conversation so basically did a fill in about the stress that my wife having a meltdown on Boxing Day and how it had really unsettled the young parts who fear abandonment. She asked me how I felt about the Skype and I conceded that I wasn’t keen.
And then it began…
The boundary talk.
I could feel myself brace ready for what was coming next.
The usual stuff about keeping therapy in the room, how she doesn’t do outside contact and whilst other therapists may do all kinds of things (i.e when I text her cancelling the session from holiday I had said about other people getting check ins, transitional objects, notes, being encouraged to write, getting tangible reassurances, playing games, therapists sitting closer to clients etc etc) she doesn’t work like that, that I am self-sabotaging by reaching out and essentially I know her parameters. I felt like she had slammed a door in my face.
She made no reference to the difficult last session we’d had or the fact that I was clearly massively unsettled as the break began. It felt like it was all on me and nothing about what may have triggered me to reach out, cancel sessions etc… which is odd because I would have thought after nearly 5 years and never having cancelled on her that this might be something big on her radar.
She then decided to launch into some shit about me maybe wanting her to be my friend, or be partners, and that I might have erotic fantasies about her… honestly I nearly fell off the chair. Like WTAF?? And even if this were the case is this how to reconnect about a 3.5 week break that was in rupture? I felt like she was in total panic mode… ‘must reassert boundaries!’
She was so far off base. It felt like she’s read my notebooks, freaked out about the need of the young parts and suddenly thinks I want to move in with her and start fucking her. Talk about snowballing and overreacting.
And then it got worse.
The boundary talk became a gift talk…
I was already reeling from all that had just happened when she said: ‘I didn’t want to reject your gift when you gave it to me at the end of the last session but in future I think it’s best that you do not give me gifts. You pay me already and I am just your therapist. I am not rejecting you’.
Wow. Way to go M. Thanks. The young parts fell apart at that moment. It was like, what am I doing laying myself bare with this woman who clearly doesn’t give a shit. And honestly, not rejecting? How else would I see it after the last ten minutes of her talking at me?
She missed a massive opportunity to explore why I had decided to give her a present this year after all these years of working together and the meaning behind them. I gave her a copy of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ (which basically is a must read for anyone with attachment wounds and in therapy) and a glass snowflake Christmas tree decoration – because I have previously likened the therapeutic relationship to a snowflake: there are lots of snowflakes (clients) but each one is different and so each relationship is meaningful…
What could have been a connecting moment was just shat on.
I couldn’t cope.
And I couldn’t believe she was dropping this on me via Skype. Surely these kind of conversations need to happen in person.
Usually, I would dissociate at moments like this and internalise everything, feel bad, and just tolerate what was going on despite being massively hurt and angry. But I didn’t. I don’t know what came over me but I just felt so missed, so unseen, so badly judged that I said, ‘I don’t want to talk you to you’ and disconnected the Skype call at 10am with twenty minutes of the session left!
I sat staring a the screen for five minutes (felt like seconds- think I may have dissociated) hardly believing what I had just done and then I panicked.
Clearly she wasn’t going to dial back in but I could see she was still online.
So I typed into the message bar on the Skype:
Me (10:05am): I can’t do this over Skype. It’s too hard. You feel really far away.
M (10:06): Ok, I understand that it’s hard. See you on Monday.
[I couldn’t quite believe she was just going to leave it at that and panicked. I sat there for a minute and fell apart]
Me (10:08): I am sorry for hanging up on you. Everything feels wrong.
M (10:12): I think that the younger parts of you feel stirred up and ambivalent.
Me (10:16): Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just I feel completely at sea and like you actually don’t really care about any of it and it hurts. This is absolutely not how I wanted it to be after the break btw. I really missed you. It’s felt horrible. See you Monday.
M (10:20): Yes, I imagine that you didn’t want this and so it feels particularly hard, but I think it’s best to talk about it on Monday. See you then.
I felt sooooo upset after this. I haven’t gone into huge detail because I can’t actually face going back to the recording now to give a better account of it. All I can say is it felt shit and it was enough to make me make contact with another therapist and arrange an appointment.
I wrote the email below after the Skype disaster – but I haven’t sent it or taken it in to session. I don’t see the point really. It’s long and would take a lot of time to go through when it can be boiled down to some simple things. Since I wrote this I have verbally brought some of what’s bothering me to session and had some helpful discussion but I will post about that in another post when I get chance. For now, I am just trying to keep swimming and keep adult me front and centre. It’s hard.
I don’t even know where to begin… Seriously.
My brain can’t even process what’s going on. I keep trying to make sense of it all but I’m so confused, angry, and overwhelmed by where things have got to this last month that it just feels like a massive mess and part of me can’t even see the point in trying to fix this. My gut is telling me to call it a day and yet part of me is thinking I should give things a chance to work out…I don’t know what’s best or even if things can mend?
It feels like the need to run away is perhaps just a trauma response and maybe I need to stick with it and try and create a different narrative… but then maybe keeping battling on is actually just another example of a trauma response because I keep trying to adapt to fit in with someone else when it doesn’t work for me and I’ve done that my whole life.
I don’t know how you think the lead into the Christmas break was, but from my side it was a complete disaster.
I was so upset at the end of the last session that I ended up texting you. I never want to text you because it makes me feel completely rubbish and full of shame because time and again you ignore me. I suspect you’ll say, ‘this is the boundary, and if you choose to ignore it, you’re knowingly walking into that rejection’. It’s not as simple as that, though, because that scared, connection-seeking part is already so frightened that something is terribly wrong in that moment that it can’t really imagine it getting any worse. Of course, it usually does.
With the break looming and my holiday just about to begin I knew myself well enough to know how it gets if things are left to escalate. I was already really unsettled and I absolutely did not want a repeat of Christmas break two years ago. I hoped that you would reply to me, say something reassuring, but no. It felt utterly abandoning and rejecting…and I think I used the word ‘punishing’ in the letter I put in with the notebooks. That is how it feels even though you say that’s not what you’re doing.
Things felt so bad that over that weekend that I was certain that if I Skyped from holiday it would be a complete shit show and I didn’t want to be stressing about how bad things felt all week whilst I was away. If we can’t connect in person then how likely is it to happen over the phone? And that’s why I sent the books to you before I left. It’s not something I would generally do and I get that it was stepping completely outside the regular boundary. I just felt like things have been so stuck for so long that maybe if you could see what it’s been like in my head it might move things along a bit.
I thought that I might change my mind as the week wore on and want to talk to you by the Friday but I absolutely didn’t want to have any contact with you at all and so that’s why I text you asking you to read the books instead.
Of course, I was worried about your reaction to what I had written but at the same time another part of me just didn’t care anymore. What is there left to lose when everything already feels so bad? You always ask me what I imagine the worst thing is that can happen if I tell you whatever it is that I am struggling with– it’s this: that you will finally confirm what I have believed all along, that I am too much for you, that you don’t care, and finally something will happen that’ll push one or other of us to terminate the therapy.
I have felt ill when I have thought about you actually reading some of what’s in the books. The fact that it’s taken a year for me to let you see that stuff shows how difficult it is to let you in and how unsafe I have felt in the room. I started writing in the books last year because my hope was that somehow, it’d contain what was going on and help stick within the no outside contact boundary. If I could write down what had been triggered in the room it would be out, to a degree, and then we could work with it in the sessions. It seemed like a reasonable plan because so much hadn’t been making it into the room because I dissociate the moment I get close to that stuff.
Only it hasn’t worked, has it? It’s been so rare that I have felt able to let you see any of what I’ve been struggling with because the parts that are so terrified of being abandoned haven’t felt like it’s worth the risk opening up to you. You say you aren’t frustrated or annoyed with me, and maybe you haven’t been, but I also haven’t felt like you really want to connect to those vulnerable, young parts either. It so often feels like I’m being observed rather than met where I am at– like you can see things are wrong, tell me even, but there is this huge wall that stops any real connection. I feel totally stranded and exposed and want to disappear because you feel so far away.
I was dreading Friday’s session and almost cancelled again. I felt off. It felt like everything was wrong. I knew that Skype was risky and so there was a potential that things could get worse but at the same time I am trying to be less avoidant and what if not talking to you is just running away? Now, I wish I had trusted myself and not bothered because now we are here.
I am so sick of you returning to the boundaries of the therapy and outside contact with me after almost every break. I get it. It’s rigid not flexible. There is nothing I can do to change it. You didn’t even really make any sense on Friday when you were trying to tell me why you still think it’s the best thing…you changed the subject telling me you were glad I’d let you see the notebooks. The idea that it’s best to keep the therapy in the room makes total sense to me. I don’t disagree with you. I am REALLY trying…hence the books. HOWEVER, no matter how many times you state this stuff about texting and emails it doesn’t help the parts that are sometimes terrified that something is wrong or that you’re gone. The problem I have with object constancy is real. And the shame I feel around this is massive. And I have no idea what to do to help make this feel better.
It’s not the case that forcing me into the room by refusing to acknowledge me out of it will somehow suddenly make me more engaged and trusting in the room. If that was working, I don’t think we’d be where we are right now. All that seems to happen is I dissociate more and more because nothing feels secure. I am trying to bug you as little as possible but that in itself is making this feel worse because the parts that are absolutely certain you don’t like me keep getting the same message – she’s not safe and she doesn’t care. This is absolutely hellish for me. I literally want to crawl into a hole and die because it’s so painful and embarrassing.
I am trying to do what you want but at the same time what do I with the parts of me that are really struggling – what do I do to help myself when the abandonment and rejection stuff is so live because nothing works? When things feel pretty ok with the relationship, I have zero desire to contact you. I don’t need to. I am fine. But when things feel really unsteady it escalates so quickly and then it’s awful because the moment I reach out to you all hell breaks loose inside. There is so much shame and self-attacking that goes on, but also so much sadness from the young parts that keep getting the same message – ‘you’re unimportant and she doesn’t care’. The worst thing is that when it gets bad I seem to reach out more and more. It doesn’t work for either of us. It irritates you and it just reinforces the fact that there is nothing for me to connect to and so then when I see you I don’t trust you.
It’s way more complicated than this but essentially it all comes down to being too much and also being easily ignored or feeling unimportant. I don’t want to text you all the time. I don’t want to do the therapy outside the room. But I am struggling with how to make things feel safe enough with you. The sad thing is that actually there have been some times when you have responded to me when I’ve reached out and it’s made a huge difference. It’s like a switch gets flicked and absolutely everything settles immediately. I know that sounds insane. It feels like this is an ongoing problem and we haven’t come up with any strategies to make this better.
I wish you could understand how bad it feels when everything is falling to pieces for those young parts. I know you can’t fix what’s gone in the past and you can’t fill the hole that I feel inside. But we need to find a way of settling that part that gets triggered sometimes, that fears that you’re dead or in some way not safe anymore…because it’s so bad when it’s happening. I can’t regulate that part very well…at all…and when it’s terrible I need to feel like you are there…and I don’t.
And yes, I know you are just my therapist, I’m not stupid. Oh god, and that’s something else…
You’ve said it a maybe two or three times over the years and I have always noted it as feeling ‘off’ but never responded to it, but I am genuinely really confused that yet again you have brought up the idea that I might want you to be my partner and that I have sexual/erotic feelings towards you. I don’t know what I have ever said to give you that impression but it really isn’t how I see you at all. It actually makes me feel a bit weird even trying to put you into that place in my mind.
The mother transference stuff is absolutely accurate but even then I still do know you are my therapist and not my mother – and not my partner, my friend, or anything else…and I don’t want you to be any of those things because I have all of them in my life already. I need you to be my therapist. However, I don’t think therapist should feel like it’s a nothing relationship – you are important to me and every time you say ‘I am just your therapist’ it feels so clinical, sterile even and what does ‘just’ mean, anyway?
All I can think of to make you say this again now (thinking I think about you in a sexual way) is that it comes from the dream I wrote about in the notebooks [*I was showing M my rearranged wardrobes and she asked me about my sex toys that were in a drawer!…CRINGE!] – but that wasn’t a sexual dream at all – it was like asking me what my favourite colour or flavour ice cream was – really matter of fact and at a time when I was showing you a reorganised wardrobe. And I think this dream has way more to do with the fact that we have never discussed sex at all in all the time we’ve been working together rather than it being something about the dynamic between me and you or having those kinds of feelings for you.
I don’t know?
And then this has made me wonder if you seem to be keeping your distance because you think I want to be with you and are in some way finding it awkward with me because of that. I’m gay and you are a woman…but you’re not my type!
Anyway, that all felt off because I am really clear about who you are in my life and I am not interested in the least about our relationship existing in any other capacity. However, I do very much need you as my therapist and I want you to help me work through everything. I want to be able to talk to you but something is wrong and I can’t fix the attachment stuff on my own. You often say that we can’t repair what went wrong when I was little. I get that I can’t change what happened and you can’t be all that I needed then but actually I know that repair can be made in the relationship because sometimes I can feel it happening. Sometimes you feel really present and connected and caring and it really helps…and then other times you don’t at all. You’ll probably say this is me projecting.
It feels like giving you those notebooks has fucked everything up even worse than it was before. First sessions back are never easy but again this one felt really bad. The fact that I disconnected the Skype should tell you how terrible it felt. I’m sorry I did that but I couldn’t bear it. I can’t understand how you might think that saying what you did when we weren’t actually face to face would be in any way helpful after what’s happened lately. I get that you have stuff to say and maybe it felt really important to you to restate your boundaries in the first session back but it just felt like you have put your walls up in the biggest way and you felt so cold.
It would be hard to tell over Skype what was going on for me. You probably wouldn’t be aware that my heart was racing from the moment I saw you on the screen, that I felt sick and shaky, that I wanted to hide because you didn’t feel safe to me, that I was trying really hard not to slip into dissociation, that the young parts were absolutely terrified and were hoping that you’d say something that would be connecting and settle them after what has been a hellish month but it just kept getting worse and worse. It felt like you were a stranger…which I guess, in lots of ways, you are.
I was reeling from the stuff about the boundaries and the relationship and then you added in the bit about gifts. And that was me done. Saying ‘I am not rejecting you’ doesn’t make it feel any less rejecting. I’ve known you eight years now and whilst maybe that doesn’t make any difference to you it means something to me. Without doubt, gifts are a communication and have meaning and it is important to work out what they are but all you seemed to do on Friday was reinforce your fortress. It is so hard to get close to you.
I didn’t want to hurriedly throw the gifts at you as I was leaving in December but the last session did not go in the way that I had imagined. I had wanted to give you the gifts at the beginning and explain why I had given them to you and what they meant – because there is a lot behind them.
You have told nothing about yourself in all this time – I mean you really excel at blank screen/Teflon – and then on that day spent twenty minutes animatedly telling me how you think Corbyn is a communist and the labour party is antisemitic and why the EU parliament is flawed and how Scotland wouldn’t get accepted into the EU and taking the piss out of the Lib Dem leader and how loads of people lie about needing benefits… I mean I wasn’t really expecting that to happen especially as it was our last session. Next time if you get the urge to reveal stuff can you maybe tell me something about the music you like, books you’ve read, or places you’ve travelled to instead?!
So much of that session was taken up with that, that there was no opening to discuss Christmas or how I might be feeling about the break. I mean I guess we both know by now that it’s never easy for me so what’s the point in going on about it but actually it needs to be talked about over and over again …because when we don’t it makes me feel like my feelings aren’t really welcome and that I must be embarrassing you and it just makes the anxiety I feel a million times worse. So, it’s little wonder everything was rushed at the end. I wish I hadn’t bothered now.
I don’t understand why, on Friday, you didn’t have the conversation with me first about why I had given these things to you, unpicked it, done the work round it. Instead it was just another pushback. You say you don’t want to hurt me but I don’t see how you think how you handled this would do anything but hurt me. You didn’t check in with who was there on Friday and just leapt in with both feet- it was really hard. It would have been hard to hear, anyway, but when I had just told you that [wife] had threatened to leave on Boxing Day I would have thought it would be clear that my system would have been activated and feeling vulnerable and worrying about abandonment and rejection.
It feels like we are on completely different pages right now – I don’t mean about the politics; I don’t really care about that. I mean about the relationship. It feels like all the things I have worried about, about being too much is exactly right. It feels like you have taken a big step back from me when actually that’s opposite of what I needed. I can’t seem to fully explain what I mean but what seems really complex is actually really simple.
I need you to help me hold the feelings I have and normalise them and actually accept them. I need you to help me break through the shame I feel about needing connection to you and work with me to find workable solutions to the problems I have with outside contact when things get bad because it’s not going away. It just feels like we are perpetually re-enacting what happened when I was little. My mum and wider family were so emotionally and physically withholding that just being in the room with you feels traumatic because you are so distant.
I need you to know that despite how ‘much’ there is in those books and how intense my feelings seem I am not suddenly going to start texting you all the time, ringing you, turning up on your doorstep or whatever else it is that you think might happen – I’m not that crazy and I don’t want you to be anything but my therapist. And also, just because I’ve let you see that stuff doesn’t mean it all feels ok or that I can just start discussing it because it’s out. I still feel really shutdown and fearful about it.
There’s loads I could say but I’ll stop now – it all feels shit.