Monthly Archives: June 2014

Therapy clients often feel sheepish

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My therapist DS (Deep Soul) definitely cares about me. I have come to this realisation after blogging about our last session and how devastated I was that he had kept me at a distance. It was one of those moments when things are so emotional that you are blind to your own issues and first need to vent before being able to think straight.

To the bloggers who are either in therapy, therapists or just emotionally intelligent: Your insightful and objective comments as outsiders gave me a lot to think about. Thank you for being there, not judging and also giving me the space to come to what now seems obvious.

My more rational and gathered thoughts about Monday’s session are as follows:

– I went into the session with two opposing expectations. On the one hand, I expected him to be there for me and comfort me, when my dad had not. On the other, I was expecting him to be exactly like my dad and disappoint me.

– I think DS kept a clinical distance with his neutral tone of voice and unaffected demeanor because he did not want to enter a dynamic playing out in the moment.

– He was being a good therapist by giving me the space to fully feel the overwhelming fear, panic, sadness and anger that seemed to emerge out of nowhere. He was allowing these feelings to discharge their energy.

– Not rushing to alleviate my abandonment fears allowed him to observe me and listen to what I had to say, in order to get a better understanding of why I was feeling this way.

– As far as I understand, he was basically allowing the negative transference to strengthen. He then timed his interventions to make me aware of the similarities between how I was feeling about him and how I had felt with my mom and dad, two major attachment figures.

– He did not rush in to offer comfort because that is not his job. By standing back, he was trying to allow me to sit with the discomfort and build the capacity to do that by myself in future.

– When he did not answer my question about whether he had thought of me during our break, he might have been extra icy and seemingly detached to tease out the anger and rage that I’ve been too scared to unleash.

– He put the transference needs above the needs of our therapeutic relationship. While research shows the relationship as being the most reliable marker of therapy success, I think he took the risk because he knew it would pay off.

– The risk was that I might think he was such an absolute asshole that our relationship would be irrevocably damaged and I would cancel all sessions. (But I think that would more likely have happened with an avoidantly attached client and not an anxiously attached one)

– I don’t think it was easy for him to see me in such pain and to indirectly cause me more pain in the moment by not responding as I had wanted.

Sheep have feelings too…

I am satisfied with these findings and they resonate on a cognitive level. They are starting to sink in on an emotional level. If he had responded as a friend or family member, we would have lost a good opportunity to advance my therapeutic goals. Could I go so far to say that he was giving me tough love? (And I hate to use the L word here because I cannot even comprehend that would be his feelings for a mere client)

Yes, I am only human and I am still feeling very raw. And it does hurt to expose a wounded heart. There is also an emotional pain volcano inside my torso that I have to deal with. After erupting on Monday, it’s now at the point where it’s bubbling and simmering slowly.

DS said that even though he was going away this weekend and would be taking Monday and Tuesday off, he would let me know if an evening session opened up on Wednesday. Failing that, I would see him in two weeks time.

While I was wiping my snot and streaked mascara from my face, he also said he thinks I am being too hard on myself by expecting progress all the time. When I think of how he dealt with me, it actually just strengthens the warm feelings I have for him as a therapist. Which creates a dilemma in the sense that my attachment to him has now only strengthened. It’s going to be a bitch to eventually say goodbye.

 

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The spoken pain of therapy

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I felt so disconnected from DS (my therapist Deep Soul) tonight and I’m in shock at what happened in our session.

This was the first time I had seen him in two weeks. Two weeks felt like two months with everything that’s happened. I told him how much I had missed him and how disappointed and abandoned I had felt by both my dad and him. Because he had been off twice on sick leave, I had also worried so much about his health and whether he was okay. As I sat there, there was a visceral feeling of panic and I shared that there was a part of me that was just waiting for him to announce that he was leaving me, whether by choice, sickness or something else. I was shaking and felt really alone in that room while he watched me trying to pull myself together. Eventually, I managed to stop shaking after I did a few breathing exercises and visualisation (which I initiated, not him). Nothing was spared in sharing my feelings with him as I know by now they can be vehicles for growth. I said my husband and the blogging community were a help during the time we had been apart. He acknowledged that it must have been difficult for me to feel both worry and abandonment and then he kept quiet.

The hills are alive with the sound of crickets…

For some reason, I just wasn’t feeling his attentiveness and care. He was reflecting back what I had said but there was an emptiness to it. It felt like this was his job. I was not a real person before him with real concerns. It was unsettling.

Thinking that we might get back on track again. I shared with him how I had recently discovered the concept of the inner child through blogging. I asked if it was okay to read the eye-opening conversation I had with this inner child by calling up my blog on my iPad. He said it was okay and I managed to read everything (after a lot of stopping, choking up and being asked what I was feeling).

Then he kept quiet. I asked what DS thought about the whole thing. He asked for clarity and I said I wanted to know what he made of the concept of the inner child. He seemed a bit confused and was frowning. My body language gear was in overdrive so his gestures felt really pronounced. My brain was telling me that he didn’t get it or he thought it was silly. He didn’t understand me. I battled through an explanation of my understanding of the inner child and what I felt it meant.

I told him I was struggling to feel connected to him like I had at our last session. The therapeutic connection had felt strong and trustworthy. Now it felt like I had imagined it. “I guess I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to feel that way about you now”. He didn’t say much at all. “When you don’t share your thoughts, I have to work out what’s going on in your mind. Your silence is provoking my anxiety, DS.” He nodded.

It just feels like you are not here for me when I need you now. This is how I have felt recently. It’s been so hard trying to deal with my feelings and emotions without you these last two weeks. I was doing my best to be my own therapist and it’s just so ironic that I finally have you in front of me and it feels like you are not here. It feels like I still have to battle it on my own.” Things were starting to feel like the time I had entered therapy last year… at that stage, I was wrapped up in a tightly-bound cocoon, a cage made up of strings I had cast to protect myself. This cocoon was built up because I had been cast out. Nobody had understood me. I felt like an alien, a weirdo, a reject.

When in doubt, pout, scream or shout…

“In my head, I have been thinking about what this time apart has meant for you. Have you thought about me at all? Did you think at any stage about what I was getting up to or how I was dealing with things coming my way? Or did it never even cross your mind?” Silence. “It scares me to think that I didn’t exist in your mental world even once. How can I sustain our therapeutic connection between sessions when I can so easily be replaced by other clients? It petrifies me to think you don’t care. Especially because you are going away next week and I will not have another session again for two weeks.”

When I was finished, DS said a few things slowly with an objective tone in his voice. I can’t remember it all but he was trying to connect the abandonment I had felt with my dad, with how I was feeling about him now. This was NOT the right time to bring that up. Doing so completely invalidated my feelings by reducing it to transference. I felt like he had minimised my concerns about the therapeutic relationship, and in so doing, had also minimised how he was contributing to what was happening.

He was not getting that this conversation was SPECIFICALLY about needing him to be a good therapeutic person I could trust and knew had some inkling of care for me. I needed him to show me what it was like to be comfortable with emotions in a way that still respected boundaries. This was the only way I would be able to heal through therapy.

“I’m disappointed that you are using your therapeutic voice on me. This is not the time for that. I feel like you are hiding behind it. I can’t detect any emotion or care in your voice. I need to feel that you actually give a crap” (Okay, I wish I had thought of the last line at the time but was a bit too overwhelmed by my emotions).

All he said was: “I understand this one-sided therapy relationship must be painful for you.”

Replace any witty heading here with: what the actual FUCK…

Well, what a way to make me feel safe and secure. Not. That line only served to fuel my paranoid thoughts that he really doesn’t seem to care. I had opened my heart to truly express just how much pain I was in and that this was THE time, if any, to be authentic and show up too.

“Okay, so I’m hearing that you don’t really care? I’m disappointed. To be honest, I’m actually really hurt.” At that point, I gave up the brave front I had been putting on to try get somewhere and broke down into a heaving pile of a mess on his couch. With every bawl it felt like a piece of my heart was clunking onto the floor.

To add to it all, I was completely ashamed to be so emotional in front of him without a safety net of trust and concern. I hid my face and probably would have felt more at home in a dung beetle’s hole.

After what seemed like an eternity, he again reflected stuff in his objective voice because our time was up. I honestly couldn’t stomach any of it given that this was precisely what I felt I didn’t need in that moment.

With that we said our goodbyes for the evening and I exited his office with more sniffs and tears. I don’t know what the hell happened tonight but I feel numb. It’s so hard for me to find self-compassion at a time when this man who has become an attachment figure is not attuned. My inner child has also gone into hiding.

I just feel so much pain now.

EDIT: In hindsight I can see that he is offering me a form of care but it doesn’t make the pain feel less and I still completely confused!

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Peeking through the cracks

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I did something this week that I haven’t done in over twenty years. It was both intimate and disturbing.

I was nestled on a comfy spot at my regular coffee shop while the rain belted down outside. With the gentle hubbub of voices and steam drifting off a mug of green tea, I felt brave and strong enough. I decided to have a conversation with my inner child (which I’ve included below).

Why does that seem like a big deal? Well, I didn’t exactly know she existed. I realised I had deep pain and wounds from my childhood but I hadn’t really embodied it as part of an inner child. Instead, I had just assumed that this was who I was… cracked and disfigured like an old mug that had been sloppily glued back together to hide the imperfections.

Glumpty-Dumpty had a big fall…

My view changed this month. In the last session with DS (my therapist Deep Soul), I acknowledged to him that I was made up of false selves. I wept because I had read about the concept of the authentic self and didn’t know what was real for me and what I’d put on for the sake of others. I really wanted to know who I was before I had to hide.

Since I started seeing him a year ago, DS has been able to extract bits and pieces of “real” me. He has had conversations with the wounded parts and enabled me to grieve. This is part of why I deeply appreciate his presence in my life. Anyway, I left the session with a mission and feeling connected to DS. Then it came about that we wouldn’t be meeting for two weeks. This was bearable until my dad couldn’t make a planned lunch on Father’s Day. The mixture unleashed devastating disappointment, abandonment issues and sadness.

A blogger (SpaceFreedomLove) kindly suggested in a comment that I nurture my wounded child in this time and listen to what she needs to feel better. I think she called it re-parenting! I really had to grapple with this concept. Firstly, it felt unnatural to think about my own needs without thinking of others’. I either felt guilty or like I would be punished for being so selfish. That’s some messed up thinking but I accept that it’s a conditioned part of me that I can work on. Secondly, there was a constant battle with the critical inner voice that had the ability to annihilate self-compassion and nurturing.

This voice said it was “stupid and New-Age” to speak to something which I was making up and which didn’t have a physical presence. But my curiosity and aching need to resolve the pain drowned out the voice. I took a lot of deep breaths and gently looked inwards to ask this child what it was feeling and needing in the moment.

Mini-Jay is in the house…

I wrote down the questions and waited for the answers. Here is the conversation that followed:

– Are you there?

Yes

– What do you need?

Accept me. Enjoy me. Give me the chance to breath. Don’t fight me. Protect me. Shield me from pain and hurt.

– I sense a lot of sadness inside?

Why are you only acknowledging me now? After all these years of shaming, pushing my needs down and ignoring me. How would you feel if someone locked you up for more than 20 years and chose not to look at you?

I’ve sat here in the dark, crying out for help. When my cries went unanswered, I sobbed and screamed. Still, no one came. So I stopped. I retreated to one corner of this cage and crumpled. Every now and then I would stand back up and try to call out again for food, nourishment, company, acknowledgement. Anything. That was not good enough. You came inside and kicked me back into the corner. Imagine how that feels. Sadness does not describe it. I am not sure I exist. I am talking to you but I don’t know if I am real. I need time to process this.

——-

I was taken aback by how devastated I was inside. Disbelief and shock vibrated through every cell. Instead of retreating from these feelings, I tried to ride through the discomfort. What followed was bliss. The scary wave dissipated and was replaced with calm. Just acknowledging and listening to this inner truth has shifted something.

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A letter to my therapist from the top of disappointment mountain.

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I was disappointed that you couldn’t make our regular session tonight. And then my heart dropped when you said you couldn’t see me tomorrow morning instead, especially because I was so excited to have some time off from work, which never happens. I had felt quite enterprising to come up with that solution. I needed to see you because of what I was feeling on Father’s Day.

I’ve reached the point in disappointment mountain…

My aunt and I had planned this whole lunch in honour of my dad, my grandad and her boyfriend, who is a dad. The day before the lunch, my dad’s wife (my step-mom) got awful news that her elderly dad had finally passed away. My dad apologised and said he would not be able to make lunch because he had to be there for her. I was trying to deal with the mixed feelings of not seeing my dad and also feeling my step-mom’s pain at losing her father. I completely understood that my dad needed to be there for her and I said as much to him. I guess I felt though that this was not the first time he had been there for other people and not me. Obviously, it was not just about my dad not making this one thing. It brought up a lot of times in the past when he had not shown up when he needed to. When I was left disappointed by his actions. The times I felt achingly alone and like he didn’t care that he was leaving me in that state. I realise I am sitting on a mountain of disappointment that’s collected over the years and I don’t quite know how to get off it. This mountain is high and its magnitude is dizzying. Disappointment sits thick in the base of my throat and stomach. It threatens to choke and engulf me from the inside. I remain vigilant, waiting for other people to do the same. I even half expected you not to answer my e-mail before tomorrow, but you did.

Where’s the pause button in my brain?…

It was when I was sitting with these emotions, trying my best to deal with them, that I got your message. I was happy that you had taken the time to respond to me. But then I found out that you wouldn’t be able to meet me at an alternative time because you were sick. So much ran through my mind and I tried to slow it down. I tried to think about things logically. But I couldn’t deny what I was feeling. The disappointment was rising through my torso, slowly. My body felt tight, clenching. Scared to relax in case I drowned. My chest also felt tight. Was that my heart closing off? No.

It felt like a scratch on an open wound I guess. And you didn’t cause the wound. It felt like a scratch because I had expected so much from you. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have just waited for your response before imagining our session and the relief at being able to let go of what I was feeling. The relief of being in your consistent, accepting and calming presence. There is no relief now.

Let’s all just acknowledge that sick has ick in it…

Within this maelstrom is sickening worry. This is the second time you have taken sick leave in a few weeks. I am so concerned for you. Are you sick with a heavy cold because of the weather and long working hours? Did you come down with flu because you are burnt out from us and your body needs rest? Or is it something far more serious?

I try to take a deep breath and think of the safe place in my head I shared with you recently. In the field you stand in your sturdy green tweed jacket among the verdant winter bushes. The misty mountains act as a backdrop and a light drizzle leaves a film of crystals on your clothes. You smile gently and I pray this reassurance washes away the disappointment.

I can’t afford to lose another person who means so much. You are like family to me. Please don’t leave me.

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Underground dreams are deep

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Have you also dreamed about tunnels or exploring caves or crevices beneath the earth? What makes these dreams so fascinating is that, unless a miner, hermit or hobbit (!), humans spend all their time in the light and on the surface. Underground represents something quite mystical or foreign. A place of darkness, cold and fear. A home for hard minerals, dust and things that hide.

“I don’t dig that”…

This is a good analogy for how most people seemingly experience life. They take whatever comes at surface-value and desperately seek to stay in the light, where it is warm, safe and familiar. Many seem unwilling or uninterested in digging deeper. To dig deeper would mean having to confront pieces of themselves that they fear they, or others, would not be able to handle.

Typically, dreams of tunnels and being underground represent the exploration of the unconscious… the soup bubbling just beneath the surface. We are being told that something is afoot. All is not as it seems.

With that, I’ve chosen to share my second dream involving a tunnel. What follows after that is the subsequent insight gleaned by chatting to my therapist DS (Deep Soul).

I find myself in a garden. I realise I am at my last family home I stayed in before becoming independent. I am struck with a feeling that I have to leave the house as soon as I can. There are two holes at the bottom of my garden that lead underground. I enter the first hole and crawl through to my neighbour’s garden. I can’t get any further because there is a big locked gate in front of me, so I turn back to the other hole.

My name is Alice…

Here, I climb in head-first and crawl through on my belly. I find a subterranean tunnel which looks much like a mole’s home. Ahead of me, an open hole in the earth wall filters gentle, late afternoon sun through. The tunnel is dry and not too cold. As I crawl along the ground, I see little niches on the floor and in the walls. At the first shadowy niche on my left, a tortoise pops its head out. I say hello and crawl past. With my feet near its head, I take one last glance back and am surprised to see the “tortoise neck” is actually a big snake rearing its head. It is like a cobra waiting to strike but it doesn’t bite me. I am not scared to death but I am a bit freaked out. I quicken my pace.

Another hole beneath my belly has a yellow stringy, spongy insect or starfish hiding there. I am scared and fill up the hole with my teddy bear before crawling over it.

I come to the place in the tunnel where the sun is gently filtering in and casting a circle of light on the floor. Bathed in light are an assortment of blue china plates, bowls and tea cups. They are arranged in a haphazard fashion, almost like they have been left as an offering to some higher power. Some are filled with dry food, like flour. “It’s amazing that insects haven’t touched this stuff,” I think to myself. I wake up without knowing whether I get out of the tunnel or not.

(If you didn’t get a chance to read my about my first tunnel dream, here it is, along with some dream symbolism to help with your own dream interpretation: http://bit.ly/1n8OsE9).

Therapy is like archeology…

I shared both tunnel dreams with DS a few weeks ago. I told him that I was almost positive they were indicative of transformation.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t see a light at the end of either tunnel,” I remarked to him. Seeing the light in a dream would be a reassuring sign to anyone undergoing therapy or a shaky process of change and self-discovery.

In his typically insightful and gobsmackingly sensitive fashion, he replied: “Maybe you didn’t need to because the light is already inside the tunnel”. BAM. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Clearly, this is one of the many good reasons I am paying him the big bucks. It was so obvious once he had said it. Here I was thinking that hope and “enlightenment” lay at the end of the journey. But my dream was trying to shine a light on the nourishment and precious, delicate gifts I already have inside, just waiting to be used.

And what about the tortoise and snake? Both are ancient creatures with symbolic connotations. The tortoise is slow, cautious and protected by thick skin and a shell. It sounds a lot like how I’ve operated on an emotional level in the past. There is also a tinge of feeling slow and stupid because of people’s criticisms as a child. This tortoise magically transforms into a snake in the blink of an eye. In fact, it doesn’t transform. I just hadn’t looked at properly. I am not frightfully scared of snakes but have a fearful respect for them. My dream snake was poised to strike but didn’t. Instead, it was suspended in a position so graceful but worthy of respect. I truly believe this snake represents untapped strength. And that I can use this strength without having to strike out at others. Snakes shed their skin without fear because they know there will be renewal. I wish it was as easy for us to shed things which aren’t working anymore!

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When the therapy couch is on fire

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Even though it was the coldest night of the year, the therapy room was on fire last night. I left the session feeling like every inch of my body, soul and heart had been exposed and then gently draped in golden silk.

My therapist (I’ll call him DS for Deep Soul from now on) had truly seen me. Behind the anxious facade and insecurities. Behind the fear and self-doubt. Behind all of the walls I had built up to protect my feelings and sensitivity. He didn’t run. Instead, he metaphorically held my hand as I ended up opening to him about something I hadn’t planned to speak about or had even thought to share with someone.

Hair on the chair, again…

The wind was howling outside and he invited me to use the mohair blanket on the side of the couch to keep warm. He said this while ensconced in a fluffy blanket of his own. I was wearing dark pants and he warned me that the mohair might leave fine white hairs. It was amusing that he had even thought of that! I decided I was okay without the blanket for the moment and started speaking to him about boundaries.

I’ve recently realised that I was never taught how to set boundaries as a kid. I was expected to suck all the drama up, deal with people’s feelings and be responsible for everything. At the same time, it felt like it was a battle I could never win. I could rarely do anything right or be competent. What often ended up happening was that I would become desperately anxious to please when I felt the wrath of my parents or when they were unhappy with me. The goal was to be close to them no matter the personal cost. I told DS this. I added that I had started experimenting with setting emotional boundaries with people and it felt good.

I guess it’s really hard for me to do that because I feel other people’s emotions so keenly, as if they were my own. These feelings overwhelm me. Yet, it’s so hard for me to tap into how I am feeling (go figure). Anyway, I said one boundary I was planning to enforce was not accepting attacks on my character anymore or being made to feel unworthy. It was something I felt really strongly about and which had caused me pain recently. At this, a rush of resolve came over me and I shivered. I grabbed the mohair blanket and covered myself.

I didn’t know therapists could buy flash-back blankets…

“Wow, this blanket is so warm!” I said in surprise, drawn out of the moment. Fingertips brushed absent-mindedly over the fibres. I was back in my gran’s home in the mountains, in front of the fireplace. She had always invited me to spend the holidays with her. For a month every year I felt like I truly belonged in a family because I was accepted for who I was. Hell, she made my dad and so I think she could appreciate the quirky genes.

“She gave me a mohair blanket exactly like this, except purple and pink. And a gollywog doll which is still at the top of my cupboard. I really treasure these things.”

The memory made me feel warm and safe. DS must have been surprised to hear me speaking so candidly and spontaneously. I sat in silence processing thoughts and feelings. From nowhere, I told him I sometimes felt like he was the big brother I had always wanted. I explained that my mom had miscarried a boy before having me. I doubted whether I would have been born if he survived. But I truly believed that he still had a soul and counted.

“What do you imagine your big brother would have been like?” he asked in a soft, steady voice.

The question surprised me. I was waiting for him to tell me I was crazy for having such sentimental and deluded thoughts about something I wasn’t directly involved in. He made it okay to have this desire. I imagined my brother would have been witty, smart and perhaps a bit of a ‘smart-ass”. Despite this, he would have been fiercely protective of me. He would have loved me unconditionally and been my team mate. Mine.

Weirdly, this is how I had been feeling with DS. Except he would never be mine. I sobbed from a very deep place in my soul. The realisation hurt like hell.

Whoever invented therapy, had a Freud sense of humour…

DS said people often loved each other because of how they made each other feel. He was making me feel the way I had always wanted to feel and he accepted the power in that. I was so emotional that I kind of thought he was using that to dismiss the fact that I also saw him as a person. DS said he knew this. That there was me, him and then the therapy room. He also understood that it was frustrating for me to feel so powerfully about someone I knew so little.

I agreed and said I was convinced some therapists had a persona and fixed on their therapist face as soon as they started work in the morning. I giggled and shared a random thought with him.

“For all I know, you may go home and change into a clown outfit and huge clown shoes. That your favourite thing is to juggle balls around, jump through fiery hoops and fit into small clown cars. When you get to work, you put your clown shoes in your backpack and wipe the smile off your face.”

He laughed and I think he appreciated the hilarity of the thought. “But I don’t think you’re a clown,” I added at the end for good measure.

We stood up and there was this weird energy between us. Something new was there. Our smiles met and our eyes crinkled. He was seeing me and I was okay with that.

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