My last post here talked about the recent ‘shutdown’ Monday sessions where the teen ran amok for the first part of the therapy hour, and it felt like I was in an isolation zone. It was hard going, but the work that came as a result was definitely worthwhile. I think that those sessions have sent a message to the teen that she’s really ok with Anita and that Anita isn’t scared of her or about to shut up shop when she turns up in a rage or pushes away – in fact, Anita will come towards her and try and help her rather than punish her with more disconnection. This can only be a good thing going forward.
Despite this, I am hoping that the teen part stays in the background for a while now, because it thoroughly exhausts me when I have those emotionally charged, agonising sessions – especially when really, underneath, all I want is to be close to A. I know it’s protective and there for a reason, in the past (as a child) it was safer to hide or disconnect than ask for support or care and it’s hard to unlearn that. Although at least A seems to be willing to keep repeating the lesson over and over.
So, the Friday session that was sandwiched between those painful Mondays was different again. It was creeping ever closer to the anniversary of my dad dying and this always seems to result in at least one session where I re-tread old ground about the nature of the death and all the trauma that came at that time. I guess this is what we do in therapy, circle the same traumas but from different angles- each time we get a slightly different vantage point and perhaps a different insight. There is still so much pain around that loss, and as much as I cognitively understand a lot of what happened around that time, the physical and emotional trauma is still locked in my body and has caused me no end of trouble.
The conversations about that time are usually had by my actual Adult and not my False Adult but the content often activates stuff for the young parts inside who so desperately miss dad and who cannot understand why the family chose to scapegoat me for what happened to him. I don’t think those parts of me will every really understand what happened and why. The best my adult self can come up with is that my family have always excluded and demonised people and grief does strange things to people. Beyond that, I am stumped because the older I get and the more of life I experience I just cannot fathom how you could behave as they did.
Ah well. Their loss.
Only they don’t care… and much as I try not to, I do care.
After a lot of talk about all that and about three quarters of the way through that session I could feel that Adult was starting to disappear, and the young ones were moving in. I asked Anita at this point if we could read a story as I find that really settles the little parts and gives them time to connect with Anita but also process in a way that feels age appropriate to them. We have quite a stack of stories that we read and it’s nice because the repetitive retelling of the same five or six stories feels really grounding. I guess it’s a bit like with my kids, even now they’re getting bigger we still have some go to favourites that feel really connecting.
All of these books I read with Anita deal with feelings or attachment and relationships in one way or another and I can’t overstate how helpful they have been to these very young parts. Part of me is amazed that I have reached a point in therapy where I have been able to ask for what I need in this way. I guess it’s that thing, though, we inherently know what we need to heal and if it’s not dangerous then what’s wrong in it? Therapists don’t know everything and collaborating with the client to create a therapy that works for them is essential (in my view).
I used to feel so much shame having ANY kind of need with Em even, though I rarely expressed my needs because I was so clear that everything I wanted was a flat ‘No’. I don’t feel shame around asking for things at all now: reading books, washing my elephant so it smells like A, extra sessions, and check ins. I guess this is because I NEVER have to feel shame with Anita because she never makes me feel like asking for something is wrong, or too much, or pushing at a boundary. Everything is open to discussion and I know that Anita will try and accommodate me where she can, if it is reasonable to do so. This goes such a long way.
Looking back now I can hardly believe I am the same person who was made to feel so much shame for struggling with lack of contact between sessions. I can’t believe how bad I felt when I asked Em for the three dots to check-in midweek and she flat refused without even asking why I wanted it or why I thought it might be useful.
Even the transitional object with the pebble ended up doing more harm than good. And to think that Em thinks she works with ‘attachment disorders’ – it’s a fucking joke. Although, to even phrase it as a ‘disorder’ really shows the clinical and cold lens she views people with C-PTSD through. It’s pathologizing and demeaning suggesting that wanting to feel connected (perfectly reasonable human experience!) is a problem.
Leaving us stranded and isolated almost ‘outside’ the relationship massively triggers us and then more and more survival behaviours come out. No wonder we cling on tighter when we feel like we’re being abandoned or rejected or held at arm’s length. We have these ways of relating because of the developmental trauma we’ve experienced having often been abandoned by our mothers – that can be emotionally, physically, or sometimes both.
Wanting to be loved and cared for by an attachment figure isn’t mental or dysfunctional. In fact, I think it’s pretty amazing that even after so many relational setbacks, abandonments, and rejections that the part of us that wants to be loved still holds any kind of hope of that being possible at all. For a therapist to make us feel like we are ‘too much’ or ‘weird’ when we are trying to work on those most vulnerable and damaged parts is just the pits.
I would have loved to have brought stories into my work with Em but the one time I took a book in, ‘The Heart And The Bottle’, it was a total catastrophe and completely missed the mark. She sat and looked at the book on her own, in her chair, across the room, in silence and then said something like, “there’s some powerful images in this” but we never got discuss how it felt like the chair was empty when she was gone on breaks and how I felt like I had to protect my heart and not feel anything because otherwise I wouldn’t function. There was so much work that could have been done around that, but Em would never go there. She really didn’t like discussing what was going on between ‘us’ at all.
I remember in that session I ended up falling down the rabbit hole of doom in that and dissociated because Em just didn’t see me or my pain…actually, no, she did see it, she just chose to leave me drowning in it. As Em said, she was not prepared to ‘collude with the young part that wants holding’ and I was basically on my own – always.
Oh and then, of course there was the total shit show that happened just before we terminated when I gave her a copy of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ for Christmas…
Anyway, that’s over now, thank goodness … and I have a therapist that works with me, not against me. Phew!
The best thing about reading the stories with A that it’s just another part of the work that we do. It’s not a ‘big thing’ or out of the ordinary. It just is. She’ll sometimes ask if I want a story and usually has them out in the room when I arrive just in case that’s where the session takes us. There’s no drama. Those young parts that like and need stories are as welcome as any of the other parts of me in that room…and that’s a really nice place to be. I really love snuggling into A, looking at the pictures and listening to her read the words – when the young parts feel scared or anxious it really helps settle them but also allows them to talk too.
It’s taken 1500 words to get here…but finally…to the point! On this day (the Friday!) we had a new book that I had ordered. I had heard good things about it but never read it. It’s called ‘The Invisible String’ by Patrice Karst. Anyway, after all the talk about my dad’s death and my family, I asked for the story and cuddled in beside A as she started to read.
The book is about two siblings who get scared in the night when a storm hits. They go rushing out to their mother to feel safe. The children wonder about how they can feel her when she’s not there or they’re in their room away from her. The mother gestures with her hands that they always have an invisible string linking them and when you tug on one end the other person feels it in their heart no matter where they are. The book goes on and the children ask where the invisible string works: under the sea, up a mountain, and even to heaven etc. It’s so lovely and really talks about how everybody is connected by the invisible string of love. It says that love is stronger than anger and so the strings are really strong… (well they’re meant to be!)
The message is so wonderful and so good for those of us working on attachment and object constancy who so often feel like our attachment figures don’t exist or are gone when we can’t see them. Anita asked me what I thought about the book. In the moment I had such mixed feelings. I was left, in part, with immense sadness and told her that I felt like I was holding a handful of severed strings (my family cutting me off, Em…) Anita was so lovely and said that she understood but that I also have so many wonderful strings connecting me, to my wife, kids, friends and that it was nothing I had ever done that led to those strings being severed.
I didn’t say anything for a while and just listened to Anita’s heartbeat and started to settle.
Anita then said, “They also reach heaven you know. It doesn’t stop. The love still continues.” And this was what those little parts needed to hear after Adult speaking about my dad for most of the session.
Then more silence.
I was battling inside with letting this next bit out. Even though I know Anita loves me and she tells me and demonstrates it all the time, there is still something incredibly vulnerable about asking someone how they feel rather than them freely telling you.
A little part whispered into her chest, “Do we have a string?”
Without a hint of hesitation Anita replied, “I definitely think we have a string.” And held me tighter into her chest.
And then the time was up. What a great phrase to end a session on… I mean obviously there was the small talk that happens at the end as I put my shoes back on and the hug as I leave – but the session itself ended on that.
When things feel shit and disconnected I am trying to remember that we do have an invisible string…and it’s helping a bit!