Eye Contact In Therapy

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Making and then maintaining eye contact with my therapist is something I find really difficult. In some sessions eye contact feels more possible than in others; usually when the session is light and I am rooted firmly in my adult. These are the days where I can look at her for a few seconds before looking away and our interactions feel more ‘normal’ – i.e real life, outside world, not massively emotionally charged. But of course there are those ‘other’ days, those painful sessions, where I will avoid eye contact for the whole 50 minutes, scanning the book shelves for the millionth time, or staring at the corner of the room. Should our eyes meet I look away almost as though I have been burnt. The meeting of our gaze can feel so exposing.

I’ve mentioned this kind of thing in passing a few times in this blog. It’s an issue that has been on my mind a lot lately and then this morning I got an email from a friend, who is also in therapy, asking me about my experiences with eye contact because it’s an issue she’s struggling with; and so I thought it might make for a good blog post – it can’t just be the two of us that have this problem!…in fact I know it isn’t!

I feel a bit woolly headed at the moment and I have noticed that my ability to formulate my thoughts in writing (and verbally, actually) is really proving tricky so bear with me here. I don’t know why, but I feel like I keep having to preface my posts with an apology at the moment. I can’t seem to get my mind clear enough to express things in the way I would like but I still feel like I need to write. I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence and that was initially the topic I planned to blog about today but this is more interesting.

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So, yeah, eye contact.

Bearing in mind I have known my therapist for six years and been working with her for three of those years you’d think, by now, eye contact wouldn’t be an issue for me. Wrong! It’s funny (not funny haha more funny ironic), I’ve found the longer we’ve worked together and the more I’ve let her see of ‘me’ (whoever the fuck that is), the harder eye contact has become. It might seem counterintuitive that the closer you get to someone the harder it gets to look at them but it is how it has been for me and I think I am beginning to really understand why.

If you met me in person for the first time you’d be faced with a friendly, confident, articulate, caring person (that feels a bit ‘big headed’!) who does their best to make you feel comfortable in our interaction. I am a good listener, ask thoughtful questions, I make all the right noises and maintain just the right amount of eye contact. I am not nervous in new social situations (well, not outwardly, you’d never know what’s going on inside – quaking child ‘please don’t hate me’) and people say I am easy to talk to. But see that stuff doesn’t work in therapy does it? Because it’s not about looking after the other person (therapist) and so I can’t employ my listening skills in that way. I can’t deflect the attention away from myself.

Having said that eye contact shouldn’t be a bother, should it? …. and it wasn’t in the very beginning…

When I first met my therapist, I was far more able to look at her (I noticed this was the case when I went to see the other therapist in January following the rupture too). What’s the deal with that? Well in the beginning of the relationship I was operating from the adult persona and I wasn’t attached to her. I attended therapy as the person I have just described above. Sure, there was a reason I was coming to therapy but for all intents and purposes I was functioning and coping and together (on the surface at least!).

It took me about 9 months to properly settle into therapy with my therapist; part of that was because I knew it was a time-limited activity on the NHS (12 months) and I didn’t want to be left hanging at the end of it all if I did open up. I knew some of what was lurking in the depths and part of me knew that 12 months of therapy wasn’t going to be adequate. So for those first few months I talked and talked and talked and looked and looked and looked but I did not connect with what I was saying. It was almost as though I was recounting someone else’s story. It was easy to look at her because I wasn’t feeling anything about my story.

There’s been a lot of trauma in my past and yet for the longest time it has felt like it belongs to someone else. I would recount very matter-of-factly what had gone on but I felt like there was a concrete block between my head and my heart – a huge wall between my left and right brain. I still struggle with this. The level of disconnection from myself is massive.

Then it happened, the attachment stuff awakened in a HUGE way and I was done for. I would go to session and sit there, unable to look at my therapist knowing that soon I would lose her and I just couldn’t cope. I know she noticed the change in me because the therapy also changed. There was a different level of connection. I didn’t know how to handle my feelings and resorted to the usual well-used coping strategies. I started to lose weight and self-harm again, desperately trying to cope/run away from the impending sense of loss and abandonment.

I couldn’t name the different parts of myself at that point, that only really started to make sense to me about a year ago. Back then all I knew was that I was sinking. I desperately wanted to connect with my therapist but I was frightened to. I didn’t know that the fear was the fear of my child part. I didn’t understand that part of the reason I couldn’t talk was that she doesn’t have much vocabulary because she is so little. I didn’t know I was dissociating. I wish I knew then what I know now!

Even though my therapist succeeded in getting my therapy extended by an additional four months (because things had got so bad) I still couldn’t open up fully and eye contact was almost impossible by that point. It was tricky, I felt like I had secrets I wasn’t telling her (the anorexia/self-harm) and so couldn’t look at her. At the same time I wanted to be known by her, I wanted to share the burden of what I was carrying, but felt there wasn’t time so couldn’t look at her!

Fast forward to now and the issue hasn’t changed much…or rather it has but the eye contact is still a bit of a problem.

The issue with eye contact (in the therapeutic relationship) is that it’s all about being seen. Eye contact means vulnerability, honesty, intimacy and that generates …fear. There’s lots of other things but I think they’re the main elements for me. It’s a double edged sword. I long for that level of intimacy and connection with my therapist that making eye contact affords; I often find the times when I can look at her for more than a split second that I feel much better, more grounded, and less alone.

It seems like a simple solution really – look at her and feel closer to her, right?! Win. Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of looking at her and feeling better…my goodness I wish it was as easy as that!

As I said, if I am surface level talking I make a reasonable level of eye contact in session. If I feel secure in myself and with her, I am can make some eye contact. If, however, I feel unsettled, dissociated, activated, in a child state, teen state, or the critic is present it becomes really very difficult for me. I look at her, meet her gaze, and retreat immediately. It’s too overwhelming. It’s frightening. It’s too much.

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Sometimes I really don’t want to be seen, either. I feel shy. I feel ashamed. I feel embarrassed. Usually this is comes up when I am experiencing strong loving feelings towards my therapist or have really missed her during the week. I feel like if I look at her she’ll see right down into my soul. She’ll see the longing of the child that desperately wants to be held. She’ll see the intensity of the feelings I have….and then if she sees that, then she’ll run away. She’ll terminate. That’s the fear.

The adult part of me knows that she can totally handle all my feelings. Hell, we both know these parts exist and we know what their issues are. We’ve talked about it all enough! I know she can cope with my love as well as my rage…but in the moment when I am struggling to look at her, that rational part is just not online. The trauma parts are live and active and all they can see is that if I let her see how I feel, if I let her see the real me in that moment, I will lose her. It’s not great. It’s not rational. It does, however come from somewhere.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint where it originates from; I know some (ok a lot) of it is from being little but I also think perhaps it’s a huge throwback to what happened when I came out. It’s almost like because I am letting my therapist see more of me in session and am being more vulnerable the fear of rejection and something bad happening escalates. I have experienced what it is like to have my world fall apart when I have been honest about myself and my feelings and because I really care about what she thinks, the idea of her telling me I am too much feels utterly devastating.

I am really aware that eye contact is something I really need to work on in my sessions. It’s just daunting. The part that keeps running away from being seen is so scared of rejection and abandonment but at the same time I know deep down that part absolutely longs to be seen and known by my therapist too. It’s so hard to navigate this but I guess it’s something to work on ‘bit by bit’ as they so like to say! I have a lot I want to talk about in session on Monday but I think tabling some time for eye contact would be worthwhile.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

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What I hear vs What is said: Communication in therapy.

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I’ve been in therapy with my therapist a good long while now; in fact it’s been six years since I first wandered into the rather cold and depressingly decorated consulting room in my local NHS Mental Health Hospital (after a three year wait no less!) to begin a year of psychodynamic psychotherapy…at least I think that’s what we were doing!

Picture a small room with a tiny window at one end, two not particularly comfortable brown chairs (the kind where the back isn’t high enough to lean back comfortably and the sides are so tight that you are forced to keep your feet on the floor – no curling legs up underneath yourself!), a fluorescent strip light in the ceiling a la Girl Interrupted, woodchip wallpaper and durable office-style carpet (again brown) and you’d be in the room.

It was a consulting room like many others in the NHS I guess, nothing homely or that in any way reflects the therapist that works inside it – because many therapists use the room. It was as blank a space as the blank screen that my therapist was to me at that time. I’m not really moaning, though. I will always look back fondly on my Wednesdays in that cold little room in the grey stone building because it was there that I met my  therapist by complete chance.

I could’ve been allocated to anyone in the Psychotherapy Department as a space became available on their caseload but somehow fate decided that she would be my therapist and I am so glad it was her because when I had had a couple of assessment sessions in order to go on the waiting list I hadn’t warmed to the therapist AT ALL. I really didn’t like her and dreaded the thought of having to possibly work with her.

The moment I met my therapist I liked her. In fact looking back over my diary after the first session I wrote ‘Uh oh, I really like this one. She seems really nice’… ha!…wakey wakey attachment issues I knew nothing about at that point!!

Little did I know when we met back in 2012 that (after a too lengthy break – damn Cancer!) I’d now be seeing her privately in her home, in her very lovely consulting room by the sea. It’s a medium sized room but feels homely, with neutral – but not bland- soft furnishings, cream carpet (she must be mad!), a pale blue leather sofa and her IKEA therapist chair (you know the one!), chunky style natural/driftwood wooden furniture, several completely filled bookcases (and not just therapy books), art work and a wooden Buddha watching over proceedings. It’s lovely.

It’s amazing how a nice environment can help make things feel more relaxed. Ok, perhaps ‘relaxed’ isn’t the right word here but I do find that the familiar environment is a place I (mostly!) look forward to spending time each week; it’s a little oasis of calm where I can bring my storm and try and get settled and grounded before venturing back out into the real world. Of course that space, just like the little room in the hospital, would be nothing without the person that sits opposite me from week to week trying to help me navigate my way through my almighty mess.

Yes. I can see how this is getting a bit gushing…but that’s because tonight I am feeling nothing but love for my therapist. I would not, however, have been writing in this way on Wednesday about the therapeutic relationship! I haven’t seen her or communicated with her since our session on Monday and yet how I feel about her, and where the therapy is going, is a world apart from earlier on in the week when I was hurt and raging and devastated and considering terminating… and that is why I have chosen to write this particular post about what I hear in therapy sessions.

I trust my therapist (well the adult part of me does), and for the most part our in session communication goes ok – good even. Of course sometimes she says things that immediately hit a nerve or piss me off, but more often than not sessions go fine. I can see and feel that she is making an effort with me – and frankly I am not easy to work with. My window (letterbox!) of tolerance is minute and I can swing into a dissociation with no warning whatsoever. All through that she is with me and as steady and patient as a….what? Can’t think of a decent simile. She is patient!

Generally I leave therapy feeling ok and sometimes I feel very connected. And yet I keep stumbling over the same issue again and again and that is, as if by clockwork, the moment I leave the room and start driving home, things start to shift and morph into something else – something negative. What was a good session suddenly becomes terrible and I feel like she doesn’t care about me and before too long I’ve had enough of therapy, am angry and want to terminate.

I really feel for a couple of my friends who week-in week-out listen to me rant on about how ‘terrible everything is’ and how ‘I am done with this’ and how ‘unfair it all seems and why can’t she just give me what I need?’ and ‘why doesn’t she show me she cares?’ and they patiently coach me through my fluctuating emotions. It’s hard work being in my head on Tuesday and Wednesday and they must feel so bored by now!

The problem I, like so many of you, have is that is what my therapist says to me in session hits so many different trauma parts: Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven, The Teen and not just my adult self. Communication, therefore, is really complicated between me and my therapist. She has frequently commented that it is hard to say something that is adequately soothing and talks to all the different parts of me. What the little ones need is very different to the teen and sometimes it is hard for her to know exactly who she should be talking to because I give very little away at times. And we all know that the littlest ones don’t really want to be talked to at all and nothing but physical holding will feel enough for them.

I can hide behind my adult self and she’d be none the wiser that the tiny two year old girl is crying inside. I actually think the coping adult front I bring to session is more damaging than when I shut down in a dissociated silence or the protector parts put things on lockdown. At least when I am like that she knows something is up and can try and connect to whatever part is having a hard time. When I (adult) go in, am articulate and talk about things (but not necessarily the things I really need to talk about) she has no clue that I am not telling her what I need to or that I will leave feeling uncontained and spiral in the week.

I am getting better at telling her how things feel but sometimes it doesn’t go well or sometimes, like last week, I leave what I really need to say to the last minute and we don’t have adequate time to discuss it and then I feel like I am left with loose ends and not quite clear communications. Ugh. Must do better at this.

I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that I didn’t ask her to sit closer to me or tell her how much her moving closer to me the other week had impacted me – AAAARRRRGGGH! I can’t remember what we actually spoke about during the session, now! It was ‘stuff I needed to talk about’ but it wasn’t #1 on the list stuff that eats away at me!

With ten minutes to go I decided I needed to ask her about wtf was going on with the pebbles:

Why, when we came back from Christmas break, did you say that you felt like I was trying to script what you needed to say in the text messages and yet for such a long time you’ve been asking me what I want you to write on the pebbles? It doesn’t make any sense.’

I mean launching into a discussion about the text communications that caused the rupture and the failing effort at a transitional object with only ten minutes remaining wasn’t exactly a genius plan was it? The thing is, sometimes it takes me that long to build up the courage or feel safe enough to bring these things up – so in some ways it’s better with ten to go than not at all…

We talked a surprising amount and whilst she didn’t say anything explicitly hurtful or unempathic (adult knows this to be the case and can hear it on the recording that that’s not how she is EVER) once I had asked that question I felt a shift in myself. Adult may have appeared to be fronting the show but actually all of a sudden the most vulnerable traumatised parts switched their ears on and were listening intently to everything that was said, analysing every word and subtle nuance, projecting a narrative onto the conversation. Inside was a running monologue: ‘What is she saying? What does she really mean? Does she like me? Does she care? This feels rejecting. No she doesn’t like me. I hate that I need her and love her when she clearly feels nothing…’

I’m struggling to articulate clearly what I want here, but basically the moment I asked the question there was a part of me, if not several, that was automatically searching for confirmation of my deep held belief: she doesn’t care and no one loves me because there is something inherently wrong with me. To be honest no matter what she had have said I doubt I would have heard anything vaguely positive because I am so conditioned to hearing this negative narrative – even when it is nowhere near the case.

My therapist said that she often feels that whilst a part of me wants to be told affirming things and to be loved there is another part that is absolutely terrified of that and wants to run away from it or rubbish and reject it as not being genuine.

Every time she says that it drives me mad inside. Whilst she is right (I recognise this more and more now) it feels really rejecting to the part that does want the affirmation and clear displays of love and care. It feels like she is saying ‘you can’t handle what you want and so I won’t give it to you’. I feel like shouting at her ‘I’m not going to die if you give me more warmth or clear demonstrations of care and maybe if you do it enough I’ll stop doubting you and attacking myself for needing you and convincing myself that you clearly don’t care about me’.

It feels really like a Catch 22 situation. I feel like I need her to be more demonstrative in how she feels towards me and yet she feels like it would send me over the edge if she did. It sends me over the edge as things are so what’s the answer?

We left it that we would work more actively with the pebbles especially as there is the Easter therapy break coming up shortly – nooooooooooo!!!!!!! And so that is a good thing, I guess. I am a bit reluctant about how it’s all going to go. It feels like something simple has become unnecessarily complicated. My therapist said she felt that perhaps I thought she had been too pedantic or pernickety about it but that she wanted it to feel right and genuine. I, of course, heard that as ‘I don’t want to write lies on the stones and therefore have not done it because I don’t want to say anything positive about this relationship when I don’t feel it’.

Anyway, yet again I have navigated my way through the emotional rollercoaster that is the week between sessions. It is Saturday night and I feel quite stable and content in the fact that my therapist is out there, cares about me, and that she will be there on Monday and we can talk – who knows I might tell her all the angst I’ve felt this week about the conversation we had and about the one we didn’t have (proximity).

It’s strange. I always feel quite motivated and able to take these things to session at this point in the week. Monday morning at 10:30….a whole other story!

Ugh!

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Rupture in the therapeutic relationship: where do I go from here?

It’s been a week since my last post where I talked (cried, moaned, wailed!) about the rupture between myself and my therapist that came about after the exchange of a couple of text messages last Wednesday (I do see how very dramatic that seems!).

For those of you not familiar with the context, I had been really struggling with the therapy break (that old chestnut) and had worked myself up to a point of high anxiety where I was barely able to function….that is how it was and so I won’t downplay it. After three days of intense emotional struggle, not eating, and almost self harming, I decided to reach out to my therapist to ask her reassure me that she was still there and that the relationship was still ‘ok’ via text message…

And then it all went to shit! Like huge amounts of gushing diarrhoea shit! Ugh! I still can’t believe that I didn’t see it coming.

I know that it sounds bonkers that a 34 year old woman can’t maintain a sense of connection to a therapist that she’s seen for three years, but then I struggle with object constancy and it’s all part and parcel of disorganised attachment. The feeling of anxiety and all-consuming panic that floods my system, and worrying that I have been left is enormous. It’s excruciating, actually.

These feelings don’t come from nowhere. They feel enormous now but they were also enormous when I was 10 months old and my mum left my dad (and the country) without telling him or anyone else (you know, as you do!). I have a very clear image of myself at two years old standing on the back porch, looking at the snow, wearing a red snowsuit saying ‘where’s my daddy?’ – I don’t know if it’s a genuine memory but it came to me in therapy one session when I had been particularly dissociated.

So where was daddy? Not there then, and certainly not here now. He left me unexpectedly when abroad on holiday. He didn’t mean to. He had a sudden heart attack three days into a diving holiday. So daddy is gone gone. Little girl doesn’t understand and adult me never saw a body or had a funeral so can’t really understand that daddy is dead now. Part of me thinks he’s still on holiday.

We returned home to the UK when I was 3.5 years old. My mum got back together with my dad. Happy times right? No. Next thing to happen was for my mum to disappear on me 5 days a week from the age of four to go away to study. That makes sense to my adult but the little girl part of me still feels that intense confusion and fear that mummy has gone. I was always left wondering when she might return because one day, two days, three or even four doesn’t mean anything to kids – their concept of time isn’t like ours. Mum wasn’t there so maybe she was never coming back.

What I am clumsily trying to say is that the anxiety I feel on therapy breaks or in between therapy sessions does not belong to my adult. Sure the grown up part of me would like to see more of my therapist, but the dread and fear I feel it is that of a little girl that has had no emotional stability or consistently safe caregiver for her whole life. It makes sense to my adult that being away from the new attachment figure would stir up all kinds of chaos for the young ones.

Anyway, back to the text debacle. In fairness to my therapist, she did respond to me, she didn’t leave me hanging- unfortunately, though, the messages she sent did little to reassure the little girl who was absolutely beside herself and the messages felt cold and misattuned to those needs. Little girl had a meltdown!

Lots of readers commented on the post and could see why I would feel devastated by the perceived tone of the messages I received. It felt comforting, on Thursday, that at least some people could see how upset I might feel and that I wasn’t completely unjustified in feeling utterly bereft.

By Thursday evening I felt quite overwhelmed by the comments on my post because they seemed to be confirming what I was feeling was understandable and justified. I didn’t want to be right, though. Because if my feeling were justifiable….then that meant my therapist had cocked up and missed the point…and I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s much easier to take things on myself than see fault in others. I can change me but I can’t change somebody else. I didn’t want for it to be the case that maybe she didn’t care. That felt too devastating.

I’d felt completely abandoned and rejected by my therapist on Wednesday and I can see now that a lot of my reaction to her messages was about my coming from a very triggered place. Perhaps my reading of her words was not quite as they were meant – she said as much on Monday. Unfortunately, though, my therapist’s messages felt rejecting regardless of her intention and that is what I need to work through.

I had shared what had happened with a friend on Wednesday. I was utterly distraught. She could see how I felt and also felt that the messages felt cold. She recommended a therapist in my area and suggested that perhaps it might be good to get another perspective on things. I agreed this would be a good idea, not just because of this rupture but for some of the other things that have been niggling away at me in the therapeutic relationship.

I emailed the therapist to see if she could offer me any sessions to help me work through the rupture with my therapist. Essentially, I wanted her to help me see if I could find a way of working through the issues I have in my current therapy or whether it might be time to look for a new kind of therapy.

The therapist responded quickly and the reply I got was really warm and empathic even though all I had said was that I had had a rupture with my therapist – I hadn’t given any detail. It was a world away from anything my therapist has ever sent which was both refreshing and painful. How can someone who doesn’t even know me be so open and warm and yet someone who knows me intimately be so business-like? I know. I know. Two different people with two differing approaches…but ouch.

The therapist had spoken with her supervisor following my email and agreed that we could do up to four sessions to work on this stuff and that she had some availability for the next two Tuesdays. I jumped at the chance to get additional input and support because the situation felt/feels utterly horrendous.

Part of seeking out additional therapeutic support was that I wanted to know if my responses to some of the things that have happened are over the top or actually justified (I know she wouldn’t use those words, and actually my feelings are my feelings – rational or not they are real to me), and also to better understand things from a therapist’s perspective.

I know the new therapist is not ‘my therapist’ but she would objectively be able to look at the situation and maybe signpost things for me on how to get through this or at least help me clarify what it is that I need to say to move forward. So that was positive. I felt too, that having this space on Tuesday would mean I would have a sounding board for whatever happened on Monday…and that in itself allowed me to consider going in to face things.

By Friday morning I had begun to settle down a bit, or detach, or perhaps I was a bit desperate… I am not sure what was going on, really. It’s weird. Different parts were doing and feeling different things. Looking back I can see that even though there was a huge part of me that was hurting and angry there was another part that couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing my therapist. The attached child part longed to see my therapist and to try and make the situation feel better and wanted to believe that she cared.

The last message I had sent to my therapist on Wednesday was that it was unlikely I’d be coming to session but that I’d let her know on Friday because she needs 48 hours notice of cancellation. On Friday morning I text her asking her to read the blog post I had written because I needed her to understand how I felt in the moment, even if it was reactive, and even though I might feel a bit less wounded now:

‘I’m still at a loss about Wednesday but I think where I have got to is that you don’t ever deliberately do things to hurt me and I have to trust that you know what you are doing – and so I guess we need to talk on Monday even though part of me just can’t face it. I’d really appreciate it if you can find time to read the linked post before session because I really think you need to know this stuff but equally we’ll need all the session to talk. If you let me know on Monday how long it took to read then I’ll just add the extra to the payment. Have a good weekend.’

 She replied almost immediately:

Ok, I’ll read it. See you on Monday’.

This message was short and to the point but it didn’t feel rejecting…which made me wonder a bit about how I reacted to the first message on Wednesday which was clearly longer and addressed more of the content of my request. Why was my reaction so different then?

I guess what I would say is that the point at which I was reaching out for reassurance my adult was not online AT ALL. I was fully caught up in a trauma response to feeling abandoned in the break and so the part that needed reassurance needed a very simple, caring message. I needed the kind of thing that you might say to a very distressed child: ‘it’s ok, I am here, I know you feel scared, but I will be there on Monday and we can talk about this’…or something along those lines. 

I think this is one of the pitfalls of working with clients who have fragmented parts. It’s not always easy for the therapist to see which part is communicating a need (especially through a text or email) and so it’s hard to know what to say or how to adequately respond- which is why my therapist will not usually reply to texts. She says that when she can’t see me she can’t get a true sense of what I am feeling and she may hone in on completely the wrong thing and leave me feeling unseen and unheard because she misses something that is massive to me….doesn’t stop me wanting to reach out though!

Having said all that, on the occasions where my therapist has responded to me or sent a prearranged message at a particular time she seems hell bent on keeping the adult front and centre in her communications. So often it feels like our exchanges seem to miss the mark because she only talks to the adult part. She doesn’t acknowledge the child parts outside session. It’s different in session, thank god.

Through her messages I think she wants to bring the adult part back online (and that makes sense) but actually all that happens is that my young child parts feel rejected, unseen, and abandoned, when she sends messages aimed at the adult. It takes a lot for me to show any level of vulnerability and need and so to have it almost ignored feels absolutely crushing to the little parts. And that’s exactly how it felt last week. I felt like I had been annihilated and struggled to get my adult self back online.

I don’t know what the right thing to do in this situation is. I know that how what she does makes me feel awful but perhaps there is some kind of therapeutic rationale behind the way she communicates that I just don’t understand. For me, I feel that if she at least acknowledged the child parts, then it’d settle them a bit and allow adult to come back online. Ignoring the young ones just agitates them even more. The attach parts are set to scream until they get a response from the attachment figure, after all so ignoring them doesn’t shut them up.

Anyway, Friday went by steadily. The feelings of pain, rejection, and abandonment from Wednesday were still swirling around and distressing the child parts; the inner critic was doing a smashing job of attacking my body – I only ate twice between Tuesday and Friday. The teen part was feeling very much ‘fuck her and fuck this’. I could feel an additional cloud move in as Friday progressed. I sunk into a really very bad place. I’m not just talking depressed and lethargic. I was bordering on suicidal and I don’t mean that in a flippant way. I literally wanted to die. I haven’t felt like that since my breakdown in 2009. I really felt desperately unwell in my mind.

I text a friend and tried to dig my way out of my hole before having early night. I had bad dreams about therapy and then woke up feeling anxious but not like I wanted to die. Thank goodness. It was crap still, but not end of the world crap. When it gets bad I have to try and remind myself how quickly these feelings can move in and out.

I think what I am beginning to understand now, is that perhaps I am not a massively changeable, volatile, and, unstable person, but actually instead there are many parts of me and they have lots of different feelings. I need to become more aware of who’s running the show at any given moment.

Who is the ‘holding it together’ one and who is it that wants to die? Who wants to attach and who feels left and wants to run away? And so on. Because whilst I know they are all part of me, they are exactly that, fragmented parts. That’s why it is so unnerving to feel so conflicted so much of the time, there are so many voices from so many different times competing for attention. Sometimes some are silent and sometimes they are screaming. It really just depends on the moment and what triggers there are.

For example, this week I have really been aware of Eleven (my eleven year old self) being close to the surface. I don’t see a lot of her but this week I have felt her pain and that pain runs deep. I feel how sad she is about having tried to tell an adult how bad things have felt for her and what it is like to be shutdown for it and to not have her feelings acknowledged. She longs for someone to listen to how scary things are for her and validate those feelings but no one ever does. And because she copes so well (on the surface at least) no one ever looks beyond what they see.

By the time it got to Monday I was in a really bad way physically. I think not eating properly (bearing in mind I am always teetering on the edge of normal eating anyway) had really started to mess with my body. I mean you just can’t live on 400 calories a day when you already have a BMI of 16. There are no reserves to draw on. I was shaky and lightheaded but that numb feeling gave at least some part of me a relief.

I didn’t think it was all that noticeable to anyone else but I have just been to get blood taken for next week’s haematology/cancer follow up and the lovely nurse took one look at me and said, ‘you’re looking really pale, are you ok?’ and then as I got up to leave, ‘you’re looking very slim, are you eating ok?’ I said I was fine and that I’ve just been fighting a virus which meant I’d lost some weight…we get good at making eye contact and lying like it’s the truth don’t we?

So to Monday…As I drove to my session I was physically shaking- from nerves more than low blood sugar I think. My mind had shut off, I felt numb, but my body was clearly sending up distress signals.

The first thing I said when I sat down on the couch was ‘I’ve been shaking in the car’. I had no idea how the session was going to go but I didn’t feel especially hopeful. Something felt off. My therapist’s tone and body language felt all wrong. I know I am sensitive to these things because I have always had to be. I’ve always been in a necessary state of hypervigilance because I never knew when the next attack was coming. I needed to be alert to the warning signs.

I might have been projecting negative feelings onto my therapist and maybe she didn’t feel cross or annoyed with me, but something was telling me that things weren’t ok.

The session was stilted and difficult. I found it really hard to talk and I felt like my therapist didn’t really try and draw me out. Sometimes I listen back to sessions and I can hear how hard she is working with me, trying hard to connect with me, trying to make me feel safe. There was none of that on Monday. There was no warm voice or understanding non-verbal gestures. It felt like she didn’t want to be there. It felt like she thought I was criticising her.

I felt as though she didn’t really understand that although I now saw that the response to her messages was quite extreme, that the feelings of abandonment we real to me in the moment. She didn’t acknowledge how feeling ignored and uncared for felt. She said that she had responded to me and that that showed that she was there. I get what she was saying but it felt like we were at crossed-purposes. She wanted me to see that because she had text me that she had proven she was there; and I wanted her to see that she felt impersonal and distant.

On paper there was nothing wrong with what was said in session. Technically everything was correct in terms of theory….but that’s the problem. There’s more going on here than applying theory to a struggling human being. Knowing your stuff can still lead to empathic failure.

Being told that the time for my ‘young infantile needs to be met has passed’ is all well and good (hell don’t I know this, I’ve written about it enough!) but I needed some empathy too. i.e ‘you know the time for your young needs for holding to be met has passed. I know the little girl part of you wants me to hold her and make her feel safe, and I understand how painful it must be for me not to do that for her. I know that she feels rejected, but I am not rejecting her.’ – you know? Something that expresses the theory but also shows how it feels to me with her in our relationship despite the theory. She did acknowledge it was painful – I guess I’m splitting hairs.

I left the session feeling a bit hopeless. I had hoped to go in and repair the rupture and to find some common ground and reconnect but instead I left feeling like I was alone with all these feelings. I mean, the huge issue has long been feeling disconnected between sessions and then struggling, yet this time I felt disconnected in session…and so it’s not great now. Usually my leaky bucket takes a couple of days to dispense with the warm connected feelings. This time I left session with an empty bucket.

Fortunately the session I had with the other therapist on Tuesday was positive. It was a completely different experience to what I am used to and quickly allowed me to tap into emotions. I was staggered that I felt the urge to cry – usually those feelings are on lock down. I felt heard and understood. Bonus!

I have come away feeling positive about moving forward either with my therapist or, if not, someone else. My feelings were validated and I feel as though there are potentially other ways of working that may help me better if I can’t resolve things with my therapist or find a way to meet in the middle. Ultimately my goal is to try and sort things out with my therapist. I love her and really value her. I just need to find a way of expressing my needs and hopefully getting a few more of them met so that I don’t repeatedly find myself drowning in disaster therapy breaks.

Right, this is enormous and so I am going to go…don’t really feel like I have said much!

p.s Thanks to everyone that commented last week and supported me.

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Rupture. The cold, hard truth: my therapist doesn’t care.

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I really didn’t expect to be blogging about a rupture in therapy here today. I thought I’d be saying something about almost surviving the therapy break and being nervous about my session on Monday, but also being amazingly glad I’d be seeing my therapist in person soon. That was the plan, anyway. But that isn’t going to happen because, as things stand right now, I will not be going to therapy on Monday, or possibly to my current therapist ever again.

I know. Spare the drama, right? I’m sure some people read that and think ‘put your toys back in the pram and get over it’ but I also know that there a few of you, especially those that have issues with attachment and feelings about abandonment and rejection, who will read this post and wince.

This isn’t going to be a neat, well-constructed post because right now my brain is scrambled and the various younger parts of me are in meltdown…actually, the adult part is devastated too.  I literally feel like I have been annihilated and that’s not an exaggeration. God I wish it was!

In fairness now is probably not a good time to write, I haven’t had chance to process what’s happened yet, I feel raw and activated, but actually right now my options are: sit here and type or do something horrible to myself – and so this surely has to be the better option.

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My last post talked a lot about how I had been feeling depressed and generally not quite right. I have been struggling really hard this week to keep my head above water. I’ve been plagued by therapy dreams where my therapist has rejected me in one way or another, or simply not cared about me and I have woken up feeling heartbroken.

Yes, I know. They are dreams not reality, but the dreams I’m having tap into the insecurities I feel in the therapeutic relationship and end up intensifying the worry and anxiety I feel when I am awake.

I can’t count how many times I have said this now, but I really struggle when I am away from my therapist. No matter how I try I can’t maintain a sense of connection with her when I can’t see her it seems almost impossible. It is bad managing from week to week but it is always really very challenging during breaks.

All the fears I have about being left or abandoned come up, but equally there is a real anxiety that something bad has happened to her. I can’t seem to get my head to a place that can accept that she is out there, safe, and that the connection is still there. It is weird because this isn’t a problem that I experience in other relationships.

I don’t freak out if I don’t see or hear from my friends for months at a time…but then I guess this might be because I don’t have this kind of complicated attachment to other people in my life and therefore the triggers that I have from being a child don’t play out anywhere else because the child parts of me aren’t active with friends. I don’t know.

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Those of you that follow this blog will know that we’ve talked about trying to create some kind of transitional object (pebbles/note) but not got anywhere with it…and now I understand why. I know, too, that I ought to trust my intuition. I see now that my reluctance to engage getting a message written on the pebbles because I was scared that she actually wouldn’t be willing to write anything that would soothe me is right. She isn’t willing to say anything to confirm that there is a connection in the relationship or that it is any way important.

These last few days my anxiety about the therapeutic relationship reached a whole new level of hell. I felt so ill that I couldn’t function. When I say it took me three hours to load and reload the dishwasher and that I didn’t shower or get dressed until two in the afternoon on Tuesday (and that was only because I had to run an errand) because I just couldn’t face doing anything it might give an impression of just how debilitated I felt. I felt utterly crippled with anxiety.

I felt sick to my core, at times was physically shaking, and felt like a little boat of a very choppy sea. No matter what I did to try and ground myself or channel myself into a place where things felt better I just couldn’t succeed. I knew on Tuesday when I was standing in the kitchen with a massive knife against my wrist that something had to give. I knew that not eating wasn’t doing me any good and that I needed to get out of this headspace. I needed to try and get the adult back online, settle the child parts, and power down the critic.

So after three days of debating with myself what I should do: reach out to my therapist or continue down the path of self-destruction, I thought the most sensible option was to simply tell her how it was, ask for reassurance and then hopefully just settle this sick feeling down and then go discuss it all on Monday and try and work out why it has felt so terrible this break.

I know that we don’t text or email generally unless there is something about scheduling. Most of the time that feels ok-ish but sometimes it feels really persecutory. When I feel like I have reached crisis point (which actually isn’t very often) the no between session contact thing is really difficult for me. Because there is this boundary in place, it means that I can’t just reach out when I need to and ask to get a need met, instead I spend a great deal of time beating myself up for having the need for reassurance which makes it all much worse. I’ve always struggled to ask for help when I need it and so this feels impossible.

I beat myself up for breaking her rules. I beat myself up for not being able to manage on my own. I beat myself up because I know that it’s annoying her. I basically drive myself mad and all the while the anxieties I have about making contact exacerbate the concerns and worries I already have: i.e she really doesn’t care or want to know when things are bad and that I am an inconvenience, and whist she can’t openly say it that frankly she wishes I would just go away.

So, if I do pluck up the courage to reach out I end up feeling sick and guilty that I have done it. It feels utterly impossible no matter what I do. I don’t know why it should feel so bad to express a need for someone but it does.

When I was writing my text yesterday, I had debated sending the link to my post Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break? in my message as this is where the spiralling into anxiety began, but in the end I decided against that in favour of taking it in and talking about it on Monday. I didn’t want to do a big mind dump on her, I simply wanted to check in and re-establish the sense of connection in order to settle myself down until Monday’s session.

Simple.

Or at least I thought it would be.

Only things don’t seem to work like that.

In the past if have reached out I haven’t always been clear about what my need is and so when she doesn’t respond part of me feels upset but part of me thinks that maybe I am expecting too much of her to read between the lines of something fairly innocuous. So I endeavoured to be straightforward this time. Tell it like it is but don’t drone on!

I didn’t want to go on about the self-harm, or the slip into anorexia, how much I missed her, or how very bad it has felt recently because I didn’t want to make the text about trying to do the therapy outside the room. I get why it’s important to do the work in the room. I just wanted a sticking plaster in order that the wound didn’t get any deeper or infected before our face-to-face session next week.

So at 11am I sent this:

‘I started having vivid dreams about therapy on Boxing Day. I wrote about it when it started happening because I thought it would help, but the dreams are happening every time I sleep and I just feel completely overwhelmed now. No amount of deep breathing, visualisation, distraction, or sitting with it is helping. It’s escalated to a crippling level of anxiety now and it’s making me not even want to come back on Monday. The critical part of me is delighting in how bad it feels. It’s taken three days of battling with myself to send this:

Please can you tell me that things are still ok.’

*

I forwarded the message to a friend,  because having sent the text I immediately felt sick and started shaking. I was worrying about whether it was too much and too needy, and she assured me that it was fine and that she’d sent similar messages in the past to her therapist and all that would probably happen would be that she’d reply to say, ‘she’s there and you’re both ok and it will feel better’, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

So after anxiously checking my phone for an hour I left it upstairs and went and tried to get on with the things I needed to do. In that time I was thinking about what it might feel like if she didn’t reply to me, which is what I expected, and how that feeling of rejection would probably make me rage. I went upstairs at 2pm and there was a message from my therapist:

‘From my understanding of what you are saying, I think that it is very common for people to have dreams about therapy and for people to have strong feelings about such dreams and I hope that you will be able to continue with the therapy and come to your session on Monday.’

*

I won’t lie. I was a bit taken aback by the message. Perhaps it’s just me but it felt so distant and cold. I sat with it for an hour because I thought maybe on rereading it later my feelings would change I’d be able to find some kind of sense of connection in there and sense that she actually cared…

I didn’t.

I messaged my friend this because I was still trying to look on the bright side:

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I wondered then whether what I had sent was too much about the dreams and not enough about stating that I needed a sense of her being there and things being ok. Perhaps it’d got lost in text? So after some thought I sent this at 3:15pm:

Yeah. I get therapy dreams are normal and can evoke strong feelings. What I’m trying to say is I feel like you are gone and that there is no connection, and now this is being reinforced every time I sleep which is just horrendous. What I wanted was for you to tell me that it is just anxiety, not based in reality, and that actually things are ok still and that you’re still there.

*

I felt a bit eeeeeeek sending it but thought, if  I don’t clearly communicate my needs then there’s no chance of getting them met. I thought she probably wouldn’t reply to the text but a message did come in:

Thanks for clarifying. See you on Monday.’

*

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And that’s where I felt like I had been annihilated. Even just typing that I feel a kind of shock in my body and utter confusion in my brain.

I mean what the hell am I meant to feel about that response?

Well. First was utter devastation and then that was quickly followed by:

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My gut reaction was to fire off something like ‘Seriously? Fuck it. I’m done’ but  I didn’t. Again I waited for a while to see if my initial feelings would settle down or whether I’d go back to the message and read it differently.

Nope.

At 5:15pm I sent this:

Honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that message. I’ll let you know about Monday but right now it just isn’t going to happen. I know you need 48 hours so I’ll let you know by Friday.’

*

And that’s where it’s been left.

I don’t even really know what to say to her now. I mean where do I go from here? I want to feel like I am overreacting or something because that in some way makes those messages seem less, err, what? Abandoning? I dunno. But I am not entirely sure that I can convince myself that I am making more of it than there is.

It’s not like my therapist isn’t acutely aware of my issues with disorganised attachment, being unable to maintain a sense connection, and the problems that therapy breaks cause especially for the most vulnerable child parts of me- and to not be willing to offer up the most basic amount of reassurance when I reach out feels pretty cruel actually.

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I don’t know if I can come back from this.

I’ve spoken to a couple of friends about what’s happened, both are staggered by the exchange, and one suggested that maybe now is the time to find another therapist because repeatedly not getting my needs met or even validated is hurting me A LOT.

The rigid nature of the therapeutic frame doesn’t seem to be helping and there appears to be no flexibility in it. I had just about come to terms with the fact that touch was out of bounds but actually not even getting the most basic level of reassurance when things are about as bad as they get…well, what do I do with that?

I don’t know.

I feel like I was trying to find a better way of coping with difficult feelings. I was trying to get help. It backfired and now I am back to square one. Maybe there’s a reason that blades and starving myself have been so long part of my existence. Maybe deep down what I have always felt to be true is true: I am not worthy of care and I do not matter. On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about the Christmas weight gain now. Stress of the last two days and 2kg has just dropped away. I shouldn’t be pleased about it, but fuck it. I am done.

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Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break?

Just like clockwork, three days into the Christmas therapy break, my therapy/therapist dreams kicked in.  I wrote at length a while ago about dreams and how much dreams of my therapist can knock me for six.

I feel compelled to write on this topic again now because my sleep is filled with her again… I need to get this stuff out my system because it is still another 12 days until my next therapy session and part of me needs to process/let out what’s going on before I amass a catalogue of dreams and end up sitting down first session back and saying….‘So, err, I dreamt about you every night for two weeks…’ 

I wonder, is that more or less weird than sitting down after last year’s three week Christmas break and the first words out my mouth being, ‘Do you think I have BPD?’ I’m sure she’d sit there completely un-phased if I went in and told her she was repeatedly in my dreams during the break but there is a bit of me that always feels like it’s a bit creepy telling my therapist I have dreamt about her … and it’s even more cringeworthy if it’s happening night after night.

So often what comes up in dreams about my therapist are the anxieties I am feeling in the therapeutic relationship and so it is unsurprising that these dreams tend to increase in frequency during breaks when I can’t see her, or at times when I feel unsettled in the relationship, or there has been some kind of rupture.

These recent dreams seem, again, to be tapping into the underlying (ok surface level!) worries I am feeling about being on Christmas break and issues in the therapeutic relationship, mainly: feeling like I am unimportant to her and that the connection is broken; feeling angry about her not caring about me and that she’s abandoned/rejected me; and despite all this, still desperately craving closeness and proximity to her, wanting to repair the damage.

It’s all about conflicting feelings and emotions. What a surprise!

For the past three nights I have had incredibly detailed dreams about, and involving, my therapist.  There is a little part of me that is glad to ‘see her’ in my dreams because I find it so hard to hang onto any sense of her actually being out there in the real world during a break. I so easily lose my sense of her being safe and ‘there’ because on breaks she is not there. It’s long been one of my frustrations, being unable to reach out to her between sessions and check-in and try and maintain the sense of the relationship being sound.

Unfortunately, I start to emotionally wobble quite soon into any kind of disruption in therapy, and the dreams I have about my therapist aren’t usually massively warm and fuzzy. They don’t really involve lots of nurturing, love, and holding (which is what I would love my mind to serve me up in my sleep). It’s usually feelings of abandonment, rejection, and loss that come to the fore and leave me with a killer dream hangover for days (and sometimes weeks) afterwards. Sigh!

Mind you, having said all that, perhaps I should mention that I did have my first erotic dream about my therapist a couple of weeks ago (which after six years I think has been some time coming!) and that sent me through a completely different set of emotions – obviously. I won’t lie, it was a great/positive sexual experience (it wasn’t scary or threatening or pressured) but the moment I woke up I was flooded with shame and embarrassment, as well as confusion about it.

Although I am gay, and my therapist is a woman, I have never really thought of her ‘in that way’! She is attractive, definitely, and I have always had a thing for older women (oh but of course!), but for me, there’s been a shit tonne of maternal transference and so I have never consciously/unconsciously thought of her in a sexual way….until the other week!

My fantasies involving my therapist have always revolved strongly around being held/cuddled by her and her behaving in a very mothering way towards me. Basically I have wanted her to treat me in the way a mother would (should) treat a young child. (Isn’t it odd that I should feel less embarrassed writing that than saying I had a dream where I slept with her! ha!)

Thinking about it now, I realise the sex dream was really again about trying to get close to her (as so often happens in my dreams), only in a different way. The sexual element, I think, was about a part of me (maybe the adult) finally trusting her, being vulnerable, and allowing her to see part of me that I keep hidden which is kind of what’s been going on in therapy…I mean opening up to her and being vulnerable- not having sex! So although it was a bit ‘argh!’ at the time, in many ways I guess I should see that dream as a positive. I haven’t managed to tell her about that yet, and to be honest I am not sure that I ever will.

Still, back to the current batch of dreams… I know it’s not just me that is currently negotiating the therapy/therapist dreamscape during the Christmas break. Sleeptime for many a therapy client is firing out all kinds of anxiety-ridden dreams. Oh the joy and wonder of breaks eh? I’d be really interested to know just how many people are having therapy dreams right now and how many of those are positive, how many feel full of anxiety and if/how this reflects where people are at in their therapeutic journey.

Anyway, yesterday night’s dream stayed with me all day. I was a fucking pain in the arse all day as a result. Even this morning, I know that I am like a bear with a sore head. I have already been snappy and short. I can’t help it and I can’t blame it on being tired. I just feel so frustrated and sad and all kinds of emotions. The attachment pain stuff has kicked in massively and I feel really awful. It’s ridiculous, really. I should be enjoying the holidays but it is just so difficult when there are various parts of myself missing my therapist and feeling unanchored.

I know some of what I am feeling will be the Christmas hangover coming out. Christmas day was ‘fine’ on the surface, as I knew it would be, but inside I felt a little bit like I was dying. The little ones are always poised and waiting to see if Mummy will see them or acknowledge them. She never does. She never did. If she couldn’t do it when I was in my child’s body then I guess I am expecting too much for her to see beyond the body of a 34 year old woman.

The day wiped me out and I slept until 10:30 yesterday (which is unheard of – but then my wife got up with the kids and I think given the chance I could easily sleep like that everyday!). Christmas when it was just me, my wife, and my kids was lovely but when my mum arrived I could feel something shift inside me. It’s a subtle shift but I am very aware of it now. I become ever so slightly anxious and ever so slightly hopeful….which I know is what happens when I sit down in therapy. I hope that my therapist will ‘see me’ but also anxious that she won’t.

It was civil enough with mum but just not ‘warm’. We chatted for a long while, but not about anything in particular – other people mainly. It was small talk. The ‘real’ things seem to be off limits. Since she said ,‘therapy was for losers’ a couple of months ago (despite knowing I am in therapy and have been on an off for the last decade), I am not really feeling like my mental health is a topic to broach anyway! I mean I guess it’s not a Christmas day topic (why?!) but I don’t know when the, ‘Mum I am really struggling to cope with what it was like when I was younger and it’s really impacting on me even now’ will ever come up.

Anyway, as so often happens all my sadness and feelings of loss and abandonment which clearly originate in my childhood have been fully transferred onto my therapist and our relationship in 2017. I am not grieving my mother’s lack of connection and relationship with me. I don’t want her now. Of course I don’t. I want the person who has given me the closest thing to unconditional love that I have experienced. It is intoxicating to all the younger parts of me and the adult too….but of course that is just a fantasy that needs to be crushed and grieved for too….eventually. Not now, though! Give me time!

This dream is a long one, so feel free to skip:

I was walking alone along the coast path not far from my therapist’s house. A little further along the bay I could see the snowflake card that I had given for Christmas resting on a wall/gatepost. It was as though it had been displayed as an ornament but it was now falling apart and broken in places. It had been left outside, and because it had been raining it had started to disintegrate. Perhaps she hadn’t realised that the card was only made of paper and therefore fragile….or perhaps she didn’t care?

As I walked further up the path I became increasingly angry. I felt sad and disappointed that something I had put thought and effort into, and had bought to symbolise our relationship seemingly meant nothing to her. It was fine to leave it out in the rain.

When I reached where the card was it turned out to be the entrance to a pub but it was also where she lived (?). Part of me wanted to walk on by and ignore her but another part was drawn to see if I could find her. To get to her place I had to walk through the bar which was incredibly busy because it was Boxing Day and up some narrow steps to the door. The door wasn’t locked so I let myself in – there was no one there.

I wandered around the house knowing that I shouldn’t be there but at the same time desperately craving any kind of connection with my therapist in order to try and prove to myself that she did care, didn’t mean to hurt me, and wouldn’t deliberately disregard something that I had given her that demonstrated the feelings I have for her.

The house was really tidy and one of the windows had a window seat and lovely view out over the sea. It wasn’t raining at that point but I could see the snowflake card looking really sorry for itself on the wall below. I decided to lay down and wrapped myself in a blanket that was on the seat and try and take in the space, and by extension, my therapist, but I must’ve fallen asleep.

I woke up to find my therapist kneeling down beside me and gently saying my name. I woke up with a start. I was mortified! She didn’t seem angry that I was there, but feeling exposed  and off guard I immediately launched into an attack on her. I pretty much screamed at her that ‘she didn’t care about me’, that ‘I couldn’t believe that she would so easily disregard something I had given her, something that had taken me time and thought, but moreover something that really showed my feelings toward her’. I said ‘you told me that this card was about love. You know it is. Why would you treat my love like it doesn’t matter?’ I started crying.

She said, she was sorry and that she had put the card outside because it was beautiful so others could see it at Christmas but it had started raining when she was away. She was sorry that it had been damaged and was disappointed too. I petulantly (teen part) said ‘it didn’t matter’. I told her ‘I would never have left it outside’ and it just shows how I much I would value something from her if I had something and proves the lack of balance in the relationship.

I told her I still have every scrap of paper that’s she’s written holiday dates on for me. I said, ‘see how pathetic it is? – how pathetic I am? I hang onto the tiniest part of what you give me to try and sustain the connection. I have to try and make that enough and yet you couldn’t care less about things that clearly mean something, that are given with love’.

She said she understood how I was upset and wondered if there was anything we could do to fix the snowflake. I said ‘look at it, it’s falling apart, I don’t think it could be repaired and even if we could it’s not the fact the snowflake is broken that’s really the issue, it’s that you left it out in the first place, it doesn’t mean anything to you and it is not important to you’.

She told me that it was important to her and that’s why she had put it on display. She said she could see I was upset and asked what could make it better. I wanted to ask for hug. I so badly wanted to feel close to her. I knew that even though that was exactly what I needed I couldn’t ask for it because it was one of her ‘boundaries’. 

Having this thought come into my mind made everything feel even more awful because I felt abandoned and rejected and now couldn’t ask for connection because it was one of her ‘distancing rules’ (boundaries) that I have no say in and it made the anger rise up in me again.

I said ‘I don’t know why I am even here. I just keep hurting myself in one way or another with you. I love you so so much but to you I am completely insignificant. All that happens when I am with you is that I get reminded how unimportant I am to you, and that really hurts. I can’t keep putting myself through this. It physically hurts that you won’t let me close to you and I just can’t bear it anymore.’

Then she said perhaps we could take the card to a dry cleaners and see if it could be mended. I said that was a ridiculous idea, it wasn’t clothing and it couldn’t be mended. I said to stop going on about the card – that she was missing the point. I went outside and brought it in off the wall and put in on her table. All the words I had written had blurred into a watercolour of ink.

I said I needed to go. I didn’t want to go, though. I felt really hurt but I didn’t want to leave because I knew there was a long time until I would see her again and in that time I knew my upset and anger would increase and I may never return to therapy.

She suggested that we could go for a walk along by the sea together and talk things through. I said that I would love that (caving in)  and so we made our way downstairs through the pub which was now empty, and out for a walk.

We walked for a while but I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. I still felt angry and upset and I was also aware that I was shutting down because I knew that I would have to leave her again soon. She looked at me and said ‘this has really upset you hasn’t it? You think I don’t care about you and that you don’t matter?’ I couldn’t look at her but nodded. She took hold of my hand and said ‘I am sorry. I really think there’s a lot to work through in this area’.

Then I woke up.

So yeah. Ugh! There we are another detailed version of the same old things. Whilst I know it is just a dream it taps so heavily into all the areas that bother me in the relationship. I have to remind myself when it feels this bad that what’s going on for me is not my therapist’s fault. The dream isn’t real. The issues are real but they aren’t of her making. I have deep-rooted attachment trauma and it’s playing out in this relationship now.

My adult knows (kind of!) that my therapist hasn’t just left me and stopped caring… but there are other parts who are not convinced that this hasn’t happened because this is their experience of what caregivers are like: they leave and they don’t care about me or my needs. I am not on the radar. I am not ‘kept in mind’.

I know my therapist is just a therapist (argh!) but there are parts of me that refuse to see her as anything other than the desperately longed for mother figure they need/ed. I know that the time for those young needs to be met has passed but the youngest parts of me don’t understand this at all because they are frozen back in time where it was possible. They are active in 2017 but they live back in the 80’s and early 90’s and to them there is still hope of things being ok, hope that whacking great mother wound can be filled with ‘her’ love.

Just writing this makes my stomach ache. It’s awful really. I have said this stuff so many times now. And, yet, whilst rationally I TOTALLY get it, I just cannot get accept it emotionally yet. I know that I shouldn’t ‘hope’ for the impossible but I would be lying if I said I didn’t.

I know this is why I am in therapy and why there is still a long way to run with my therapy…but right now, on Christmas break oh my god, it’s so hard! There was a period of time where I didn’t dream at all between 2013-16 (break in therapy) and I could go to bed to get away from things. Now I go to bed in the hope of escaping the emotional torment I feel and it chases me into my dreamworld and plays out there.

As I said a couple of months ago: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’…but please, God, not about my therapist!

Sleep tight, everyone!

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Fight. Flight. Freeze. Or all of the above?!

So, Monday’s therapy session was supposed the hail the start of the Christmas therapy break. No prizes for guessing how it went. Ugh! Same old pattern: I started off quite chirpy and present and then somehow when my therapist suggested that perhaps the dream I was talking about might actually be about how I felt a sense of loss around the break and how I was worried about things falling apart…. well, it took me by surprise and I felt a massive shift in myself.

I thought the dream was about grieving the loss of my friend…which it also probably was. Damn why are dreams so multi-layered?!

Up until that point I had been sailing through the session firmly locked in my adult. I’ve notice that I try and do this as I head into a therapy break. I think it’s something about wanting to try and ground myself firmly in a coping place before I am ‘left’ (or abandoned!). I don’t want to dredge up hard feelings, awaken the child parts, or really even let my therapist in when I know I am going to be left without contact for a period of time.

Sometimes this strategy works just fine and sometimes it really doesn’t at all! If I don’t have complete control over the conversation, then my therapist can say things that trigger a response in me and override the adult’s ability to keep things surface level. That’s exactly what happened when she brought up how I might be feeling about the break.

It’s not as though I didn’t know we would be addressing the time away from therapy in some capacity. I mean Monday was going to be the day to do the pebbles, to create a holding message for the therapy break. But before we even got to talking about them I had shut down.

As soon as she mentioned the break there was a part of me was really raging and angry. I think my therapist even commented that I might be angry about the coming disruption. I hate it when she says ‘maybe you are angry’ because it’s one emotion that I am not very good at expressing and it’s only recently that I have noticed what the feeling is. My way of feeling and expressing anger up until very recently has been against myself: self harm and anorexia are the products of internalised anger!

Usually I say, ‘I’m not angry’  but when I think about it, yep, there is always a part of me that is and of course she is right. I think in part it’s the frustrated teen part who knows that it’s going to be her job to run the show and protect the little ones but there is a far darker more pervasive part, too, that steps up and that’s the inner critic. That voice is terrifying and scary but it has also acted as a protector (of sorts) over the years.

The problem with the sessions before breaks is that if I can’t hang on to adult then team ‘Fuck You’ turn up. They simultaneously want to fight and run. I know I sat for a very long time in silence in the session desperately hoping that my therapist would reach out to me. I know she tried repeatedly to find a way to connect with me but when I am like that she has no chance because the critic has me on lock down. The parts of me that crave closeness (mainly little ones) are imprisoned by the hard one.

At one point I could hear its voice saying, ‘Just leave. She doesn’t care about you. Fuck this. You don’t need her’. My therapist asked what was happening in my head and I finally said that a voice was telling me to leave. She asked why hadn’t left and I replied, ‘because that voice has even more power over me when I am not here’. And that is frightening for me. I told her that I knew that the moment I left the room it was going to be very difficult. She said ‘because there are things that need to be said?’ and I nodded.

To be clear, I have never attempted suicide and yet recently there have been several occasions where I have mentally planned out how many pills I would need to take to put an end to feeling this way. I don’t think I would ever act on the plan. Although I am writing this from a place of feeling ‘okish’ and I don’t think suicide attempts usually come from this place.

Ultimately, there are several reasons why I can’t see myself taking an overdose. First and foremost: I just will not do that to my kids. I know what it is like to lose a parent and I will never willingly put my children through that, or put them through a failed suicide attempt. Even when I looked, and often felt, like I was dying when I was going through chemo I drew on every last ounce of strength to keep it together and present an ‘I’m ok’ front for my kids.

My daughter still worries every time I have to go to the doctors, even if it is totally unrelated to the treatment. That’s a hell of a burden for a five year old to carry and I am not going to deliberately add to that. With my history of cancer and the heavy duty treatment regime I underwent it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I will get ill again, either through relapse or as a side effect of the treatment. One day I may not be here for them anyway so I will not take myself away from them through my own volition.

This time two years ago I was being radiated to my chest every day for three weeks. I had a two day break from radiotherapy over Christmas but by which time I couldn’t swallow anything that was in any way crunchy because my oesophagus was essentially microwaved and red raw. Christmas dinner was a disappointment!

As much as I don’t like to look back at what I went through then because I just find it totally overwhelming, I do have to remember that when I got diagnosed there was a part of me that was terrified and part of me that dug deep, really deep, and that’s what I have to do now.

I made it through, bone marrow biopsies, CT guided biopsies through my chest wall to reach the tumour, multiple PET and CT scans, several lung function tests, heart echo tests, oh, and don’t forget twelve chemotherapies and radiation!

The treatment stripped me back and my immune system is still knackered. Which is why I am almost always ill now. I lost all my hair. I knew I would lose the hair on my head but nothing quite prepares you for it coming out in your hand in huge clumps and blocking the plug hole as you shower.

Even when I made the choice to shave my head there was something about sitting in the salon watching my lovely long hair fall to the floor that was awful. I wasn’t prepared to lose my eye brows, my eye lashes, and ALL MY BODY HAIR. I am sure there are some women who would like to look like a nine year old downstairs – indeed I know many pay for the privilege, but I hated the whole thing.

So, what am I saying?

If I made it through all that and survived then I must survive what I am going through right now. I have to believe that things will get better. Experience tells me that it will be the case. Each time that I hit the deck emotionally and/or physically, there is something that picks me up or I, at least, navigate my way to a more secure space to catch my breath a bit.

Ok, I’m not soaring through the clouds by any means today, but the sense of feeling like I want to die isn’t there. It doesn’t ever last. It’s just an extreme response to some really difficult feelings. It’s almost as though I feel like I cannot hold the emotion and so the only way is out. But it’s not. The only way is to go through it and wait to come out the other side because it happens eventually.

I’ve said a few times when I have commented on other people’s blogs that I liken therapy and life to the story of Michael Rosen’s, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. It’s a great young children’s book. A group of children set off on an adventure to find a bear and on the way they encounter several obstacles:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.

Uh-Uh! A snowstorm! A swirling whirling snow storm. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it! Oh no! We’ve got to go through it.’

And that’s how I see it. I journey through life on my ‘bear hunt’ and a lot of the time it is a ‘beautiful day’ and when things are good I don’t feel ‘scared’ at all. But then sometimes I am faced with obstacles, sometimes it’s ‘thick oozy mud’ and other times I am caught up in the ‘swirling whirling snowstorm’.

What I do know for sure is that the obstacles are all part of the journey and I can, and will, overcome each and every one that is thrown at me….ok, a cancer relapse may be a bit out of my control, but barring that I will keep going forward because there is always the chance of the beautiful day in between the challenges.

It’s all about trying to hang onto that knowledge when it feels bleak. It’s not at all easy because when things feel bad I suffer from optimism amnesia. Last Monday, in session, I was caught up in an emotional storm and part of me felt frozen. Actually, I did. I was physically stone cold. But what I mean is, the fear, or shame, or whatever it was made me freeze. In the moment I couldn’t find a way out of how bad it felt. It was impossible to imagine that things could ever feel better when I was locked in that headspace and I just couldn’t talk. So rather than run from it, I just sat with it.

I used to get really annoyed with myself when I would shutdown and freeze in session but my therapist is great (gush, I love her!) and is really working with me to notice when this happens and how it feels when I leave the window of tolerance…or as a friend and I joke ‘letterbox of tolerance’ (because that space is so narrow).

I used to feel like these responses: fight, flight, freeze were a barrier to the therapy but now I see that it is all part of it. Processing how it feels when I get to that place, not necessarily in the moment because it is not always possible, is important and bit by bit we are doing that.

We didn’t do the pebbles. We touched on them briefly and I said that I was feeling anxious and stressed about them. I can’t really remember what we said, actually. I know I said something about how it was difficult for me to express the need for them (or the message) and part of me was really attacking that part of me for being needy. I think my therapist asked me if I had any ideas what to put on them and said she’d had some ideas but didn’t elaborate on what they were. I think I just went so deep into my shell that we didn’t get anywhere with it.

On reflection I know what it is that has been bothering me about the pebbles. It’s fear. I am scared that she isn’t going to say what I feel I need her to. Above all, I want a message that comes from her, not one that I have crafted with her. I don’t want to help script the words. Essentially the message I am asking for/need is a demonstration of care on her part. I am asking her to prove that there is a connection in our relationship.

Sounds ok? Well, it did ought to be after all these years but there is a big part of me that is terrified that what she will write will prove something entirely different to me – a lack of care and connection. Part of me can’t bring myself to go through that. Part of me would sooner live in the hope that just maybe she cares rather than have my heart broken by her showing me in black and white that I don’t actually matter at all to her.

I totally get how dramatic that seems.

I felt a bit frustrated at the end of the session because the critic/(asshole protector) part had taken so much of the session and had side lined the little ones that needed holding and containment in preparation for the break. But my therapist told me that the part that had shown up in session was as valid as all the others, and had a place there. She acknowledged that it often shows up around breaks and disruptions and that she has a far clearer picture of it now….which I guess is a good thing.

Leaving the session felt pretty awful but actually this week hasn’t been too bad at all. I have been really really busy and really really ill. I haven’t had capacity to look inwards or think too much. I can feel there are some little ones feeling a bit upset and in need of a cuddle but generally they are coping ok.

At the beginning of this I said ‘Monday’s therapy session was supposed to hail the start of the therapy break’ and perhaps that’s why I am not in full blown meltdown about last session.

A few weeks ago my therapist offered me a session on Thursday 21st to see her (because she couldn’t do our regular Monday slot on the 18th). Usually she works in the NHS in the middle of the week but must have started her Christmas leave by then and so had a session slot available if I wanted it.

Of course I wanted it!…but I knew the moment she said it that it was going to be pretty much impossible. I went home to check but I knew my wife is in meetings that morning and wouldn’t be able to work from home. Both my kids are off school as of Wednesday and so as much as I would like to have cut the break down a bit by having that session it wasn’t going to happen. I considered Skype but to be honest it would have been a nightmare with a 3 year old and 5 year old tearing around.

Then I had an idea.

Is it wrong that I invited someone to come and stay for three days under the guise of a ‘Christmas get together/catch up’ because I knew they would be here to look after my kids on Thursday morning so I could go to therapy??!

I know.

This is not one of my proudest moments.

It’s also a time where I really hope that my therapist doesn’t read this blog! Because that’s a whole other level of crazy right?!

Don’t get me wrong I am very much looking forward to seeing my friend and spending some quality time with her and her son (my kids’ half brother) in the lead up to Christmas. I am excited about taking the kids out to do fun things together. I am looking forward to chatting and watching Christmas movies. But I won’t lie. I am fucking delighted that I can go to therapy on Thursday and have another stab at a decent, connecting session to get through the remainder of the break!

Right, I’m going to go hang my head in shame now before I go and see Father Christmas!

I am shining my weird light brightly today so the rest of you know where to find me! 😉

 

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The Mother Wound

Oh man, where do I start with this one? The Mother Wound. It’s a biggie isn’t it? Part of me feels like I should just throw this out there to all you therapy bloggers and we could do one of those exercises where we each write a single line on the paper, fold it, and then pass it on to the next person and by the end we’d have collected a story about the Mother Wound. The paper part would be tricky but maybe we could do it in the comments box?

I’m referring to a ‘Mother Wound’ here, but essentially what I am talking about is the damage inflicted on a child by the lack of one, or more, caregiver’s reliable care, emotional holding and containment. It could be a deficit in care or sometimes abuse/neglect by mum/dad/grandparent/other guardian or the entire family (I guess). It’s the damage that is caused by lack of safety- either emotional, or physical, or both. It’s attachment/relational trauma.

Even though everyone’s life experiences are different, and their relationships with their mothers/primary caregivers unique, from what I can work out there are quite a few of us battling very similar demons caused by this early emotional injury. I can only talk accurately about my own experiences and causes of my particular Mother Wound but I will also try and bring in some of my observations from hearing/reading the stories of others too.

The effects produced by the mother wound on an individual seem fairly standard on first inspection: at times intense feelings of anxiety and/or depression, a fragile sense of self, difficulty with trust in relationships (attachment issues), fear of rejection and/or abandonment, low self-esteem, an over-developed self-critic which often has led to the development of one or more negative coping strategies: eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol abuse, drug dependency to name but a few things. And sometimes it gets really very dark and the thought of suicide or even possible attempts at suicide become part of the fabric of life. Oh, and the shame. I can’t forget that! A deep deep sense of shame around the expression of feelings and emotion.

I understand that it’s not the case for everyone and not all elements I’ve listed above are relevant to all people and, of course, there are more issues that I haven’t mentioned. I, for one, don’t drink alcohol or do drugs anymore but this is largely because I think I have quite an addictive personality and would probably end up in real trouble if I did now. I think it is quite telling that I am so controlled where drugs and alcohol are concerned. I think people must think I am quite boring but actually I just know what I can manage and remember what I was like in my early twenties. The idea of a hangover is enough to put me off!

We are all different but when I read these blogs the one thing that stands out is that that there is so much vulnerability and longing out there. There is so much emotional pain. People, fundamentally, just want to be loved, and to love, and yet the pursuit of this ‘love’ is anything but straightforward because of what has happened in the past. The lens through which we view intimacy is faulty and distorts everything. Our perspective is tainted, even as adults, and it negatively impacts on our ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. I find all that information both comforting and utterly devastating.

I have no problem whatsoever with forming friendships but I struggle to really let people in. I am that reliable person that others turn to in a crisis, the level-headed one, the grounded and sensible one, the one that throws a good party but is also the person that sits listening to heartbreak on the phone at midnight. I am a good friend to others but I can count on one hand the people who ‘know’ me and I have let close to me.

I am not interested in making hundreds of acquaintances. I can be life and soul of the party (when I can be bothered) but more often than not must seem aloof or stand-offish in social settings. I just really don’t like big crowds and small talk. I just don’t see the point in it. I’d rather be on my own.

Since I started blogging in the summer, for the first time I feel as though I am not completely alone in my feelings and as though I finally have a space where I can express exactly what feels so wrong with me/in me. Not only that, that what I have to say is accepted and met without judgement but actually, more often than not, a huge amount of empathy and compassion. That’s massive.

To be able to finally start getting the words out after all these years and say how it feels is, in itself, enormous but for other people to go, ‘yep, it’s really tough, and I get it. You are not alone’ is life-changing, because frankly sometimes these feelings feel terribly frightening and unsettling and isolating. I really want to be able to talk stuff through with my therapist but it’s not easy when so much of what I feel is triggered by being in therapy with her. It’s so difficult. There are parts of me that desperately want to connect with her but other parts that are too scared to for fear of being mocked and then abandoned.

Sometimes it is easy to be swept up and away with how bad it all seems. It can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and there is no point in continuing. It can quickly become a negative downward spiral. A (perceived) bad therapy session can leave me feeling desperate and helpless and adds fuel to the fire of intense and difficult emotions I’m already battling.

To know that I am not alone in this kind of struggle makes me feel less weird, a little less like there is something very wrong with me, and is helping me move towards the realisation, that ‘f*ck!Things weren’t right when I was small and IT WAS NOT MY FAULT!’ How I am now is a product of what was done to me. What an enormous revelation that is!

It’s also comforting to know that other people are struggling with the constraints of therapeutic relationship (argh boundaries!), feeling deeply attached but also terribly vulnerable, repairing ruptures, having good and bad sessions, cancelling and uncancelling sessions, sitting in silence, raging and longing, moving and stagnating. We’re all giving it a good go and it really isn’t easy! I certainly never imagined therapy could be like this when I entered into it years and years ago.

Over the years, I have seen so many therapists and yet I have never got to this place with any of them – which is both a blessing and a curse! I am finally connecting with emotions after years of talking about the events of my life in a detached way – like whatever I am talking about has happened to someone else. But now I feel like I am caught up in something that I am entirely unprepared for. That’s unnerving.

I like to be in control and therapy doesn’t feel like that right now because adult me isn’t there all the time. There are young ones in the mix now and they are not quite so adept at filtering the feelings that come up. They act out. They are clingy and needy at times and at others completely shut down and avoidant. I really struggle with disorganised attachment: sometimes I totally trust and feel safe with my therapist and at other times I feel like the therapeutic relationship is dangerous and is ultimately going to hurt me.

Reading your blog posts is comforting but also totally harrowing at times: how can it be that there are so many incredibly lovely people out there feeling this way? Why should it be that such vibrant, intelligent, caring individuals who have so much to offer are living day-to-day struggling to exist in the wider world trying to pretend that they are not wounded? The attachment wound it so big it is overwhelming and yet it’s as though it doesn’t exist, or isn’t allowed to exist.

It’s like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet when he has been mortally wounded by Tybalt. Benvolio asks if he is hurt and Mercutio replies:

‘Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch’

(Romeo and Juliet Act 3:1)

And that’s what we do most of the time. We play it down. We cover it up. This is not for our benefit, but rather to try and keep up appearances, to not rock the boat, to not let people down…and strangest of all, to not let the perpetrator of the damage know we are even hurt.

We don’t ever allow anyone close enough to show them how damaged we really are because somehow the culture in which we have been raised makes us feel that there is something inherently wrong with us. So we try very hard to carry on with life, and we do a pretty good job at living with the wound (indeed some of us have even managed to block it from our consciousness). It’s always there, though, and depending on how we move and flex our minds and bodies dictates how able, or not, we are to go on with the show.

My goodness aren’t we great actors and don’t we have insane levels of stamina? But sometimes it gets too much doesn’t it? It’s too real, too painful, too exhausting, too bloody gory and we just cannot carry on. We finally reach a point where we must discover and face our own truth. We can’t live like this any more. We need to be honest and tell someone about our injury. We need help.

In Mercutio’s case it’s his best friend Romeo to whom he tells the truth:

ROMEO: Courage man, the hurt cannot be much,

MERCUTIO: No tis’ not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ‘tis enough. ‘Twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me grave man.’

Mercutio admits that he has been injured and that he will die as a result.

Sometimes it is not immediately apparent to us where our wound has originated from because over the years there have been many, many wounds inflicted and so that the attachment wound gets overlaid with other things and becomes simply ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ or ‘stress’ or ‘self harm’ or ‘x y z’.

Eventually the inevitable happens: we can’t really function. We reach a time where it becomes almost life and death and we are teetering on the edge. Sometimes the breakdown is averted and other times a breakdown is exactly what drives us into therapy.

Often it is in therapy that we finally realise what the problem has been all along. Sure there are loads and loads of other life experiences that we work through and process. I would hazard a guess and say that most people don’t walk into the therapy room for the first time, sit down and say, ‘So here’s the thing, I am suffering with the fall-out of developmental trauma and my attachment systems are causing me to struggle in relationships and in my life in general’. How wonderful it would be if we did though?! I’d have saved thousands of ££$$ if I’d have really known what I was dealing with in the beginning.

Instead, over time we gently peel back the scab layers that have sort of healed over but not quite. And then we reach it. The core wound. And my god it’s fucking enormous. It’s like staring down into the abyss. How was this level of injury ever survivable? How could a small child endure such damage and still live? Well in my case it came through shutting down/dissociating, repressing memories, and freezing that little girl back in time as well as attacking myself, in various ways, for years.

I have grown up now. I have an adult body. From the outside I have the trappings of a successful adult life: some decent qualifications, nice house, wife and children. But there are certainly parts of me that have not emotionally matured. There are several parts loose and unhappy inside.

When faced with the wound, instinct tells you to run far away and try and forget about what you’ve seen. It’s too much.  At the same time another part of you awakens the moment that gaping wound is exposed to the air. Despite everything, the child is alive still. Its need for love and care and holding is still there as much as it ever was back in the past and it is terrifying to the adult. The feelings are enormous. The need is overwhelming. What on earth do you do with that?

How can you care for that smallest part of you when it isn’t your care that the child wants? Indeed, that child has no idea that you even exist. The child wants the love and care of the person who has helped uncover the hidden it. It is that caregiver to whom the child is now attached. They want the person who has taken the time to draw that wounded small child out to rescue them. Session after session of steady work, of calm, understanding, validating conversations lead to this moment. The child loves the therapist how could it not?

The child’s hopes of being loved, held, and contained unconditionally reawaken in a flash, and there it is. Hope is ignited. Maybe this time that hole, the wound can be filled with the therapist’s love. If we can just get enough of it…

Oh, if only it were that simple!

It’s only natural that when you realise that you are severely injured that you would want to pack the wound, fill it, and close it over. The desire for the wound to heal is huge and it often feels like the only way to heal it is for the therapist to pour more and more love, and time, and evidence of care into it. If we could only get more contact with our therapist, more sessions, contact between sessions, more tangible verbal reassurances, physical holding, and emotional containment then perhaps this wound will heal up. We scream out for ‘more more MORE!’ of the good stuff…

There’s a problem, though. This wound is like a bottomless pit isn’t it? No matter what you throw into it, no matter how you try and pack it, it never fills. It can’t be filled by the therapist’s love alone. We can’t sit back and watch and hope that this person can magically fix us. We have to turn around and look deep into that hole and see how it is constructed because it is us that holds the tools to be able to heal and mend it.

It is agony staring down into that dark place. Realising just how much pain it contains is enough to send you insane. Somehow bit by bit that hole will fill and we won’t feel so empty, one day. We will learn to love ourselves and feel good enough and steadily those edges will close in. There will always be a scar, though. We can never fully take away the injury. I’m nowhere near healed. In fact writing this I can feel that hole gaping wide.

From what I can tell, not many of us feel comfortable exposing this wound to friends and family in any real depth. We might be able to talk about feeling depressed, or even allude to how bad things were when we were growing up. But when it comes to the intense feelings we feel towards our therapists and how much that impacts us on a day to day…well, it’s little wonder we don’t share that. It’s totally cringeworthy.

A lot of the time we struggle to admit the feelings we have about our therapists even to them in a therapy session so there’s not much hope of letting that out to others! We can’t face the shame, embarrassment, or the pitying looks but also the lack of understanding we are so often faced with.

Despite all the recent publicity and trying to normalise mental health issues in the media it just doesn’t always filter down into families. It feels like this in my wider family: ‘yeah, mental health issues need to be talked about and there needs to be more funding for it. Isn’t it terrible? It’s lucky that no one in our family struggles with their mental health. We’re all jolly and normal aren’t we?…what breakdown? Oh no, that wasn’t a breakdown it was a gap year, she didn’t want to work. She’s fine. Anorexia? No, no, she’s naturally thin and athletic…’

There is so much denial in my family about what has and hasn’t happened, who does or doesn’t struggle, that it’s almost funny. I can sort of accept the wall of pretence from outside the house and notch it up to ‘my dysfunctional blood relations’. I find it far harder when I face criticism and/or lack of understanding at home.

I’m sure it’s not just me that gets these kind of wonderfully helpful soundbites directed at them when the blood starts to seep through a bit and the ability to hide the gaping hole is lessened:

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

‘You need to learn to let this go.’

‘You can’t change it so don’t let it bother you.’

‘Why can’t you see all the positives you have in your life?’

‘Why am I not enough for you?

‘Why don’t you let me in?’

‘Your depression isn’t getting any better.’

‘I won’t watch you destroy yourself again.’

How much therapy does one person need?’

‘Your relationship with your therapist is unhealthy.’

‘I don’t see any improvement in you since you’ve been in therapy, if anything I think you are worse.’

‘You need to try harder to be happy.’

‘I feel like there’s a huge part of you that I just don’t know, why won’t you talk to me?’

‘Can’t you just put it all in a box and forget about it?’

I could go on and on and on but I’m sure you get the idea and have several of your own to throw in there.

When, periodically, faced with those kind of statements it makes it incredibly difficult to open up and be honest about how things are. I think this is, in part, why the therapeutic relationship becomes so important to so many of us. We just do not have anyone who really, genuinely, can listen without judgement. It’s hard to be your real self when your true self isn’t what people want to deal with. They like the one that hides the wound and soldiers on.

Sure, our loved ones love us and care deeply about out wellbeing, but it is also so hard for them to witness how bad things can be for us. It’s not easy witnessing so much pain and being powerless to really help. They can’t fix us. They don’t really understand us. They don’t see the child inside or if they do, what on earth are they meant to do with it? They are desperate for us to be well and happy but it’s not a quick solution…and often in therapy things get worse before they get better. I think that must be terrifying for them and so it is understandable that, at times, frustrations air.

The problem for a lot of us is that we fear abandonment and rejection so much that these kind of statements can make us hide and build our walls even higher. I, for one, am a highly sensitive person and so any kind of criticism like that really hurts me. I feel like the emerging self is not the one that people want to know. The high-functioning adult is far more appealing than the vulnerable one who can’t just cope with anything that’s thrown at it.

I’m aware that this is a massive ramble and I haven’t really said all that I want to. It is certainly a subject to come back to at some point. As I have been writing this I can feel the little parts have really started to stir. I felt very much in my adult when I began and now I feel very small and sad and lost.

The little girl inside realises, yet again that Mummy isn’t coming and the idealised replacement mummy isn’t really a ‘mummy’ to her at all. Ouch!

And so, I guess, this is the bit where my therapist would say that I somehow need to summon up my adult, the one that is a mummy to two beautiful small people, and get her to pick up that little girl and hold onto her tightly, tell her she is loved, and that she is safe. I so want to be able to do that for her. I absolutely want to soothe that part of me but right now all I seem to be able to do is watch her suffer. I have no idea how to make things better for her. I know before long I will end up attacking myself because the pain is so overwhelming and that doesn’t help anyone.

The mother wound is gaping today.

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