Love And Shame In Therapy

The subject of shame has long been a topic in my therapy. In fact I would go so far as to say that my therapist brings up the words ‘feelings of shame and embarrassment’ almost weekly. This isn’t the first time I have written about shame on this blog. Over the summer I came across a fantastic book by Patricia A. DeYoung on shame which saw me nodding my head in agreement as I read page after page and I ended up posting something then. I don’t really know what there is to add to the subject now, today, other than to say I seem to be in another of those deep pits of shame and I need to let it out before it eats me alive.

For me, one of the worst things about these horrid soul destroying feelings of shame (and shame is the absolute pits) is that they seem inextricably linked to feelings of love. How very inconvenient! It’s a total nightmare in fact. As Brene Brown suggests ‘shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love’.

True. But. Ouch!

For as long as I can remember I have always felt ‘not quite good enough’ and by extension ‘unlovable’. I am a product of an upbringing that was pretty barren in terms of nurturing love from my mother: #motherwound. She was absent for a lot of the time (Sunday through to Friday when I was 5-11 years old) and then when she was around I felt like I was in the way, too much, a burden…it wasn’t ideal.

I loved my mum in the blind way that young children do. For the longest time I missed her, wanted to be close to her, wanted her to be there, to be kept safe by her, and was incredibly loyal to her. No matter how distant or absent or neglectful she was I kept coming back for more, desperately hoping that having been a good girl all week that she’d want to be with me, spend time with me, learn about me and who I was.

For years I was that well-behaved little girl, then older girl, then young woman. I was a model student,  no trouble at home, I never asked for anything and just got on with it. Whilst my friends were acting out and being normal teenagers I watched and wondered how their parents hadn’t killed them yet knowing that I barely had to look at my mum ‘in the wrong way’ and would get either verbal or physical abuse for it! …

And yet, despite all my ‘good girl’ behaviour, it never made an ounce of difference. I could not make me mum love me. I mean I know she does love me, in her own way, but there wasn’t the kind of demonstration of love and care that I needed as a kid, she still doesn’t touch me (at thirteen I reached out to hold her hand crossing the road and she said ‘don’t do that, people will think we’re lesbians’…and there we are…baby dyke was crushed and never reached for her again). After a while I stopped hoping for what I needed and learnt to be self-reliant.

My feelings of love got buried; I shut down. I learnt to not have needs – or at least not to show them. Need and love were bad and dangerous. They just led to heartache. It’s a bloody lonely existence not letting anyone in. It’s the ultimate defence though, if you keep people out they can’t hurt you can they? And my mum really hurt me.

On the outside no one would ever have known there was anything amiss. I have managed over the years to succeed at pretty much whatever I have put my mind to, I have this kind of dogged determination to succeed -but it has come at a cost. I wrote recently about how I now see how damaging the perfectionist streak I have is. It’s done untold damage to me over the years. The stress and the anxiety that surrounds the fear of failure is exhausting. The eating disorder that reared its head when I was sixteen is another product of all that too. Utter. Freaking. Nightmare.

But I’m not here to rehash the stuff from the past. I want to talk about the feelings of shame I am experiencing in the present – undoubtedly this shame is informed by past relationships but it is very real in the here and now.

We all know where this is going don’t we?

I am struggling with shame in my therapy. I’m struggling with love too. Or rather, because I feel love I feel shame.

Fuck.

For the longest time I refused to let myself be seen by my therapist. I used my intellect to deflect anything emotional… in fact I was so out of touch with my emotions it was scary. But, eventually the cracks in my armour appeared and feelings started to come up – attachment/love, call it what you will was suddenly there. And I felt it towards Em. This should have been positive. It should have felt good finally allowing myself to feel. But of course it didn’t work that way because hot on the heels of the loving feelings came the intense and crushing feelings of shame.

I should not have these feelings towards my therapist.

I am pathetic.

Blah blah blah.

And, because this is a therapeutic relationship and there are boundaries to the relationship, every time I smash into one, i.e the no touch boundary, or the no outside contact one, it provides a kind of evidence to that self-hating, critical part that feels that I am ultimately unlovable. That part is angry and sad. It thinks that if she cared about me she would hug me. If I mattered to her she would respond to my messages. If this was actually not just a 50 minute time slot to her then she’d work harder with me on how to make breaks feel better, might consider trying some middle ground like the dots text…or anything really!

The rational adult self can see that the therapeutic framework is what it is and why it is how it is (most of the time!) but that young part that has been so starved of love and care can only see rejection and that I must be too much. That part that is so vulnerable and feels so much love walks into therapy and immediately feels stupid, embarrassed, and ashamed.

I look forward to seeing Em all week and hope that being in the room will somehow make things better, that the part that needs attention and healing will be seen and helped and that the awful feelings that creep in during the week about being unlovable and unimportant will be confirmed to be unfounded. The moment I arrive, though, it hits me so hard that I can’t have any of what I want from her and the fact that I need my therapist in the way that I do fills me with shame and the shame makes it very hard to open up or connect. I want to, but somehow I get convinced that she doesn’t like me and that I am a burden…

Hmmm, familiar pattern??!!

I know she’s not my mum but the maternal transference is massive…and given what I have said about my mum it’s not easy. It feels repeatedly as though I am reexperiencing the feelings of absence, of disconnection, of lack of care… of basically just not really mattering… and it’s really horrible. I don’t really know how much longer I can do it to myself. I understand the need to grieve what I didn’t have as a child, but until I feel safer in therapy, more connected, contained.. I can’t see how I can go there. It doesn’t feel healing or reparative it just feels retraumatising.

I try to bring this stuff up but, oh my god, it’s so hard. Sometimes I make inroads and then something happens and I go into hiding. This last few weeks has been dire, really. I need right brain connection and yet I have been running from Em because part of me still doesn’t trust her. The shame has got so big that I can’t seem to let her in because I am so scared that she will, not shame me exactly (she doesn’t do that), but confirm why I feel ashamed. Like I will tell her how I feel and her response will somehow prove that she doesn’t care. And I can’t cope with that.

It’s really difficult.

I have been in therapy long enough now to know that the only way things get unstuck and shift is to be brave and leap into the hard stuff. But shame, oh god, it’s so suffocating. It’s so hard to find a way out of it. It is so hard to take chances and trust that someone you care for won’t hurt you and reject you because shame is such a horrendous feeling in the first place. To run the risk of more shame being lumped on, or, ultimately to have the feeling that you are unlovable verified by the person that you love…it feels unsurvivable.

The thing is, it is survivable isn’t it? It must be. Because we survived it as children. The mother wound has not killed us….so it seems unlikely that it could do so now. There’s no denying it is painful going through this because it is reliving the pain we experienced as kids again in the therapeutic relationship. The memories and the feelings that are in our bodies are as fresh now as they were then…or rather maybe they are being felt now for the first time because they were too much back then and had to be supressed in order to survive.

I am hopeful that the more I am able to verbalise these feelings of both love and shame something will eventually shift in me. I want my emotional self to catch up with my rational self and to, at a gut level, know that it is ok to feel how I feel and that these feelings won’t annihilate me….

It’s a damn slow process though isn’t it?!

 

 

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Absent

I don’t think I’ve ever gone longer than a week without posting something here but I’ve been AWOL so far as my blog goes for the last couple of weeks now. I’ve decided to just start typing letters on the keyboard and am hoping something will turn up on the page! I don’t think I have much to say… or perhaps I have too much to say? I’m not sure. Whatever it is I feel stuck and lost for words at the moment.

I feel like I need to document what’s going on for me (that’s what the blog was meant to be all about after all) but there’s a part that just can’t be bothered. It all feels like too much effort. I just can’t focus or find motivation. I don’t have any energy. I feel frustrated on many levels. Nothing I say is going to change what I am going through so what’s the point in bothering?

I feel like I need to kick myself up the backside and cheer up…but I can’t. I am fed up. I am fed up of moaning. You know? Like I am properly sick of myself. I am not happy. AT ALL. Depressed? Yeah. Perhaps. There’s definitely some overtiredness feeding my negative feelings and I was lucky enough to get a horrid gastric bug last week so that hasn’t helped the jolly, energised feelings – although it has gone some way to helping me fit back into my favourite jeans. Silver linings and all that!

I am also a bit angry with myself for once again falling into a situation where my inability to say no (or say it loudly enough to be taken seriously) has landed me with a shit load of stress and anxiety. More on that later.

I feel kind of blank and numb but equally know that underneath that top layer of bleurgh and relative calm there’s a big wedge of overwhelm and panic. (That’s the kind of sentence that makes me wonder if I am actually losing my mind!) Well, really what it is is dissociating from the hell that is my adult life. I am trying not to have a breakdown because I simply cannot afford to crash right now.

I’m getting sick of saying how busy and stressed I am. But yes. That’s is how it is. Still. Crazy busy. No time. Where has the week gone again? etc etc. I keep sort of checking in with myself, trying to ground myself, to listen to what’s going on inside, but it’s hard to hear anything much at all over the noise of current life. I know there are some young parts starting towards a serious meltdown but I simply cannot face having to acknowledge that right now. I have too much to do. I can’t cope with upset children on top. I can’t cope with my adult self either…. man!!!!

It all sounds a bit dramatic and not very specific and that’s kind of how it is in my mind. Stuff is going on but I can’t fully zone in on it because I am scared that if I do I will run screaming in the other direction. This is true of the mental health stuff but also the work stuff.

I’ve been steadily getting more and more worked up over the last few weeks as a big work thing approaches. A while back my friend who owns the tutoring company asked me if I would like to deliver a specific course to a small group of 18-24 year olds at a local venue. The information I was given at the time made it sound good and it fitted well with my current timetable. Great.

Steadily, though, more and more details came out the woodwork and the job sounded less and less appealing. Suddenly the 18-24 year olds became 16-24 year olds studying two different courses at five different sublevels (all at the same time in the same room). Ok. I can do that… maybe. Who doesn’t love a bit of differentiation?! Then the next big hit- the 13 young people have lots of problems and additional needs. Half of them live in a supported unit. Ok, I can do special needs, but even I am worried about this in one room with no additional support: ADHD x 2. PTSD. Aspergers. 2x people thrown out of educational setting for fighting. 2 x Drug and Alcohol dependency. Depression. One on parole.

12 males and 1 female.

And me.

So yeah… it’s not exactly a walk in the park. In any other setting there would certainly be some support staff. Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t written anyone off. I am sure I will build good relationships with the students and we’ll get to the end of the course together. All I am saying is, this is not a job I would have taken on had I have known the full details from the start. I already teach a very challenging child 1:1 for 7 hours a week and it nearly kills me. I do not need to be taking on any more very hard work. I simply do not have the emotional or physical resources to put on the level of performance required to do this. I will have to find something from somewhere…I always do…but at what cost?

And that’s the issue.

The cost is too great. I pay too heavy a price again.

All my life I have bled myself dry. Given more of myself that I should have. Hit burnout….and for what?

Does anyone really care that I push myself so hard to deliver the almost impossible? Does anyone know that I drive myself mad with worry and anxiety about not being ‘good enough’. I don’t think so. I seem to be the only one who sees the potential pitfalls of this situation. I’m meant to be on board with ‘it’ll be fine’ but I can’t see it. I want it to work but I feel like I am going to fall flat on my face with this and that’s hard.

My expectations of myself are high. Too high. I have always been a perfectionist. BUT perfectionism is bad. Perfectionism is damaging. Perfectionism is misery. Perfectionism is ridiculous pressure and the realm of the Inner Critic.

AND I AM DONE WITH THAT SHIT.

Or, at least I thought I was! A part of me is but not a big enough part.

And that’s why I am so annoyed. I have got swept up into a situation of feeling powerless, not being listened to, and now having to perform a fucking miracle ….and I thought that wasn’t going to be me anymore. I thought I was stronger than this. I thought I was able to stand up for myself better than this. I thought, as an adult, my needs were a bit more fucking pressing. I thought after cancer I was a bit more fucking important in my own life. I thought I could be more assertive when it came down to it….but it turns out I am still frightened of upsetting people or disappointing people and so will sacrifice my wellbeing in order to avoid conflict or seemingly letting them down.

The whole thing has been stressing me out. HUGELY. I have spent far too many of my recent therapy sessions discussing the situation and that’s annoyed me, too. Of course I am worried and anxious and it’s tapping every one of my ‘I’m not good enough’ buttons and so it makes sense that I would be bringing it into my therapy, but it pisses me off that I am spending money talking it through with Em. I don’t want to do the job and now I am using what I earn from it to process it in my therapy! NO!!!! That’s never right!!

What’s more is that having been in ‘freaked out teacher’ mode (a technical term) I’ve totally neglected all my other parts and all the other needs that are IMPORTANT to me both in and out of therapy. I’ve been like a bear with a sore head. It’s a fucking great mess and it’s all about to bite me on the arse because now my sessions are also disrupted.

I am furious because I have had to cancel two of my Friday therapy sessions due to last minute timetabling issues. My availability = Wednesday….and so…they have timetabled me for three Fridays in addition to the usual weekly Wednesday session (why????? my availability is WEDNESDAY). This week is not so bad as Em is away anyway so I don’t feel like I am missing out. It was a ‘break’ (fucking breaks!) I knew about but then to discover I have to cancel the 23rd/7th because of this job I am really, really sad…and unsettled.

Now, more than ever I feel like I need the consistent, regular therapy space that I have twice a week and to have to disrupt that because my boundaries have not been respected… well… fuck. And then it’s going to be Christmas break….and ugh I can’t even cope.

I don’t really know what else to say. All I have done is rant like a crazy person – which is hilarious given I had nothing much to say!

I have so much to do tomorrow in order to stand any chance of surviving Friday but having worked most of the day I just have to go to bed and sleep. I have nothing left….

I want my therapist.

I feel so overwhelmed that I just want to curl up on her couch under my blanket and cry. And… I can’t even so much as get close to doing that until Monday….

HEEEEELLLLPPPPPP MEEEEEE!!!

Therapy blog will resume next post 😉

 

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