Tag Archives: boundaries

Therapy funk

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You only know you’re in a state of “therapy funk” when you begin to emerge from it. And to claw out of it, either you or your therapist has to see that something is not quite right. It’s hard to point to individual molecules but almost impossible to miss a thick cloud. To me, the funk builds up as an emerging pattern of acting out of “character”, focusing too much on something or completely omitting certain topics, for example, as a form of resistance.

This therapy fog has built up, molecule by molecule, since sitting with DS this year. I spend most of the session on Monday continuing a discussion on the therapy relationship and the complexity of what I feel for DS. He nestles in his white and wood recliner, as always, in a state of absolute buddha calm, taking notes and chipping in where necessary.

With a thoughtful look towards the end, he says: “I have noticed that we have spoken a lot about the therapeutic alliance or relationship here recently. I am left wondering how you are doing and what is happening in your life.”

It strikes me that he trusts the alliance enough to say this without fearing I might become defensive or hurt that he has changed the topic and put the spotlight on something I am doing or not doing. I tell him as much and he says this pattern has more to do with what WE are doing, not just me. I think of a dance, where each partner makes a move in response to the other. Why have we been dancing in this direction and what are we avoiding? My head clicks into high gear, trying to formulate reasons for why I might have consciously or unconsciously chosen not to speak much about what has happened for me, focusing instead on him and my dreams.

– Maybe, with life shaken up so much by the retrenchment, I have tested the solidity of the therapy relationship because it is one of the constant things in my life and I need it more in the present moment?

– Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been debating whether to share two painful memories in the past which I believe are my fault and say something bad about me?

I bounce these possibilities off DS and I can see his head kicking into gear too. He proposes a theory which floors me. He says that perhaps I have watched In Treatment and read about therapy as a way to learn as much as possible, and therefore avoid bumping up against his boundaries. In other words, if I know enough I will be able to avoid the pain associated with these boundaries.

His observation seems to clear the air a little and my eyes well up.

Who enjoys feeling ashamed or being rejected by another? I don’t think anyone. But perhaps bumping up against others helps define the relationship more clearly, and who we are too? It just seems very difficult to say and do stuff which might make DS uncomfortable when I know better. I know what is “right and wrong”.

I do think there may be a lot at play here. I half-joked that maybe I haven’t spoken about my day to day stuff because things seem to be going well. He said that would make sense if that were the case.

But actually, things have not been plain-sailing and I have had to deal with some difficult situations and feelings lately. Maybe I have kept silent because I managed my way through some of them and don’t want to be dramatic in front of DS, be accused of inflating something out of proportion. Or maybe it’s the familiar feeling of thinking I need to deal with everything myself. After all, you have been in therapy for almost two years and shouldn’t you know how to run your life by now without needing help?!, the critical voice yells.

It may take a while to completely figure the funk out but the therapy space has lightened somewhat.

As Dr Steven Brownlow, a clinical psychologist in Texas, said on Twitter today: “Life is the best therapy. Leverage what happens in your clients’ lives to advance their growth.”

P.S. Less than a month after finding out about the retrenchment, and after rounds of interviews, I was offered a job a few days ago. I am dumbstruck by the blessing.

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Therapy butterflies

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I’m having one of those “What have I done?” moments after therapy on Monday.  The feeling is familiar and reeks of vulnerability… so basically the mainstay of any long-term psychotherapy.

The session with DS (Deep Soul) was steaming along very productively. We discussed all my unresolved feelings about the boundaries he had set down for the way he worked and my idea to hand him notes. I really felt like I was being heard and that he knew how important it was for me to feel supported. What struck me was that he was actively keeping certain boundaries in place because he trying to work out something important about how I operate. The boundaries were not about me being a bad person and needing to be restrained and kept in place. Knowing this seemed to remind me that he was on my side. He was not trying to punish me.

Therapists give the best gifts…

Quite by surprise, DS said I was welcome to contact him during the week and organise an in-between session if I was feeling overwhelmed and needed his support. He said this had always been an option but realised we had never spoken about it and that I therefore wouldn’t have known. I was really touched. It feels like a gift when someone offers more of their time and concern. I think I looked like I had just been hit by a truck because he said he was trying to work out how I was feeling. It was just overwhelming to have him come through for me like that. Talk about needing time to process.

Flitting thought the rainforest…

With that out in the open, we moved onto how I’ve been grappling with my existence lately. I’ve been bogged down by the struggle to define my purpose on this planet. I explained how I’ve always felt so different to everyone and how I was convinced I had a different brain because I seemed to think and feel more deeply than my peers and the general population. I’d told told him before that Elaine Aron’s HSP theory had gone some way to explaining this feeling of being different.

“And then I discovered this blog about rainforest minds. I found it fascinating because it was talking about how sensitive and curious people are quite often gifted. Not purely in the intellectual sense but emotionally, imaginationally and with their senses,” I gushed out.

DS hadn’t heard about Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of overexcitabilities, and how it proposed that many gifted people were born with innate intensities and sensitivities. I asked him to look it up and get back to me. And then I proceeded to explain that it’s not that I WAS gifted or anything like that. Or maybe it was a struggle to believe it could be true because of self-doubt. Anyway, I felt the term gifted was loaded in a sense because it seemed to imply a sense of being better than others, which I didn’t appreciate.

He calmly recommended I read The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. I had heard of it but hadn’t been able to get a copy. Laughing, I said I assumed from the title it was about giftedness.

“I must be honest. I haven’t actually read it myself,” DS said with a small, sheepish smile. With that, he turned around and ran his finger along the spines of his books to find it. He pulled it out and started reading the back.

“Actually, I’d like to go through it first before you read it. I hope that’s okay,” he asked.

I said that was fine.

Christmas comes twice in one hour…

“Yes and when I’m done, you can borrow my copy.”

Oh. Em. Gee. How can so few words provide so much pleasure?! I was dumbfounded, again. DS was loosening the boundaries for me slightly and actually offering a something of his to hold onto, even just for a little bit. I remember thanking him with a very serious expression on my face because I wanted him to know how important this was.

“And don’t worry DS. I look after books like I do children and pets,” I blurted out. I hope he knows I am good with little ones and fur balls, not a crazy lady looking to hack things to pieces.

Why butterflies, why?!

I think I skipped and whistled out of the therapy room. In fact, I think it was a first that I didn’t trip down his stairs or along the uneven parking lot because it was dark and I was on a high.

AND THEN… I had a shocking thought. A completely paranoid, unnecessary thought which has not ruined my happy feelings about DS but is nonetheless flitting around like a thousand butterflies in my skull and stomach.

WHAT IF HE READS THE BOOK AND DECIDES I AM NOT “GIFTED” IN THAT SENSE?!

Dude, what if he never speaks about the book again and it becomes the gifted but quiet elephant in the room? Worse, what if he does bring it up and tactfully tries to tell me that I wasn’t the sensitive child discussed in the book. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this.

So many trapshots in therapy. Should I even be worrying about this or is my concern legitimate?

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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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