Shame

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So it’s the summer therapy break and today signals my first ‘missed’ session of the holiday (god help me I can’t do this!!!). I suppose it goes without saying that I am not finding things especially easy, but this is particularly the case after a session that pretty much tanked last Monday and left me doubting what on earth therapy was all about, and if my therapist has actually listened to anything I have been saying for the last three years.

Why does this kind of thing happen at the worst possible times? Like really, when I absolutely need a connecting, positive session why does it fall on its arse? I, of course, had my part in it. I had emailed my therapist the link to my Mother Wound post in April and we haven’t got round to talking about it yet, but the last session where I told my therapist ‘I don’t want you to go away’ she mentioned that we hadn’t discussed it and that maybe it’s time? (She hasn’t read it yet) And so last week I re-sent her the link and said that although the idea of talking through the content of it made me feel a bit sick I think it’d be a worthwhile use of time.

When I arrived last Monday things felt a bit awkward. The elephants were in the room  jostling for position and making it very difficult to see my therapist through the mass of heavy creatures. The giant elephant called ‘Break’ who suffers from separation anxiety and is fairly twitchy was pretty much sitting on me and crushing me on the sofa which wasn’t ideal.

Almost immediately as I sat down, my therapist drew attention to the email link I had sent her (I hate it when she does that without discussing anything else first because I feel like I’m going to get told off or something!) and said given that I had said in my message that her bringing up the blog post last week had made me feel sick, that perhaps today wasn’t the best time to dive into it given we only had the session and then the break and I would be left holding things for longer. She, also, then said that it might be that talking it through might free some space up and make things a bit better but that given I said I’d written it back in November and it was still relevant that it would probably wait a bit longer.

What I heard was ‘let’s not open up any big stuff’ and in that moment all the vulnerable parts that had wanted/needed to talk and connect went into hiding. Adult Me stepped up and I switched into that place that is incredibly annoying: the autopilot that talks freely about stuff that appears relevant but actually is just filler. I spoke about a row I had had with my wife the previous day. I rarely argue with my wife and hardly bring my current life/relationships into the therapy as actually my here and now is pretty ok so far as home goes.

Anyway, I rattled on and on about that and then with about fifteen minutes to go I dissociated. I felt like I had fallen down a rabbit hole. It was horrendous. I could feel the anxiety of knowing that time was running out again and that I was staring down a five week break with absolutely no chance of feeling connected or safe in the therapeutic relationship.

Seriously, my brain is utter crap isn’t it?!

My therapist noticed something had changed and tried to get to me to engage but it didn’t really work. I was already so far gone that I think anything short of coming and sitting beside me and giving me a hug (as if that’d ever happen! Sigh!) would have missed the mark.

With five minutes to go my therapist suddenly remembered what she’d said last week, only not quite…

Last week when I had told her that I didn’t want her to go away and we had discussed how the break was making me feel and my inability to hold her in mind when there was a holiday she suggested we could do something to try and enhance the positive feelings and connection between us and perhaps that might help with the break. I had felt pretty good during the week knowing that although the break was coming that maybe, just maybe, this time things might be a bit better if whatever she had planned worked out.

So when she said ‘last week I said something about enhancing positive feelings’ everyone’s ear pricked up. Yes it was the eleventh hour but maybe something could be salvaged from this shit show and at least she had remembered in the end…

Imagine my dismay, then, when she didn’t mention our relationship or anything to do with connecting with one another and instead suggested that I try and think of something that I like doing that makes me happy, like a sport, or watching a comedy show, or perhaps recalling the birth of one of my babies and then tapping my knees bilaterally – a kind of EMDR technique, I think.

She lost me right there.

That was me done.

‘Here we go again’, I thought.

The thing she really doesn’t seem to get is that on a break Adult Me is not just a bit depressed and in need of a pick me up; when things are bad I am not in adult at all. I am cycling through very very young parts and all of them are screaming in distress. The anxiety I feel is huge and my body is overcome by fear that she is gone and not coming back. If I were able to ‘imagine’ the birth of my child at that point maybe I’d be onto a winner but, frankly, those young parts have no idea that I am a parent or an adult at all! There’s a tiny baby and the others are two, four, eight, and eleven years old…even the teen parts haven’t got a clue about what lies ahead of their age. So asking me to imagine any of those things when I am in those young states is utterly ridiculous to me. Not just ridiculous but actually IMPOSSIBLE!

I wasn’t able to say any of that in the moment because we literally had no time to talk it through. She had clearly forgotten about what we’d said last week and had quickly tried to rescue the session but in doing so left me feeling unseen and as though we were on completely different pages. I wish she hadn’t bothered because what she said really unsettled me. I know that these sessions leading into breaks can be difficult but usually we actually manage to do some pretty good work right on the edge of a holiday. I don’t know what happened this time.

As a result I spent the early part of last week feeling very much at sea and cycling through various emotional states: huge anger, sadness, longing, neediness, apathy… it hasn’t been much fun tbh.

Right now I just feel lost… and ashamed.

I feel ashamed that my need is so big and seemingly too much to handle.

I feel ashamed for needing my therapist at all.

I feel ashamed that I can’t manage these feelings on my own.

I feel inadequate.

I hate myself.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

I feel sad.

It feels like even when I try and overcome or sidestep the shame and ask for what I need for whatever reason what I need isn’t possible to conjure up. I totally get I can’t have the physical holding I actually want (but then I haven’t talked about that), what I mean is this kind of thing, trying to explain how much breaks affect me and to ask for some kind of strategy to help and yet what she comes back with makes me feel stupid and pathetic.

Like does that imaging something good stuff work for everyone else? Does that sufficiently hold them in breaks? Am I just crap at therapy? Are my needs too much? Is all this attachment stuff just too complicated to work with? Is there something wrong with me? Do I expect too much?

What happened on Monday felt like it totally missed the mark. My therapist is really clear that my problems stem from ‘a very early injury’ and it’s all about relational trauma. From what I can gather, relational trauma needs to be healed in relationship, so how on earth does me imagining something that made me laugh on the TV ease that attachment pain when I am away from my attachment figure? Am I missing something? I don’t understand how when I missing a person/relationship how anything short of being able to internalise some felt sense of them would be helpful. Like isn’t that the point of transitional objects? To try and help maintain connection?

If she’d have said, ‘I want us to think together about a time when therapy has been positive and you’ve felt connected to me’ and then tried to really key into those feelings, I would have sort of got it. But wtf happened on Monday???

Ugh. FFS.

Anyway. I am on my own now until the 3rd September. And in order to pass the (very long) time I have now cracked open the first book on my summer reading list: ‘Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational/Neurobioligcal Approach’ by Patricia A. DeYoung. I obviously went for it due to its catchy title and intriguing cover (actually the cover is pretty good) in hope of a great page turning storyline! 😉

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Seriously, though, I read a lot psychotherapy books outside of my therapy and find it helpful to understand things from a theoretical perspective (makes me feel less crazy: I am mental but it’s ok because so are other people and there are books about it!) and so this one really grabbed my attention. Who wants to read chick lit anyway? Certainly not me with my boring ass Masters in Victorian Literature…

My therapist and I have long been aware that shame (and embarrassment) form one massive great stumbling block in my therapy and so having a book that directly addresses the concept of shame and how to work with it seems like a worthwhile area to spend a couple of hours of my life. And it’s good stuff. Really good stuff.

DeYoung defines shame as a relational experience: ‘Shame is the experience of one’s felt sense of self disintegrating in relation to a dysregulating other’

Do you ever read stuff and shout ‘YES! That’s it!!’ or is it just me?

There’s a brilliant bit on page 21 that made me go ‘uh huh, yep, that’s right’:

‘In brief and speaking from the perspective of a child’s regulated self, a regulating other is a person on whom I rely to respond to my emotions in ways that help me not to be overwhelmed by them, but rather to contain, accept, and integrate them into an emotional “me” I can feel comfortable being. A dysregulating other is also a person I want to trust – and should be able to trust – to help me manage my affect or emotion. But this person’s response to me, or lack of response to me, does exactly the opposite: it does not help me contain, accept, or integrate.

Then I become a self disintegrating in relation to a dysregulating other. This is what happens: as an infant, when I am in an affective state of distress, or as a child, when I am feeling a rush of emotion, the other’s response fails to help me manage what I’m feeling. Instead of feeling connected, I feel out of control. Instead of feeling energetically focused, I feel overwhelmed. Instead of feeling that I’ll be ok, I feel like I am falling apart.

This kind of experience is the core experience of shame. All of it has something to do with needing something intensely from someone important, and something going wrong with the interaction between us. I feel, “I can’t make happen what I need from you”. If the sequence is repeated often enough in my development to become and expectable experience , I will have a core propensity to feel shame whenever I have strong feelings, need emotional connection,  or feel something is wrong in an interpersonal interaction. In all of those situations, I will be likely to conclude, consciously or unconsciously, “There is something wrong with what I need- with my needy self”.

I’ve only read the first 33 pages but I’m so glad I stumbled across this book. Slightly concerned that I have placed my therapist in the role of ‘dysregulating other’, though!

I’ll probably come back to this at some point and discuss further once I have finished the book – but today is my son’s birthday and so right now I need to shutdown the computer and launch myself into a functioning adult state and forget that it’s Monday and at 10:30 the room I want to be in is empty.

Deep breaths.

Maybe I just need to tap my knees and think about playing rounders?!