When therapy hurts: part 2

So, since my last post When therapy hurts: part 1 my week has been a bit up and down but I’m in a significantly better place than I was on Monday evening, thank god! I think I might rename myself ‘Flux’! Perhaps it could be my online name. It’s got a good ring to it, don’t you think? -and slightly less of a mouthful than rubberbandsandchewinggum!

I’ve been meaning to get on and write this post all week but just haven’t been able to for some reason. I’ve not been very busy, I just can’t really think of anything to say. I’m not very motivated to write. I can’t really be bothered with it. I know there’s no one forcing me to do it. There’s no pressure. It’s daft really. I am procrastinating. It almost feels like this is a piece of ‘homework’ I have to do but am resisting doing it. I think there’s a lesson for me there, don’t put ‘parts’ to posts. Last time I did it I had exactly the same predicament and got blocked.

I think maybe there’s another element in play too: ‘What’s the point in writing about it? Saying how bad I feel about things in the therapeutic relationship isn’t going to change anything, so fuck it all’. This attitude and reluctance to write makes a lot of sense to me, now, because I have finally identified the part that has been so dominant lately both in sessions and out of them. It’s an older teen part. She’s broken and pissed off.

I guess I feel about 17 years old which was a really tricky (also read ‘fucking horrendous’) time in my life: home was hideous, my mum was incredibly abusive ALL THE TIME, my anorexia was in full swing, self-harm was the norm, and I was in so much emotional pain that I could barely function.

I know it’s a huge cliché, but I had fallen in love with an older woman (a student teacher in my school -oh but of course I had!- huge huge eye roll!) and couldn’t tell her, or anyone for that matter, about how I felt. She’d moved away when I was 15 but we were very very close for a couple of years, speaking every night on the phone but as ‘friends’. I’d visited her a few times up country, being very intimate but not in a sexual way, and then the shit hit the fan when I became so ‘intense’ and needy that she basically cut off all contact with me.

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At the time it was meant to be a ‘three month break’ from contact but it devastated me like a breakup and once I’d been hurt I couldn’t go back to that relationship in the same way. I came out the day after the ‘let’s have a break from each other’ phonecall because I literally couldn’t stop crying and was beside myself. It didn’t get much better when I did come out, though, as a large chunk of my social group stopped talking to me and silence used to fall whenever I walked into a room…. So yeah, all in all it was a fairly traumatic time in 2000!

So when I am in that teen state I trust no one and shut down but am also hugely on guard, devastated, hurt and angry inside. I won’t let anyone in because I will not be hurt again like I was back then. I won’t express my feelings, in fact I’ll try not to feel anything at all, because I don’t want to be abandoned and rejected again by someone I love.

My therapist doesn’t stand a chance when I am in this state because the parallels of the relationship I had back then and have now with her are all too clear to me. She’s another woman, ten or so years older than me, who I talk to a lot but don’t get to see in person outside of the focused time,  someone whom I am very attached to but the power in the relationship is unbalanced. I don’t want to ever feel like I did at 17 again and so I won’t make the mistake of telling my Em how I feel her when I feel like this.

Fortunately, I am not physically attracted to my therapist, I absolutely see her as a mother figure (which isn’t easy either is it?!), but it’s also more than that. It’s quite hard to define exactly what she is to me. Of course, she’s my therapist, but I’m sure you know what I mean, it’s kind of the mother/big sister/best friend/fairy godmother idealised sort of thing and sometimes it’s none of those things. It’s a strange relationship, for sure!

I always really worry that my therapist will read my feelings and behaviour from the perspective of me having erotic transference because I am gay. She may not, I don’t know. I guess it is a sensitive issue for me. I have been rejected on the basis of my sexuality so many times. I worry that she only tolerates me because she has to. Unconditional positive regard is a cornerstone of therapy and yet part of me wonders if she is repulsed by me and just can’t show it?

It’s horrible to always be doubting the quality and authenticity of the therapeutic relationship. I know it shouldn’t matter even if I did feel attracted to her and that it would form part of the work but I just feel so fragile about this, even having come out 17 years ago, I still feel really vulnerable talking about my sexuality with her and I have only once brought up that massive heartbreak I had in my teens in all the time we’ve been working together.

I appreciate that I am rambling here and not really saying anything about ‘when therapy hurts’. I think this is what happens when I am fairly buoyant or in denial or both. I’m not really sure how I feel today – disconnected from myself is probably a good way of describing it. I know all those horrible feelings are inside and that the little ones are struggling but somehow they feel completely detached from where I am right now, they’re not front and centre.

It’s not a bad thing. I am functioning and frankly there have been too many days lately where I have struggled to. The teen part doesn’t need to be on guard and ready to fight because she doesn’t need to protect the little ones quite so much.

Since Monday I’ve been yo-yoing which totally follows my usual pattern of emotion after a session. I am always distressed, doubting, and devastated the day after the session. I feel abandoned, rejected, and hopeless. Ugh. It’s crap. I feel generally pretty rubbish until Thursday. By Friday daytime I feel as though I have survived the bulk of the week and can count down to the session on Monday. Friday evenings can be tricky, though, and so can Sundays. It’s almost like hope in the relationship and its potential is rekindled towards the end of the week, but then because I feel open and hopeful doubt can creep in again because she could hurt me.

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Another blogger, who I’d like to think I can call my friend now (you know who you are), has been really helpful in giving me another perspective on things and challenging how I have perceived what’s happening in my therapy this week. She’s annoyingly perceptive and her input has certainly helped me get my head together a bit.

I complained to her on Monday about how I’d felt my session had gone. I’d basically not been able to talk for the first 15 minutes and then handed over my laptop and asked my therapist to read the blog post I’d written. I sat there crying behind my hands as she read it and yet when she’d finished we didn’t really talk about any of it. I felt frustrated that I had shared all that content and yet we weren’t talking. Or that’s how it felt at the time.

However, on reflection it is clear that I was dissociated. My therapist asked again which part had come to session. And she very gently talked with me. She commented on lots of areas but it was me that couldn’t/wouldn’t engage and she didn’t push me. We just sat with how things were. She actually did a good job. I just couldn’t see it at the time because I wanted more. When I feel like that and am pushing her away it’s almost as though I am testing her to see if she’ll stay with me.

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She can’t win, though. She cannot communicate effectively with all my parts in a session because they all need such different things and approaches. What is right for one is completely wrong for another. It’s a minefield. The little ones need holding and soothing with that soft, warm voice that feels like a virtual cuddle; the teen needs reassurance and care and to be listened to and for her feelings to be validated; the adult needs to be told everything is ok and that there’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed about the feelings that are coming up; the critic needs to be heard and wondered at. It’s not easy for her and I know she is doing her best although sometimes doesn’t get it quite right…

Shortly after she’d read my blog post she brought up something about payment – it was crap timing but I suppose there’s never a good or easy time to talk about money in therapy. I’ve been really poorly for a few weeks and on one of the session days I had done a Skype session because my son was ill, I ended up getting sick that day too.

I have basically been floating around on autopilot with no voice and propped up on pain killers and antibiotics for the best part of three weeks. Anyway, apparently for that Skype session and the one following it ,she hadn’t received my payments and yet last week did (but for just one session not the three I’d had) so she brought it up. I had been sitting in silence,not really, and I think the conversation was meant to engage my adult but also open up a conversation about resistance in the therapy.

The thing is, I hadn’t not paid her to send her a message. Hand on heart it was just a complete accident. I know what had happened because I’ve done it before making online transfers. I hadn’t confirmed the final page of the online transaction. I always go online shortly after the session and pay but obviously on these two occasions my brain was not fully in the game. I’d gone through the process, got all the details up on screen and just not scrolled down to confirm.

My therapist commented that I always pay promptly and suggested that maybe it was some unconscious communication about not really wanting to be there with her or something. I’ve said it enough lately that I haven’t wanted to be there (teen part can be quite dismissive of her) but that wasn’t what had happened in this instance. It was just a cock up and my autopilot had malfunctioned. It kind of threw me off balance a bit.

It made me think about a recent post by Life In A Bind – BPD And Me:  How do you pay your therapist? The answer could be part of your therapeutic work.  about payments and what they can reveal about the therapeutic relationship. I honestly don’t think I was unconsciously trying to send her a message by messing up the payments. I think, no , I know I was ill and just not functioning very well. In fact I am usually so quick in making payment to her when I get home or sometimes even before a session, despite the fact that she says she is happy to bill me monthly, because I value her so much. So meh, it was a bit of a weird conversation to have in the middle of the session.

What else has happened this week? Well another ‘interesting’ thing I’ve done is started looking around and researching other therapists. Uh huh. Yes. I know!

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Of course it’s all a reaction to feeling so completely lost in the relationship and like things are disintegrating between us. Googling therapists came from a place of sheer desperation. That was Wednesday. After a bit of research and contacting a therapist I realised that I really don’t want to work with anyone else. I don’t want to chuck three years of therapy away. I just want to get things sorted in the relationship I have….if I can. I just don’t know if it’s possible.

I certainly know what it is that I need to feel more secure between sessions and in the relationship more generally. Essentially, I need to ask for some boundaried contact outside the sessions, whether it be a midweek text just to ‘check in’, or a quick phonecall later in the week just to maintain the connection. Basically I need some form of confirmation that we are still connected in the relationship so that the sessions don’t bomb on a Monday because I have lost all sense of her in the week and don’t trust her to be there and not abandon me.

Monday is going to be hard because I am completely rubbish at expressing my needs. I don’t like feeling so dependent and needy. But mostly I am massively fearful of her refusing to do either of those things when it will take a serious amount courage to ask in the first place. I asked for a double session just after Christmas and she said no and I basically ended up self-harming because I feel so stupid for expressing a need and not getting it met. I know that I will feel so rejected and uncared for again even if there is a good reason for not engaging in either of those activities, from her perspective.

I guess looking for another therapist was about rejecting my therapist before she has chance to reject me. This therapy business really isn’t easy is it?…particularly when your attachment style is disorganised and your cumulative life experiences/relationships have only heightened your fear of abandonment and rejection. Looking back over some of my close relationships, it’s almost as though my attachment style acts as a map to create these issues time and again. I either push people away, shutting them out so they end up leaving or I cling on so tightly that they feel smothered, or yo-yo back and forth between the two. I hope my therapist can handle my volatility. I think she can.

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So back to the title, which I really haven’t stuck to at all – therapy hurts sometimes, a lot of the time actually, and sometimes it doesn’t. Right now I feel ok about how things are, like I might have turned a bit of a corner as I head into the weekend. I really hope that I am able to go to session and talk it out with her on Monday. The problem is, I have no idea who will arrive in session, how long they’ll stay for, or who else may show up along the way.

I guess we’ll wait and see!

 

 

‘I’m watching the weather channel and waiting for the storm’

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I’m sitting here now, four days after my therapy session, trying to compose some kind of readable post but I still don’t really know what to say other than it was really bloody hard being in the room on Monday…

I knew that there had been something big brewing as I headed into the break and whatever ‘it’ was had been steadily gathering power and intensity during the break. By the time it was time to resume therapy last week, it felt as though I had an emotional hurricane inside me but there was part of me that just wasn’t ready to face it and so my adult symbolically battened down the hatches and the children went into hiding during my sessions. I talked but not really. Externally, at least, those two sessions functioned as the calm before the storm.

I should know by now that concealing the hardest stuff (the young, vulnerable, needy feelings) only makes things worse for me in the long run. I can feel the child parts almost immediately start to get agitated in session when they have stuff to say and I keep overriding and silencing them.

I can feel their distress steadily building. I can see the very smallest ones in my mind’s eye absolutely distraught, wailing in the corner, and yet, more often than not, I continue to ignore them, or gag them until they basically have no choice but to have a complete meltdown, en mass, when I am on my own! It’s hideous. I don’t know why I do it! Oh yeah, I do, too much shame and embarrassment about having these feelings and needs in the first place!

When there is a lengthy break my child parts definitely don’t get a chance to be seen or heard by anyone but me and therefore their emotional distress escalates. The metaphorical rain cloud that hovers over my head most of the time between sessions becomes a full-on internal shit storm – sorry- hurricane! It’s just awful and really hard to contain. You’d think, then, that returning to therapy would be the perfect opportunity to start to settle some of the turbulence and anxiety but no…

One of the biggest problems after any significant disruption is that I am never sure when I enter the room whether I am going to be on my own facing the potential destruction that my internal storm will cause when it touches down (and that is terrifying – I don’t have the skills to weather this on my own yet), or whether, actually, she (my therapist) will be there, a professional storm-chaser, ready and waiting to witness it all with me and guide me through it. I’m always hoping she’ll be there, fully prepared – someone who sees beauty in chaos and who will be able to reframe the potential destruction of the storm as something positive:

‘Yes, the hurricane will wreak havoc, but don’t worry! I am experienced at navigating storms – it’s what I do. I know how to keep us both safe. I’m not frightened by these tempests, and I will show you how to remain secure and grounded when everything starts swirling and flying about. It will feel scary and some things will undoubtedly get destroyed. The storm will sweep away the derelict and dangerous structures that currently exist, those that aren’t really fit for purpose anymore, and in their place there is the potential for us to build something so strong that it will be able to survive any future storms.’

(Or that’s the kind of thing I’d like to imagine her saying, anyway!)

The thing is, it’s just not that easy to simply pick up where I left off after a disruption because no matter how secure I might feel when I leave a session, or how welcome the little ones might have been made to feel in the room and in the relationship with her previously, when I return to the therapy room I am not sure if I am still safe with my therapist or if something has changed. I am not sure whether I can still trust her with the child parts who are absolutely desperate to reconnect but are also incredibly fearful of being hurt, rejected, and abandoned. Ugh!

I woke up feeling pretty rubbish on Monday, I hadn’t really slept, and could feel that I was going to struggle with the session. When I feel like I ‘want to talk but can’t’ sometimes it feels like the only option is to give myself a symbolic kick up the backside by giving my therapist the heads up via text before a session. Doing this poses its own set of difficult issues around communicating outside of session and therapy boundaries. It’s actually just a frigging nightmare and it does my head in!

After a lengthy internal monologue: ‘Will she be cross if I message her? I just can’t face another one of those let’s keep it in session lectures when I feel like this. I need to let her know what’s going on but I’m not sure if I am allowed to, now. I don’t want to break the rules. I really don’t want to annoy her. She must be so fed up of me by now. Why can’t I just go to session and talk? I hate this’, I did text my therapist an outline of what I wanted to say.

Ultimately, I knew I was stuck in that horrible place where despite having a million things (ok, maybe more like four) I desperately needed to discuss, that it’d all somehow get trapped inside when I got there and I probably wouldn’t say anything at all. I didn’t even feel like I had the energy to have a ‘talking but not really’ session and was aware that it could all just become an uncomfortable silent session, and we’ve had enough of those lately – although they’ve stemmed more from anger and frustration rather than just feeling insecure, needy and small.

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Driving to therapy I could feel the little ones starting to activate. They’ve been really struggling over the break and I knew that they needed to come out and be seen and soothed. When I arrived I think I sat down and said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t feel very good today’, and from that point the anxiety and crippling emotional pain that I had felt so keenly outside of session entered the room with force. The storm touched down.

I felt so overcome by my feelings, a mixture of emotions: fear, grief, sadness, love, longing, hopelessness, confusion, embarrassment, and shame (and probably too many others to name, actually). I said ‘I feel like everything has caught up with me’, meaning all the feelings I’d been trying to manage over the break. I felt as though I was about to disintegrate, my body was a mass of nervous tension and I felt sick to my core. The intensity of what I felt was totally debilitating. The child parts of me were utterly beside themselves and I was unable to talk. I think this is generally what happens when Little Me and Four show up because they just haven’t got the language to explain the feelings and their trauma feels locked in the body.

Despite having sent the warning text and my therapist making repeated reference to it (no telling off!) asking if I wanted to talk about it, I still couldn’t bring myself to tell her what was on my mind. I find talking about how I feel in/about the therapeutic relationship really difficult. I feel so exposed and just mortified that I have such strong feelings about her. Yes. I know. It’s not unusual to feel this way but god I fucking hate it, sometimes.

I know I need to tell her how much of an impact breaks have on me and how much I miss her, and all that gets stirred up for me as a result….but ugh, it’s just excruciating and I just can’t really articulate it in person! I did write some of it down in the letter I gave her before the break but revisiting the content is so hard now because I feel like I have lost momentum and confidence since the break.

I also know that I need to really unpick, rather than just touch on the visualisation exercise (can’t do it!) that was meant to function as some kind of internalised transitional space during the break. In my long letter I asked for a holding message to help me remain connected to her during the break:

‘I was wondering if you might write/send me a message that essentially tells me that we are ok, that you aren’t leaving me, and that you’ll come back, that it is ok to miss you, that my feelings are valid and that there isn’t anything wrong with my caring about you or needing you. The thing is, I’m not even sure if all that is true.’

She agreed to my request and sent me the visualisation via text describing that I was meant to picture the therapy room and us in it together, me talking to her and her responding in the way I need…sounds ok, right? Nope. I tried it and found myself, child parts fully activated, desperately sad, sitting in the room but she wasn’t there, I was completely alone, staring at her empty chair and feeling flooded with despair. Part of my problem mid-week has been the sense of her being gone and being unable to picture her. The visualisation confirmed this.

Devastating doesn’t cover how it felt. I don’t think it’s hard to understand that if you are already in the position of needing to try and conjure up a safe, nurturing space because things feel bad that when it doesn’t work it just feels like everything is hopeless and pointless. I felt really defeated. It had taken a huge amount of courage to even ask for the message in the first place and then for it not to work just seemed so unfair.

I kept staring at the message on my phone, trying to coach myself into a better place, ‘look, you can’t do the visualisation, let it go. What matters is that you reached out to her, asked for something and she responded to you. She tried to meet your need. She spent time thinking about you and wrote this to you. She must care a bit to do that.’ That’s good processing right?!

But when I was sad and frustrated with it all I started to get wound up about some of the wording in the message surrounding the visualisation: ‘thank you for your communication’ (nooooo – too formal, clinical, cold somehow) and ‘I think the most developmental help at this time might be for you to imagine the consulting room(really not soothing at all!). I know I’m probably just splitting hairs here, but I also get that most of you will totally get what happened in my head. By the time I got to the ending, ‘With best wishes’ (OMG I hate it!) I’d sort of lost the will with it all. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this sign off! Needless to say, the child parts were like ‘what does this all mean? The words are too long. Why isn’t she talking to us? Where is she?’

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I think, no, I know, what I really needed was a really simple message that spoke directly to the little ones and not to the rational adult who is meant to be able to contain the feelings of the little ones. I understand that is the long-term goal, to furnish my adult with the skills to cope in her absence but right now I’m not quite there. My child parts are running my internal show and it’s all a step too far at the moment. That’s not to say I won’t get there eventually….maybe! Hopefully!

I feel a bit ungrateful writing that because I (adult) know that the intention behind the message was good and so I feel unduly critical. But I just needed more. More holding. More containment. More ‘real’ person coming through. I know that these things take time and sometimes things need refining. I get that maybe I will never actually get what I need/want because perhaps it’s just not possible. Perhaps she doesn’t think it’s necessary and maybe I have to trust in that? The thing is, deep down I know I need to fight for what the little ones need so that they, and therefore I can move forward. If the long-term goal is integration of all these parts then I know I have to take another running jump at this and try again, but it feels risky.

I need to bite the bullet and tell her how I really feel the need for a tangible transitional object, something I can physically hold, to get the small ones through the week.

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It’s just so hard. It makes complete sense to the child parts that this is what would help them when they can’t see her but my adult just wants to dig a big hole and bury myself in it for even having this need. I mean seriously, this is just mortifying! I guess there’s also a bit of me that is scared. I don’t want to take any more time building up the huge amount of courage it takes to express that kind of need and then not have it met. I know I (adult and little ones) wouldn’t recover from it.

I know I am not a child but in this situation I kind of am. I just cannot cope with the possibility of being shamed or abandoned for expressing such a childish need – I’ve already had too much of that in the past. I know that if I express this need and it’s not met I would lose trust and faith in the relationship. I think this is a similar conflict to how I feel about asking to be held. I will never ask her for a hug because I can’t face the rejection. Argh. Even typing this makes me feel sick.

Errr. I don’t know where I am going with all that. Umm. The visualisation? I basically managed to tell her ‘I couldn’t do the visualisation and I found the break really hard’ Twelve words! Hilarious given all of what I’ve just written above!

I never cry in session but Monday saw the start of something. Silent tears slowly started coming – it wasn’t a true reflection of what was inside (flooding!), because I was still trying to hang on tightly to everything. The tears that came out were the few that I couldn’t contain. I’ve spent my whole life holding everything in or crying on my own, never ever seeking comfort because I learnt at a young age that none would be forthcoming.

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The idea of really letting go and properly crying in session terrifies me. I think part of it is that it feels really exposing, but the main thing is that I just couldn’t cope with being watched and ‘left’ to break down on my own. It’s one thing to choose to be alone in my own emotional pain but it’s horrible to think that I might now trust her enough to be that vulnerable (cry) in her presence, that maybe I could let her see that all that pain, and seek comfort in being with her and she might just leave me to it.

My child parts were emotionally abandoned and never physically soothed and I can’t bear that pain repeating in this relationship. So I guess that’s why I am reluctant to cry or reach out even when I need to. The warning message repeats in my head: ‘She’s a therapist not your mother. She’s a professional not your mother. Hold it together. Don’t embarrass yourself – or her’.

The heightened sense of anxiety and fear I felt in session has lingered on well into the week and I can’t seem to shake it off. I’ve had Sheryl Crow’s, ‘Weather Channel’ as my internal soundtrack (must be more depressed than I thought) and I haven’t been able to fully emerge from the deep pit of grief and pain that I was silently swimming (or drowning) in in session.

I think maybe I am still so hungover from the session that I just can’t get my head together, yet. It sounds a bit dramatic but honestly I have felt like my world has been steadily falling apart day-by-day and my brain has gone into panic overdrive. It’s as though someone has typed in the code to activate the ‘fear of abandonment’ button and is now on countdown to nuclear apocalypse. It’s crap.

I seriously considered ringing my GP for an appointment on Tuesday for some kind of anxiety medication. I felt jittery, sick, had a horrible migraine, and so much tension behind my ear that I felt like doing a Van Gogh and cutting the bloody thing off! I haven’t had anything like this amount of anxiety in years and it was horrendous. The most distressing thing was that the anxiety that is usually contained within the therapy relationship crept into my ‘now’, my ‘real life’ and current relationship.

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I was certain on Tuesday evening that my wife was going to leave me. Why? Well, she seemed to be in a bad mood about something and was a bit short. It might well have been that she was tired or stressed about work, but I couldn’t face asking what the matter was because I was so sure that the reply would be about her being sick of me and my depression and anxiety and getting caught up in therapy etc (it’s happened before).

Because I was too scared to ask what was wrong I felt shit all night, couldn’t sleep playing different scenarios over and over in my head. I felt as though I was treading on eggshells on Wednesday morning and did my very best to put on the ‘everything is fine, and I am functioning like a normal human’ persona. I was beside myself with anxiety waiting for her to come home in the evening worried about what was going to happen. Everything was fine. She was fine. There is nothing wrong. We are ok. That anxiety lifted but what’s going on in therapy hasn’t. So I feel a bit better but ffs this sort of thing is not sustainable long-term!

So, yet again, I feel that overwhelming need to contact my therapist outside session and tell her how bad things feel, but I know there’s no point because she won’t respond to my messages and told me to write it all down or draw it and bring it to session to talk about. I get the importance of keeping things in session but sometimes I just need to know she’s still there.

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I don’t really know what to write or draw to take to session. I have so much to say but also don’t know how to say it to her.

I don’t think I’ve really talked about Monday’s session here!…She was really good and said all the right things. I’d like to think I’ll be better this Monday but unless I somehow manage to find the words to say this stuff to her I don’t really know what it’ll be like because the child parts are still very upset.

I’m not sure what I am taking from this very very long post (sorry!) other than this question:

Why is it so so hard to express need?