I made it through last weekend a little haphazardly and as it got to Monday, and almost time for my session, I felt anxious. I had every intention of telling Anita that her not replying to some of my recent (vulnerable) texts had unsettled me in a big way. I mean surely the evidence was there that she is safe enough to express that with? She may not have replied to me but we had talked in sessions about what I had said, more or less, and when I had reached out in the middle of the week and asked for a check-in she’d accommodated that. If I don’t tell her what’s going on how is she meant to know…and how can we sort it out?
I took a deep breath and waited for Anita’s call to come in, 10:00…10:01…10:02…10:03… wtf? I started to feel pissed off, angry, forgotten about…abandoned…rejected…and then I closed down. I know this is not all about Anita, that everything she does is also filtered through the lens of how Em behaved, but I nose-dived really quickly, ‘She’s the same as Em. She doesn’t really care. You’re a fucking moron for hoping that this time things would be different because the problem is you…not them…’
So with the Critic ranting in my head and my body feeling I almost just left it, ‘Sod her. I don’t even care anyway…’
Only of course I do care.
Having stared at my home screen for the last four minutes I opened up my Whatsapp and saw that I had a missed called from A at 10:01. My phone hadn’t rung or notified me of the call.
For fuck’s sake! I returned the call and A picked up. I told her my phone had glitched and she said she was glad to see me and was worried something might have happened. You’d think that might have been enough for me to settle down, connect, and talk but of course it isn’t that easy. In the intervening four minutes between expecting the call and realising I had missed the call I had run the attachment gauntlet and my body was in flight mode.
I wish I had have been brave enough to say, ‘I thought you’d forgotten about me and I feel panicked’ but of course because I was hanging on to all the worry about the last two weeks and her not acknowledging those few texts it felt impossible. I was already armoured up and so I did the thing… I talked BUT NOT ABOUT WHAT WAS REALLY BOTHERING ME. I spoke about work, my daughter’s return to school, and you guessed it… COVID!
Give me fucking strength!!
I’m not saying that what I spoke about isn’t a concern or wasn’t helpful it’s just on my list of ‘what’s bothering me’ those things probably come about 15 places down. Like even if I couldn’t tell her about the fear surrounding being rejected or her seeming to have backed away, maybe I could have talked about the fact I was upset about the anniversary of my dad dying which was happening the next day having touched on it in our Friday session, or told her about the fact that I had looked at Em’s website over the weekend – you know how I like to self-harm – and had seen that she’s updated her page to specifically list the issues she deals with. There are tonnes but imagine my horror when she lists: attachment disorders, dissociation, eating disorders, and trauma…
I wanted to puke.
I knew the, ‘I have reached the limit of my competency’ and I do not have ‘the relevant skills or training’…was utter fucking bullshit when she said it. It’s like the therapist’s get out of jail free card. How can you argue with that? It’d be like a student asking me to teach them German – it just wouldn’t be possible. They’d have to seek support elsewhere. But to see that she is advertising her services in these areas tells me that she has learned absolutely nothing from what has happened between us. That she takes zero responsibility for her part in it.
To think that she genuinely thinks she has the skills to treat people with these issues is absolutely beyond words. I am upset. I am hurt. But I am absolutely terrified that she’ll do the same to someone else. Perhaps someone else who doesn’t have quite as much resilience as I have. And it might sound dramatic but it’s not beyond the range of possibility that someone might really hurt themselves facing the situation I did.
If it weren’t for my kids and the fact that I quickly found Anita just as things began to unravel (tick gate!) I think there would have been a strong possibility that I may have hurt myself…or worse. Because annihilating a person’s young parts when they have been exposed and vulnerable is just about the worst thing that can happen for people with attachment problems.
Everything went wrong when we were kids, we learnt to protect ourselves, often using maladaptive coping mechanisms that hurt us further, and in many cases the damage that was done to us as kids led to us developing problematic relational patterns…this all causes us problems in later life and that’s how we end up in therapy depressed, empty, anxious, hurting…
We are encouraged to try again at letting people in, trusting some with the most vulnerable parts of ourselves… and it took years for me to let Em see what I was struggling with, how badly hurt I was, and when she saw the full extent of the need and pain, she abandoned me…only this time it feels worse because unlike my mother, she’s also rejected my adult self, too, so I feel utterly heartbroken.
But no. I didn’t bring ANY OF THAT to the session…because people refusing to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces is clearly of greater concern for me! Jeez!
Anyway, the session ended it was fine, but not fine you know? I doubt Anita even knew I was keeping her at arm’s length. I felt so pissed off with myself afterwards, though. I convinced myself that she was fed up with me, disinterested in me, that I was wasting my time. And yet, there was still a part that wanted to connect.
On Tuesday I had a good day with work, back to face to face, but by the evening the grief around my dad loomed large. I had told Anita that I was really sad that this year I would not be able to go to the beach and ‘connect with my dad’ like I usually do, to mark the anniversary. I mean I know technically we are allowed to travel wherever we like but I don’t think that a trip out of county is essential right now.
On Tuesday evening I sent Anita some pictures I took from my trip last year with the caption ‘If Only…’
And sure enough she did not reply.
And that is when my system went into full scale meltdown. Usually, before the message when I let her in, she would at least send an emoji and now nothing.
I had bad dreams all week. One where I was watching Anita with someone (aspects of me) at an outdoor café. As I watched I could tell that something wasn’t right. It looked fine on the surface but I just knew it wasn’t as it appeared. As she got up to leave, she handed me a rolled-up piece of paper that looked like a receipt and on it written in pencil were the words, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t work with you’.
Then I woke up on Thursday morning having had a dream about being on a paddle board with both my kids in a harbour (where I used to live). The paddle board had a puncture and was rapidly deflating. Neither of my kids (in the dream) were competent swimmers and I knew I couldn’t save both of them. I noticed Anita was on the harbour wall. I called for help and she turned and walked away.
I know they’re both dreams. Not reality. That these are my fears coming out. But it’s horrid because I ignored my dreams about Em and look what happened. What happens if my dreams are trying to tell me something again?
I felt so triggered and upset that I sent Anita a message to cancel the session on Friday. This is so unlike me. I never cancel sessions…ok so I cancelled that one with Em just before Christmas but never before! So I sent this:
Can we have a break tomorrow and talk on Monday instead? I feel really unsettled, disconnected, and that things aren’t ok/safe/something has changed between us. Bad dreams aren’t helping. Maybe it’ll feel less bad after the weekend. July is always hard.
I wasn’t sure what she would come back with but I wasn’t really expecting this:
Of course, that’s no problem.
I mean sure, I asked to not do the session but I explained why and for me to be saying I am feeling shit and unsafe in the relationship I basically did not need her to agree that it was fine to ignore that for another few days. The child parts felt so abandoned. I needed Anita to see past my defences and reach through to the little ones and she didn’t. I left it a few hours and felt really unseen and disappointed.
I am good at catastrophising and was really seriously thinking that this was it…it wasn’t going to work out – she just doesn’t get it. To be fair I also need make it clear that I was massively hormonal and I am never at my most rational when in the throes on PMS!
A few hours later I replied:
It doesn’t feel like no problem ☹
And then this came in:
No, I can hear that but not sure how to try and reassure you in a text. My guess is the closer we get the more your defences will try to sabotage the relationship to try and keep you safe. It’s a system that works as in it keeps you guarded but it also isolates you. I can hear July is a triggering month so maybe letting your defences step in for a few days is what you need and gives your defences the respect they deserve for trying to keep you safe. So try not to be too hard on yourself and try to give yourself the empathy you deserve.
Ugh. Yes. But. No.
Absolutely, the closer we get the more spooked parts will feel because the fear of loss and rejection becomes more acute but there’s more to it than that … and telling me not to be too hard on myself when I am depriving myself of connection feels like we’re letting the protector win when actually sometimes she needs to be shown that we’re ok and that it’s safe. But that message was enough for me to see that actually A is not trying to ignore me or disconnect…I don’t think… and so I asked if we could still have our session, feeling like a bloody dickhead!:
I hate feeling like this. And yes, you’re right. But I don’t want to feel triggered and then run scared from people because it is isolating. It’s that thing about leaving before I get left. I was hypervigilant before January but now it’s off the chart ☹ . I’m sorry. Is it too late to change my mind about tomorrow?
And of course, this is Anita we are talking about and she came back:
You really don’t need to say sorry and tomorrow at 10am is absolutely fine 😊
And so that was that. Fun times.
When it came to the session on Friday, I felt a bit nervous. I knew I had to tell her what was really going on if I was going to really sort it out. So we started and I said I was a bit embarrassed that I had made such a fuss and actually still ended up in the session…what a 24 hours! She was really warm and understanding. I asked her outright, ‘has something changed?’ and she was adamant from her side that no, nothing had changed, or yes, something had changed, but positively, she said she felt like we are getting closer.
Good. It’s not just me moving towards her then and her feeling repulsed and backing away.
She said that I had mentioned some bad dreams and asked me if I would tell her about them. So, I started with the one about the café and she said that sounded really hard and that she wanted to reassure me that she really has no intention of leaving and that I am not too much for her. She said she understood that might be hard to take on board, or believe, because Em will have said the same thing and then left (the warmth that she exuded as she said it is like nothing Em ever expressed in all the time I worked with her). It was easy to believe what she was saying because it felt real and genuine.
I told her about the second dream and she was really moved and replied that she could see how hard that was for me. Two dreams on the bounce where she’d abandoned me. She could understand my concern, what if I allowed myself to get into the water and it got emotionally overwhelming could I be sure that she wouldn’t let me drown, would she reach out and save me? And the answer to that was an emphatic ‘yes!’. We are in this together and she has absolutely no intention of letting me or my child parts drown.
I can’t tell you how much my body relaxed when she said that. I have never experienced any real reassurance in the relationship with Em. I’ve always been left second guessing, hoping for the best but fearing the worst…and then frequently hearing the worst. Anita isn’t like that. It’s so unbelievably refreshing. Healing.
She said that my protector is really strong and good at her job. I agreed but said, ‘the thing is Anita, I need you to be stronger than she is. I need to you to be able to meet her and diffuse her or at least side step her to get to the young ones because that will make her stand down.’ She repeated the idea she had said in the text about giving the protector space and respect. I said, ‘no’. ‘No?’ she wondered. ‘No. Because if we let her have free reign then the little ones lose out again, they remain isolated and unseen, and they’re the only reason she’s there in the first place’.
Anita asked me to explain further. I said, ‘my system works in a particular way. It’s always the same. If the young parts reach out and are vulnerable but aren’t met they are left in a whole world of pain, it’s awful. So in order for me to function, first the teen steps in with her bubbling rage which is externalised, and then if she can’t get a handle on it all, the critic steps up and starts attacking me. The teen part is like a really angry big sister. When the young ones are abandoned, she loses her shit. There is absolutely nothing she won’t do to protect them from another unsafe adult hurting them. She’ll cut all ties before things get worse. She struggles to trust anyway but if the young ones are hurting it’s like all hell breaks loose.’
Anita really seemed to get it and said, ‘so what you need then, is for me to see the young parts and help them and the teen will step down a bit?’.
I think at this point she thought that the teen was having a meltdown because of the dreams. It felt like we were moving in the right direction but I still didn’t quite feel like I could tell her that I had been so upset about the texts. It felt stupid. Being face to face – or screen to screen – or whatever I could see that Anita was not trying to abandon me at all. I guess, though, there was a little bit of me that was thinking, ‘she only cares in the paid for time, outside that I don’t matter’… you know all the great stuff!
So instead I decided to tell her something else that I felt shame about but not quite as much shame as I did about overreacting to the texts… I decided to tell her that I had looked online at Em’s website earlier in the week. I waited for it…a raised eyebrow… look of disgust…an uncomfortable shuffle in her chair. Of course, none of those things happened. Just a look of care and understanding as though it were the most natural thing in the world that I’d be searching my ex-therapists website after terminating five months ago!
I expressed how upset I felt knowing that she had learnt nothing, took no responsibility, and basically that left me in no doubt that she absolutely thinks I was the problem. Anita empathised. I said I was angry. She asked me what I wanted to do with my anger and I said that I didn’t know right now, but that I was certain that I didn’t want to turn it in on myself…it’s not always possible but if I do that then she’s really won. Anita agreed and said she was glad that even though it was painful that I wasn’t abusing myself as well.
Anyway, we spoke about that and then I built up a bit more confidence…and asked again, ‘Are you absolutely sure that we are ok and that nothing has changed?’ She replied again ‘I’m sure’. I sat there quiet. ‘In the last few weeks you’ve taken steps closer to me’ she looked thoughtful for a second ‘and I really feel like we are getting closer… Do you think I have stepped back?’ I nodded. She told me that if I had felt that she is sorry but that absolutely had not been her intention. A little voice murmured, ‘but you’ve ignored me’. Anita looked shocked. ‘In session?’ she wondered. ‘No’ I whispered. I felt so small at that point and it was really clear to me that it was the young part that was talking to her. She was quiet for a moment. ‘Is this about texts?’ I nodded again. She thought for a few seconds and then started talking in a really open and vulnerable way,
‘I’m sorry if my text replies have felt not good enough or what you’ve needed. I think I told you before that I have really bad dyslexia. I almost couldn’t complete my training because of the written component of the course. I needed a lot of support from my supervisor and had to use voice technology to write my essays because I struggle so much with writing and typing. I could never offer email therapy for this reason. So, when I text I have to think really, really hard and the harder I try the less authentic it might feel because I lose myself in trying to get it right when I know I am likely to get it wrong. I’m sorry.’
Honestly, it was so heartfelt that I melted a bit inside. Like I really felt for her and was so pleased that she was able to be vulnerable with me. To have authentic communication modelled is really something. I hadn’t really thought about it from her side despite having been told in our first session together that she prefers to check in via calls rather than texts because she struggles with dyslexia and finds calls more connecting. I really heard it now, and realised that it probably feels especially pressured knowing I am an English teacher and will notice any errors in what she sends.
I suppose I tend to communicate in writing because it’s what I find easier but it’s also that I have not been allowed calls or any outside contact with Em and writing is all I had – even though I really shouldn’t text or email! In all the years we worked together we only had one phone check in…and it was a game changer for me…and yet the next time I walked into the room she raised the drawbridge and told me she’d stepped outside her role as a therapist by doing it. It was devastating.
I said to Anita that I really understood that, but actually I really didn’t have a problem with her texts, that her replies up until two weeks ago have been phenomenal, so holding, so attuned, and exactly what I had needed. I said that she had felt so connected, even when she might just reply with a smiley face emoji. I told her that two weeks ago, when I told her that my young parts missed her she stopped responding and since then every time I have reached out with something vulnerable she’s made no reply at all and it’s made me worry that something is wrong, that I am too much, and that she is backing away.
If I had said any of this to Em she would have thrown it back at me, telling me how I am just being sensitive and that the feelings are coming from the past and that it’s not how it is and that we need to keep communication inside the room and that this is her boundary. She could never step towards me in a rupture and instead left me hanging having to work through it on my own.
What did Anita do?
She leant in towards the camera and gently said, ‘I am so so sorry for letting your young parts down, I really didn’t mean to. I am so glad you’ve been able to tell me this because now I can make sure I don’t do it again. I have been really busy at home the last couple of weeks and I am sorry if it’s come across as me not caring. It’s not that, at all. I have been aware of how you’ve moved towards me and I didn’t want to get it wrong with you or give you an inadequate response’.
I explained that I really don’t need long or complicated responses to my texts and that I really understand the feelings around being exposed and not feeling good enough due to the dyslexia. I said I am not judging and that she’s always felt really authentic to me. My young parts just need to know that she’s still there when I reach out. I told her again about how I really struggle with object constancy and so that it really is the young parts seeking reassurance and an emoji can be enough…but getting no reply at all sends me into panic.
I told her that I genuinely thought she was trying to find a way to tell me she wasn’t able to work with me which is what’s been coming up in my dreams and why I had backed away on Thursday. She said she understood that there felt like there was safety in leaving before I got left. I said having just talked in the way we have it seems like a massive reaction to three texts being left hanging especially when in the same block of time I’d reached out and she had made time for a check in. I said it’s just really hard coming from a place where texts, emails, and calls hadn’t been allowed. I said how I had been ignored for years and years and it felt like a narrative repeating.
She reiterated that she is not Em but acknowledged how badly Em had hurt me in various ways and understands how sensitive this is. I said how I had worried that she’d been to supervision or peer support and she’d been told that she shouldn’t work with me in this way, and that if she took away the outside contact I’d really struggle because it’s been so important to me. I think she was genuinely surprised by my mental gymnastics and assured me that it was all ok and that she knows what I need now. She reiterated that the way we can keep moving forward together is by talking and communicating this stuff even when it’s tough.
I haven’t really done that exchange any justice at all but what I can say is that it is probably the single most healing moment I have experienced in talk therapy in all the years I’ve been doing it. Being listened to, seen, understood, and accepted (even if I was being dramatic and over the top) is so healing. And it is such a contrast to being ignored, blamed, or shamed for how I feel. To effectively repair a rupture rather than be left holding the pain and upset is amazing. To know I can express how I feel and that be met well is so much healthier than feeling like there is no choice but to move through a rupture and let it go as it’s better than risking losing everything. I mean the last time I tried to sort a rupture I got terminated…but I couldn’t allow my therapist to think it was ok to call me a tick, could I?!
Anyway, after the session I sent A a short text thanking her for being real, and open, and hearing me. And she replied by thanking me for my honesty and signed off with a hug emoji.
And, that, my friends is how it is done! This tick is doing therapy! x