Tag Archives: shame

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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The body remembers

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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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Throwing the towel down and being seen

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My dreams are trying to tell me something about how I see myself and what a liberated version of me feels like. It’s hard not to ignore a vision of me running around naked with not a care in the world! And to feel the delicious caress of a breeze on naked skin is like a huge billboard advertising how good it would feel to just try this new idea or concept.

What I find interesting is that my mind has used someone I know with powerful energy in real life to drive a message across. To give you a quick background so you understand the context of my dream, M is a business colleague who is also an acclaimed writer, producer and comedian. We have met a few times at events and chatted about our lives. M is lesbian and has been with her partner for around 20 years. Her partner is a psychoanalyst and M was in psychoanalysis (obviously not with her partner!). M and I always chat about psychology, the meaning of our relationships and the effect that our past has had on our present. We also both keep dream journals. M can seem quite butch and intimidating but has a magnetism to her. She has been an autobiographical ghost-writer for two famous women and described to me how attached they became to her in the course of sitting together for many months. It’s hard to describe whether her magnetic energy evokes the feeling of a powerful but nurturing mother or that of a “sensitive” father.

Now to my dream about her. I have highlighted parts that have meaning:

I arrive at my aunt’s apartment, which I am looking after. Just as in real life, her apartment is trendy, airy and light. The walls are white and everything feels comforting. The only difference is that this dream apartment is on the ground floor, like a house, and is surrounded by garden. My gran’s little black poodle pup is there. I am not staying in the apartment but in a small attached cottage that seems outdated and misplaced. The furniture is a bit old. The place seems dull and scruffy in comparison. I am about to shower and lock the door connecting the cottage to the apartment. As I do this, I hear the front door of the apartment being unlocked. I wrap a white towel around me and go to see who it is. It’s M.

We are surprised to see each other and she says my aunt gave her a set of keys to the apartment for emergencies. Today it is my aunt’s birthday and she has come to drop off and arrange purple lilies in a vase in her kitchen as a surprise. While we speak, I feel quite vulnerable and exposed in my towel. She asks why I am covering myself and I am surprised by her question because I think the answer is quite obvious (you don’t show yourself to people you don’t know). In the moment, I am ashamed I am not more confident about my body. She appraises my body. I leave her to arrange the flowers and tell her I will be in the cottage. As I am about to take my towel off in the cottage to shower, I see boys playing cricket outside and they notice I am semi-naked. I try to draw the curtains closed. They run away. I look through the window and see my gran’s dog playing in the garden. Dogs from other apartments are running across the lawn and into our property. I am scared this will put her in danger because she is so small. I run outside to chase away the dogs and M comes through because she hears a commotion. My towel flies off as I chase after the dogs. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that I am naked anymore. I am aware that M is looking at me but I feel beautiful in the moment. Her loving, appreciative gaze radiates. As I run, I feel the grass tickle my legs and the breeze caress my bare skin. I feel free and sexy at the same time. I manage to scare the dogs away and grab my gran’s dog in my arms before walking back to the cottage.

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I think the comparison between the apartment and cottage is like a comparison between myself and my aunt. She is comfortable in her skin, confident, bubbly and a true role model in the assertive way she tackles life. Growing up, I have always tried to emulate her but felt like I paled in comparison.

M adds something beautiful to my aunt’s space. The shade of purple is quite spiritual, intuitive and healing. She leaves it in a transparent vase in the kitchen, a place of nourishment. She has used her key because it is an emergency, what she describes as celebrating a day of birth (or re-birth).

I am in this dingy cottage trying to clean myself but never getting around to it. I am naked save for a fluffy, white towel. I feel vulnerable but at least it swaddles part of me.

My gran’s dog is a symbol of the wild, spontaneous and carefree animal urges. She is very affectionate and I feel safe, close and loved when I have her in my arms. She has a child-like playfulness to her. The pet dogs running amok represent the natural drives that, despite usually being well socialized, have a tendency to revert back to their wild, spontaneous state. I scare these away because they are a threat to my playful but more well-trained poodle pup. Scaring them away and having her in my arms feels like I have a healthy balance between the two sides of the animal.

And the running free part is quite self-explanatory. The fact that my senses were ramped up in the moment made it particularly memorable. Could it be that M’s adoring gaze, as someone interested in women, made me feel confident enough to truly be seen? Or did she act more as an archetype of the loving parent, a somewhat androgynous being in that she is female physically but more male mentally… a union of both parts shining the way to self-acceptance.

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Broken mirrors

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Letter to my therapist DS (Deep Soul)… I feel icky for sharing my insecurities with you. Being aware of my self-doubt and baggage tonight made me feel weak, gross and broken. I said that when I looked into a mirror, I felt flawed and like I needed to be perfect. After our session, I feel sick with shame. I have so many things to be grateful for, like my health and things like having legs and arms and functioning lungs. Instead, voicing some of this toxicity inside makes me feel like an ungrateful, sick person.

I just feel so tired. You saw my confusion tonight. I was trying to answer your gentle probing questions about these feelings around my body. I don’t know what to believe. I feel conflicted. I don’t know how to explain this. Some days I feel presentable, pretty even. I feel calm and strong. Other days I feel revolting unless I bath, clean up, put make up on and dress well. My skin literally crawls with revulsion unless I do this. My mom and sister’s joking remarks about my big bum size, small boobs, paleness and gawkiness while I was growing up have no doubt been internalized. As have the insults from idiotic bullies when I was in school. I still look in the mirror today for signs that these flaws are visible. These routines and habits are like a safety blanket. I feel more confident when I have a presentable exterior.

You hear this but I wonder whether you are confused because you see a relatively normal body in front of you, not someone overweight or underweight. You see someone with makeup, good clothes and a whiff of perfume. I make sure I am this way for therapy because it makes me feel a bit more self-assured, a bit more like-able, a little less f-ed up. Looking good is part of my identity out in the world. Often, I contemplate pitching up at therapy with a bare face, greasy hair and baggy clothing. No doubt you would remain professional and not say a thing. But I would be wondering about your reaction on the inside.

I cannot shake off this yucky feeling after seeing you. I feel like I am less in your eyes for sharing these concerns. I wanted to be strong, at peace, even desirable as a healthy woman in your presence. There is an intense urge to switch off and separate from all these thoughts.

Perhaps it comes down to something I told you tonight… As a major attachment figure, I feel little embers of self-acceptance glow when you truly see me and accept anything I bring to the session. I told you it feels like I can only find self-love through this mirroring. The deep compassion and care I easily extend unto others is something so inaccessible to myself. Outside of therapy, It mostly feels like there is only my cracked mirror offering a pretty warped reflection.

Right now, I don’t know what you think of all of this. Yes, I could see in the session that you were empathizing. I guess I wondered how you REALLY felt. And what seemed so present and comforting in the hour seems so far away now.

May I gather the strength to work through these feelings this week without giving into the need to email you in the hope you will reassure me that I am worthy, just as I am. I know that will never happen. It is too sickening to think about how much I want that reassurance and know I’ll never get it. To email you in between the session would be a failure in my eyes. It would be confirmation that I had finally broken down and broken your rules. It would confirm I am just another needy girl.

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