System Error #128 – Update Required (or When Will My System Realise My Therapist Is Safe?)

Oh Man! Where do I start with this? Last time I was here I was circling the drain of doom where my system was basically in full meltdown. The young parts of me were in a total panic about the Easter therapy break (that wasn’t really a break at all) and I was edging into the place where part of me felt like quitting therapy in order to escape the painful feelings of abandonment but also to leave before I got left.

Over the course of that eight days, I had got myself so worked up. The fear of being abandoned or rejected by Anita was huge and felt totally real and possible (at least to some of my system). I was on high alert and had convinced myself that something had changed between Anita and I. I was sure that she’d had enough of me. I mean I laid it all out in the last blog so no need to go over it again too much. But jeez. It’s hard work.

I went through the cycle: young parts activated and distressed, teen trying to calm things down and feeling dismissive and angry, and the critic moving in to shut things down by attacking and shaming me. It’s thoroughly exhausting when this happens (did I ever mention that I am not keen on therapy breaks?!) and it’s so hard to ground and get my adult self to take the reins.

I think the thing I failed to mention about this cycle is that whilst it can seem quite linear a, b, c the reality is that it doesn’t get to c (critic) and everything go quiet with the young parts. Far from it! It can seemingly go in waves and a,b,c, a,b,c or a,b,a c, b, a, a… and sometimes all the parts are activated simultaneously…and god that’s hellish! When that happens the system is unsettled and noisy. It’s like there’s a house of different parts all screaming to get out of their rooms (apart from the teen – she’ll rot in her room with a razor blade). Imagine having a screaming new born, a toddler wailing, a four-year-old banging… etc etc…and then the critic going mad like some crazed warden from a Victorian orphanage. There’s no trauma-informed care here – it’s threats, and shaming, and “noone loves you and that’s why you’re here”.

Joy!

Even if adult me can see what’s going on with the parts it’s pretty hard to step outside it because the felt sense in my body that something is dangerous and that bad things will happen is so real. I know it’s a hangover from the past and the relational trauma I have experienced with other people…but try telling that to my system when it perceives slight changes in Anita’s behaviour and then runs away with itself. Yikes!

What I found really disappointing – this break – is how quickly I slipped into believing the narrative that I was sure to be terminated when the break was over when there has been so much evidence to the contrary. It’s like having my brain and body hijacked when it gets that bad.

Usually, if I feel disconnected from Anita or panicked, I might reach out with a text (mostly a GIF from the young parts) and Anita responds to that and it settles things down. The thing is, this break, for some reason I couldn’t send the message. I couldn’t clue Anita in to how things were and so kept spiralling downwards. Convinced she was fed up of me and wouldn’t want to hear from me I continued to drown in the horrible feelings.

Then on Tuesday I sent Anita the link to my last blog post. I don’t know if she read it. And then, finally, on the Tuesday night I caved in. The youngest parts were really activated and broke free of the critic’s shackles. I simply sent a GIF:

And as you can see within a few minutes she’d responded and instantly my system settled. Why the fuck did I let myself get so worked up and not reach out and get what I needed earlier? I guess part of it was the shame. I felt embarrassed for needing her and I suppose it’s something about the holiday too. I didn’t want to be pathetic and needy when she wasn’t working. However, it definitely didn’t do me any favours letting things spiral so much.

I was also so unsettled by the fact that my sessions have not been able to be as regular over the school Easter holidays due to my childcare issues. Of course, I could have done online sessions but I really know that given how unsettled I was that there would have been a huge likelihood that screen sessions might have exacerbated the situation.

Once things came down a few notches out of ‘she hates me and is going to leave’ I was able to tell Anita about how I was feeling about the sessions I couldn’t have/make, and we managed to reschedule a Monday one that I couldn’t get childcare for to tomorrow and that eased things a bit. I was also able to tell her how I struggling and asked her not to let me float away in our session on Friday (last week) because I was finding it so hard. She said she understood and knows it’s a well-used defence mechanism and told me she was looking forward to seeing me and sent me another hug GIF.

And then everything felt totally doable.

I arrived at my session and was so ready to see Anita. You’ll remember how the weeks leading into the Easter break I started to retreat and my False Adult showed up and did all the talking and prevented the child parts from getting what they needed. Not on Friday. I literally sat down. Anita commented on my bracelet, I said something about my hair and then gave up. I’d been there less than two minutes when I said, “Can I have a hug please?” and she replied, “Of course. Come here.” I snuggled into her and she noticed that I was shaking and gently rubbed my back and hugged me close into her chest.

I was so glad to be there, so glad I had been able to ask for what I wanted and needed, but the legacy of the last week was still in my body. I could barely breathe. I closed my eyes and tried to focus in on the steady beat of Anita’s heart to regulate my system. After about five minutes I opened my eyes. I felt conflicted. I was both tense and relieved – this is what it’s like when more than one part is activated at the same time. It’s the disorganised attachment stuff in action. Anita wondered what was going on, she asked if the hugs were helping. I shook my head into her chest. She replied “Do you want me to stop hugging you?” again I shook my head and she held me a bit tighter to her.

Then I asked, “Have you cleaned your fish tank?” – you know, as you do!

And Anita told me she had. I said, “This is the problem, with my system, everything is so alert. Your fish tank wasn’t even dirty – it’s barely changed, but I notice EVERYTHING in this room. I’m guessing most of clients don’t comment on your tank?” (or the bloody light switches or painted doors…or all the other shit I notice and have to ask about. I literally know when she’s dusted and some of the items on the shelves have moved a centimetre or two. It’s fucking exhausting, but if I notice the room imagine what I am picking up on in Anita – if she’s a bit tired, a bit snuffly, a cut on her hand, or she smells different…FUCK!!). She said no but then really soothingly spoke to me about my hypervigilance and how it’s ok and expected after the trauma I have had.

Anita really normalises everything for me where other people tell me that I am ‘too jumpy’ or ‘scared of my own shadow’ and ‘need to chill out’, Anita understands why and tries so hard to ease things for me. Like she’ll text me if there’s going to be a different car on the drive or whatever. She just really gets it.

How many times have I said this before? And this is what’s so fucking frustrating about the last week on break. I just can’t feel any of that stuff when things get disrupted because my system is thrown into a panic. Or I can’t trust it. Or maybe I could trust that but it’s always possible for people to change!…

So much of my problem with breaks and object constancy stems from my mum being away in the week when I was small and then coming home and being volatile but I know she also had a really tough time when I was a baby with post-natal depression and so the likelihood is that she would have been inconsistent with me as a baby too. Like the title of the post, there’s an error code in my system and I really require an update but it’s just not as simple as going into the start menu and selecting ‘restart and update’. Therapy isn’t a quick fix but it is a fix.

I guess the positive about all this is that there is change. Sure, I got the rug pulled out from under my feet over Easter but the difference, now, is that I feel able to talk to Anita about my feelings around breaks and separation when we are together. I don’t just sit drowning in my toxic shame, mute and dissociated like I did with Em feeling steadily more disconnected and upset.

To be fair, Anita and I didn’t speak much in this 75-minute session compared with when False Adult was attending the sessions. But my goodness was it a healing and connecting session. Somewhere in the middle after a lot of holding I miserably said, “Sorry I am hard work.”

Anita hugged me closer again and replied, “You’re not! You’re really not. You’re really not! I know you feel it but you’re not. You’re just very hurt. And I know that the separation just opens all those wounds back up again, doesn’t it? It really is ok. I get it. You’re not hard work. I think is the saddest thing for me about you. The trauma kept changing right the way through for you and was there right from the day you were born. But it’s not you. It’s not your fault!”

I asked if we were still ok and if anything had changed. She softly asked, “Does it feel like it’s changed?”

I nodded into her chest.

“In what way?… Does it feel more distant? It hasn’t altered. It really hasn’t. I haven’t changed. We haven’t changed. This really is ok.” And then she likened me to her rescue dog (again!)…we have a lot in common! The simple but emphatic reassurance from Anita really helped the little parts feel safe. I like how Anita doesn’t over-complicate things when it is clear it is a young part speaking to her. She makes it simple and easy to understand and this really regulates the system quickly. Em used to spend ages asking me questions and never giving any kind of reassurance and it was so hard for the young parts.

After another little while I whispered, “You’re not a horrible person.” I had been thinking about what my brain had served me up in the week. Trying to make me think that A was somehow uncaring or whatever and how she was going to hurt me. But the young parts don’t believe it. Not at all. They miss her terribly when they can’t see her but she’s not doing it to reject them.

Anita spoke softly and said, “I’m not, no. And you’re not either. I’m not going to trick you. I do mean what I say. I’m guessing your brain is questioning all of these things. One day it might believe me.”

I can’t really put into words what it feels like when we have these conversations and I am snuggled into her like a bloody baby monkey. When I think about it now part of me wants to cringe – like ‘OMG I seriously don’t let myself be that fucking vulnerable and pathetic and needy with another human being do I?’ but there’s so many parts that finally FINALLY are getting what they need and there is no shame or embarrassment when I am that close to Anita.

It doesn’t feel weird or too much.

There’s an incredible amount of intimacy and trust that has been forged between us and I know to anyone in the normal outside world, perhaps people who have not done therapy, might have some opinions on it – but what happens in therapy is not like anything else I have experienced in life. It’s like some magic grove where little by little we glue all our pieces back together and make new pieces for parts that are missing. It’s a bit like that Japanese thing where broken pots get put back together with gold. The cracks are celebrated and the structure is solid.

Eventually, and I mean very eventually, after about an hour I felt my system completely relax. My body went heavy like all the tension just left. I was able to breathe regularly and deeply alongside Anita’s breathing rather than holding my breath or shallow breathing. I told her I was tired. She told me she knows how scared I am and how much of a struggle it can be and that it’s only when we feel safe that you can really feel the tiredness. When we’re no longer in flight mode and it’s safe to relax do we get hit with the exhaustion. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me too. Little by little it felt like everything was getting back on track. She said she could feel that I was more settled and continued to hold me.

And then my stomach started growling really REALLY loudly! Anita said it was a good sign. When you’re hypervigilant and in fight/flight/freeze everything is in a tight knot. Food isn’t on the agenda. So she sees it it’s a sign of things starting to relax.

I felt so relaxed and connected that I finally felt able to let out some humour and said, “Do I get the prize for most needy and clingy client?” Anita burst out laughing. I continued, “Because if I am going to do things, I like to be the best.” Anita giggled and responded laughing, “If you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to do it properly!”

Then there was a bit of silence.

“You avoided that well!” I poked.

More laughter from Anita. Then she composed herself. “Well, there’s all different types of needy aren’t there? You know? I think we can all be there. I know my three-year-old can kick off sometimes. More times than I would like her to.”

Ha! Good try therapist lady, I know I am the gold medalist!

And then it was the end of the session. I felt such a huge amount of relief after that connecting session.

Unfortunately, these last couple of days have felt tricky again and this is completely down to the fact that I couldn’t have my session yesterday and have to wait until tomorrow to go. It’s too long between the contact and too much disruption for my young parts. Whilst I don’t relish the end of the school holidays and being thrown back into the chaos that is my usual life I will be glad for my therapy schedule to resume…and hopefully get some handle back on my internal world!

Separation Anxiety: Young Parts In Meltdown (Again)

Warning: this is quite long and I’m not convinced it makes much sense – my brain is in meltdown!

So, it’s Easter break…which, actually, is not really an Easter break at all, so far as what I have previously had to contend with in therapy goes! Em used to disappear for two or three weeks over Easter and that was that. No contact. Radio silence. It was like she ceased to exist – and this triggered me on so many levels. In addition to this, there was no preparation for the break – I knew when it was coming in advance, but nothing was ever done to help get my system safe and settled before a holiday. The was no talking to the parts about how the break might feel. There were no transitional objects (ha – the pebbles debacle is case in point). There was just silence (which breeds shame) and then absence.

I used to dread the breaks (and I still do, actually) and the closer they got the more my young parts struggled. A few days into a holiday and those little parts felt abandoned (and completely terrified) and then to add insult to injury, adult me would panic because my dad died suddenly whilst away on holiday (when I was 25) and so feared something similar would happen again with Em (hello PTSD response!).

So basically, breaks in therapy have always set off an internal ‘bad weather’ event – it just comes in varying degrees: very breezy/light rain (mildly inconvenient), gale force/heavy downpour (wasn’t equipped for this but I’ll survive!), or complete tornado/shit storm (Run for your life! Take cover! I’m gonna die!). Like I say, sometimes breaks feel just about bearable, just a little bubbling of anxiety and feeling unsettled and other times it feels like it’s unsurvivable danger to the young parts who wailing and feeling completely overwhelmed.

Guess which version it is this year?

Uh huh…shitstorm.

Fuccckkkk!!!

It’s disappointing, to be sure. You’d think after everything I have written lately about how good my therapy feels, that my attachment to Anita would be so strong that I would sail through a week off. Only that’s not how it is AT ALL. Far from it. It’s crap, actually. I want it to be ok, but the truth is, I miss her a lot. I’m not surprised though, my life is a real struggle at the minute and my therapy has really been a lifeline so for that to ‘disappear’ (albeit temporarily) it’s totally stirred things up.

When things feel bad on breaks there’s a clear trajectory through the holiday. I know the pattern – I just don’t know what the hell to do about it! To be clear, I also know that it’s my stuff, not the reality of the situation or a reflection of the relationship with my therapist.

So, what happens?

The beginning part of the break sees the youngest parts crying and the attachment stuff is so painful. I have an image of a two-year-old part screaming, alone, abandoned in an endless grey space and it is so powerful. She feels so scared and lost. I can’t reach out to that part- she’s got her back to me. And even if I could reach her, it’s not me she wants. I’m not the attachment figure (yet – but hope to be one day). My body physically hurts and I feel completely ungrounded. It’s basically all the horrible stuff about not mattering, being forgettable, and unimportant swirling around – and it’s just so cold and depressing and lonely. Basically, it’s abandonment and rejection 101 and it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day.

As the break progresses that young stuff becomes completely unbearable. I feel like I am juddering inside and then nightmares start – usually about the therapist being burnt out, changing, and then rejecting me – which is what happened last night. Groan.

It won’t be long, now, until I move into the next stage where the teen steps in to try and get a handle on the littles. It’s when she steps in that I feel like ‘fuck the therapy, I am done with it!’ I woke up this morning and my instinct was to cancel my session on Friday. I don’t want to feel all this hurt and pain that has so vividly just played out in my nightmare. The anger I feel about the situation is massive – but it’s just a mask for absolute sadness and devastation. The teen feels so let down. So stupid for trusting and attaching to the therapist when actually the reality is it’s easy to leave me and the little parts and I just have to be ok with that.

BTW I get that this is all ‘me me me’ but that’s the teen’s feelings. Adult me understands breaks just fine. We all need them! Our therapists have earned them (mine more than most!) – but I am not talking about my rational adult self here – I am talking about the fucking nightmare that happens for my system on breaks! I wish I could just switch into adult and have all the various parts powered down. It just doesn’t work that way, unfortunately!

So, the cycle continues…

Once teen has had a try and failed to get things under control, I end up with screaming little parts and now suicidal teens who feel like self-harm might be a really good idea, or a trip into anorexia (I am making light of it here – but it’s anything but funny) and then it gets really nasty inside. It is so hard to focus on my life. I try and keep busy and productive but inside it’s just awful. Nothing is contained or safe and it’s agony, actually.

So, as I approach the point where it’s all totally fucked inside, the Critic steps in and shuts everything down. The level of self-attack and shaming is just utterly horrendous. It makes the little parts want to die. The teen is already there. And so, it’s just like being in a torturous boot camp. The Critic is so mean.

This is where the narrative about Anita not caring, it all being fake, that I am too much and that’s why she’s gone away comes in. It says that actually Anita’s glad to see the back of me, I’m responsible for burning her out and now she won’t come back. I am stupid for hoping things would be different – because ultimately, I am the same ‘tick’ that Em saw and anyone in their right mind would find me too much and want to escape eventually.

Ouch.

Even though she’s a complete tyrant I do realise now that the Critic is just trying to protect me from getting hurt. Shut down the vulnerability, hide the need, and cope…I can do it on my own…I always have.

Only the little ones don’t want to be alone anymore.

Ugh.

So it feels like I have ended up on the emotional waltzers again. Waltzers are way worse than the rollercoaster.

I’ve been thinking about what has happened that has made this break feel so hard. It all started a couple of weeks ago. I knew the holidays were coming (I count the weeks down for time off work!) and I was glad that I would be able to rest and recharge a bit as it’s been so so hard lately – in fact I was looking back over messages to see and it’s been 5 solid months of hell now. I need to sleep. I am so so tired. The thing is, holidays don’t feel restful because whilst my work goes on a low gear my maintenance plan stalls.

When it’s school holidays I am automatically plunged into a childcare situation, or rather ‘lack of childcare’ and so therapy gets disrupted and so my ‘rest time’ actually feels massively stressful because that consistent therapeutic space for me is just gone and so the system gets thrown into chaos. Anita is only taking the bank-holiday off, but I still can’t see her as much as I’d like because I simply can’t get to her in the daytimes. In some ways this feels worse than if she wasn’t working and was unavailable. The little parts know she is there and it’s just them that can’t see her when other people can. This stresses me out and sends the little parts into a really bad place.

It’s horrible because I really don’t want to be ‘that client’ (or this client!). I don’t want to be having a meltdown over this. I don’t want to be so unbearably needy. I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that neither of us can do much about. It’s just embarrassing and I am so over it! So, I try and hide what’s going on inside. And this is where my ‘False Adult’ steps up.

The last couple of weeks I have gone to session and talked…and talked…and probably seemed fine. I have, I think, come across as mildly annoyed about stuff in my life, tired, and same same…but also pretty ‘together’ given what’s been going on. Anita probably has no idea that there is anything going on underneath, probably thinks I am doing pretty well all things considered.

Only, it’s that swan analogy – on the surface everything seems fine enough but underneath the legs are going like the clappers.

I am not ok.

So, what do I do when it’s like this? First thing is retreat. Part of me knows I am not going to be able to see or be close to Anita over the holiday so I start protecting myself from that loss before it happens and go into hiding (which is bonkers).

There was a session recently where, despite desperately wanting to reach out and ask for a hug, I just couldn’t. If I am shutdown and dissociated, I think it’s pretty clear what I need and Anita generally offers me a hug or to hold her hand in order to bring me back. This False Adult is different, though. I seem ‘fine’ and engaged and there are no silences. I think I even do a pretty good job at masking how I feel with ‘reasonably relaxed’ body language. On the surface it seems like I am coping and don’t look as though I need anything. It’s smoke and fucking mirrors, though.

Inside the young parts are still there and wanting connection and holding so badly, but I just don’t let them out. I guess I know just ‘how big’ the need of those young part is and I don’t want to be too much for A, or overwhelm her before her break. I don’t want her to go on her break and it be such a huge (and welcome) contrast/rest that she realises that working with me is draining and so she decides not to come back or to refer me on.

It’s stupid though (and I really know this – but am trying to show the process in all its bonkers), because all that happens is this young, needy stuff builds and builds and then when the break comes it explodes all over the shop and is more likely to encroach into the break. Realistically, it’d probably annoy Anita more reaching out during a break than if I was just needy and clingy in the time leading into a break. So why does it still happen? I don’t think what happens before breaks is conscious but it’s definitely a pattern. It’s easier to pretend that I don’t need Anita than actually have to say, out loud, ‘I miss you already and I hate that I feel like you’re gone and it scares me’… because … ugh… puke. Vulnerability overload and eeekkk it’s not safe!

It’s certainly not much fun feeling like I am at the emotional fairground. It’s like part of me can see exactly what’s going on and just wants to cringe in the corner because it’s so predictable, so familiar. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel some compassion for myself. It’s such an exhausting situation. I just want some time out from my system and to properly rest. I feel so sad that this happens over and over again.

So, I seem to have digressed a bit. The day False Adult turned up I talked my way through the entire session…because that’s therapy, right? But no. It was the first session (face-to-face) in months and months that I hadn’t had a cuddle with Anita during the session. And OMG was that a massive problem afterwards! As I got up to leave, I gave Anita a hug but…it wasn’t the same, or enough, or what I needed and the young parts were in bits.

The time between sessions that week was fucking hideous. I mean, really bad. It was me that didn’t reach out and yet, somewhere in my poorly wired, misfiring brain, it felt like it must be something wrong with me. Maybe Anita didn’t want to be near me anymore. Maybe she was glad that I didn’t ask for a hug. Maybe she was relieved that she could keep her distance. Maybe something has changed between us. My mind went to town on me and it sent the child parts into freefall. They couldn’t understand what had happened and why Anita hadn’t seen them.

It was agony.

And this, remember, is all because a break was coming up. The lens I view myself and the therapeutic relationship through at this time distorts everything… and I hate it.

After that session I felt awful. I almost text Anita the morning of the next session to ask her to keep an eye out for the young parts and to ask if we could have a cuddle at the beginning of the session so that they knew it was safe to be there. But I didn’t. It felt too exposing. Too vulnerable. I hoped I would be able to ask for that myself.

Nope.

I didn’t leave this next session or those thereafter without a hug but it took me a really long time to ask and to get what I needed. And before I knew it, it was time to go. And when that happens it’s like being ripped out of the safety before I’m ready. I know this is my own fault. I know that Anita isn’t going to shame me for wanting to be close to her or for struggling with separation anxiety – but there’s a part that is terrified of exactly that. There is so much inner conflict.

Just writing this makes me feel mental.

As I said, adult me can see what the processes and patterns are…but insight doesn’t actually help much when I feel like this. It’s only Tuesday today and so it’s a few days until I get to see A. I have managed to get a friend to have the kids for me this week so I can get to my session, but god knows what I am going to do next week – and that stresses me out when I feel so unsettled.

I realise all I have done here is moan in a confused way. I’ve actually really struggled to write this so I do wonder if I am a bit dissociated because I can’t hold anything in mind properly. I’m trying to work out what to do next but also trying to work out what I could have done differently leading into the break to maybe make this more of a ‘breezy with a bit of drizzle’ break rather than a total ‘shit storm’.

I guess, I should have told Anita how I was dreading the break (that isn’t really even a break). I should have been honest about what was going on for the young parts because that might have invited a conversation about why they are so terrified and perhaps we could have put something in place to make it feel less bad. I should have sent the text before the session knowing it was likely that False Adult would turn up and hide the reality of what was going on.

I am so lucky. I really know that. I am reminded every day of Anita’s love and care. Sitting in bed writing this by the glow of the light she bought me for my birthday is a huge transitional object, as is the gorgeous necklace she gave me after the Nov/Dec lockdown but right now, the youngest most traumatised parts just feel like she’s gone…dead gone. It’s the object constancy stuff again and I don’t know how to get round it. I know it’s not all my system that is having a meltdown (thank god) but when this really young stuff is activated it’s just pure hell. I am so tired of feeling overwhelmed. Right now, I just want to listen to a bedtime story and fall asleep. I know some people have voice recordings of their therapists reading stories, or saying something reassuring and I do wonder if this would help those very young parts…but again, it’s hard to ask for that when you’re drowning in shame and feeling like you’re already too needy and demanding.

I’m trying to shake off the horrible feelings I have been left with after last night’s dream/nightmare. I hate when I dream of A and she embodies all the things I am panicking about. To be rejected in a dream is just so painful…and waking up it just adds fuel to the fire.

Anyway, that’s the break so far…fun times eh?!

Mother’s Day. When Your Therapist Is Better Than Your Actual Mother.

It’s been a few weeks since it was Mother’s Day, here, in the UK. I had wanted to write this back around then, but have got so far behind with the blog that it just hasn’t been possible. I’m still hanging on by a (very frayed) thread and to add insult to injury it’s the Easter therapy break (well – a whole 8 days without a session!) and so there’s all sorts of overtired, young parts’ feelings swirling about that that need to come out somewhere – and here seems like a good place rather than bothering Anita (arrrghhhh it’s a struggle!)! However, to at least keep some kind of sense of chronology going, I will get this written and posted up first. I should have a bit more time to write over the next couple of weeks as it’s school holidays and I am not tutoring many students through the break … thank god!

Anyway – that’s a bit of a preamble. Let’s get down to business.

I don’t know about you but I really struggle with Mother’s Day. It always falls on or around my birthday (I was actually born on a Mother’s Day – oh the irony!) and so it kind of creeps into that -and I almost don’t enjoy my birthday because it’s overshadowed by Mother’s Day. I don’t necessarily mean by having to see my mum – it’s more like if we (my wife and I) plan to go out somewhere, or do something, on or around my birthday, everywhere is just filled with mums and daughters and I can’t escape it.

No matter how much I try and ignore them, I can’t get away from how many people there are out there that ‘seem’ have close relationships with their mums. Spas and restaurants are rammed with relaxed-looking, smiling mums and daughters who are clearly enjoying each other’s company. There’s a kind of intimacy and connection that I simply do not have with my mum, and I can’t help but feel a bit…I dunno…sad…jealous…disappointed…hurt… There’s all sorts of emotions around it and try as I might to not let it get to me, it does.

Since becoming a mum, myself, I think Mother’s Day has become a bit less hard because I see it as a time to celebrate being a mum to my own babies. I can’t lie, though, the moment the pink cards with sickly sweet, sentimental pictures and messages hit the shops there is a definitely a part of me that baulks at it. I think it’s probably the teen. For her, especially, the mother wound is still gaping open and so Mother’s Day, or March in general, is just like being prodded with a stick deep down into that painful place, with a mocking ‘look what you didn’t get and what you’ll never have’.

I find it hard picking out a card for my mum. I have to find one that is maybe artier and fewer on words because, frankly, a card with two figures hugging that says something like ‘you’re the world’s best mum’ or ‘Thank you for being an amazing mum’ just feels… Wrong. And don’t let’s get started with the ones that have lengthy verses inside!

My mum doesn’t touch me – we’ve had two hugs in the last 13 years – one when my dad died, and more recently when her dad died and she was in tears at the hospital so I held her. Touch and holding has never been a part of our relationship – well, certainly not since when, at 14 years old, I reached out to hold her hand and she said. “Don’t do that people will think we are lesbians”…

Ummm.

So, yeah, that was a big kicker wasn’t it?

Especially as I was gay (not that she knew it then).

Don’t get me wrong. We have a relationship that works for both of us now. She is good with my kids and we ‘get on’…it’s just not…enough…or it is enough… because the really sad thing about it is that if, tomorrow, my mum came along and was suddenly full of love, hugs, and attunement, I simply don’t want any of it from her now. That ship sailed a really long time ago. My young parts have taken themselves away and don’t come near. It wasn’t safe as a kid and I sure as hell won’t put them out there again. It’s interesting though, because it’s not even like attachment is really a choice. You can’t make yourself feel something about someone if it’s not there but equally you cannot ‘unfeel’ feelings that ARE there!

And this is why therapy has for so long been so hard (pre-Anita). The child in me had transferred all that need and longing to be held and seen and loved onto someone else (Em) and like my mum, Em was cold, withholding, and would not come anywhere near me. It left me feeling inadequate, unlovable, and untouchable. Basically, I was both deficient and too much. It was incredibly painful but also incredibly familiar to be experiencing this stuff in the therapy. I think that’s why it took me so long to get out of that situation. It was a complete re-enactment of my relationship with my mum and I thought that was all I could expect, all I was worthy of.

It’s such a shame because I think, in fact, I know, that working with maternal transference and handling it sensitively and with care can be a real game-changer. Doing the work on the mother wound can be so profoundly healing. I get that it can feel intense and overwhelming for both therapist and client at times. There are a lot of big feelings and a lot of needs that haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time. Not only that, needs and feeling that are already mixed up with shame because that’s what we learnt as kids. Having several clingy needy kids and angry, depressed teens coming out and expressing ALL THE FEELINGS is a lot to deal with. I can understand why therapists can find it difficult to see beyond the adult body that is sitting in front of them BUT making repairs in this area of wounding and creating a safe attachment with all those younger parts is ‘the work’ for so many of us.

I think what many therapists fail to realise, or really acknowledge, is that it is such a huge thing for us to even dare to attach to a therapist and to show them our most vulnerable and wounded selves. It often takes a lot of time to build up enough trust to show ourselves, and if that happens it’s not something to run screaming from it’s something to be celebrated! If we let a therapist see all those wounded and damaged parts then I think, actually, they should be a bit honoured because we’ve spent our whole lives with these parts in exile, hidden away and shrouded in shame.

Therapists: when we (and our parts) attach to you, we need you to lean in, not freak out. It’s normal for humans to want to be in relationship. There’s nothing weird about having loving feelings towards someone with whom you do such intimate work. And yet, there is so much pathologizing of people like me (and the community here). My last therapist called me ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ and it’s done more damage than I can ever put into words…although, clearly, I keep trying as it comes up frequently here in this blog!!

My last therapy was completely retraumatising which is why I feel so lucky to have met Anita who is the complete antithesis to Em – not only is she healing the mother wound with me she healing the harm done in the therapy with Em…of which there was lots. Anybody that’s been following this blog over the last year will see how transformational working with Anita has been for me. It’s like being bathed in shame remover and then being put out in the sun to dry.

Anyway, just before Mother’s Day I was online looking for cards for my mum and I scrolled past this:

Instantly, there was a part of me that wanted to give it to Anita. I took a screenshot of it and sent it to my friend and explained how I wanted to give it to A but realised how risky it could be. My friend and I have both experienced what it is like to have this kind of gesture thrown back in our faces – gifts refused etc (although not at Mother’s Day as never done anything here before!) and my poor friend was told that her therapist ‘already has her daughters’ (OUCH) and so this stuff can be excruciatingly painful. My friend has been to hell and back with me over what’s happened with Em over the years and so she was really trying to protect me from getting hurt. I am so glad I have her. And I get it, for some therapists any kind of step into mother comparisons might signal red flags etc and suddenly we’ve tiptoed into the crossing a boundary territory and it all goes to shit. I mean look at what happened with Em.

However, for both me and my friend (and I am guessing lots of you too) it’s not about wanting the therapist to actually be our mothers. We don’t want adoption papers signed! We don’t want to move in or spend Christmas with them – we have our own lives, partners, kids etc. In fact, we don’t even want the relationship to exist outside that room. Sure, we might want more time with the therapist (an hour or two a week isn’t really enough with C-PTSD) but we are pretty clear that what happens, happens in that safe container.

We know we get the best version of our therapists in sessions. Outside the room they’re probably just like the rest of us: grouchy, tired, needy, and a bit ‘over it’ – and we don’t need that! But what happens in the room can be magical and transformative and it’s the closest experience we have ever got of healthy mothering. Why wouldn’t we want to acknowledge that and express thanks for that…especially at time that is usually so fucking painful?

So, despite clearly knowing it was a risk even acknowledging Mother’s Day I decided to buy the card for A. I didn’t write it or give it to her the session before the weekend because I thought that it might a bit uncomfortable, but decided that I would give it to her the Monday after Mother’s Day. As it turned out, it was on that Friday session when I had been really shut down and struggling to connect (there’s been a lot of that recently but largely due to the stress I am under outside therapy not because A has done anything wrong!) where Anita gave me a birthday present and I kind of knew at that point that what we have and what we are doing wasn’t going to be ruined by a card.

So, I wrote this:

Dear A,

My friend told me not to give you this card, she said it would probably lead to a conversation I didn’t want to have and that would trigger all the young parts and cause a rupture between us. I mean, I get it, I’ve thought about that too, but still, there’s a part of me that wants to send you this because the statement is true.

In this last year you have been more available, present, and caring than my mum. I know you are my therapist and not my mum but what I have learnt over the years is that mothering comes in lots of different forms, from lots of different people and I wanted to acknowledge that and to thank you for being amazing. I really don’t know where I would be right now had you not been in my life.

You asked on Friday whether I felt like you were letting me down. I know I barely responded, I felt so far away and disconnected, but internally it sent all kinds of shock waves through my system. I couldn’t really get my head round why you would say or think that. No. You haven’t let me down at all. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t even really have the words to describe how far from ‘letting me down’ you are (what is the opposite of that?!). Even when things have felt impossible and desperate and I have been distant, disconnected, or dissociated you always find a way to bring me back and connect with me and that’s huge. I never leave you feeling like there is something wrong between us.

I cannot believe how patient and kind you are even when I am pushing you away. I don’t mean to. It’s not what I want to do AT ALL but there’s definitely a massive fear about being too much right now and so I back away in order to stop that.

I wish my brain could hold onto the feeling of safety and care between sessions but it just doesn’t, or can’t yet. It feels frustrating to repeatedly feel like everything is brand new every time I see you… well, kind of. I guess I am on high alert looking if something has changed.

Anyway, I guess this is the work. Thank you for everything you do for me and for the best hugs. I love you. Big hug xxx

So, I got to the session on Monday and spoke about the crap that was going on with my wife’s medical stuff, job, blah blah more shit and more unexpected trapdoors. I was so deflated by it all and we talked about a lot about it all. And then I reached a point half an hour in and said, “I don’t even know what to say!” I was done with talking about the day-to-day stuff and whilst we were connected it’s different when it’s all adult. You know when you have the young stuff needing to be seen and worked on too just bubbling away inside? Well, it was that and I knew the card was sitting in my bag waiting. I felt safe enough to get it out and said, “Can I give you this? You might need your glasses!”

Anita went and got her glasses opened the card and immediately smiled and said, “That is gorgeous!”

As she sat and read it, despite her positive reaction to the front, I could feel the tendrils of panic creeping up and over my body. Shame. Embarrassment. Fear. All the stuff. This is definitely the hangover from so many times with Em where I would write something, take it to session, be so incredibly vulnerable, and then she’d finish and it would feel like the door was being slammed in my face. She’d never take a step towards me and instead say something like, “I’m just your therapist” or “Your young parts might want to be held but that won’t happen here”. Blah blah. You all know the drill!

When she finished reading, Anita looked up, smiled at me and said with so much warmth in her voice, “That is lovely. Thank you. And I am glad you gave it to me. It really is lovely.”

I was silent almost in a freeze, I think. I could hardly breathe.

Anita continued, “I’m glad you feel like that. Because for me that is what that is what this work is about. Helping your system start to trust.”

More silence and freeze from me. Then in a tiny voice, “It doesn’t feel very good.”

“Your system at the moment?” Anita asked gently.

A barely perceptible nod from me.

And then with so much gentleness in her voice, A said, “I should imagine it was quite scary to give me that card wasn’t it?”

I moved my eyes from the spot on the floor and turned to Anita and said, ‘Yeah’.

She looked and me leant towards me a little and said, “But I have read it, how you said it. And I really have. I feel honoured. Really honoured. Thank you.”

“It just feels really scary” whispered the little voice.

“It’s ok…but nothing feels ok at the moment does it? I wish I could keep you safe from all of it.” Anita just really gets it. It’s not just what she says but how she says it. As I have said so many times it’s like being doused in soapy shame remover being with her.

And then all the parts of me knew it was safe. That she is safe. That I am safe with her and that we are ok.

I know it’s like doing the hokey cokey in therapy – the parts going in and out with trust and testing. But over and over again Anita is there and when we get to the chorus, we join hands and run into the middle together!

The little one asked, “Can I have a hug?”

And as usual, and with so much care and warmth in her voice Anita replied, “Of course”.

And then, after what felt like quite a big session, I just snuggled into her for the remainder of the of the time and listened to her heart beat. I find this holding so soothing. I can feel my nervous system relax and regulate. I can’t do that on my own, or for myself, and I am so glad that Anita realises how important co-regulation is for the young parts of my system. That half an hour was so so healing…and this is why my therapist is ‘better than my real mother’!