It’s clear to me, and I am sure to anyone who follows this blog, that probably two of the biggest fears I have in life are being abandoned and/or rejected. There have been so many times throughout my life where I have been abandoned (physically and emotionally). As an adolescent it hurt like hell to experience this rejection for simply being me (there was a lot of rejection when I came out when I was 17) and any rejections I have experienced as an adult hurt massively because it feels like my younger self is being wounded again and again. Ouch.
Having been in therapy for a gazillion years, I am obviously now much more aware of what happened to me as a younger child and it’s only now, as an adult, that I am feeling the full force of the pain of being left. As a kid I must have repressed those feelings or dissociated them because it was too much to cope with and I had to survive.
Clearly, the reason I struggle so much now with the feelings of inadequacy, being unlovable and forgettable stems from my ongoing childhood trauma. That’s what’s really done the big damage, or created a blueprint for how I imagine relationships will go in the here and now. The problem is, despite having many many, healthy, wholesome, caring, reciprocal relationships in 2020 I still have this niggling doubt underneath that say it’s all going to go to shit so maybe I should be cautious about really letting people in. Nowhere is this more apparent then in my therapeutic relationship with Em.
It’s been a nightmare lately. Unfortunately, events sometimes come together to create and almost perfect storm, setting me off balance and making me even more scared about being ‘too much’ and then I start panicking about left by the people I care about.
There’s no denying the recent time (since just before Christmas) in therapy has done nothing to settle my ‘freaking out child parts’ and there has also been a recent event in my family where people I had let back in (after cutting them off for spectacularly hurting me when my dad died) have actually rejected me again! All that old pain and sadness has come up and I feel both devastated and angry- devastated that I thought they might have changed, and angry that I let them in only to hurt me again. Will I never learn to trust my gut and see red flags?
Any reconfirmation of the narrative that people I love aren’t reliable and will actually disappear or threaten to leave (that I formed as a kid when my mum wasn’t around much) kind of intensifies the panic. It’s not surprising I had a breakdown when my dad died suddenly whilst abroad – it kind of lit the touch paper on all the stuff that had being weighing me down but I couldn’t see. I had just blanketed my problems under ‘depression’ rather than a fucking disaster of a childhood! I can see why the recent events with my grandparents (the latest rejection) have poured salt in the wound.
It really hasn’t helped that stuff with Em has felt so shaky, too. It’s felt so bloody hard inside myself lately. Adult me has carried on getting on with the job of life but deep inside the fear of the younger parts has been mounting on a daily basis and that clearly makes for all kind of crazy to seep out.
I have kept looking for reassurance from Em that the relationship is secure and when I find none, I become even more sensitive and scared than I was before. In fact, the last few weeks it’s been so bad in therapy that I have been convinced things are on a knife edge and I’ve been clinging on for dear life which actually only seems to make her back further away.
After the disaster Skype call first session back after Christmas I contacted another therapist to put out feelers about how it might work doing therapy with someone new. The idea of leaving Em was enough to send me over the edge and the young parts were terrified that this really could be the beginning of the end, but at the same time I was really aware that things are stuck and no matter how we try and work through it there’s some basic fundamentals that feel non-negotiable on both sides. Her boundaries are so rigid and my need for more containment and reassurance is getting worse rather than better because of the feeling that the door is closed on me. I feel more and more like I am not in a relationship with her and keep getting my feelings hurt- the recent gift rejection really hurt and her refusal to sit closer to me…well fuck…that’s a kicker.
So, I was reluctant to go and see this new therapist the other week but at the same time I needed to work out whether what I want in therapy is possible or whether my needs are just too much for any therapist and I should stop wishing for things that are unreasonable.
I mean to be fair, I read enough blogs to know that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to get transitional objects, check ins, occasional hugs or hand holding, or at the very least to be sat next to when there is the need. However, I am very aware after my experience with Em that not all therapists do this stuff (she does none!) and some might do bits and bobs depending.
I guess I have a wish list and accept that probably not all elements might be met but what I am very clear that this time I need to know the lay of the land with any new therapist from the get go – what is and isn’t possible? I don’t want to stumble across boundaries somewhere down the line (like I have with Em) when my attachment stuff has already kicked in and then end up in the same position as now, wanting certain things and then finding out it’s a hard NO.
In my initial email to Anita I didn’t ask about that stuff but I explicitly asked about whether she has experience of working with C-PTSD and attachment and what kind of supervision she undertakes and how frequently. I even asked her if she considered that she had done enough of her own work. I mean, if I am gonna jump ship I need to know these things, right?
Her reply to my email was kind and warm and we arranged an initial appointment.
So much has happened since that session (I have a lot of blogging to do over the next couple of weeks!!!) that I can’t really remember much about it.
I felt a bit disloyal rocking up at Anita’s house having just come from a therapy session with Em but again my session with Em had been bleurgh – more talk of boundaries and the gift giving and I felt so far away from her.
First impressions of Anita when she opened the door were that she was warm and kind.
The therapy room is a good space. It’s comfortable, nicely decorated, and is the right size to feel close enough to the therapist. It’s not Em’s room, though, which is beautiful and really appeals to my aesthetic and academic sides with lovely natural wooden furniture and bookcases full of theory stuff. But I am not in therapy for the room, I am in it for the relationship with the person that sits in it! And let’s face it, if it was all about the room I would be fine!!
I know that I was distressed when I sat down, the weight of what has been going on hit and the reality that I was about to talk to a stranger and let them see the mess that I am in felt big. I figured that I have absolutely nothing to lose at this point so didn’t hold back and sort of unloaded all the stuff I’ve been struggling with in the therapeutic relationship with Em: how I feel like we’ve done all the intellectual work, I know what my issues are, but my feelings aren’t getting met, mirrored or held and so there’s a huge block and my child parts just feel perpetually retraumatised and abandoned every time they get close to the core wound.
I said how I feel shame every time I try and connect and get met with, ‘I’m just your therapist’ or ‘some therapists may do that but I don’t work this way’, and, ‘you know my boundaries and what I want’… you know the stuff, I write about her all the time, it’s not new news to you guys!
I spoke about my issues around breaks and disruptions and how bad it feels to be ignored when I very occasionally reach out. There was loads. And what was great was that because I wasn’t dissociative, or shut down, or being hypervigilant I actually made really good use of the time. I reckon I covered about five sessions worth of content in one!
I didn’t ask directly about any of the relationship stuff with Anita but from what I said about Em she kept stepping in and saying things like, ‘I understand how hard breaks can be for people with C-PTSD and so can I tell you how I work? I will write notes, do transitional objects, and I am available for calls and check ins if necessary on longer breaks because that’s how I think I need to work. Obviously not all clients need this but for those that do I offer that and always try and take a minute to make a call – my family know what I do for a job and so expect that’. She also told me that sometimes we really need someone to hold our hand in the pain (both literally and metaphorically) and that she sometimes feels like clients need hugs from her but of course will always ask first because some clients do not want that kind of contact.
Basically, she took all my cues and on every single sore point and came back with the response I was hoping for. She’s person centred, works with attachment, has experience of working with C-PTSD and dissociative disorders, she undertakes lots of CPD and brilliantly has been on Carolyn Spring’s trainings and has read her books (which are fab btw)…she’s basically got the package I am looking for. Only, she’s not Em…and Em knows me. I’d have to start all over again. Fuck me. I really don’t want to.
Anita said that it felt to her like Em had done some good work with me but now it seems I am in a place where I need to be really met and held in the work and my young parts need to feel loved and for whatever reason Em can’t/won’t do it.
She likened what we’ve done in therapy to being like an egg – we’ve gone through the hard shell, waded through the white, and now we’re at the most vulnerable part – the yolk, and she can’t do the work, or I can’t do it in the way that she works. And this is kind of how it feels…although for the longest time I have felt like it’s just me, my resistance, my defences that are the problem – because, of course, I will always turn it in and try and find where I am at fault for a situation, but actually I am coming to accept that what worked well for me before isn’t working for me now. It’s devastating, actually, but things can’t stay as they are.
The session with Anita felt really nice and I really got the sense that I could build something with this therapist…but it’d mean letting go of my attachment figure and that is fucking terrifying. I emailed her a day or so after the session to thank her for her time and to ask about how we might move forward. I was very aware that just cutting and running from Em would be almost impossible for the young parts and I wondered if we might do some kind of transition where I could build a relationship with her first before fully moving over – because what if it didn’t click and I was left dangling with no way back.
Anita responded and said she had an idea but she needed to run it by her supervisor first. Unfortunately, her idea was shot down by the supervisor – she had thought, given my trauma history and difficulty with attachment and trust that she might be able to function as a support whilst I left Em meanwhile building a relationship with me so that I didn’t have to abruptly leave Em knowing that would feel so hard to those attached young parts.
Her supervisor said it would possibly cause grey areas and so she couldn’t work with me until I was no longer working with Em. The email was really caring and understanding and whilst I felt gutted that her idea (which sounded so like what I needed) wasn’t possible it felt nice that she had at least tried to think of a solution and had cared enough to contact her supervisor. It shows she is keen to work ethically which is really important to me.
I responded to the email with this:
Thanks for getting back to me and thinking about this. I suspected this is what your supervisor might say and do understand. It’s a complex dynamic.
I need time to think about what to do next. There are so many competing parts inside right now and it feels overwhelming. I really want to move forward and away from this horrible place of feeling rubbish all the time but the fear of the vulnerable parts losing Em is enormous – like annihilation and it’s not going to be a simple transition to another therapist after eight years with all that’s been triggered in the relationship.
The reality is that I don’t trust people easily and so it is a real barrier to leaving. I guess it’s something about better the devil you know and whilst I sense that you would be a good fit for me from what you have said there is definitely a voice that is saying, ‘what if she’s just the same and you get hurt again – at least Em knows you’.
I know, ultimately, it’s going to take a leap of faith now but any change is unsettling for me. I understand, too, that there’s a possibility that by the time I have managed to leave M you mightn’t actually have availability or capacity to see me…which makes the whole process feel daunting. I guess I’ll just have to trust the universe on this one.
I don’t really know what else to say but I am grateful to you for trying to help find a way forward.
I’ll be in touch…soon… I hope.
So I sent that and felt a bit sad. I felt like I had a choice to make. Leave Em and hope for the best with Anita or give it one last stab at throwing everything at Em and seeing what she came back with.
We had another really tough session on the Friday, I can’t remember why now (!!) but it was not easy. I guess my young parts were having a meltdown inside and so take pretty much everything as a rejection and a lack of Em wanting to connect to me.
It’s just come back.
I said that I was wondering whether we could recover from where we were at because it felt so bad. I said that I wasn’t sure that it was enough anymore and the therapy doesn’t feel holding enough. We sort of talked around what leaving might feel like and what parts might feel what but it didn’t feel good at all. She said that if I left she would feel ‘sad and disappointed’ that we hadn’t managed to get me into a better place and it wouldn’t be the ideal end, that’s when the teen piped up, ‘As if!’ and I rolled my eyes. Like, come on lady, you literally give no shits about me and don’t try and pretend after the recent shit show that you’d be sad to see the back of me.
I made some reference to her not caring and she did the usual, ‘If I didn’t care about you I wouldn’t be working with you, but I care about you as a therapist, and I get the sense that parts of you want a different kind of relationship’ then she started on about that think about me wanting her to be my partner or friend again and I was like ‘NO!’ and she then said that if it’s unconscious I wouldn’t know.
I get what she’s saying but honestly when she says the slightly caring stuff I just can’t feel it or take it in because it doesn’t seem very warm or genuine. It feels like I am perpetually asking her for reassurance and she gives the absolute bare minimum of herself. She keeps herself so far out of the room. I said, this, actually, ‘every time I try take a step towards you it feels like you back away’. She said that that’s because I haven’t had secure attachment and if I had I wouldn’t experience her that way. I said, ‘I know. But I DON’T HAVE SECURE ATTACHMENT AND IT IS HOW I EXPERIENCE YOU!’
I remember that she asked about the story I’d given her as a gift at Christmas and said that as an English teacher I must have lots to say about it. This pissed me off. Like why on earth would I want to share that deeply vulnerable stuff with her, and how and why the character’s journey to therapy when she’d basically rejected it the moment we got back from Christmas? I am so hurt by how she handled that that there was absolutely not a chance in hell that I could go to that vulnerable place…for what? To be knocked down or be told, ‘I am just your therapist’ again.
I left the session feeling unseen and desperate and she asked me to let me know if I make a decision about terminating but that she’d be there on Monday all the same. I didn’t know what to do. And started writing when I got home adding to the draft of stuff I had written about following the Skype session (in the last blog post) – it ended up being close to 4000 words! (see there are words inside I just can’t say them out loud!!). I emailed the letter to Em on Friday afternoon – knowing she wouldn’t reply but literally was so confused and unsettled that I didn’t know what else to do.
You know that perfect storm I was talking about at the start? Well it was picking up strength. So, imagine my surprise when Em responded that she would read my email before the session.
I felt nervous and a little more positive like maybe we could find a way through. I tried not to stress too much over the weekend and went into Monday feeling hopeful but also terrified. I know that all my attachment stuff is going berserk right now but it’s hard to explain why things feel so bad it’s a feeling perhaps more than what’s actually being said.
I’ll write what happened next bit in another post…