I might be able to relate to this article. Just a little.
Two private therapy sessions ago, I sat on a beach by the ocean with my therapist and told him about a visceral memory from my abuse by the teacher.
The memory is one that I hadn’t had before, of a specific moment. It came to me while writing a ptsd inventory sheet in my ACA program. It is the moment the teacher first kissed me, after a long, full-body hug, and eye-to-eye contact, noses brushing. I was 10 years old, staying over at his house to get away from my parents, who had been arguing.
It’s the moment when my adrenaline system first became overwhelmed. My heart began racing immediately; I went into my room and began fantasizing, sexually for the first time. It was the start of my first crush — an obsessive infatuation that would see me waiting by the phone every day for his call, fantasizing wildly about sex on the beach with him, completely disregarding and abandoning my friends at school. My fantasies would involve him rescuing me in various ways, and then making love to me.
In the session, I sat in the sand and wriggled my toes in it, my legs stretched out in front of me. My therapist embodied the healthy, caring adult response to the scene I recalled. As it was a new memory, I had never spoken it aloud, or received this healthy, caring adult response. It felt like I regressed into my young girl self, which ended up lasting for several days. This was a re-do: An acting out of what should have happened so many years ago. I saw how different my life would be if I had been able to tell a caring adult about what had happened. If appropriate disciplinary action had happened at the school towards this teacher, if we had both received therapy out of even just this moment, not to mention all the inappropriate and damaging moments that happened in the coming year afterwards.
The feeling that lingered, from regressing into my young girl state, in the presence of a healthy and caring older man, was a feeling I described at the following session a couple of days ago as “tenderness”. We talked a lot about what this word means for me, in this context; and this post is a result of that conversation.
At the session, we got to the description of ’emotional intimacy and attunement’, and he began conjuring any memories I had of being touched, swathed, cooed and coddled as a baby and young child. “Being touched with the awareness on the part of the parental figure of how their touch was feeling for me.” These memories do not flow freely in me. Simply imagining myself being touched in this way, as perhaps during a diaper changing, are actually totally repulsive to me. My physical response is to want to writhe and coil up into a ball, shuddering inside my torso.
I cannot recall the experience of being touched by my Father. There are no memories of ordinary moments of touching, such as diaper changing or dressing, bathing, cuddling, etc. with my Father. With my Mother, I remember brash and bold movements, not so much sensitive to how her touch was felt by me — not tender.
I recalled showering with my Father, even up until age 9, but even then, there was no touching; by the time I was showering with him, I was old enough to get in and out of the shower by myself. I also recalled being in a hot tub with both my parents, at around age 12, completely naked, while eating pizza, at a hotel. He had me find a living example of a healthy loving adult, and imagine him or her wrapping me up in a towel, protecting me, and removing me from the situation.
At the end of the session, I had to voice the inner critic that was blasting me with shame and denial — “you are being ridiculous. This is ridiculous. You are making a big deal out of nothing. You are such a flake and a drama queen. You just want attention. Shame on you. He is bored and only humouring you with all these explorations, but sooner or later, he is going to abandon you, and you will be alone again. It’s time you stop belly aching and get over it. Others have had it a whole lot worse than you; you don’t deserve these sessions. You shouldn’t be here. He is laughing at you. You’re not bad enough or sick enough to deserve this.”
When I got home, I cleaned house mindlessly, in a bit of a trance state, as is the norm after these sessions. That night, I sat out on my balcony by the river and wrote. What emerged was an awareness of the part of me that is still not being seen or validated, and would rather die than continue without. A couple of different names have come to mind for this part: My Psychiatric Self, or The Watcher. I don’t know why yet, but this part of me is a He.
I wrote a list of all the things I have been missing and pulling out of lately. It is quite an extensive list — one thing after another. All the people I have had to let down in the last few weeks. I realized that this Psychiatric Self is being honoured in all these cancellations in a way he has been longing most of my life. That I am not emotionally / psychologically well enough to attend … is an accomplishment and an immense relief to him, in the fact that it is being witnessed. I am acknowledging his experience, letting it be seen and seeking the healthy response; and this is something that has never been done in my life.
Letting positive things show around certain others — including my therapist — BETRAYS him; yet, around others — particularly and especially work-related / professional contacts — the positives are all on display. It comes back to my experience of being split, containing two different selves that are in opposition to each other, incongruent. And I am feeling that dynamic very strongly in my present. My gifts and talents are coming out and being seen, but also being undercut by my Psychiatric Self wanting and needing to be seen, acknowledged and responded to in a healthy way.
There is a player in me, and so really there is always one act or the other at play, while the other feels betrayed. It is compulsive and completely out of my control at this point. It is insidious and slippery like an addiction. It creates a constant underlying pain, anxiety and fear of abandonment.
The Watcher is the one in between, experiencing this incongruence and contradictory experiences. The Watcher sees how much pain, instability, isolation and failure this opposition creates in all areas of my life. He says that if he has to continue to witness and experience this, he cannot bear it, and he would rather die. Someone needs to understand and reflect this reality in me. I need to know how to present myself. I can’t bear to continue living this extreme identity crisis. The habitat of the Watcher is so dark that I cannot go fully into feeling it all at once right now.
Finally, I also came back to the definition of tenderness we had been working on. I realized that it is more than just emotional intimacy and attunement. It’s not just intimacy, it’s love. Love, innocence, fondness, affection and caring from a healthy, male, adult figure. These are the things I felt on the beach with my therapist; these are the things I remember also feeling when I was with the teacher. A list of phrases this energy would speak came to me:
I’ll look after you. I’ll always love you and be there for you, no matter what happens.
I’ve got your back.
I think you’re a wonderful person.
I will defend, protect and empower you, and I will never ever leave your side.
I care for you and your well-being deeply, and I will be a guardian and protector of it.
It’s okay. I’ve got you. Let me hold you. It’s okay. I’m here for you. I’m here for you.
I’m not sure how this all relates or doesn’t relate. I’m not sure where it’s all going, but I will speak it out, write it out. Follow it to find the gems that can heal me.
In follow up to ‘A Piece of My Soul‘, I can report that I had gone into parasympathetic shock from an initial trigger for me during a Way of Council session. I was feeling extreme and violent rage towards my therapist for stating that the therapy I needed was ‘No therapist’ (which I later found out he had said intentionally, to get to the trigger and clear it). In the Way of Council circle, I was too afraid to express what I was feeling, or take the time to clear it. And the situation of having intense feelings that I couldn’t share became a 2nd trigger. The call to the CRT was then a 3rd trigger. So, by the time I arrived in my therapist’s office a few days later, I was a bundle of tension, silent rage and dispair.
And that’s where I got to have a re-do experience of expressing my feelings and being heard. We talked about admitting me to the hospital, and he shared why he didn’t think that would be effective. We then talked about other options, such as arranging for one or several friends to bring me a meal and eat it with me on a regular basis.
I think it was the first time my “psychiatric self” was taken seriously, and responded to, instead of being diminished, minimized and dismissed. I went home and immediately ate for several hours. An entire family-sized meat pie, two bowls of salad and two bowls of ice cream. I felt as if there were roots growing through my feet and a grounding feeling I had never felt before. A support I had never felt before. And as soon as I felt the support there, I didn’t need it. This astounds me.
My therapist also recommended I write to the Crisis Response Team, which I did, a week and a half later, after several drafts of several pages long each. The letter I actually submitted was two pages. What has come out of it is that the CRT has asked me and my therapist to work on a “user-friendly” communication format to be used with me, and with those on a similar journey to me — one of recovery from trauma.
What is striking to me in this situation is the difference that must be discerned between the treatment of a mental illness due to chemical imbalance vs. a trauma survivor, as well as the extremely merky cross-over space between them. What I see is that with some cases of extreme mental illness or psychosis, it is ridiculous to think of asking the person when they first felt what they are feeling. In this case, maybe it does make sense to distract the person from what they are feeling. Treat the feeling as a symptom to be gotten rid of.
The important distinction is that doing this with a trauma survivor in distress can be extremely disastrous. The pertinent information here seems to be that the effects of trauma do not have the same origin as mental illness, and cannot — must not — be treated in the same way.
I have recommended training in Compassionate (previously Non-Violent) Communication, which my therapist also thinks would be a good starting place for the CRT. He is also purchasing a copy of the ACA big book to reference and pass along pertinent information from.
I feel proud of this. I feel heard and validated. It is a living amends to myself and all the times I was abandoned, or abandoned myself by not speaking up.
I found these articles when my therapist and his co-facilitator of the Way of Council circle recommended everyone look up parasympathetic shock. For me it has been a considerable insight. I recognize that shock states are not as dramatic as one might think; yet they can create great distress and dysfunction.
On Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Shock by John F. Barnes, P.T.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System by Veronique Mead MD MA
In Sandra Maitri’s The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: 9 Faces of the Soul, I found this stunning description of love; but it does require a small amount of pre-amble.
In the work of the Enneagrams, the term Holy Idea refers to an experience of reality; it has NOTHING to do with religion. Another way of describing the concept of the Holy Idea, in my own words, might be ‘Universal Human Experience of Reality’. There are 9 of them, which correspond with the 9 points of the Enneagram, which represent 9 dimensions / patterns of human experience.
While many online descriptions of the Enneagram types read much like horoscopes or astrological descriptions of personality, Maitri’s book describes the dynamics of the inner psyches and life patterns of each type, with specific reference not only to the personality, which is described by Maitri as being the outer-most level of consciousness, but also to the Soul and the Spirit.
In the chapter on the 9th point, this description of the Holy Idea of Holy Love (that is how it is talked about in the book) is quoted by Maitri from her colleague A.H. Almaas:
“Holy Love is a clear and distinct quality of the very substance and consciousness of each essential aspect. Holy Love is seen in the positive, uplifting, and blissful affect and effect of each aspect. It is the sweetness and softness in Love. It is the lightness and playfulness in Joy. It is the preciousness and the exquisiteness of Intelligence and Brilliancy. It is the purity and the confidence of Will. It is the aliveness, excitement, and glamour of the Red or Strength aspect. It is the mysteriousness and silkiness in the Black or Peace aspect. It is the wholeness and integrity in the Pearl or Personal Essence. It is the freshness and the newness of Space. It is the depth, the deep warmth, and the satisfying realness of Truth.”
Maitri goes on,
“Holy Love is the perception that our essential nature, regardless of which of its qualities is forefront at any given time, is innately beautiful and that the experience of it is always a positive experience. …When we experience Being directly, without the filter of our conceptual mind, the effect it has upon us is of a sense of meaning, of value, of benefit, of fulfillment. Our souls relax, our hearts open, and we experience a sense of well-being in such moments. We are responding to the inherent characteristic of reality that Holy Love describes — its pure positivity.”
I’m not sure how to know when I should reach out for help from my therapist, or when I should just bear it and feel it. When my therapist would hope that I would reach out, and when it would be excessive.
I reached out last week and happened upon a cancelled appointment the next day, which was somewhat an act of God. What caused me to reach out at that point was having been in a state of distraught anxiety for 5 days, obsessively writing out questions and things that were burning my soul to tell him, and not sleeping because of the adrenaline in my body. I called at 3:30 am because I was tired of the ‘burning desire to tell him’; I felt it was burning a hole in my nervous system, and that I was going to self-destruct if I had to bear it for another 5 days until our next appointment.
He reassured me of a lot of things at that ’emergency’ session, and the burning stopped. I felt heard and seen and reassured in a way that I haven’t before by anyone in his position.
So then I attended the scheduled appointment yesterday. Today, I am feeling a lot of fear and teariness. The appointment was another trigger, definitely.
What do I do when I am triggered by an appointment? I know that the triggering is coming from a good and holistic place in my therapist. His approach seems to be to interract with me as if I am a healthy person without codependency or validation trauma, and see where the difficulties arise. I’m not sure if he knew or suspected I would be triggered yesterday, or not.
I just don’t know what to do or where to go with it from here. It is distracting and distressing, as if there is a very important relationship in my life that has gone wrong, and is bothering me a lot. Something in the world isn’t right.
Am I in danger? Well, no I don’t feel like I’m going to off myself or self harm; but I do feel like I might have to cut down on my plans this weekend because I just might not be able to handle the stimuli I had planned what with this internal stimuli going on. And in the big picture, when I cancel on things, it isolates me and gets in the way of my forming bonds with people and my community. I might be driven to the point of the kind of stir-crazy and isolation that feels like a silent panic, and at this particular juncture in my life, I am not sure who I would call; and if I was in that situation, I’m not sure what I would do. I guess maybe phone the crisis line or something.
So am I in danger? Is this the kind of thing to expect of good, deep therapy, or should this intensity not be happening? I can almost always control reckless or self-harm behaviours, but they eat at me, and that is destructive to my family and community life. These things build and give me a sense of hopelessness until I decide that there’s no point in controlling the the impulse to act out or self-destruct.
I can’t help thinking once again that this would be so much clearer if I wasn’t an introvert. If I didn’t have that initial control. If I was extroverted, people would know whether I needed help; I wouldn’t have to go and tell them, in words, which makes everyone think that I actually don’t need help. This is the hell. This thought and feeling in this spot again does trigger the thoughts that my life is hopeless.
My next appointment is not for THREE AND A HALF weeks. What is the healthy response to what I am feeling, and appropriate action?
I’d love to hear your thoughts …. thanks all.
When I get to the heart of what I wanted from my therapist, and from men in general because that’s what I’m projecting on to him; what I want is
to be held by him and for him to tell me, ‘I get you,’ and, ‘I’m gonna help you be okay. It’s gonna be okay, and I’m not going to leave you.’
It sounds like such a simple thing, but it’s not, for someone to get me like I think I need to be got. And it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a helpless ‘maiden in distress’ kind of place either. I just want someone to get me. Really get all of me. And promise not to leave. Like a healthy father figure would get me, and never leave me.
It’s been a day of rest and writing, and fending off a cold, and self care. The neighbour is away and has allowed me to use his space while he is gone, and I’ve appreciated that.No tv in the background, no Mom, wandering in and out, making conversation, just quiet, and space.
I feel like this burning desire in me to tell my therapist … tell him … something, I just can’t quite put it all into words … has somehow caused this cold. I took today to try and get to the bottom of it, get it out onto paper, or some tangible form that is out of my head so it can stop tearing around in me and making me ill.
I’m guessing a little that what I want to tell him is the part of me that doesn’t feel gotten. Doesn’t feel seen. I tell him all of my ‘symptoms’ or the things that bother me — the things I figure I’m there to heal; he reads them earnestly and patiently, but rarely says much to me about them, except for ‘Excellent’ the other day, on my writing about being codependent with women in authority positions. He always asks me if I want the print-outs of my writing, and then reassures me that he will ‘keep them here for me.’ The story in my mind is that he’s just kind of ‘doing the right thing’ by reading them, but nothing really connects for him. The story in my mind is that they make no difference to him. That he thinks I’m just whining or being dramatic. I wonder if he’s trying to emulate my father figure to bring out more of my emotions around this lack of attunement. If he is, it has definitely worked.
It sent me on this journey I have been on for the last 5 days — the painful disappointment, familiar feeling of abandonment that I have known so well in my life. I’m realizing that my tendency to over-attach to people and things is a big part of what creates my ‘symptoms’.
When I went to write earlier today, I ended up instead googling attachment disorder, since it has been so clear to me that what I have been going through is attachment related. I ended up on the website of Attachment Disorder Maryland.
On the page about Attachment Disorder, there is a description of an Attachment Bond:
- Comfort and safety is sought within the relationship
- Desire for physical proximity to the attachment figure.
- Emotional distress in response to enforced separation.
- The attachment figure is a specific other person and is NOT interchangeable.
- Emotional significance as safety is established.
- Persistence across time and situations.
- Reciprocity and mutuality
- Develop gradually over time and underlie self and object constancy. Until constancy is achieved, the length of separations should be monitored so as not to overstretch the developing bond and tear it.
Part of the anxiety I have been feeling seems like it might be this ‘overstretching’ or ‘tearing’ of the developing bond. It feels like there are so many big and intense things happening in me, and there is a sense of panic that he is missing them, and that by the time I get to see him again, I won’t be able to remember them all, and I won’t be really feeling them any more so they are going to get burried again and go unseen. This anxiety is almost agonizing. It’s been distracting me like a heart-break does, giving me the feeling like something is wrong in my world, making me tired and lacking energy or enthusiasm to do things, and yes, today, making me sick. It’s like all these things are stirring around inside me, and they can only be seen by him, so they have nowhere to go. In session, I feel like holding back because I know that he’s going to go away and miss things again.
As I continued to explore the site, what I found has created quite a stir in me, and here I am finally writing, getting it all down, and it feels like things in me are flowing again. Something in me clicked when I read the pages on Developmental Trauma Disorder and Shame and Attachment. I had possibly never felt more deeply relieved to read myself on a page. Words were leaping off the screen that I have used to describe my experiences of isolation, dissociation and sabotage, and the seemingly endless cycle I have been on for most of my life in anything I try to do professionally. For me, these writings seem to encompass just about everything I have touched on and wondered about. I’ve been reading and highlighting them all day, and it has felt like shedding light on whatever it is in me that wanted to be worked out. Maybe it’s just the ‘being seen’ feeling I get from these writings. That there is someone who gets me, and people who feel the same way.
I’m still digesting all this, but I do feel a little bit better having finally written a post about it. Thanks for reading. Time to sleep.
I’ve continued to feel distraught and perturbed from my last session. Although I have maintained what has been a very active social life in the last 3 days, I have felt internally as if I have just broken up with someone, ended a relationship. That horrible feeling like part of my world has crumbled, and nothing except seeing him again will make it go away. The amount of angst I am feeling around my therapist is humbling to me, and I keep wanting to fix it. I guess I’m not sure how to move it. If I should be speaking up to him that I am / have been affected this way or just endure until our next session, which is not for another week and a half.
Aside from the whole wanting to be special / heart-broken thing, another part of my perturbment is that I want him to confirm that he sees the split in me; he sees why I am there in his office, that he doesn’t think I’m being a drama queen. Yes, there is that term again – drama queen. What is real. Yada yada … yada yada … I keep comparing myself to the patients he sees in the psych ward who are unable to have a normal conversation and who, if left to their own devices would off themselves immediately.
If I’m not that, I don’t deserve therapy. I should get my act together and get on with it. I keep feeling as if something in me that I am not particularly in control of is driven obsessively to prove to him that I am bad enough to need therapy.
On the other hand, another part of me knows without a doubt that I do, and I am benefiting from seeing him.
And this very debate going on in my mind IS why I am there. It permeates every part of my life. The feeling of having secret personalities, secret lives; the obsessive flip-flop anxiety and catastrophic self-doubt I feel when I put myself out there, with resumes, career paths, training, etc.
And, the fact that I feel heart-broken at the ending of a session because he did not say how wonderful and special I am, take me into his arms and tell me everything’s going to be alright. The familiar heart-break / abandonment / rejection pain that throbs through my chest, down my arms and out my fingertips, leaving my body feeling “dead”, completely empty, without will, defeated. Dead.
My attachment with him is becoming more painful, and the intensity of it scares me a little. Maybe because he’s a therapist, he’s not going to abandon ship without telling me, and I will actually be able to work through this.