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”…
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:
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’!