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!

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

    • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 13, 2021 / 4:13 pm

      It’s maddening sometimes isn’t it?! But at least I know what’s going on and why whereas I had no insight before just got swept away in it all! Hope you’re ok x

      Liked by 1 person

      • skinnyhobbit April 14, 2021 / 5:25 am

        I’m OK and not OK simultaneously haha. A bunch of triggers = I sent my T an angry email because I suddenly felt powerlessness relative to her as well as tons of shame being in long-term therapy. Which meant me and protector parts flipped into anger. Oooof. Her reply was firm but not punitive but of course me and parts are now thinking we’re too mean, top dependent, she’s angry and rightfully so, we’re going to be punished. 😳😳😳😳 With periods of complete numb where I can’t even hear my system’s chatter.

        Liked by 1 person

      • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 14, 2021 / 1:11 pm

        Oh hun. It’s hard sometimes isn’t it? Therapy is certainly a rollercoaster at times! Thinking of you and hope you and your T can process through this together and she sent allay some of your fears. X

        Liked by 1 person

      • skinnyhobbit April 14, 2021 / 3:14 pm

        Definitely hope so. One thing I’m really clear on is “omgggg thankfully she’s much more like Anita than like Em!”

        Liked by 1 person

      • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 14, 2021 / 3:46 pm

        Ha. Yeah! I don’t think anyone is as bad as Em! Can’t believe I put myself through that for all those years. 🤯 hang on in there xxx

        Liked by 1 person

      • skinnyhobbit April 14, 2021 / 4:03 pm

        Hugs. You and all your parts deserved so much better than Em.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Sara April 13, 2021 / 5:21 pm

    Oh I’m so glad the young ones were able to come forward so quickly in that session to give them the time and space they needed for comforting and reassuring contact. 💕

    Liked by 3 people

    • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 13, 2021 / 5:56 pm

      Yeah me too! I was just on my arse by the time I got there and realised the shit i’d build up in my head just wasn’t there. She was pleased to see me and was still the same. I literally cannot wait to go tomorrow. 🏅 gold medal winner!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sara April 13, 2021 / 7:05 pm

        What a relief to those young parts! These are words I need to keep close to me when I return to in person sessions with my therapist in a few weeks. So much noise in my head. I relate to all of what you describe. I hope tomorrow continues to pile on those warm connecting feelings of safety. 💗🏅

        Liked by 2 people

      • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 13, 2021 / 7:12 pm

        Oh god me too! I’m just so exhausted that I don’t want to put any barriers up. I just need to sink into my safe space. I do worry that I’m too needy but … Anita seems fine with it so I guess I need to stop overthinking it. I hope your return to in person goes well xx

        Liked by 2 people

      • Sara April 14, 2021 / 2:26 am

        Oh yes, I can relate to that feeling of really needing to sink into a safe space. Hoping I can feel a similar way when I get to return to my therapist’s office. I hope it goes well for you tomorrow.

        Liked by 2 people

      • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 14, 2021 / 1:13 pm

        It was nice once I let myself ask for what I needed. There’s a lot of adult life stress still so spent half the session moaning about that! Had lovely hugs after though and just really felt held. Got another session Friday so just need to get through the next 48 hours of quite hard work. I wish I could just leave the little parts in the room with her and do my adult life and responsibilities!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Sara April 14, 2021 / 4:02 pm

        Oh my goodness I know that feeling all too well. In fact, at the end of one particular session where I shared a drawing that I had recently done my therapist asked if that drawing/part wanted to stay at her office that week. Adult me just shrugged and said “sure”, but later on I was able to connect to what that really felt like. It was a small thing to leave that paper with her, but it felt so huge to that scared part to felt seen and cared for in that way. And it was a big moment of growing connection, safety, and trust with my therapist.

        Liked by 1 person

      • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 15, 2021 / 7:39 am

        These seemingly small things are huge. I think we’re so used to not taking up space that when the therapist welcomes parts of us or is symbolically willing to hold onto parts of us it can feel really important. I’m glad your T did this for you xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sara April 15, 2021 / 1:55 pm

        Absolutely! It has such a huge impact.

        Like

  2. Mac April 13, 2021 / 6:30 pm

    I love the fish tank comment. I totally notice even the slightest changes in my T’s environment. A couple of weeks ago I was so off kilter that I told him I hated his brown shoes and all of his socks with red in them…ugh! Big hugs…xx

    Liked by 3 people

    • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 13, 2021 / 6:56 pm

      Ah thanks. Yeah. Honestly, sometimes it’s just bloody so off-putting being so painfully aware of every tiny change and nuance. Glad I’m not alone! Hope you’re ok x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Claire Louise April 13, 2021 / 7:25 pm

    I had an emotional meltdown in a session a few weeks ago, full of shaking and tears and overwhelm. My T ended up holding my hand throughout and then holding me for half the session. I couldn’t say much, didn’t feel safe. The reason for this meltdown? A large plant had been taken out and replaced with a shorter one. 🤦‍♀️

    Liked by 4 people

    • skinnyhobbit April 14, 2021 / 5:28 am

      Oh I so relate even though I don’t meltdown but get frozen. Hugs. I’m really glad your T held your hand and you. You deserve soothing and grounding and comfort.

      Hypervigilance is so tiring. I’m constantly on edge, jumpy etc. Burns so much energy.

      Like

      • Claire Louise April 14, 2021 / 12:33 pm

        I did freeze before the meltdown, my T coaxed me out. I was mortified after about how I was.
        I just can so empathise and relate to what RBCG writes. Thank you for sharing, to everyone for sharing. It really helps x

        Liked by 2 people

      • skinnyhobbit April 14, 2021 / 12:46 pm

        I relate to the mortification! A young part used to hijack me and then we’d say really wacky things. One particularly embarrassing time, we said we were flying! And yes with out stretched arms. And kept giggling until we abruptly got scared because we couldn’t ground. ❤❤❤

        Like

    • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 14, 2021 / 1:09 pm

      Sending you hugs. It’s horrible when it all feels overwhelming. I’m glad your T could stay close throughout and held you. I hope this has gone some way towards making you feel a bit safer. Take good care. Bet she’ll think twice about room changes from here on out!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Claire Louise April 14, 2021 / 2:41 pm

        Thank you for the hugs they are needed today (therapy hangover!)
        There are some more changes to the room coming, but my T has said she will make sure I’m notified in advance, and will send pictures too. She is amazing, but like you, I wish I could accept she is fully safe xxx

        Liked by 2 people

      • rubberbandsandchewinggum April 14, 2021 / 3:45 pm

        The fact she’s willing to do these things is huge and shows she keeps you in mind and cares about your wellbeing with hopefully gives those mistrusting parts a bit more evidence that she’s ok. Therapy hangovers are no fun. I saw Anita today and miss her already! Ffs!

        Liked by 2 people

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