It’s been a year since that last, awful termination session with you. The one where you sat, repeatedly glancing at the clock, willing the time on. It was, without doubt one of the most cold and painful interactions that I have experienced in my life. Sitting across from you, knowing that you really couldn’t have cared less whether I was there or not, was complete agony. Even now, it physically hurts to think back to it – the somatic response to what’s happened is still huge. It’s a year on, and I am nowhere near close to processing or healing the damage done by bringing and showing my most vulnerable self to you and having the young parts rejected.
That final, horrible day you were completely unmoved as you watched me cry (for the first time) and told me with absolutely no feeling that we’d ‘reached a plateau’ and simply said, ‘it is what it is’ and that it must feel ‘rejecting’. It was rejecting. Any normal person in that situation would have said, ‘it must feel rejecting, but I am not deliberately rejecting you’. You gave me absolutely nothing to cling onto in that session, you just let me drown. You didn’t even say goodbye. All I was left with was confirmation that what we’d been doing for all these years meant nothing at all, and that I was completely deluded for thinking (hoping) that after years and years in the room together that the therapeutic relationship was more than a financial transaction to you.
Knowing that you were willing to end a long-term therapeutic relationship with a two-line email response and no onward referral really should have told me all I needed to know about the quality and strength of the relationship we had and the level of care you had for me. I should have let go at the point, and not tried to reach some kind of resolution. I thought I would be stupid to run away from you and not give myself the opportunity to have some kind of decent ending. But the ending was anything but decent.
I sometimes wonder why I put myself through that final session, especially when so many people that care about me, including my current therapist, advised me to stay away and protect myself from even more hurt because it was clear that nothing good would come of the meeting. It pains me to say that they were all right because I so badly wanted them, and my gut, to be wrong.
I guess that the parts of me that were so attached to you hoped that being face-to-face you’d see how painful it all was for me, how distressed I was by what had happened, and you’d want to help work through the trigger of you likening my young parts to ‘adhesive ticks’ (which is what made me retreat and react so strongly in the first place). I thought at the very least, given my history, you would take some care not to reinforce the beliefs that I already carry about myself before we parted ways.
In that session you said you didn’t mean to hurt me with the tick analogy- but it did hurt. When I told you this, I was made to feel like I was too ‘sensitive’ and ‘defensive’ – those are actually the words you used. When I have recounted this exchange to ‘normal non-mental’ people and other therapists they have been horrified by it. In the retelling I have kept it simple and unemotive, because part of me wanted to believe that it was all me, that there is something inherently wrong with me, and that you were right that I was just overreacting to a ‘metaphor’. But that has never happened – there’s not one person who has gently tried to tell me that what happened was me being a bit too sensitive.
In fact, over the last year of us working together, I was advised by two therapists (who went and discussed me with their own supervisors) that it would probably be in my best interests to leave and raise a complaint to your governing body because what was happening was abusive, retraumatising, and dangerous.
It’s strange because on the occasions I went outside of our therapy (to other therapists) when things felt awful, I was looking for someone to tell me that what was happening was the nature of therapy and that I was being too needy or resistant and that my high levels of dissociation were a product of doing trauma therapy and I should keep at it. I never wanted to hear that maybe my gut was right and that what was happening wasn’t ok. I so wanted someone to tell me that the emotional pain I was experiencing in the therapy was a product of my history and if I stuck with it, it would be the path to healing. That never happened, though.
Throughout the time we worked together I could never shift the sense that you didn’t like me much and didn’t really care. In so many ways being with you was like reliving the relationship with my mum! No wonder the maternal transference was so strong. It was so familiar feeling inadequate, unwanted, and unlovable. It was my norm to have a cold and unavailable caregiver and I guess there is comfort in the known.
The most you ever said to me when I was falling apart and needing some kind of reassurance was, ‘if I didn’t care about your well-being then I wouldn’t be working with you’. And I guess on paper that looks fine but it felt crap. You used to ask me what it would feel like to be cared for and I said ‘it wouldn’t feel like this’ [what it felt like in the room] and you’d tell me that if I haven’t experienced care how would I know what it’s like. I think you were trying to make me think I should accept that what was on offer was good enough. You’d tell me over and over that if I had a secure attachment, I wouldn’t experience you like I did. Again, I wanted to believe you but, in my heart, I knew that it wasn’t right. It never landed well.
I really wanted to believe that it was me and my issues making it feel so bad. Struggling to trust people and fear of abandonment are both huge for me, as you know – but I know now that it wasn’t all me because I don’t feel like this in the same way with my new therapist. The level of safety and connection I feel with her is so different, but it hasn’t come through her standing back and letting me suffer. Her presence and care is tangible. There’s no guesswork, or wishful thinking required. She is demonstrative and clear. It’s exactly what I needed.
As my young parts became attached and all the ‘stuff’ became live she’s been so accepting and welcoming. We’re in the trenches together. It feels collaborative. She actively works with the young parts of me, she doesn’t try and make out that she knows what I need more than I do. She learns from me and makes space for me to express whatever I feel and need – and magically, the attachment wound is starting to heal. There are ruptures (of course) and they get repaired really quickly, they don’t fester for months on end. My feelings are validated and understood. Therapy now feels like a safe house where I can explore my wounding rather than a place where the wound gets poked each week and then is left bleeding out between sessions.
All my wounded parts are learning what it is like to be in a relationship where I actually matter. I don’t feel like I am on a conveyor belt and thrown out the minute the clock chimes. I know time boundaries are important in therapy but if we ever accidentally step on a landmine close to the end, or something comes up and I am dissociated or distressed I don’t leave until it’s safe to do so – or I at least get asked ‘are you ok to leave?’. It’s insane that simple questions like that feel so alien to me. I used to leave your house dissociated more often than not and have even injured myself because of it!
The power feels more balanced now where I so often felt disempowered with, and by, you. I don’t think you meant for it to feel like that, but the way we worked didn’t empower me at all. Even when I did build up the courage to ask for things from you (and it took months and years) it was rarely met well. I felt like a child who was beholden to its parents’ wishes – and that was repeating a pattern. It took me years to feel anything at all, or to come in contact with my needs, and then I was faced with the painful reality that I was on my own and my needs were never going to be met or examined or explored compassionately.
All those months trying to get you to write me a note just to say you were ‘still there’ (because I had struggled so much with the summer break) became what is known as ‘pebble gate’ on my blog. Six long months of waiting and hoping that you’d do something to help me with object constancy was ridiculous – so much so that I ended up telling you what to write which completely missed the point. It was so disappointing and felt both rejecting and abandoning. And yet my new therapist has repeatedly asked me if I wanted to take a transitional object from the room without prompting.
She understands attachment and C-PTSD. She sent me away with her necklace over the last lockdown and when we returned to face-to-face had bought me one the same. I know this is unusual, but working on an individual basis, attuning to a client, and allowing yourself to be present in the relationship is so important. You and the relationship you create with the client is where the healing lies, it’s not in theories, or strategies and techniques. Relational trauma needs to heal in relationship. Love is essential and needs modelling to us. It’s so hard to love (and trust) when love has been your great disappointment.
Looking back now, I can’t believe how much I was prepared to shrink myself to try and fit with your vision of how my therapy should look. I mean honestly, the fact that I even suggested sending you three dots in the hope you’d reply in the same way, as a last-ditched attempt to maintain some kind of connection and ease the spiralling into the abyss that happened in the time between sessions, just tells me how fucking desperate it all was. Fuck. And the absolute excruciating pain that it was when you told me to tell you what I wanted and then to flatly refuse… god.
Refusing to even read or acknowledge my texts or emails was so hard . Often, it was the young parts that struggled to come to therapy that reached out in this way (and it was rare for me to do it because you were so disapproving!). I know you are busy. But honestly, you say you work with attachment disorders … I literally can’t see how you think that given how it’s been. Different parts communicate in different ways and, sure, it’d be ideal if they all turned up in the room, but sometimes they need to tentatively find a way in from the outside. They need an invitation…especially the teens! Why is it so hard to see that you are dealing with a mini-bus full of child parts when a client like me walks in? Sometimes you need to think outside the box.
In one of our final sessions I had given you a list of things that I thought would help make things better for those parts that were struggling with therapy: drawing together, playing games, transitional objects, sitting closer to me when I was distressed, sitting on the floor, letting the young parts text in the session when they couldn’t talk… and the list went on…and you said ‘I don’t work in that way’.
I felt so much shame around wanting to feel close to you. The attachment was so strong and yet all I did for the best part of four years was feel distressed because my object constancy was so bad and I couldn’t keep any felt sense of you between sessions. The boundary around outside contact fuelled this and I would become more and more upset. There was absolutely no flexibility in your approach and you so doggedly believed that you were right and that if you conceded on anything it ‘wouldn’t do me any good in the long run’.
I would be so hopeful that seeing you in person would ease that attachment anxiety but it rarely did. Occasionally, you’d tune into those young parts and use that calm, soothing tone and I could feel my nervous system settling but in the end that part of you disappeared and all I felt was your frustration and disgust at the youngest parts. The problem was, the further you retreated the more distressed the young parts became and the greater the dissociation in sessions was. The day I showed you the picture I had drawn of you being covered in barbed wire really ought to have been the start of a huge conversation – but what could you say? It was true.
I still don’t know what I did wrong or why you were so distant and detached. All I can ever come back to is that you thought there was some kind of sexual thing going on for me and you were repulsed by that. There really wasn’t anything on my side. I loved you but it was from that really young part that was so deprived of love and care. It was never sexual for me. And even if it had have been, that should be safe to bring to therapy.
Anyway, this just seems like a big string of listing what was wrong with the therapy and actually that’s not what I am here for. I am actually here to thank you for letting me go. It broke my heart. I mean it literally devastated me. But I am glad that it happened because if we’d have continued working together, I would be in such a bad place, still.
The last year with my new therapist has shown me that it’s ok to be me. I don’t need to hide. I am ok as I am and am valued for all of who I am. I am loved.
I see now that it’s not weird to want to feel secure in the therapeutic relationship and to feel like a therapist actually cares about your well-being. It’s not odd to want someone to come sit closer when you’re dissociated and stuck in a traumatic place. It’s not unhealthy to reach out for support when things are bad. It’s not strange, when healing relational trauma, to need a transitional object. It’s not bad or wrong to want a hug. It’s not unhealthy to love and be attached.
Emotional intimacy and physical touch don’t mean there is a blurring, or lack, of boundaries. It doesn’t mean that the child that missed out on so much years ago thinks it’s got a new mother and will stay stuck forever. Healing takes place together. It can’t be done alone. If it could I’d be fine by now! I know what’s wrong with me, I’ve read all the books, I have ‘insight’, but I needed an ‘other’ to help me heal the wound that was forged in a relationship by giving me a reparative experience in another relationship.
And the best of it? The thing you tried and tried to get me to do – mother my own young parts? It was utterly impossible, as though you were asking me to lay a golden egg. But guess what? Getting some of those fundamental basic needs met: being held, feeling it is to be safe to be vulnerable, experiencing what it is like for those young parts to be cared for rather than disgusted by means, that I can see now what I am meant to be doing. I have a template. I have a little nook inside myself where I can keep that love and I can start to tap into it. I’m a long way off the finish line but at least now I am in the race.
So…that’s it. You hurt me more than you can imagine but you did me a favour in the end because now I have what I need to heal. I sincerely hope that you have undergone some more training in working with complex trauma and attachment because it wouldn’t be fair for you to do what you did to me to another vulnerable client.
Kind regards (and fuck you).
(and yes, I am angry!)