Therapists 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.