After the previous incredibly holding, intense, vulnerable, and intimate session I felt a bit weird going to the see Anita on the Monday. Part (ALL) of me hoped that everything was going to be ok still, but parts of me wondered whether A might have regretted holding me and saying what she did. Maybe on reflection she’d find me too clingy, too needy, and want to take a step back from me. I was braced for rejection despite the fact that Anita had sent me a picture on Saturday morning of my baby elephant sitting with some monkeys to keep him company in her home.
The fact that she did this totally delighted the young parts. It feels like she really gets what those parts need to feel connected and accepted. It is such a stark contrast to the way Em worked that part of me feels like I have to pinch myself – is this even real? And whilst parts of me are trusting that the relationship with Anita is safe and genuine I still felt a bit nervous going back to the room because the idea of having that closeness taken away (for whatever reason) is just traumatising (which is why the online therapy is tanking so badly – I feel abandoned and rejected and whilst adult me understands, the young parts feel like they have done something wrong and that’s why she’s gone).
If I’m ever in doubt with how to start a session I can say that a well-used plan for me is start with small talk (ugh TIME WASTING! – so frustrating). It seems very adult but what I am coming to see is that its’ actually a ‘false’ adult who is trying to ‘appear’ normal and is actually a bit avoidant, maybe a protector of sorts, but definitely not proper adult self. This part turns up and fronts because it takes a while, sometimes, to land in the room and settle.
Whilst I was jabbering about the weekend, beneath the surface, the child parts were tentatively peeking out trying to work out how things stood: was last session a mistake? Does she regret coming close to me? Will that amazing sense of connection and holding be a one off?
The thing that is a nightmare about ‘false adult’ is that she can witter on for ages and not notice the time is going. She’s doing her job, keeping vulnerability at bay. Then I glanced at the clock and realised that we were already twenty-five minutes into the session. What??? The child parts freaked out. ‘Don’t let the session disappear – please don’t hide us again – we need her to see us and hold us’ – and I think in that moment I just stopped talking altogether. It’s hard to know because time is weird in therapy especially when you’re dissociated but I reckon I must’ve been silent for a minute.
Anita continued to talk to me – or the adult – and mentioned that I hadn’t had a holiday, I think linking into something about how I had said I was exhausted and burnt out. But by the time she said this adult was gone and I had no idea what she was talking about. I was just mentally crying about how far away she seemed.
The child parts were there frozen. I don’t think I was really breathing. I think it was in part caused by panic. Panic that maybe she was going to stay away, over the other side of the room in her chair, and all the shame around needing her to come close was running wild in my head. All the horrible stuff about being too needy and disgusting was starting to get louder and I felt desperately alone.
Anita noticed the shift in me, her tone changed, and she gently asked, ‘What are you thinking? What’s going on for you?… Is it too hard to say?’
I couldn’t speak. I just sat there silent. Frozen. Anita wondered aloud, ‘Does it feel distant between us at the moment again? Do you want me to come sit over there? I am quite happy to.’
I nodded. There was so much relief flooding in but the shame was crippling. Anita got up and came and sat beside me on the sofa but I couldn’t look at her. It’s such a horrible feeling wanting to be close to someone but not knowing if it’s ok. I mean, clearly, reading between the lines it is ok but parts of me are so expecting rejection that they literally need to be given a huge flashing green light.
‘I guess it feels hard to come to where we are, after last Friday?’
‘Thank god’, I thought, ‘she gets it’. Our relationship changed so much, so quickly in the last session that it was almost dizzying. I sat there silent and unmoving. A then told me she was feeling a bit coldy and I replied that I didn’t care. I probably sounded like a complete dickhead. I corrected myself, ‘I do care, but I don’t care about the cold’ A understood what I meant and offered me a hug. I didn’t need her to stay away because of a cold.
Like a heat-seeking missile I snuggled in tight to her again. In that moment I literally didn’t want to be anywhere else. Neither of us said anything for a few minutes and I just waited for my breathing to settle, listened to her heart beating, and let the child parts get what they needed. This holding feels so healing and containing, I can’t really even describe it. But there’s also a grief that comes up alongside it is really hard and it comes in waves. Like I have needed this for my entire life and yet it’s not until now that I am receiving it.
Suddenly my breathing felt erratic and I felt panic. The shame that is so present was just kicking my arse. I can’t help but think of Em when the lovely stuff is happening and just feel so sad that she just did not care for me at all. The contrast between A and Em is so vast it’s insane.
A gently spoke into the top of my hair/head, ‘I know’ she soothed. The part of me that was struggling replied, ‘You don’t know’ and to be honest I don’t think I even really knew what I was feeling but if I didn’t know then how could she? ‘Can you tell me?…Does it feel horrible being this vulnerable?’ A softly asked. ‘Are you feeling very small?’
The child part whispered, ‘I didn’t think you’d still like me’. Anita’s body shifted slightly and she took in a shocked breath and held me tighter to her body, ‘Oh my goodness. I don’t just like you, I really love you. There’s nothing about you not to like. Not that I have seen. I know sometimes it can be hard to believe that – there’s lots of parts of you that are scared and feel unlovable but that’s because they haven’t been loved by the right people. I love them. All of them. Even the ones that want to kick off and stamp.’
Miserably, I replied ‘That’s not what my head says’ and A tried to reassure me, ‘I know. I know. And I don’t know how to make those parts believe me but I think it’s probably just got to be time and me showing you that it’s ok. Is there anything I can do to help build that trust?’
I shook my head. A said that it’s just going to take time and that’s ok with her, she’s not going anywhere.
A young part told her that ‘it’s silly’ (needing this). Anita replied, ‘It’s not silly. I guess it’s the different parts of you isn’t it? The child parts might really enjoy it but the adult part is like ‘why do I feel like this?’ but it’s the young parts that really need it – they were so neglected of it and that’s why it’s not silly. And it might feel alien but nice at the same time. Does that make sense? There’s so many different types of love aren’t there? And nurturing love – we all need it.’
A held me close and rubbed my back, I held her hand with one hand and hugged her with my other hand, there’s something really young, like a baby or toddler, when it’s like this. It reminds me of when my kids were little and they just want every inch of themselves to be touching. God it’s cringey isn’t it?! We didn’t say anything for a minute or two but it was starting to get louder in my head.
Then I said, ‘I wish my brain would shut up’. I was really battling with the inner critic who was trying to pull the entire thing apart, ‘A is a liar. She’s doesn’t care. She’ll see me in the same way Em did. I am too much’ etc etc etc. It was pure agony.
‘What’s it saying?’ questioned A gently, ‘My guess is that “this isn’t ok”. But it is.’
And then the saddest, little voice said, ‘I don’t want you to think I’m like a tick.’
And there it was. Right there. The damage. The pain. The excruciating feelings of rejection and abandonment. It was so raw. I just wanted to die coming in touch with those feelings so acutely. I buried my face deeper into A’s chest and held on tight.
Again A’s shifted, almost jolted, shocked, I could feel the response in her body and hear the sadness in her voice as she emphatically tried to reassure me, ‘Oh my god I don’t! Far from it!’ She let out a big exhale and then said, ‘I choose to give to you. That’s my choice. You don’t take from me. I give. A tick takes. You don’t! You didn’t ask me to come over here. I could still be sat in that chair over there. I want to give. Because you are worth it. Because I love you. It’s completely different to a tick.’
To have her so clearly refute what I was saying/worrying about and tell me how she felt was exactly what I needed. I can think of times when I might have said something to Em that felt painful, like the time I was struggling with wondering how she felt about me and it took me weeks to say, ‘I don’t even know if you like me’ and she stayed silent – or other times when I’d express something similar and she’d reply with something like, ‘what makes you think that?’ or some other thing that is designed to make you squirm in your own agony. And sometimes that’s fine but sometimes you just need to be love bombed…that’s where the healing is….well, for me at least!
I continued on, ‘It’s such a horrible thing to say.’ (Em calling me a tick)
Anita agreed, ‘Yeah. I can’t believe she said that to you. And the thing is, it shouts doesn’t it? It’s not you can forget about it. It really stuck. It’s a horrible, horrible thing to say. And so abusive. And you’re not like a tick. You’re really not. My guess is she’s so closed she doesn’t know how to give.’
I started to cry, ‘she never let me anywhere near her – which is why it seems such a really unfair thing to say’. I felt so sad. The grief was huge but I felt safe with A expressing it. She was holding me close and it allowed me to really feel the pain in a way that I haven’t really been able to before now, in the room. When I’ve been sitting across from Anita and talking about Em I have still held myself together and so haven’t really been able to get deep down to the deep pain that I feel about what happened.
A told me that she thinks that it’s strange that Em is in the profession she’s in given how little she gives of herself and that what she did was horrible. And what happened is not because there’s something wrong with me but instead that she let me down. It was not my fault.
Anita has an amazing way of speaking to the little parts and I felt so understood that I started sobbing, ‘I just don’t get it. I would get it if you said it to me’ (because I have so much access to her and check in with her most days via text and could understand if she felt bombarded or like I just never let go like a parasite)
A replied, ‘I’m not going to say it!’
We argued back and forth a bit:
RB: But it would make sense!
A: No it wouldn’t!
RB: Yes it would!
A: No it wouldn’t!
RB: It would!!
Anita changed tack then and said, ‘I think this is the hardest thing. It’s the child parts in you. Children think it’s all about them because that’s how children think. But it’s not about you. It’s her. And I know that’s really hard to believe. I would never say that. I’m not perfect. I have different flaws to her. She just doesn’t know how to give it.’
I told her that it wasn’t just that, but that I worry that it’s in some way wrong (this level of holding). I think because touch in therapy has been such a sore area for me with Em and she basically wasn’t even open to discussing it, I now feel like I am in some way wrong for wanting it or needing it. It’s also such a contentious area with therapists too – I mean how many of you have googled ‘touch in therapy’ or ‘will my therapist hug me?’ when this attachment stuff starts kicking off. The internet tends not to come up in favour of ‘touch’ which is weird really given how much we are now learning about somatic responses and child development.
Some sites/therapists are totally anti touch and say it’s dangerous and god knows what else, others are somewhere in the middle and will maybe give the occasional hug at the end, and then there’s the rare few that aren’t scared by it and see how beneficial it can be for particular clients. In our first session we discussed touch and she was clear then that it’s always guided by the client and their need but that for some people it makes a huge difference. She assured me that it’s not wrong to want this touch and that it’s completely fine to ask for hugs. Honestly it’s like a lottery win!
That seemed to settle the young parts who then went off on a tangent, you know how kids do, ‘oh my knee isn’t bleeding anymore… can we get doughnuts?’ and decided to ask A what her flaws were, which she told me, and then I asked her star sign (which I had already guessed) and we had a chat about our signs and how they match our personalities. It felt really nice and a departure from the emotional marathon that had just gone before.
I’ve said a few times, now, about how the young parts are more able to communicate with A when we are physically close to her. I think part of it is that I feel physically safe and contained. Another part of it is that when I am snuggled into her, I can’t see her face and she can’t see mine, and so it kind of offers more of an opportunity to say things that feel embarrassing. Anita can feel me but she can’t see me and this gives those parts that fear being seen and judged negatively chance to talk. Like in our rupture repair sessions (that I haven’t written about yet) I was able to tell her I’d like something as a transitional object that smells like her!! (CAN YOU IMAGINE ME SAYING THAT FACE TO FACE?!?!?)
Anyway, it was coming to the end of the session and Anita asked me how I was feeling. Just like in the last session she told me that she feels like she could hold me all day and felt like I need a lot of holding. I replied, ‘I feel safe with you. I can’t just come here for cuddles though’. Inside my child parts were screaming ‘why did you just say that???! We’ve just started to get what we need and your saying you don’t need it!’
Thankfully, A can see through my shit now and came back with, ‘But I believe that you have to do what feels right. It feels like at the moment we’re just reassuring and being safe which is what needs to be there for the rest of the stuff to come out. It doesn’t feel like we’re not doing anything in the cuddling. Does that make sense? It’s important for you to feel this safety and to feel that I can hold you and that’s what I am doing. And it’s what you need. You didn’t have enough of this ever’ then I felt something on the top of my head. ‘Did you just kiss my head?’ I wondered out loud as I turned to look at her. ‘I did’ she smiled.
It felt so great. So, so great. I got up and told her that I didn’t want to leave, she hugged me again and said ‘I know. And remember, I wanted to give it to you. You didn’t take. There’s a huge difference.’
And I left that session feeling amazing. Emotionally wiped out but also like some really healing work had been done. I am not a tick…but my friend has jokingly called me a baby monkey after these sessions!
I know I am like a broken record here but when work like that happens with the youngest most hurt parts it’s no wonder that online now feels so hideous. Try as we might those parts just can’t get what we need on a screen.