holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
After promptly diving down into the black hole of shame on Friday and then young parts suffering with all the attachment stuff and fear of being left over the weekend, I decided to send my blog post about expressing loving feelings and being the Queen of Avoidance to Anita shortly after I’d written it on Sunday.
I figured I had nothing to lose, really, because whilst parts of me were in a tail spin about being so vulnerable and worrying massively about being rejected for being ‘too much’, there were other parts who know that A and I can work through whatever I bring to her. Enough of me trusts her for me to be able to tell her I am struggling and knows that she won’t shame me for my feelings. And because it’s ok for me to communicate with her outside session, and she’s been happy read my blog posts when I have shared them with her in the past, it seemed silly to continue suffering when actually I could give her the heads up and then we would be on the same page for our session the next day.
I didn’t expect her to read it until Monday or reply but I felt much better for just getting it off my chest. When I am dysregulated, I find expressing how I feel in writing much easier than trying to explain it verbally and Anita really understands this. That’s not to say I don’t talk in the room (I really do!), or that the therapy is taking place outside the room and not in it because I write to her or blog.
A knows there are parts that will take time to trust, need to test her and the relationship (repeatedly) and by allowing me to check in outside those two contact hours a week, those tentative, vulnerable, scared, flighty parts of me are able to do what they need to do, express what they need to, and this has enabled them to make it into the space face to face more often.
I am certain that it is Anita’s flexibility and presence outside the room that has actually allowed me take more risks and do more work in the room. I haven’t developed some unhealthy addiction to her because I check in during the week and she hasn’t bred some terrible dependency because she acknowledges the child parts need something more (which is what Em was certain would happen).
A understands that the attachment happens regardless. If the feelings are there lying dormant then they’ll be ignited in the therapy, but how this is all handled definitely impacts on us as clients. We either feel seen and held or abandoned and rejected…and I know which one is accelerating my path to healing!
I mean it’s not rocket science, relational trauma needs healing in relationship.
I saw this on Carolyn Spring’s Twitter the other day which totally summed it up:
When we are in distress, whether as a baby or as an adult, we want a person, not a technique. Human beings don’t respond to techniques. We respond to feeling seen, and feeling heard. and feeling felt.
And this is where the problems were with Em, a clinical psychologist. She had so many techniques but refused time and again to let herself into the relationship. I’ve never experienced anyone more blank screen in my life. And for those of us with CPTSD that way of interacting is so traumatising. I mean honestly if I could imagine my way out of my trauma with visualisation then I’d have bloody done it!
Anyway…A is not Em. Thank god!
A is brilliant.
Have I said that before?
As I said, I wasn’t expecting a reply to my blog on Sunday and I didn’t feel stressed worrying about a reply/or not getting one because ultimately I knew A would understand, so I was just getting on with things when I got a message later that morning…like the best message. I have literally waited years to be told something like this:
O my goodness. I am not going anywhere. You really aren’t too much. I care about you sooo much and I love you too, in a caring loving way 💜🧡💛. I am aware Em saw the love in a romantic way. I don’t think she got how the love between client and therapist is so different but can definitely be there if the relationship is allowed to grow x
I couldn’t believe me eyes. All the parts inside, even the critic, just melted. I felt so reassured. So accepted. So understood. So cared for. So loved. And that outside communication that some therapists seem so scared of entering into, and A actually being real enough to express love in a clearly boundaried way, well I can tell you, that alone has done more good and been more healing than the entirety of my therapy with Em. My child parts took the risk, expressed vulnerable feelings, and have had them accepted and reciprocated…and that’s therapy gold. And I feel so much more able to bring the really hard stuff to her now, because I believe she’s in it for the long haul with me, and she genuinely cares.
It’s no secret that when it comes to expressing difficult feelings – or even positive ones like the ‘L’ word – in therapy I can sit on my throne, The Queen of Avoidance, for weeks or even months (years!!!) on end not really saying what’s going on for me! I think I frequently come over as aloof, stand-offish or perhaps even cold and unfeeling – because whilst I can be ‘feeling all the feelings’ inside, I’d sooner sit in stony-faced silence than admit that I like you, care about you, or say that you are important to me. Considering how much I hate the still face experiment it’s kind of funny that I sit with my poker face glued on so much of the time in therapy.
I’ve spoken at length with my friend (who kindly drew the illustration above) about this, she’s one of the few people I have truly let into my inner world, and have lamented how sad it is that to me it feels more dangerous to express love than it does to express anger or rage in therapy. Revealing and communicating loving feelings feels so risky. I guess because when we do that, the armour is off and the protectors are standing down. When we express love we are wide open and vulnerable to being hurt and this is even more the case if the feelings being articulated are coming from a young part.
Whilst it’s what I crave, it’s also not surprising that I avoid this kind of emotional intimacy. We all want to be loved, need to be loved, but there have been a couple of significant times in my life where I have finally built up the courage to tell someone how I feel and it’s gone badly. I am programmed expect the worst, ‘you’re too much’ or to get no response at all – especially after growing up with a mother who does not show any warmth whatsoever. And so any time I enter the arena of feeling the BIG feelings and wanting to express them, it triggers those really painful feelings of rejection and abandonment and so I’d sooner say nothing at all and sit in my own discomfort rather than be negatively judged or rejected by the other.
It’s funny, I saw a tweet months ago that I sent to Anita at the time which said:
All I ask is for you to get to know me on a deep, intimate level while I resist and obstruct your every attempt to do so.
And this absolutely nails it. Queen Of Avoidance! I tried so hard to break this pattern with Em but actually working with her cemented my fears and doubts about being unlovable, increased my levels of dissociation, and crushed the youngest parts of me… which is unfortunate to say the least.
Wow – that’s a massive understatement!
I’ve been working with Anita for 8 months now. I see her twice a week so I guess we must have had about 60 sessions over this time. I noticed towards the end of June a shift in how I felt with A. I guess it was around then that the child parts who had been so much in hiding after being so badly hurt by Em attached to her. And of course this signalled the start of ‘react like a baby to the slightest thing’ time. It was like having a scab torn off and the open mother wound exposed again.
Once the young parts (including the teens) activate in therapy it’s a whole other world of fun isn’t it? And when I say ‘fun’ I really mean ‘shame’!
A has been nothing short of amazing with me in the time we have been working together. I know I am not an easy client to work with (another massive understatement!) but she’s been so calm, consistent, and validating of my feelings that it’s hardly surprising that since returning to face to face sessions it feels more intense. After months working online, and having had the break, being back in the room feels so nice. I feel more seen and more connected which in turn settles my system down.
Only it also does that other thing…SHAKES IT UP!!
Because A makes me feel safe when I am with her it activates all the attachment stuff and young need. Like I feel so grateful to her for what she does for me but now it feels like all the little ones are wanting to rush forward and hug her especially after the break – stampede style!
The children inside have all been left unattended for so long that it’s a shit show. In January the little ones were abandoned, screaming, and the teen part was left babysitting. She had no idea what she was doing and basically spent the food money on litres of coke and sweets to bribe the little ones to shut up- and now the littlest ones are hyper but also overtired and need a story and to be put to bed!
This last couple of weeks has been really hard going. I have barely hung it together in my adult life and it’s massively impacted my internal system. Everything feels overwrought and I feel like I am spread way too thin. My resources are massively depleted. My nervous system has been off the chart…and generally it’s felt really awful. Like I have wanted to cry but haven’t been able to let the tears come – although crying is not something I find very easy. Apparently the average woman cries 3.5 times a month…I barely manage that in a year even when I have been terminated my by attachment figure! I have felt like I have wanted to self-harm but haven’t…but because I haven’t gone to my ‘go to’ coping strategies there has also not been any release.
I think I have come over as a complete basket case in my sessions. Manic and repetitive. I’ve done nothing but moan. And then underneath the immediate everyday life stuff there’s been this swirling terror that I don’t talk about, can’t talk about, because I just can’t hold that too and keep going with the day to day.
I feel a huge panic in my system that any minute A is going to go. Part of it is I think COVID dread. I am really worried about us ending up in lockdown again and not being able to see her… but this then spirals down into the feeling of her being ‘gone’ like properly gone. And I guess this is something to do with what it is like working online for the young parts. I think the preverbal stuff is really difficult to work with online and so because that littlest self can’t really get what it needs on screen it feels like its been abandoned… I dunno I need to think more on that.
Despite everything feeling massively precarious – being in the room with A has been the glue that has held my pieces together lately… or, maybe the scaffolding around my renovation project. And getting a hug at the end feels like the parts of me that are crumbling are momentarily held in place before I go back out into the world and try not to disintegrate.
I outdid myself this week after my session. I felt so seen and held that I sent A a message afterwards – basically saying just that…but then ugh…I rounded it off with a GIF that said ‘p.s I love you’.
Because I do.
So what am I left with after sending that? Well, I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and like I want to run away. My protector parts are ready, my armour is on, and my avoidant self is back online. Like what was I actually thinking? Why on earth did I bloody open myself up to being hurt amd rejected again?
I feel sick inside.
And this is what’s really depressing. Surely it should feel ok to tell someone that they are important to you and love should not feel bad. But this is where my wounding is and I feel like I’ve just run back into a burning building and it’s hurting like hell…which is kind of ironic given how burning myself was a go to method of self harm!
Ugh, noooooooooooooooooooo!!!! Here we go again. Somewhat predictably, as I find myself nearing the end of a therapy break, having almost survived it, the feeling of panic has taken root in the young parts of my system and the last couple of days I have found that I am perpetually on the verge of tears and feel completely overwhelmed but also totally incapacitated. It’s bloody awful but not unfamiliar.
The result of this shifting gears down into inner chaos is that I literally cannot cope with the smallest thing. When I say ‘smallest thing’, I really mean it. My system is so sensitised that the slightest noise from anyone else in the house is making me feel a combination of irritation, agitation, and anxiety. Even the noise of my kids eating some raw carrots with their dinner downstairs earlier, when I was upstairs in my bedroom, made my nerves jangle and I wanted to scream, or walk out the door, or rage for them to ‘shut the fuck up!’ I didn’t, which is obviously really good news, I just stayed upstairs willing it to be bedtime. But this really demonstrated to me how my resources are so lacking and I feel like I have no skin – no resilience.
I understand that the rage and frustration is just a defence against what’s really happening. Underneath all the desire to take flight is the need to feel connected, contained, and secure and I don’t feel any of those things right now which is why I feel like everything is too much.
Another example of this being too wound up has just this second happened…My wife has been out all day and I knew she was on her way home because she called to say she was leaving, and yet the noise of her quietly walking through the front door saw me jump out my skin: my legs actually left the couch, I jolted upright as though an electric current had been passed through my body, and now my hands and feet are fizzing. It’s fucking horrendous and I just don’t know how to help myself. Even craniosacral with K didn’t seem to touch it. Everything feels wrong.
Part of me desperately wants to be alone but actually, I also want peace and to escape from all the noise inside. I have listened to what all parts are saying but there’s no way of soothing them. I have no choice but to accept what I am feeling but it is so hard to live with when you have the responsibilities of an adult, of a parent.
I really need a reset right now. I need a hug and to be reassured that things are ok – but I can’t get that and they’re not – and I can’t see things getting any better for a couple of weeks. I have too much swirling in my brain, too much to do, too much stress and anxiety (not just mine) to absorb and the panic is getting worse rather than better.
I hate this!
I realise how bonkers this sounds, but I genuinely feel like the big red button has been pressed and the alarm is sounding. EVACUATE! EVACUATE!
I feel as though I am hurtling through black space, internally. It’s terrifying. It’s like all the parts of me have decided to form a skydiving team and have, yet again, completely overestimated their ability to dive safely, in formation. At this stage they should really only be attempting tandem dives with a trained professional and yet I think because they’ve done so many dives (breaks) they kind of thought they’d be ok this time. But it turns out that things are even more precarious than usual and, if I am honest, I am not sure my lot have even remembered to pack a parachute! Or maybe they have one, but there’s one parachute between…err…thirteen parts!
And where the hell has my adult gone? – she’s not plummeting with the rest of them… but then I wonder if she already hit rock bottom? – she’s burnt out – already crashed and burned? I mean I literally could not get out of bed until 2pm today (I mean I got up to feed the kids and checked on them, but kept finding my way back into bed because I just couldn’t face doing anything) and have just felt completely suffocated in the thick fog of depression for days. And that’s why I am left with this chaos, because there’s no glue to hold all the pieces together – I don’t even seem to be in possession of my rubber bands or chewing gum!
It’s felt almost inevitable that I would crash out at some point. To be honest, I don’t think this is about just this two week therapy break, I think this is the culmination of the last nine months (or really, eighteen months) of emotional stress and anxiety that I have been trying to carry and survive without falling apart. It had to catch up with me eventually, and so I suppose it’s not really surprising that the moment I am left to my own devices and have time to stop and reflect a bit, but have also just started down the track of new stresses (back to work and back to school), that something would give.
How it feels now is just like that hideous dream I had the other week, spiralling downwards from space towards the earth, completely out of control. I guess the only saving grace this time is that I won’t crash land on Em’s driveway and then have her slam the door in my face….because I have already been there and done that in February – and am still nursing my injuries. Part of me can’t actually get my head round what happened. I cannot believe that I will never get to work this out with her. I cannot believe she cut me dead.
Honestly, I feel so bloody bruised from that experience. It’s almost like the shock of the initial injury has worn off now and I am just left with that deep gnawing ache of bones that haven’t set quite right. Occasionally, I move in a way that I shouldn’t and white hot pain courses through my system (and that’s what’s happening now) but largely I just feel battered. Wounded.
I said, in my last post, this break has a different quality to it, partly because it is the first one Anita and I have had, but also because it has fed directly into everything that happened at Christmas with Em – the last therapy break I had signalled the unravelling of an 8 year therapeutic relationship and I can’t help but feel worried that it might happen again.
Breaks before now, with Em, have felt bad because I’ve been panicking about the ‘what if’ situations and fearing abandonment which really had no basis in the reality of the relationship with Em… [ha you should hear what a part just screamed as I typed that! – they certainly have other views!: ‘She perpetually abandoned us week in week out for years – and we were right to fear she would leave because she was never really there in the first place!’] whereas now I feel like my fears have actually got some validity because they became a reality because of what happened earlier in the year.
I guess with Em I was viewing the relationship through an historical lens with a child’s eyes and fearing something repeating that had happened a long time ago – whereas now I have all that fear and anxiety from the past, but also a real adult experience of having been dumped. And so it’s like every single part of me has been rejected…even the bits that I thought were likeable enough and that’s really hard to come to terms with.
Yeah, I get it. Anita is not Em.
Repeat: Anita is not Em…
But we’re not dealing with the rational side of me right now. This stuff is so young and so hard to settle. No matter what I do – and I have an extensive self-care list- I can’t ease this horrible gut level sense that something is very very wrong and I am not safe. All of a sudden I have a bunch of inconsolable child parts losing their shit.
I feel lost.
I want to see Anita but also I am worried that something has changed. I should be able to keep in mind that I had similar anxieties about whether it would be ok returning to face to face, and it was all fine – better than fine. But I guess I am worried that because we’ve had contact through the break she’ll be feeling like she’s had enough…‘Give me a fucking break already! Leave me alone!’
There’s definitely something big going on with the object constancy stuff too. Some of the lyrics KT Tunstall’s ‘Other Side Of The World’ keep coming into my head. The song is about long distance relationships but actually feels quite apt for breaks, too. I know A isn’t on the other side of the world, she told me where she is, which has helped those young parts a bit because that must mean she’s not actually disappeared and still exists!
There’s this verse:
Can you help me? /Can you let me go?/ And can you still love me when you can’t see me anymore?
And I think this really captures that feeling of panic that young parts have of separation. I don’t for one minute think that A loves me but the feeling of potentially being forgotten about or not being kept in mind is the worry that the youngest parts have – and this is because they too lose connection on breaks. It’s so shit. Anyway, here’s a link to the song – the whole thing is great! x
I’m frustrated with myself too because I literally feel as though I have sleep-walked my way over the edge this time – like it’s happened in slow motion or something. I knew from the beginning that this couple of weeks were going to be ‘interesting’ and yet I really couldn’t face what was coming up for me again. The grief around the loss of Em, of being rejected and abandoned is just too painful. So I tried to power through, kept going, pretended that everything was fine but that has been achieved by a shit tonne of avoidance and keeping too busy! And that is a recipe for disaster because I can’t outrun this forever and it always catches up eventually.
I literally finished painting my house on Monday and then was back into work on Tuesday all day. There has been no down time but then I knew that if I stopped this was all here waiting for me. In some ways it’s not surprising that I would try and avoid feeling this way – it’s thoroughly unpleasant and exhausting.
To be fair, teaching was fine that day but then in the afternoon I was stationary in a line of traffic, leaving a car park and a car ran in the back of me. There wasn’t any damage done but again my system went into meltdown – the bang was so loud! -my hands and feet were buzzing for hours afterwards and my heart was racing.
Then straight, after this, I was driving to the national park with my kids and the dual carriageway I was on had a huge accident on the other side which meant the road was closed. I drove past the scene, and instantly knew something very bad had happened from the amount of emergency vehicles and the fact that traffic was being turned around and sent back up the carriageway. I later discovered that a man had been killed walking his dog when a tyre had come off a moving vehicle at speed and hit him.
I think that Tuesday was the start of things starting to not feel ok inside. And by ‘not ok’, I mean bad. I wanted to talk to A about it all. I felt so shaken up. But really what is there to say? These things happen all the time (I mean the car accident in the car park, not the freak accident on the road.) and I need to not be so sensitive.
So, this week it’s as though I have been on some kind of conveyor belt that’s headed towards the drop off and into the horrible place where everything feels terrible and scary and yet I’ve not been able to get off. I really didn’t want to do a sky dive right now. I just wanted to chill out in a hammock somewhere and be brought snacks and have someone wrap me in a blanket and read me stories!! But my life seems to have other ideas…
I wish I felt more equipped to cope with what’s going on/coming than I do. I guess it’s just going to have to be a case of taking one day at time and celebrating small wins…and hopefully I’ll feel more settled and in a routine soon.
I feel more like a damaged rescue dog than ever! I saw this the other day and it made me laugh – so apt! haha…sigh!
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.