Father hunger

What to do when you have two dads but an insatiable longing for a fantasy father?

This is the painful dilemma I continue to grapple with in therapy with HH.

It’s not only the buried sadness, grief, resentment and longing that hurts but also the attentiveness, stability and care that HH provides that leaves me so heartsore. Yes, you read right. His attention and acceptance highlights what I never really had and reawakens a fantasy that can never be fulfilled. He can never be my dad or take part in my life.

My parents divorced when I was four. My biological dad moved to a different city and remarried, never really making contact except for a few phone calls and presents over the years. I stayed with him once during a school holiday. Essentially, I grew up wondering who he was, why he left and deep down, feeling abandoned. I longed to know him and chose the same career in an effort to be closer to him. Because I kind of look like him and have similar mannerisms, my mom often said I reminded her of him (Not in a good way). She struggled to understand my way of thinking and feeling and called me weird.

She married my step dad, who raised me, and soon my half-sister was born, his youngest of many. He was very strict with me and I feared his anger and corporal punishment. My mom was kind at times and at others, harsh and rejecting with her criticism. I felt like I was walking a tight rope to be good, quiet and avoid doing or being something that would invite punitive action. My step dad and sister were close and affectionate towards each other, something which I think I tried to block out. My mom, step dad and sister felt like a family unit and I felt like an extra. Like I didn’t fit in or belong.

The complication is that I have various parts thinking, feeling and wanting different things. And it’s not always easy to figure out who wants what and why…

ADULT ME acknowledges that the time has come and gone for a loving and present dad. She knows the fantasy father provided hope during childhood for a different and brighter life. Through therapy, she realises that her biological dad had a weak fathering instinct and was an “absent dad”. On the other end, my step dad stepped up to provide financially but was overbearing and unnecessarily punitive and intrusive. They both did what they could, based on the skills and resources they had. The adult part allows me to go to work, be a wife and pitch up at therapy. It wants integration and a variety of coping skills.

LONELY CHILD feels isolated and burdened with despair from not being seen or accepted. She cries a lot because all she wants is to be understood and mirrored. Her need is overwhelming and a result, she is often pushed aside by other parts or hidden for fear that she would be too much and scare people away. All she wants is a dad to protect and love her, showing her that she doesn’t need to hide and can thrive with his support.

THE SILENT ONE doesn’t have words for the grief, sadness and fear inside. Her eyes are wide open for threats but she cannot speak. All she wants to do is close her eyes, cuddle and sleep, feeling the warmth of a safe person.

DEFECTIVE CHILD feels disgusting. She is full of shame and never feels good enough. Badness infiltrates every cell and she wonders why others would dare come close. It’s only a matter of time before they are repelled. She is too pale, too tall, has a big bum, skew teeth, looks like a rejected doll with missing parts because of a car accident. She feels self-centred and uninteresting. Being seen causes anxiety, fear and disgust.

THE GOOD GIRL is a pleasure to be around and always makes sure others are happy and looked after. She enjoys taking care of people. Conflict is very scary and she is a peacemaker. She wants everything to be just right and makes sure she is neat, clean, and presentable and pleasant. When others are calm and happy, so is she.

THE DERIDER feels that the children are stupid and far too dramatic. They do not deserve airtime and should keep quiet, because they have nothing valuable to add. If they get too big for their boots, that’s a problem and they must be cut down to size “because how dare they”. Crying is especially problematic. Children should be seen and not heard.

THE JUDGE puts different parts on trial and is always evaluating whether their actions are acceptable. When parts are in conflict, which is often, the judge comes down hard with an iron fist to restore order and keep them in line, even if it means squishing their needs and desires down.

THE TEEN constantly rolls her eyes at all the feelings and thoughts of different parts and those around her. Everything is just so… complicated and dramatic. She’s sassy and often sarcastic, but it comes from a place of wanting to play and understand the world. She’s making sense of her sexuality and needs parental figures to accept that she is both a girl and a woman.

THE FLIRT enjoys attention and feeling pretty. She is playful and loves connecting with others through touch and play. She loves feeling desired.

I wonder if HH gets tired hearing about my father hunger all the time. I know I certainly do. The other day, he asked me (again) what I hoped for in a dad. It was just too much to repeat it again to him and I shared that I was questioning the value of going over the same painful things numerous times. I know though that it’s part of the work. It just felt like I didn’t have the energy that day to go there.

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Being stuck in the thick of transference

(Girl Before a Mirror by Pablo Picasso)

Can we just all agree that being stuck in the thick of transference sucks? There you are in a swamp of muddled, gloopy feelings. A hothouse haze of distant faces and places mould to your skin like a familiar trench coat, but you can’t quite reach their names because the label is behind you. This is treacherous, sometimes unchartered, territory folks. And stumbling around in circles can leave you feeling crazy.

Look, I’ve been here before. When you have a ticket in hand for therapy, it’s a given that the trip may include a detour through Transference Town. If it is your first rodeo, well… You probably don’t even know the place exists.

I am not surprised that HH and I are here. What eludes me is how long it takes to make sense of what is happening and how painful every prod and poke feels. Logically, I know this is an important and common process. But it doesn’t feel normal to think about your therapist so much and have such intense feelings.

Adult me knows that these feelings are mostly not linked to HH as a person. I don’t know him. Or at least, not really. So mostly, it’s how therapy makes me feel. But there is also a part that relates to the relationship we have as adult-to-adult.

What’s crazy-making for me is how it feels like I have so many different parts with their own feelings and wishes that involve HH. I can’t simply say ‘I, JAY’ feel love and adoration for HH, and wish he was my dad, because he reignites childish fantasies and wishes for a male figure who was accepting and understanding. I research and read a LOT so the closest label I can find is paternal transference with a tinge of the erotic.

The erotic part, from what I understand, is simply the adult version and translation of childish longing and the intimacy within an attachment relationship.

None of this is new for HH. But sharing it with him feels new and scary every time. Sometimes, it feels like he doesn’t get it. Other times, I feel understood and as though we will survive the transference. Like we see each other as we really are despite what is happening.

This is all guesswork though because he hasn’t voiced his thoughts on my progress and whether he has hope.

Going around in circles – chased by self-criticism and loathing – leaves me defeated.

I can only hope he has mapped a possible way out of this old life script that keeps replaying and will hold my hand as I try to write a new one.

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Should therapists make up for the time they are late?

For those of us with attachment trauma, any sudden changes in the safety and predictability of relationships can wreak havoc.

And while our therapists do their best to hold the frame, life happens. Sooner or later, they end up not being able to start or arrive at a session on time. The reasons are endless… another client may be having a crisis, an urgent health issue requires attention, a loved one is in need, or they may even need to speed off because their house has caught fire… Sometimes they are able to give us a little bit of advance warning and other times, you may end up in a panic before the message comes through.

I have spoken previously about how I was thrown off emotionally by a pattern of sessions with later than usual starts. Heart Healer (HH) had developed a habit of starting our sessions up to 10min late. This left me stewing in the waiting room for quite a while because I would arrive 10min early and watch as other therapists came to pick up their clients before walking away together and closing their office doors. Can anyone talk about a recipe for abandonment anxiety? We thankfully addressed it and I was able to share my needs and fears around this issue with him.

Fast forward to this week. I asked to schedule a second session in one week because I could not make our next one and hoped it would bridge the gap somewhat. He offered a time and I was relieved and thankful. Our sessions the last few months have been hard work as I bump my head against the same issues, leaving me emotionally and mentally battered but somewhat closer to finding my truth and self. For some reason, I placed a lot of hope in this second session and its ability to hold me over for two weeks.

It’s always so weird arriving at the practice for morning sessions because I am usually there in the afternoon. But good weird. The sunlight filters from different angles on the wooden floors and the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee sometimes mingles with the scent of jasmine or honeysuckle floating through the open windows. It’s also quieter. And because I schedule these sessions on my off days, I have time to choose a book to read and don’t have to rush from work. Once I entered the cottage, I walked past HH’s office and half listened for any sign of life. All the leather seats in the waiting room were open and I decided to change it up by taking one facing the corridor leading from the entrance. After putting my phone on silent, I grabbed Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Leaves the Score out my bag and got comfy for a few minutes. I felt happy and a bit of nervous excitement. When the clock near me struck 10:00, I didn’t bat an eyelid and carried on reading. Five minutes passed and as the familiar bubble of panic began to rise, I consciously took deep breaths and reminded myself everything was okay. 10:10 came. With a knot in my stomach, I took my phone out to check my messages and saw a missed call from HH. He had also left a voicemail. It took ages to get to my voicemail inbox (no, I don’t want to record my name??!?!?) but when I finally did, HH said he was caught in terrible traffic and had been on the road for 30 minutes. He said he was on his way and if I was still at his office, that I could wait and he would do his best to be there soon for the remainder of the session. He sounded like he knew I might be panicky and didn’t suggest that we cancel our plans. I calmed somewhat because I knew that he was safe and where he was. However, my body was still buzzing.

At 10:20, I heard the main door open and HH walking quickly to his room before closing the door. One part of me decided everything was fine now and we should be grateful he had arrived and no one was hurt. Because I had a clear idea of what I needed from the session and wanted to speak about, I decided I would quickly tell HH what sensations arose when he was late, and then we would move on. He came to fetch me from the waiting room and apologised for being late. I said it was fine because I felt it was something out of his control. Once we were seated and I began telling him about the knot in my stomach, I switched to a vulnerable part and it suddenly felt like the end of the world. I didn’t know what had come over me! My whole body felt funny and I couldn’t stop crying. He calmly explored what I was feeling. The more he asked, the more upset I became. At the same time, another part kicked in and I felt terrible for having such an overreaction (It’s not his fault, don’t make him feel bad, you are too much now, get over it, stop being so dramatic and sensitive. You are the one who suggested another session. He probably doesn’t come in this early normally. None of this would have happened if you weren’t so needy). I was upset at myself for being so upset.

HH said that because I couldn’t be angry with him, for fear of jeopardising the relationship, I had to turn that anger towards myself. Obviously, I was frustrated and disappointed that the session was not only shorter, but was also being taken up by this and not what I had planned. Throwing crumpled tissues away, I told HH that I was feeling confused because I didn’t know how much time we had left in the session and whether he had a client straight after. He said we could carry on for 5 minutes more than our usual time. No matter how much breathing or calming I tried to do, I just couldn’t turn to HH as a source of comfort. He said that while we had started late, there was still an opportunity to use what was left. It felt like he was saying I had an all or nothing approach. I told him that I genuinely wanted to move on but my body had different ideas and was still stuck in alarm mode.

A part was shouting internally… what about the 15 minutes that we have lost out on? Are they gone now forever? Why hasn’t HH said something about those minutes?

I snapped back to adult mode for the last five minutes and acknowledged that he wasn’t all good or bad and we had made it through previous disappointments together.

Since the session, a part of me has been obsessing about the time we missed out on. And is battling with another part who thinks it is so petty to be worked up about a few minutes.

I know that most therapists charge for a full session if you do not abide by the 24hr cancellation policy. And that if the client is late, they only get whatever time is remaining.

What happens when it’s the other way around? We all know sessions aren’t cheap and every minute counts. I plan to raise this with HH in our next session but am not sure what to realistically ask for or expect.

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Therapy and Holidays

imageTherapists need annual holidays to remain at their best for us. They also deserve time to connect with their families. Our adult parts know and respect this. The younger parts? It’s much more complex.

HH is on holiday for three weeks. We are missing six sessions. On the one hand, I am relieved he is taking a break. I am exquisitely aware of underlying energies. His office, body and mannerisms have REEKED of chaos for the last month and it’s been challenging working with that. While he kept his therapist exterior on, I was not fooled and could sense he was wearing out from juggling so many balls with depleting energy.

I told him I could sense he needed the holiday and he smiled in a way that felt I had hit the mark.

To give or not to give?

I had pondered whether to give him something small for Christmas. I know gifts in therapy are loaded with meaning and had thus never given a Christmas gift to DS, especially because we were in the grip of some weird transference. As it turns out, HH’s gift came about quite by accident. My friend invited me to her home to bake and decorate festive gingerbread cookies. The whole way through, I was aware of voices telling me I was going to mess something up. My friend was super chilled and encouraged me. It felt okay to make mistakes. She left the icing decorations to me and it turned out I had quite a knack for it. It was my first time and she was impressed. The experience was very healing. I got a gingerbread man tin and decided to set some aside for HH because it was personal, inexpensive and  heartfelt. He got the cookies before the last session because I wanted them to stay fresh. He took them, thanked me and never mentioned them again. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t tell me whether he had enjoyed them. Maybe there was some childish longing there. It felt like this was one of many gifts he had stashed in a pile and forgotten about.

Will you remember me?

In some ways, I feared this would happen to me too over the break. Was he looking foward to discarding his clients and responsibilities? Would it be easy for him to forget about me and the work we were doing? Some very young parts wanted reassurance but I told HH that I knew he couldn’t offer this to me as a therapist. I told him that DS had given me books over breaks as transitional objects and these had really helped me remain connected to him in some way. I shared with HH that I had wanted to email him before our last session to ask him to bring something I could hold onto during the three weeks. But I had felt foolish and not sent him the message. HH encouraged me to express what I/these parts needed. After what felt like an eternity of silent back and forth in my head, I quietly asked if he had something I could hold onto. I was cringing with vulnerability and the possibility of rejection. “How about holding onto words and memories here?” he asked. I sighed.

It’s not easy to do that because it feels fleeting and of little comfort. We have had a number of ruptures lately. I don’t think we have had any fuzzy, warm moments where he has shared personal, comforting or reassuring words. I still struggle to call up his face at will. How practical is it to ask me to internalise this as comfort?

Soft toy shame

I told him I needed something physical to hold onto. He asked about soft toys. At the time, I thought he was asking because he had something in mind. If I recall his words now, I think he was implying I should find a soft toy at home that someone special had given to me. He was implying he did not want to be too much of an attachment figure. I was losing hope at expressing my needs and being understood.

“Is giving objects over breaks something you do for other clients?” I asked with increasing dread. He paused. “I usually do this for children in play therapy,” he responded. I burnt with shame. Why had I even brought this up?

“I wonder whether you are going to be angry if I don’t give you something?” he continued. “Angry?” I asked. It was more disappointment, foolishness, rage at myself.

In any event, I felt I had to be okay with his decision because our time was up and I didn’t want to cry as I left. Who wants to open up a can of worms without a holding space?

He didn’t wish me a good break as we parted ways. I felt like nothing in that moment. Discardable.

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What to do when your therapist gets your name wrong…


Forgetting someone’s name, or getting a name wrong, is something that happens to the best of us. But what if that person is your therapist you’ve been seeing for 7 months?

It happened in our session yesterday and I was taken aback. HH (heart healer) had just sat down in front of me and asked how I was doing, in the third person, referring to me by a name that was similar but most definitely not mine. “Sorry?” I asked, wondering if I had heard him correctly. He repeated the question and the wrong name. CRINGE. It was so many things at once. Awkward, shocking, sad, funny and painful.

Having gone into the room with a drawing hidden in my bag, which mapped out hurtful inner voices, I would say I was in a vulnerable and childlike state. It might have been easier to hear if it was another day.

Picking my jaw back up off the floor, I told him I didn’t know whether to say something. He replied that I was welcome to. If I think back on it now, he might not have realised yet at this point that he had used the wrong name and that I was upset. I shared that I was hurt. Because we had been working together for a while, this didn’t feel like just a social faux pas. It felt more personal… Like I was easy to forget. Not important.

He calmly stated that some people have certain triggers which make things like a mistake more hurtful because of things that have happened in the past.

While I agree with that, it felt very theoretical. It was distancing. I sat on his couch sobbing quietly and feeling very hurt. He kept quiet.

Eventually, I told him this was not the first time he had called me by that name. It happened a while ago and I didn’t say something because I thought it might have been a genuine mistake. “If it were me, the first thing I would have done now would have been to apologise and make things right, before proceeding to an exploration of triggers. To be human. That’s just me. You are you. I get we are different people,” I said softly between sobs. He kept quiet.

I tried to pull myself together and keep things in perspective for my own sake because I didn’t want to spend the whole session on it.

We moved to the drawing and he spent a lot of time looking at everything I had written down (which I will blog about another time).

At the end of the session, he apologised “for getting the consonants wrong”.

Obviously, his mistake was more painful for me because I have struggled a lot with being truly seen and doubt my worthiness at times. Relational mistakes are also more physically and emotionally painful for those with attachment trauma.

So many mixed feelings about this. I accept he is human and also nearing retirement age, which brings its own “old fart” moments. Then again, this is not the first time. And it felt minimising when the first thing he alluded to was that it only felt more painful because of my unique struggles.

I am trying very hard to be an adult here, to be fair and not jump to conclusions.

Maybe there is also counter transference at play. Do I remind him of someone else? Does he struggle with our sessions? Is he burning out?


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The return of the “perfect” therapy client


When I was in therapy with DS (Deep Soul) three years ago, one of the insights I gained about our work together was the way in which I tried to make his life easier and pleasant. This behaviour was sometimes at the expense of my own needs, desires and self-expression. I coined this persona Therapy Barbie.

She was always perfectly groomed and pleasant. Bills were always paid on time. Above all, she was considerate and wanted him as the therapist to feel her genuine care and kindness. Any powerful action or conscious thought was placed in a queue, so it could first be scrutinised for its value, effect and repercussion.

As therapy progressed, it became safe enough for the persona to relax… a little at least.

Now that I am in therapy with HH, I am aware that I am repeating this pattern. It hit me like a lightning bolt the other day. I’ll explain more in a bit, but first…

I see now that this striving for perfection originated in childhood. Taking care of others was a really good survival strategy. I perceived myself as useful and worthy if I was “doing”. How glorious to receive your parents’ love and public affection for helping them and being respectful. They glow when other parents tell them how lucky they are to have such an obedient daughter. You feel like you almost fit in. These characteristics can be positive in the right situation. 

But really, you’re just a performing seal.

Put differently, what if being the opposite is forbidden? What if voicing your opinions and trying to have your needs fulfilled is received negatively? It can easily turn toxic. What you’re left with is a little girl who has to stifle her spirit to get some needs met.  She unconsciously becomes a people-pleaser because it creates warm feelings of acceptance and competence. Maybe, just maybe, there is the belief that people will return the same selfless love one day.

Sadly, the legacy of this pattern means that I struggle to feel worthy just “being”. That is, unless I am “being a good girl”.

HH actually used this term to describe childhood me the other day. He likened little me to a “Girl Scout collecting all her badges”. I was a bit gobsmacked at the image but immediately nodded my head at his insight (yes, I know that’s what perfect clients do but this moment legit saw me bobbing my head up and down with wide eyes).

I have just been altogether well-behaved in our therapy. And it’s doing us both a disservice. My fear of bumping into his boundaries and possibly being rejected means I end up completely inhibited. There is little space left for me to do and say whatever pops up. I hold back because I don’t want to hurt him in any way (because then he might leave. Or he might see the cruel, selfish, ugly and worthless idiot that I am afraid I might truly be should everything else be stripped away). While we do good work, this pattern stops us from connecting intimately. A wall of protection will always prevent us from moving deeper. Once he truly sees me, he will better know how to assist or be present. I am aware that him seeing all my attachment behaviours won’t  lead to gratification and an ideal relationship. This is messy territory we are talking about.

If HH is the type of man I think he may be, he won’t run away. I just hope I have the braveness to keep showing up authentically once I lower the wall. 

Playful Jay

What are some of the things I have spontaneously wanted to do in this therapy relationship, but instead killed the thought before it gets me into trouble?

– Take some toys from the containers on the other side of the room so we can play a game.

– Have him listen to the pieces of orchestral/classical music that pierce my soul because I feel like they speak my inner truth.

– Email him when I need to connect or have him hold something for me until our next session (I haven’t once sent an email because of supposed therapy rules).

– Ask him personal questions if the need arises (I am so aware of not wanting to put him in an awkward position with self-disclosure. But I really think there is more space for him to be… Besides the personality traits he reveals, the only things I know are that  he sometimes struggles to be on time, he may be a smoker because there was a lighter on his desk, and he is old school because he doesn’t have a smartphone or a website).

– Challenge him if I don’t think he is “getting” me.

– Have a staring competition and see who cracks first. And then belly laugh the whole session because you’re acting silly and who says you need to be serious all the time? 

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The body remembers


It was not long after I developed a basic level of trust with Heart Healer (HH) that I had a breakthrough in one of our sessions. The life and death moment we shared arose spontaneously and involved excruciating vulnerability. Basically all the ingredients for potential retraumatisation or a new healing experience!

But I have to go back and explain. I had gone into a previous session with the aim of being as open and raw as I could. In other words, the inner censor was left at the door. This was not fun. But I was trying to be less inhibited. I often froze up in therapy, physically and verbally. This seemed to be part of a childhood coping mechanism, I discovered with HH’s help. The strategy? Be compliant and “control” all emotions and feelings so as not to “burden” others or endanger myself. Be a blank slate and adapt ASAP.

Anyway, I shared some really shame-inducing feelings, fears and memories.  These had to do with the relationship with my mom, the possibility of enacting toxic patterns with my potential children, and a critical attitude that I was already re-enacting with my husband at times.

In that session, I think HH spoke two sentences. He was silent the rest of the time. No mmm’s, ahhhs or nods. The silence freaked me out. I experienced it as a void, a disengagement, an alienating space and a sign that what I was saying was unacceptable. Logically, I knew HH may have been creating sufficient space for me to express myself. Or provide a moment with no reaction from his side. Emotionally, it hit a trigger.

I felt rejected. After the session, I was sitting with a very yucky feeling. I was bad. Broken. I didn’t know how to process it. Parallel to that, was a feeling of being violated.

The next few days saw me battling to connect with my coping adult self. I was a weepy mess. I felt the silence was meant as punishment. At the same time, I was also ashamed at feeling so overwhelmed by the silence. My biggest fear was that I would be perceived as too intense, too much for HH. Gathering all my strength, I tried to pen down my experience so I could make sense of it and see it in black and white. Looking at it on paper made it more real. It wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, as my inner critic was trying to shout at me.

After tossing and turning for a week, I walked into the next session in a hypervigilant state. I knew that we had to discuss what had happened. But I was also being held back by the fear of his reaction to my experience. I was between a rock and a hard place. He asked how I was and as I started to raise the last session, I froze. Shame hit me like a tsunami. Yes, this was why I had typed it out. My throat constricted and I croaked out that I had a letter. He asked if I could read it out loud. I crunched my shoulders and looked down. “NO!!” my body screamed. “If you don’t say the words out loud, then you can’t be punished,” a part of me warned internally. I shook my head furiously and indicated he must read it. He gently took it from me and asked if he could read it out loud. “NOOOOO!” the child screamed inside. It was physically impossible to speak or look at him. Very calmly, he started reading the letter. But it was in a scary stage whisper. Hearing my words out loud made me cringe and feel my life was in danger. My hands shot to my ears and I tried to block them out. I recall shaking my head furiously and waiting for the retribution. My world was spinning. I eventually also closed my eyes.

He stopped reading. This was it. This was the moment he was going to attack me. Either verbally or physically. HH calmly spoke through my perceptions of the silence. He wondered whether there were other times in life that I had felt silence was punishing. He also wondered if there was a part of me that thought it was unacceptable to have and voice certain thoughts or feelings. His questions felt overwhelming and I was stuck in shame. I remained braced for retaliation. My body took over and my arms and hands reflexively flew in front of me to shield my head from the blows. I trembled and kept shaking my head, my arms poised in front like rigid tree branches. While I was kind of aware that HH was there, my system had been hijacked and reason flew out the window. I couldn’t talk myself out. “You’re scared. You have expressed how you felt and now you’re waiting for me to retaliate,” HH said softly. “It seems inevitable.” The tears kept coming and still, I kept waiting. As I looked up to see where he was, I noticed his eyes had welled up with tears. It didn’t immediately register. Although it’s difficult to remember his exact words, he said something like: “You believe I am going to hurt you. Either reprimand you verbally. Or physically. That I will beat you.” It took a while but the fear slowly loosened its grip. My eyes darted to the door and I was able to verbalise that I was looking for the closest exit. My body wanted to get me out of there. He nodded. This body memory had never popped up for me before. I felt extremely vulnerable and embarrassed, not knowing quite what had happened.

When I was calmer, HH did not point out my bodily terror. He said the feelings I had about the silence seemed very powerful, very strong, perhaps like an experience in the past with a significant other. It was something I had thought about for a while… Transference. Looking at it through adult eyes, I could see it was potentially an overreaction. I shared as much with him. “But there is still a very young part of me who feels that your silence is a very scary and real threat.” He said he understood.

“You expect retaliation for expressing yourself,” he said. I added that sometimes punishment was very subtle. People would promise that there were no consequences. I was thinking of my parents. “But they end up punishing you in very subtle ways. So subtle that an outsider would never suspect.”

HH seemed a bit sad. It took me a few days to escape that terror but I came out feeling calmer because he had not punished me in any way. At least yet.

A few days later, I had the happiest dream I have had in a few years. After sharing it with HH, I realised our experience above may have created psychic, mental space for a new, healing way of being.

“I am in a modern, airy home with lots of glass in the middle of the forest. It doesn’t feel too open. It feels safe and calm. I feel inspired to finally try head stands (something I am too scared to do in real life). I do one against the wall and it feels good. My arms hold balance and feel strong. Defying gravity, I climb the wall upside down and find myself nestled in a sky light. It is mostly glass and I admire the forest outside. The realisation hits me that this is my new home and I have free roam. I run to the nearest waterfall and soak up the cool ionized air as my feet hit the leafy ground. The water hits the rocks and it is soothing. I quench my thirst by kneeling down near the mouth of the waterfall. I am a bit cautious and make sure the water will not engulf me, but I trust that it will be okay.”

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Finding my voice


Time flew by and the sessions between my new therapist Heart Healer (HH) and I quickly racked up. We spent the first six catching up on my childhood, major relationships and challenges, as well as figuring each other out.

Like a good detective, HH was curious and tried to figure out basic connections between things before jumping right in and confronting the ‘baddies’. He felt there was a link between the vulnerability and safety of young women and children in my job to an afraid or lonely child inside me.

There was an adult part and a child part. The child felt scared vocalising things because of not wanting to hurt others and see them in pain. The child also did not want to be so vulnerable that others would take advantage or hurt her. I felt a sense of relief at him acknowledging these fears and vulnerabilities.

There is a child part that doesn’t have a voice,” HH said one session, his finger pressed to his cheek while deep in thought. “There is feeling and emotion but little voice… It feels like it may have been suppressed“.

Over the next few sessions, it would become clearer why this was so.

Despite our productive moments, I have to admit that I was stumped by his behaviour and body language at times. He always seemed quite nervous when greeting and saying goodbye. Was I really projecting or was this about him?, I wondered. I mean, I was obviously anxious going into every session because he was new and I was apprehensive about some things that had come up in previous sessions. But surely he’d be a little more chilled for someone who had been doing this for 17 years? Every now and then, I would notice him yawning. Or sitting back quietly in his seat with his arms folded and closed off. Maybe he had just had a long day or some challenging sessions? I had to constantly challenge my anxious thoughts and give him benefit of the doubt.

But there was one major developing theme I could not shake. I would get to the waiting room a few minutes before our session and sit patiently. Other clients would come and go with their therapists. The big arm of the clock on the wall would strike 12 and still I would sit. He would only come fetch me about 5-7min after our session time had started. This may not seem like much. But in a 50-minute “therapy hour”, it was a lot. The time we were missing out on was not what affected me most. It was the visceral feeling of abandonment. I felt isolated and confused as I waited. I started to doubt myself and our therapeutic relationship. It brought up old themes of not being good enough or worthy of someone’s time. His other tasks were more important and I was ‘a task’ that would have to wait. I didn’t mention any of this to him for over a month. But I had learnt enough from my therapy with DS to raise my therapeutic experience because it was grist for the mill. It was also an extremely difficult but necessary goal of my own to be more assertive.

My heart was pounding and I was trembling as I walked into his room. Could I trust him? HH acknowledged my fear of being retraumatised. There was always a duality. Hope and dread. “I wonder if your need to be seen, heard and validated comes from failed experiences in the past?” he mused.

Taking a deep breath in, I raised my feelings around him being consistently late in starting our sessions. With not a shred of defensiveness, he said he was in the wrong and it was his responsibility to start on time, not mine. He referred to it as an “infraction” and said he had every intention of doing better next time. I felt brave for telling him that waiting longer for him made me question things. He was so understanding and I felt myself relaxing a little. Feeling buoyed, I asked if it would be possible to let me know when we had 10 minutes left in a session because it took a while for me to gather myself before leaving. He said that was not normally something he did but that he was happy for me to pick up a clock he had and move it to a table we could both see. I felt a lot calmer.

He has been on time for every one of our sessions since. And the clock is always on the table as I get in. These were positive steps in building an alliance.


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Back to therapy I go


(Trigger warning- reference to themes of violence and sexual assault. Please take care)

I did not think I would see another therapist after DS (Deep Soul). Before he closed his practice, I even shared these sentiments with him. While the process was beneficial, and led to change in many areas, I guess I was not in the right head and heart space to do it again. The ending was painful and a tiny bit traumatic because I felt I hadn’t resolved everything I had wanted to.

Life had other plans and I found myself in the market for a therapist. My job ended up being the gateway. The past six months saw me handling an intense and increased workload of women and children who had fallen victim to some of the worst possible acts mankind could think of. I was dealing with intimate details of how vulnerable individuals were preyed upon, beaten, raped in various ways, maimed and killed. In some instances, I had to see photos of their bodies. In one instance, watch a graphic video of a teen girl. All around me were grieving relatives and perpetrators, some who had initially been regarded as protectors. Chaos once again surfaced in my inner world. It was becoming even harder to find the energy to get out of bed every day. At times, I felt numb inside. Other times floating anxiety covered me like a heavy, damp blanket. Hypervigilance. Racing thoughts. All the time, questions. “How must have they felt?” “What is wrong with this world?” “How would I feel if that happened to me? “What if that happens to me or someone I love?”. Progressing to “What will I do WHEN this happens to me or my loved ones?” When my husband said goodbye every morning, I would take note of what he was wearing so I could give police as much detail as possible to help them identify his body at a crime or accident scene. I was looking over my shoulder the whole time. I felt adrift.

Whatever safety I felt in my relationships and environment seemed to diminish in the face of an unseen, scary enemy. Different days brought up a mix of emotions. Most often, it was deep sadness, fear and a sense of loss. A supervisor at work suggested I contact our employee assistance programme to speak to someone. A kind woman set me up with a private psychologist not far from our new home, work and where DS used to practice. I will call him HH (Heart Healer).

I think it is inevitable that you will end up comparing therapists. It also becomes clear that each one offers something different. HH didn’t have a website I could browse through to learn more about his experience and approach. I was going in blind. As I parked my car outside his practice, I noticed that both therapy settings were cottage-like and had wrought iron fencing with a little garden. I punched in a code and the wooden door swung open. I was greeted by a long, narrow corridor with numerous doors. The wooden floor squeaked as I walked along the runner carpet. At the end was a waiting room. Light piano music filled the space. The comforting aroma of coffee wafted from a machine on the counter. A bookshelf offered family magazines and psychology journals. I grabbed a journal and sat on a squishy couch, feeling nervous and curious to see how this would pan out. When I used to wait for DS, I hardly ever bumped into other people visiting their therapists. Here however, new arrivals filed in every few minutes until eventually, I felt like I was in an airport departures lounge. It made me uneasy. Everyone kept to themselves. The clock struck 11am and therapists streamed in to pick up their clients until it was just me and another woman left. I counted the minutes anxiously. Was he still busy with another client? Was it really a good idea to see someone new? Five minutes later, an older man with silver hair poked his head around the corner and said his name to us. I replied with mine and followed him back down the corridor to a door on the right. His office was completely different to DS’s. Gone was the stylish but comfortable fittings with cool tones, the bookshelf with all his textbooks and the puffy couch which could comfortably sit three. Instead, HH’s space had sunny walls with generic pastel paintings you might find in a chain hotel. Half of the space was taken up by toys and items for play therapy. He walked past the room divider and offered me the double seater or a chair. I sat in the squeaky wicker double seater. It was surprisingly comfy. To the left was a big window I could look out of. Above the flowering bougainvillea, I noticed curtains rustling at the neighbour’s window. HH bumbled about, apologising for not being able to give me a declaration form because his printer was giving trouble. He sat down in front of me and we both had a chance to assess each other. He was older than DS. He used a pen and paper, not a tablet. He was both serious and awkward. But I remembered the kindness in his voice message, while we were still setting up an appointment, and figured he was a man of many layers.

We spoke about what had brought me to his office. I was surprised by how quickly I started choking up and crying. Had I really been bottling things up? I tried to be patient with myself and breathed in between so I could explain everything. “Where were his darn tissues?” I thought as I looked around. He came over and fished a box out from under a table. I explained that while every person had their ups and downs, it felt as though I had lost optimism and excitement about the future. I told him about DS and made it clear that I knew therapists were not magicians. I was realistic about having to put in the work and not having answers fall out the sky.

At first, I sensed he was bored because he crossed his arms and seemed disinterested in making eye contact. It made me wary. When he said those symptoms would fit under depression, I felt it was too quick to be diagnosing before understanding me as a person. I didn’t think I was depressed. Slowly I sensed a shift through the session and felt he had at least a basic understanding and interest in working with me to figure out what was going on. He recommended that the next session be used to get a background on my life and formative influences, my relationships with loved ones and what was happening in my life on a daily basis.

As we got up, he squeezed himself between the door and room divider so I could walk past. He seemed nervous. I walked out, hoping I would be able to move forward in the same way I was putting one foot in front of the other.

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My year without therapy


This weekend marked a year since my therapist DS (Deep Soul) and I parted ways. These 365 days offered a chance for reflection, regression and growth. Many a client before me, and many still to come, will be confronted with this situation. Each will react differently. I cannot claim my path was special. It is also not over. I chronicle the journey because of an instinctual need to record and preserve. My wish is that you not be triggered, but rather find comfort and hope. Alternatively, I hope you can learn something. It’s pretty long so grab a cuppa before settling in…

The beginning:

It took a while to grieve his departure for another country, and the loss of our weekly sessions. Old abandonment fears sparked up in a twisted knot of rage, loneliness and despair. “Why was he leaving when he had previously acted as though there was no basis for my fears of being abandoned?” “How could my greatest support system at the time also be the cause of my greatest emotional pain?” “What did this say about my worth and closest relationships?” My husband offered much-needed support. But the despair felt strongest when we were fighting and I didn’t have another safety net. On the days I was more emotionally centered, I felt happy for DS and all the opportunities that awaited him. Hope nestled like a tiny, scruffy Phoenix in a pile of ashes in my chest. I was wary…waiting…wondering how the days, weeks and months ahead would look. As always, vivid dreams offered a colorful, if somewhat cryptic, reflection of my internal landscape. DS featured every now and then. It became a source of amusement as to what form he would take. I found that though he was physically gone, our relationship and tete-a-tete continued and actually developed in my dreams. Obviously, I refer specifically to the part of DS I had incorporated into my own personality. Most would argue that the symbols and people in our dreams reflect different aspects of ourselves. In a dream a few months after he left, I had a Karate Kid moment that left me feeling more supported:

I went to visit the doctor. I entered the office and the doctor looked more like a monk. He had glasses, a beard and kind eyes. I noticed the sign on his door said ‘THERAPIST’. I was confused. We started chatting and he asked how I was. The conversation was stiff at first and I said I was doing well. He stared at me and I felt my defenses breaking down. I laughed and said: “Well, that is what I am supposed to say”. He smiled, nodded slowly, but kept quiet. His presence was zen-like. I started opening up to him. There were suddenly other people in the office and it felt like a playroom for adults. The session became group therapy.

The middle:

Having initially entered therapy because of marital strife a few years ago, I found that my husband and I were progressively making leaps and bounds in our relationship. There was a renewed sense of playfulness, enjoyment in each other and increased ability to share our perceptions and feelings. I was overjoyed. Feeling more secure than I had ever felt in any relationship, I found myself blossoming. I took what I had learnt about intimacy and trust from DS into my marriage and friendships. Never before had I felt more loved and appreciated for who I was. If ever there was a time for an upbeat soundtrack and rolling credits, this was it. But occasionally, I felt fear rising to the surface as I lay in bed at night. “How could this joy last?” I would cling to my husband and pray that he not be taken from me suddenly, through a car accident, illness or some other drama. I had rediscovered what was important to me. And with that brought a feeling of how fragile life was and quickly it could be taken away. This nightly toiling was somewhat of a premonition. A few months down the line, my husband and I were caught up in a drama concocted by a very sick and sad person, that thrust open past fault lines in our relationship.

While it is still very difficult to talk about, and actually makes me feel out of breath and sick to the stomach, I will give an overview of what took place. A woman I had never met before phoned my husband at his office one day. She claimed she was phoning on behalf of her friend, who apparently felt very uncomfortable with an alleged chat her husband and I had on Whatsapp. The husband was a colleague of mine who I had worked with a few times before but did not really know that well. I sometimes liked his work-related photos and once or twice swapped information for assignments. He worked in a different building. The anonymous caller refused to identify herself and asked that my husband not tell me about the phone call. This raised my suspicions. Understandably, he was very distressed when he phoned and relayed to me what she had said. I tried to comfort him and assured that no such thing happened. I wanted him to know he had my absolute loyalty. Confused and shocked, I felt like the world was swirling around me. It felt as though our secure base and growth were being snatched away. There is truly nothing more devastating than being accused of something terrible when you are innocent. I sunk into a familiar pit of emotional despair. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Those moments made me long for DS and his reassuring presence. He knew me. He would believe me.

Through this, I wondered why someone would blatantly lie. Why would they want to tear us apart? What person would willingly cause such chaos? My first step was to email the colleague in question, CC my husband, and tell him about the distressing phone call. I wanted him to clearly state to my husband that we were just colleagues. To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about his personal circumstances to try hatch up theories about who might be behind this. He assured that he and his wife were very much together and in love still, and that someone had been harassing him for a while. He apologised that this person had dragged us into the mess . He asked for the number this woman had phoned from.

Using all my investigative skills, I eventually uncovered what I believed to be the truth. I linked the mobile number to a woman through a Google search and cross-referencing. This woman, who turned out to be a freelancer for our mother company, had friended me on Facebook a few weeks earlier. Seeing her work details, I figured we had had obviously met before or had seen each other in a professional setting. I accepted and thought no more of it. She then was able to see my husband, where he worked and his department. It would not take much to phone his company and ask to be out through to his landline. While I don’t know for sure, I guess she must have had feelings for my colleague. She may have seen that I asked about his work trip to Dubai. I found that she used to like every post of his. This stopped just before the phone call and I guess he may have spurned her attempts to be closer or have a relationship. They unfriended each other and I later found she unfriended me before all this unfolded. Why she chose us as a target of her fury I will never know. After speaking to colleagues who knew her, I established she was not mentally well and prone to strange behaviour. Her actions angered me but I had better insight and understanding. I blocked her on all social media channels and increased my privacy settings. I then shared these findings with my husband, hoping he would feel more at ease. The attack had brought up old issues. Every day was an ongoing struggle over trust. A budding self-confidence regressed to insecurity. Fear, and not faith, was my foundation. Pretty shaky. Around this time, I had a jarring dream:

I drove to a house and it belonged to an distant school friend. Photos lined her walls. A baby was in some of them and I found out it had died. The house was quite dark and gloomy. I went outside and her husband drove in. He was absolutely devastated, hunching over and crying as he got out the car. Their house was suddenly replaced by a warehouse. I walked over to him because I realised I was there as a therapist. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I held him up and slowly led him to the warehouse. DS stopped in the parking lot and got out. He saw me supporting this guy. I was pleased because I hoped he would see me more as an equal and fellow professional. It felt like he was there to give me a therapy session. We all walked inside and my office was two sets of chairs and a table with a book labelled ‘counsellling psychologist’. The set-up was in the middle of the big warehouse and DS felt close but out of sight. Her husband confided in me that he wanted to commit suicide. It felt very urgent and I tried to comfort, placate and reason with him but he got increasingly violent. He jumped up from his chair and stormed toward me. DS appeared, whipped out a gun and shot him to protect me. The man collapsed to the floor. I was shocked and woke up highly unsettled.

The end and beginning:

As the dust settled, it was possible to reflect on where I stood and what therapy had cracked open. I had been here before. There was only so much I could say and do. Others were responsible for their actions and reactions. Trying to convince someone and, in a sense control the outcome, was futile. Relationships, life and people were messy, unpredictable and not always fair. As an idealist, I saw the potential of “what could be” instead of what was staring at me. Relentlessly pursuing the unattainable had caused me a lot of unnecessary grief. While there was some merit in believing in others, nobody could live up to these expectations, least of all me. I could not hope to heal old wounds by transforming a so-called bad object into a good object. Martha Stark described this phenomenon clearly and sensitively in her book, Psychotherapeutic Moments: Putting the Words to Music (available from freepsychotherapybooks.org). She explained how relentless hope was a defence to which people clung to in order to avoid grieving and feeling the pain of disappointment in the ‘object’. For me, this was the pain of parents who were not always responsive or available to the infant me. Fairbairn said: “A bad object is infinitely better than no object at all.” Cue a repetitive compulsion and a cycle of disappointing and infuriating intense attachments. If I think about it, I had transferred early and unresolved attachment onto DS. I so desperately clung to the hope that he would return to the country or somehow complete the incomplete. All of this sounds rather intellectual. But it sunk in on an emotional level as I read Stark’s book on a bus. Tears freely rolled down my cheeks with every bump in the road and every paragraph I read. I allowed myself to start feeling the “unbearable” pain buried deep inside. A therapist’s role here was to alternatively challenge and support. Without DS, but with some of his internalised good, I try to do the same. This is a long journey, maybe a lifelong one to make peace with reality. Or, as Stark says, “transformation of the need to hold on into the capacity to let go”. I dreamt this on the anniversary of his departure:

I drove to DS for therapy. It was in a different house and there were quite s few cars parked in the front yard. It took some maneuvering to find a spot. Once parked, I sat still for a bit. Excitement rose at seeing him again. In my rear view mirror, I saw a family leaving his office and wondered what their situation was. It struck me that I hadn’t been in therapy for a year. Maybe it was not necessary for me to go back.

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