A couple of hours before my therapy session with E on Wednesday, I email her copies of my posts from earlier in the week, the one about trying to accept feeling depressed and the one about cancelling my Monday appointment with her. I think, well, if she has time to read them beforehand, I won’t have to tell her these things and we can just jump in.
And sure enough, when I get there, she has read them already. She asks me almost immediately how it was, to not have therapy on Monday.
“Oh, I regretted it of course,” I tell her. “Even before Monday, I wanted to change my mind. But I wouldn’t let myself. I wouldn’t allow myself text you about that or anything else.”
“Not even a text? Why not?” She seems surprised. We have, after all, texted back and forth probably hundreds of times over the past two years.
“Hm, I guess I felt, well that’s what I get for being such a mess,” I say. “One way or another, it’s all connected to punishing myself.”
“Right, I noticed that’s what you wrote in your post,” she says.
In my head, I think, I would have changed my mind if you had asked me. I wanted you to say, don’t cancel; I think you should come in. But that is too embarrassing to say aloud. I feel squirmy just thinking about it.
And yet. I have learned, especially over the past year, that it’s often very valuable to go to those squirmy places. So I take a breath and say, “So it’s all very childish, what’s going on with me about this. It’s my very young self, my three-year-old, who just wants the ever-loving mother to come and take care of her. She doesn’t want to ask for help. She wants the mom to love her so much that she will come and check on her, play with her, hold her. She doesn’t need to ask for help because the mom spontaneously sees what is needed and wants to give it.”
E watches me as I say this, nodding. My heart is fluttering, but I keep going. “It’s the same part I think, no, I know it’s the same part that longs for comforting touch. She wants a mother who is crazy about her. I want that.”
“Of course you do,” E says, quietly. “I wish you had that. I’m so sorry you didn’t.”
She goes on to tell me that it’s okay to have the longing to be loved and comforted, to be sought after instead of having to seek that love. “You can validate that plea from your three-year-old self,” she tells me. “You can tell her that it’s fine to long for those things. And you can tell her that because you are an adult, you are not three, there is no one in charge of taking care of you, and you aren’t likely to be sought after in that way. So you, as the internal mom, will need to reach out on her behalf and get her what she needs.”
My head reacts: Right, of course, makes perfect sense.
My heart reacts: No, no, I don’t want to do this for myself! I don’t want to, and I can’t, and I don’t even want to need this and why, why, why…
The heart is so confused, irrational, and tender! I used to hate that irrationality but I am learning to respect it. So when E continues talking in the same vein, and it’s too much for me, too fast for the confused heart to take in, I interrupt “Wait, wait, can we slow down and take that apart?”
“The first thing you said was that I can validate the girl’s need for connection, her desire to be sought after. But already there, I struggle. I have a lot of judgment about that, about how needy that girl is.”
“Okay,” E says. “What kind of judgment? Are you thinking it’s pathetic? It’s too demanding?”
“Yes,” I say. “And I feel like she shouldn’t get that unless she deserves it. I have to earn the care and attention. And pathetic, yes. That neediness isn’t attractive, isn’t lovable. In fact, the very fact that I am needy is proof that I am unlovable. Because if I were lovable, someone would want to take care of me, someone would already be doing it. If no one is doing it, it must be because I’m not worth it. So I look at that neediness with great disdain.”
(As I type that paragraph, I have to pause and read it again, and then again. It feels like a crucial insight to me: I see my own neediness as evidence that I’m not worth loving.)
We talk about that neediness a little. What do I even do with it? As she always does, E reminds me to start with empathy. I can tell myself something like this, she says: Oh, you are needy, and you don’t like that; you don’t approve of it. You wish you weren’t. You think if you ignore that neediness or if you bury it, it will go away. But that hasn’t worked very well, has it?
She suggests thinking about what I could say directly to the needy three-year-old: Of course you are needy; that’s so normal. I want to meet you in your neediness, to stay with it without suggesting that it has to change.
My head reacts: This sounds so woo-woo.
My heart reacts: Okay, this feels more soothing, maybe this is right…
E reminds me of my emotional house, a metaphor I used to play with a lot but haven’t used much recently. “You could make a room for the little girl,” she suggests. “It could have call buttons all over it so she could push them to get attention. It can have lists of needs on the wall so she can tell you what she needs.”
That doesn’t sound right to me. I think for a minute, then tell her, “No, I think she doesn’t want her own room. She already feels too alone.”
E nods, “Okay, I see. So what does she want instead?”
“I think she needs to be in the big, open living room. We can just make it bigger,” I think about how easy remodeling is when you are dealing with metaphors. “We can make a section for her.”
“What does it look like?” E asks.
“I guess kind of like a good preschool. It has a play space with the little wooden kitchen, and some blocks…”
“…and some blocks,” E says, at the same moment.
“Exactly. Everything is low so she can see what the other inhabitant of the house are doing in the living room. And there are some bit pillows where she can curl up in and sleep. Oh, oh, and she needs a dog, a big dog that is absolutely devoted to her.”
We also decide that Judgment gets a space in the house, too. But unlike the needy girl, Judgment gets her own room, off at the end of a long hallway. I decide to give her a computer and ask her to make a spreadsheet of all the things she has judgments about and to code them into categories. That will keep her occupied for a long, long time, and maybe she won’t have as much time to stand around and disapprove of the needy little girl.
Again, I am astonished at how sweet and comforting it can feel to create an entirely imaginary space for these different parts of myself. As we talk about the spaces for my parts, I can feel myself settling down. My breathing is slower, and my heartbeat is steady again.
Near the end of the session, E tells that she will be gone over the weekend, at a retreat in the woods where she won’t have cell coverage. The rational part of me nods, okay, that should be fine, right? I don’t text her every day anymore anyway. But immediately, the needy little one is on alert again: E is leaving! She’s abandoning us!
So right away I have a chance to practice soothing the frightened little girl who fears she is unlovable. That’s my emotional homework for this weekend. It’s a challenge, for sure. And yet I’m carrying with me something warm and rich from this session that I think will serve me well.