Therapy this last week or so has been a complete emotional rollercoaster. (How many times have I said this lately?!) Honestly, I can hardly keep up with myself! One minute, things are fine, the next it’s utterly desperate. The various parts of me are in and out on rapid rotation and I don’t know which way is up. It really would be really unnerving if I didn’t already have a reasonably good understanding of my system. Mind you, my teen trying to sabotage the shit out therapy is never a great deal of fun, even if I can see it and make sense of it after the event!
The last two Mondays have been quite similar…oh goody (*not ‘good’ at all) a pattern is emerging! I seem start off with a couple of minutes small talk – everything ‘seems’ fine (False Adult strikes again!) and then the clouds quickly roll in from the horizon and I am totally done for. The feeling of disconnection I feel is massive and rather than reach out for Anita, I freeze and get swept up in my internal storm which rumbles on and on about Anita wanting to get away from me and my not being able to trust her.
HELP ME PLEASE!
Last week (28th June) I walked in, sat down, and told Anita that I didn’t feel very good – I had terrible period pain and felt really drained and vulnerable and like my womb was trying to escape from my body. It was shit. I really just wanted a cuddle and to reconnect and feel safe with A – to rest in her presence – but instead of this, my teen went into complete shutdown and “fuck it all!” The young parts desperately wanted to be close, but the teen had gone into protect mode which resulted in a complete stand-off with Anita. It was agony. We’ve all been there haven’t we?!
When it gets like that, it feels like Anita is a million miles away even though it’s really me holding her at arm’s length and avoiding her. I think those young, vulnerable parts need such clear and demonstrative expressions of care and closeness when I feel off from the very outset of the session that a run of the mill, sitting next to me and tentatively asking questions just feels really … crap. Those little ones basically need Anita to be a mind-reader, and that’s never going to happen. Anita is amazingly perceptive, but she won’t know the second I walk in that I am crying out for a cuddle unless I actually tell her.
Anyway, the feeling of both physical and emotional distance between myself and Anita that I felt – or put between us- was absolute hell for the youngest parts and fuelled the anger in the teen. The longer this ‘stand off’ went on the worse it felt inside and the further I retreated. It’s totally infuriating that when the need is massive I retreat…but then of course this response is rooted in not wanting to be ‘too much’ or get ‘rejected’ by the other and so it makes sense.
I sat there rooted to the spot, staring at the door, not looking at Anita. A kept gently asking what was going on with me… but I totally stonewalled her. I’ve listened back to the session and OMG it’s just so fucking painful. When I am in that place, I feel so isolated, so cut off, and nothing Anita says or does feels right or enough, other than her explicitly telling me we are ok, that she cares, and realistically I need her to be physically touching me, either by holding my hand or giving me a hug. When it feels bad, I can’t hear her gentle, calm invitation to join her, to let her know what’s going on, to reconnect. I just feel fucked off and angry! And because I am angry, I push her further and further away.
That day, I think the need for connection was so strong when I arrived at session because I had felt ignored and rejected over the weekend (don’t ask…it was just mega PMS and the wonderful fucked up lens that that brings with it!).
And because I felt abandoned it necessarily brought the protectors online almost instantly when we met. There was a narrative of, “Don’t get too close, she’ll push you away – and she wasn’t interested in you over the weekend” sort of internal dialogue. I always feel like this after a weekend, more than I do on a Friday session – which is nuts because I’m sure if I checked my messages there wasn’t radio silence over the weekend – it just sometimes feels that way.
Anita persisted, “What are you thinking?”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Anita persisted, “You feel very distant today…has something happened?” There was so much care in and warmth in her voice that it felt like Anita was begining to get under the surface of my armour.
The teen grunted, “What do you mean?”
Anita was not put off and replied that she wasn’t sure but felt like there was a big distance between us. She asked me whether she had upset me and I replied, “It’s fine.”
Reader. It was not fine!
I’m sure loads of you are familiar with this sort of situation and how agonising it is to be trapped inside yourself screaming to get out but being completely mute so far as being able to say what is going on goes. You’re stuck in your internal prison.
“Can you share with me what you are thinking?” Anita probed.
And out came a really angry, venomous, “I’m not thinking anything!”
Grrrr. Rarrr. My god, the wobbler was coming! Lol.
Anita backed off and tried to soothe me a bit, “Okay… it’s okay”. I could feel myself getting more and more tense and upset as time elapsed. I just wanted to be close to her, but the teen was doing everything in her power to make Anita disappear.
I sat there, frozen, and then I started physically trembling and hid my face in my hands. I did not want to be seen in this state. I was full of anger and shame and embarrassment, and ALL THE FEELINGS and the little parts were beside themselves too.
Anita, as usual managed to cut through and wondered aloud about what could be going on. She said it felt uncomfortable to her, but she didn’t know what had triggered it or what it was about. She expressed that she didn’t know if what she was feeling was hers, mine, or whether it was even real. She said she wanted to give me a hug but wasn’t sure whether that was for her or for me. To hear her think aloud about it and talk about her process in real time helped me a lot because it showed me that she was engaged and thoughtful and trying to find a way through for us both and it made me see that my behaviour was also having an impact on her not just me.
Even though I was giving off the biggest “Fuck off” vibes, Anita asked me if I would like a hug. I’ve told her a lot recently that when this part is about, I need her to do this because it’s what I want but so often that protective rage won’t let me anywhere near her and vice versa.
A miserable and quiet, “I don’t know” left my lips.
Arghhh. Yes of course I wanted a hug – but I was too ashamed to tell her after the performance I’d just given.
Anita gently asked, “Can you feel this as well, or is it just me?”
I nodded and stared down at the carpet in corner of the room. The atmosphere and disconnect was hard and I didn’t know how to step away from it.
“Yeah. It’s not nice” soothed Anita. That simple acknowledgment that what was going on wasn’t easy for her either, somehow felt connecting. So often Em would leave me struggling in my own misery and just observe me, untouched and unmoved by my pain or whatever it was these protectors were trying to express. Even on our last session when we terminated she watched me cry and said, “It seems you are experiencing a lot of emotion”… FUCK ME! It felt so isolating and like I was completely alone in that room. Well, I was…so…
Anyway, I looked over to Anita and quietly asked, “What’s wrong?” I didn’t mean “What’s wrong with you”, but “What’s wrong here? What’s going on with us?” – I couldn’t work it out. I was just confused and lost.
Anita used her really warm, soothing voice and gently replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know what started it, or where it came from. I’d like to know, but I’m not sure how we find out. I think I might have felt like I’d let you down somehow…”
“About what?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t had chance to read the blog you sent me…”
I had sent Anita a blog post the night before the session and I guess there’s a part of me that hoped she’d have read it and perhaps I was a bit angry about it knowing she hadn’t. Although up until that point I didn’t actually know she hadn’t sooooo??? I dunno.
It was the post about the False Adult and it’s interesting to me to track back and see that I had a session where the False Adult stole the show and the next session the teen was going berserk. It’s like the protectors are all out and doing their thing right now and I guess we need to try and understand why.
Anyway, what she said resonated and the teen part felt seen and heard which allowed that part to power down.
A little voice whimpered, “You feel really far away.”
And that’s when Anita really took the cue and joined the dots, “Yeah, I know. That’s what I’m feeling too, and I don’t like it…Have I felt far away over the weekend?”
The little one nodded.
Anita said something about never knowing how much of her stuff to share with me and what is useful and what’s not. She told me that it had been a busy weekend and that she had hardly been near her phone and by the time she saw my message about the blog it was so late, and she needed to go to bed because she was really tired.
She didn’t need to justify herself, or explain, but it did really help that part who felt like she had been ignored and side-lined over the weekend. I sat quietly taking it all in and felt myself thawing a bit.
Anita continued on, “It doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. Distance doesn’t mean not caring. It really doesn’t… does that make sense?”
I shook my head.
That young part was still so upset and now the teen had backed off I was left with that really vulnerable little one that just can’t understand where Anita has gone when I am not with her.
Anita went on to say that, “sometimes people get distracted by things in their lives, but it doesn’t mean that the love isn’t there. It doesn’t mean it’s gone. It doesn’t change. Not if it’s real. It doesn’t change. And it is real.”
This attempt to reassure and reconnect went such a long way. The confirmation that the love isn’t gone was all I needed to hear.
“Why are you so far away?” I whispered.
“Can I come closer?… Do want a hug?…this feels horrible to me too…”
I shuffled over to Anita and snuggled into her and silently cried into her chest. There was so much grief coming up and out. The pain of disconnection is so powerful and it’s really something watching it play out in the therapeutic relationship.
Fortunately, Anita is really patient and really understands what it’s like for the parts. She is so accepting of the angry teen and really wants to give her space to be in the room. She told me that she loves that part just as much as all the others and can really see how traumatised she is and how much care she needs. It’s a new thing for me to hear that the part that is so dismissive and stand-offish has her place and is welcome in the room with Anita. Em ran scared from her when she finally came forward, but Anita wants her to know she’s safe to be out and say what she needs to say.
As I was cuddled into Anita she said, “I think you are so vulnerable to rejection that you see my being distracted as a rejection. And that is the last thing I ever want to do [reject me]. Maybe I am scared of doing that, too, because I know how vulnerable you are to it. The last thing I want to do is hurt you.”
Anita held me closer into her and gently rubbed my back as I sobbed. Part of me felt so foolish for all the drama I’d created in the session because it’s so fucking obvious that Anita is not setting out to hurt me, or ignore me, or abandon me. How much more evidence do the protective parts require?? It’s so frustrating that sometimes I just cannot see her care or feel it or hold onto it when she’s not there.
I keep banging on about object constancy, here on the blog, but this really is it. That’s the problem. The parts get so spooked and are so poised for rejection that they haven’t yet got the memo that Anita really cares. I know she does. She doesn’t just care – she loves me. I feel it… just not all the time. And that’s the kicker.
Sometimes I sit in my room and look at my lamp, or my necklace, or breathe in the smell of my elephant and I can keep a sense of Anita, I can see all that she does for me. I can feel her love and care…and other times it’s just gone. I just get sucked deep into the black hole of the mother wound and it’s total doom.
“I’m scared” whispered the little one. I think it was the seven-year-old part.
Anita mirrored, “you’re scared?…what are you scared of?”
A barely audible response came out, “Something bad happening.”
Anita questioned, “In what way?… Bad between us?… Scared that the relationship might end?”
There was a barely perceptible nod into Anita’s chest.
“Yeah” she considered, and then so carefully and warmly said, “And I guess, inevitably, relationships do end at some point.” I could feel fear rising in my body fearing what she was going to say next, and I held on more tightly to her. Was she about to tell me we’d have to end one day soon? Panic coarsed through my veins. She continued on, “It could be through death… and it’s always sad when relationships do end… but I have no intentions of not seeing you. I really don’t! I guess none of us really know what life is going to throw at us…does this make sense?…but I have no intentions of going anywhere.”
By this point I was properly sobbing and moaned “It’s just really bad timing”. And it is. It was coming up to the anniversary of my dad dying, and then of course, my family disowning me as a result of what happened, and then my best friend from primary school is terminally ill and has very little time left, and one of my wife’s colleagues had just died of COVID over that preceding weekend despite being young and double vaccinated…and it just felt like everything was funnelling into a horribly scary place and the terror of losing A was huge.
Anita acknowledged that there’s a lot of loss around for me at the moment and at this time of year and reiterated that she wasn’t going anywhere and she said she understands my fear. She then told me I’m the only client she sees without a screen and that she does everything she can to keep herself safe (this in relation to the fear about COVID). I am amazed that she does this for me, then. I am astounded, really, that she is so able to see my need and knows just how triggering distance is for me and so has decided to work with me how I need and keep touch and close physical proximity as part of our work. I am so grateful to her for this.
“I’m sorry” I groaned.
I felt so stupid for how I had behaved. Everyday Anita shows me just how committed to our work she is and yet so often I get triggered and freak out. I guess it is part of the process and it’s really good that these parts are now able to express themselves freely and get the attention and care they need.
Anita responded with, “You don’t have to be sorry. I think it’s important it happens here. Because everything that happens with us is, all the time, helping you to see that it is ok. That’s what we’re doing. It’s like you said the other day, it’s like trying to reconfigure the computer. So, it really is ok. It’s just the protector going by what it’s learnt. It might not feel ok for you, but it really is for me. How I feel about you is not going to change.”
I cuddled further into Anita, content now that everything was ok. My body relaxed and I closed my eyes and focused in on the steady beat of her heart.
“I love you” I murmured.
“I love you too, I really do.” She replied.
The remaining time of the session was just holding and calming and soothing and then it was time to go. I felt utterly knackered once I got home! The emotional marathons are hard work and take their toll and so I climbed into bed for an hour when I made it home.
The next session (Friday) was different again and needs its own post for different reasons – there was no teen or protectors there – so I’ll leapfrog it and go to last Monday which was basically a re-run of the session I’ve just written here! FFS! WTF is happening?!!
Again, I found myself at a complete stand off with Anita. Just before the session I had messaged my best-friend and told her not to let me head into rupture zone this coming week. I could almost feel it bubbling under and was terrified that I would go into session and create a rupture that didn’t need to happen.
I sat down and everything felt really wrong. Something had happened that morning that had triggered me around my dad’s anniversary, and I just felt really shaky. Anita listened carefully but I just couldn’t really convey what I was feeling. It was all really messy. I started to disappear inside myself and once again became frozen staring into the corner of the room.
Within a minute Anita asked me if I wanted her to come closer, but already the protectors were up and alert and said, “No.” I knew from there on out I was in for a rough ride because that part was up and proving that she didn’t need anyone.
When Anita asked me what I was thinking, I told her I wanted to go home. Anita replied that I could go home because I am free to do what I want with her, but that she didn’t want me to go home. I could feel myself drifting further and further away. Everything felt so bad inside.
Anita kept gently trying to find her way in, she asked me if I’d like to read a story – I just shook my head. The little ones would have loved to have read stories together but the protector was having none of it. At one point Anita asked what I needed from her and I snapped at her that I just wanted her to, “Leave me alone.” I don’t know why I was so dismissive or rude – it’s really really not like me but like I say it just didn’t feel ok.
I sat pickled in shame and frozen in that disconnected agony again. After a little while Anita said something that completely cut through to my core and disarmed the protector in one sentence, “It’s hard for a rabbit to sit here and watch while you’re in so much pain – when all I want to do is take it away” she said, referencing the book that I gave her for our one-year therapy anniversary, ‘The Rabbit Listened’. When things feel bad, she sometimes sends me emojis or pictures of rabbits – because in the story it is the rabbit that sits patiently with the character as he cycles through all the negative emotions and waits with him and never leaves him. Anita has always been my rabbit from the beginning.
Note to self: Anita is the good guy in this!
I smiled inside and reached out to hold her hand, and then moved in for a cuddle and started to cry and Anita just held me to her and let me cry it out. Has anyone noticed how much I seem to cry these days?!
Over the rest of the session, we spoke a lot about the protectors and their role. At one point I asked Anita if that part of me, that is so horrible and pushes her away makes her want to go away. She emphatically replied that this was not the case at all and said that we all have these parts. She knows what it’s like to feel trapped and angry and threatened and attacked and have parts that try and sabotage relationships. She says it comes from trauma and the more trauma we have the louder those protectors can be. It’s needed to be like that to survive.
Then she went on to say, “Even though it’s really hard for them to engage with me, I have an awful lot of empathy for them. They’re so troubled and I get it. It doesn’t mean I can’t love them as much as I do the rest of you.” She explained that she knows that they come up because they are scared: scared of being too much, scared of being abandoned and rejected, scared of everything going wrong between us, scared of being hurt – and hopefully one day they’ll learn that she’s staying.
We had such a productive conversation in the end and the cuddles were very needed. I do feel like I am putting myself through the emotional wringer at the moment. Therapy is seriously hard work isn’t it?! Despite all this, I really feel like we are doing important work and bit by bit this repetitive, painstaking work with the various parts is somehow rewriting the narrative I had forged early on in life and reconfirmed in the therapy with Em.
I really feel like I landed on my feet finding Anita. I know this kind of therapy isn’t for everyone and is probably quite a departure from what a lot of therapists do, but it’s what I need and what works for me. And after years of being left out in the emotional wasteland with Em it feels so good to be brought in out the cold and be cared for by Anita. Her demonstrating that I am lovable is starting to make me believe it and I am far more compassionate towards myself as a result which has to be good thing.