And yet again, another version of the same dance we’ve already performed many times over. In session on Monday, E says something, and I feel hurt, pushed away, rejected. It doesn’t all sink in immediately, but by the time I get home, I am sad, angry and afraid. I want to quit seeing her. I want to run and talk this out right now, immediately. The urgency of it pulses like a living thing inside of me.
It starts off innocently enough, a quiet, low-key session. We talk about group last week, which was good. I fill her in on my dad; he had heart surgery last Friday and is doing okay. I tell her about things I think I need to do to prepare for my next big drop in Effexor dose, which I am afraid but determined to do in about two months.
Then, out of the blue, she asks, “What are you thinking about the schedule?”
“The schedule?” I am not even sure what she means. “You mean our schedule, of sessions?” It’s only March 9, so we have barely returned to our regular schedule after my experiment of far fewer sessions in February.
“Right,” she says. “Have you decided what you want to do? I mean, your slots are yours, of course, but when you decide to give them up, you’ll let me know straight away, right?”
My initial reaction is, Duh, of course, it’s not giving them up unless I tell you, is it?
But slowly it sinks in. She wants to give those slots, or at least some of them, to someone else. I know her schedule is pretty full.
It stirs up all my old insecurities. She is ready to be done with me. Time to move on. She wants to place her attention elsewhere. She feels it would be a better use of her time to work with someone else. Other people matter more.
I don’t say anything there in the session, because sometimes these things take a little while to fully sink in. But later on, at home, I can feel myself growing increasingly upset. I don’t want to do this, I think. I don’t want a rupture. I don’t want to be mad at her. I don’t want to feel this pain again.
How can I make it different this time? I wonder. I pull out my journal and start writing, trying to pull on what I have learned in therapy, what lessons I have drawn from my readings on trauma and my introduction to the way trauma works in the body.
It’s all old stuff, I write in the journal. This reaction is a leftover emotional habit from childhood trauma. I’m reacting because the situation reminds me in some way of childhood experiences of being pushed away, unseen, unimportant. As a child, I experienced this as very frightening and dangerous. Even though this situation is different, and I’m not in danger now, at a very basic level, my brain sees the similarities and sets off all the emergency alarm bells.
Okay, now I understand this in a way I didn’t use to. That’s the first thing, I guess–some self awareness and a bit of perspective.
But what do I do about it? I ask myself that question, and all kinds of thoughts spin around in my head: Harm myself. That one always seems to come first, that old reliable strategy for self-soothing. Confront E, ask her why, why, why does she not understand me better by now? Or if she does understand, why does she poke at my wound with a sharp stick? Cancel my next session (no, no, no, not that!). Reach out to her by email. Never reach out again, no way, don’t lower myself to ask something from someone who doesn’t want to give.
I am full of contradictory impulses. I am mad at her and don’t want to talk to her. I am afraid of losing her and want to fix this. I am mad at myself for being so stupid…
The first thing is to stop the judgment. I don’t need to scold or shame myself for being emotionally triggered. It’s okay to react to something that reminds me of an old wound. It doesn’t mean I am stupid or oversensitive or immature. It’s just a thing that happens to human beings. Humans get emotionally triggered sometimes, and that includes me. Big deal. It doesn’t say anything about my maturity or my sanity (even if I feel a little insane). It doesn’t say anything about my worth. I don’t need to be ashamed of having these feelings.
It’s okay to feel like this, even if it doesn’t feel good. And it most certainly doesn’t feel good. There’s hurt in there, hurt and grief and frustration. I’m frustrated because I thought this was something E understood about me. I thought we had come to a place where she accepted that I would gradually reduce the frequency of sessions at my own pace. Today’s comment seems so thoughtless and uncaring.
It reminds me of the time she blurted out that texting wasn’t working for her anymore. She just said something because it was on her mind, without thinking what it might mean to me to lose our texting relationship after three years. And today it seems she’s thinking about how she’d like to give my slot to someone else and doesn’t think about how that question will sound to me. She’s thinking about the needs of another client.
She’s entitled to change the way we work; of course she is. But what about some sensitivity to how is feels to me?
I start to think again: other people matter more. But I don’t need to feed my hurt by running down the path of that thought. E wants to use the time for something or someone else. It doesn’t have to be a rejection of me. It doesn’t have to be about me at all.
Except that she sees me as ready, or about ready, or should be about ready, to have fewer therapy sessions. That part is about me. And it makes me not only nervous but also… I don’t know… misunderstood? Yes, there’s a way in which I feel she and I do not share a common understanding of the value of on-going therapy sessions for me.
It’s true that I no longer go in and reveal deep, dark secrets to her. But that doesn’t mean the sessions aren’t important anymore. Maybe I need to find a way to explain to her the contribution that the on-going therapy makes in my life.
Also, I have given up therapy with Marie and with Elaine, and I meet less often with Tabitha, the psychiatric nurse. So to E, maybe it seems like I’m getting as much therapy as a year ago, while to me, it feels like I have pared back considerably.
I feel a little better after writing. The most important piece, I can see, is knowing that I don’t have to shame myself for having these intense emotions, this mixture of longing and repulsion, fear and love and rage.
The next morning, Tuesday, I feel like crap in the morning, tingly and sluggish and unfocused. A lot of mornings are like that. I sit down with the journal again.
I am still upset with E. I’m not insanely consumed with it, as I have been in the past, so I guess that’s progress. But it’s very much on m mind.
I wish she didn’t matter to me, the way I don’t matter to her. That is, she cares about me, but I’m not important in her life. I wish I didn’t feel this yearning to connection and care.
I write that and immediately think, wait, no, that’s another thing I’ve learned: I can’t just wish away emotions. Emotions get to be there. They may not be rational. They may not be the emotions I would choose to feel. But wishing them away, repressing them, denying them, none of that will help. If I’ve learned anything in therapy, I have at least learned that.
Annoyingly enough, when I feel a difficult emotion, I’m supposed to turn toward it. I’m supposed to acknowledge it, soothe it, embrace it.
It sounds good, but it’s so hard. It’s hard with any difficult emotion, I suppose. But it’s a particular struggle not to dissolve in a sea of loneliness when you have to sooth a longing for care and connection by yourself. It seems like the cure for the pain of rejection should be inclusion, embrace, affection, re-attachment. But no, the cure is self-soothing, and that still feels so very lonely to me.
That’s where I am right now. It’s helping to journal about it. It doesn’t change the situation or my emotions about the situation. But maybe it prevents me from making it all worse by blaming and criticizing myself for feeling what I feel.
CREDIT: Photo by thom masat on Unsplash
This really helped me to read, thank you for sharing. It’s so helpful when we can see the hurt our Ts have caused by being a bit clumsy but also that it’s about old stuff, so we don’t blow up and make ourselves feel ten times worse. I am getting more and more angry with K over her Coronavirus over-reaction and making up her own, pointless, precautions as the days go by, but like you I don’t want to cause a huge rupture and make this pain and terror even worse than it is. I’m trying to remember it’s my process to go through and whilst I want her to know how bad I feel, processing it is my job.
Owch, Q! I’d feel the same way you describe, though an adult part of me would see she can’t keep a space open forever without losing money. But the adult part is only one of many and so often doesn’t win!
I’m interested to read your thought process about how you know to deal with it and how that leaves you in a place of feeling unexpectedly lonely. Is it worth talking to her about whether the ability to self-soothe always feels lonely like that? or whether it ever gets beyond that, to a place of feeling strong and even genuinely fine? If it is possible and you’re not there yet then maybe you have more healing to do, but if it’s not realistically possible then it seems rather unexpected and a desperate place to be, to me 🙁 and I don’t want to aim to get THERE!
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Hi Summer, thanks for the validation and support. Although I don’t think it’s about losing money. Right now I am using those slots, so she’s getting paid. And in February when I experimented with canceling four sessions, she filled all but one of them. So it’s really not a question of being paid, but rather a question of whether she’s working with me or someone else during those times. It feels like she’s itching to pass the slots over to someone else.
I might talk to her about the lonely feeling of self-soothing, I don’t know. I actually see her again this afternoon (Wednesday), because this month I didn’t cancel my extra sessions. I am trying to decide if I have the nerve to discuss all of this directly. I feel like I should, since it’s the big emotional issue that is up for me. But next week I’ll be traveling to visit my sisters (corona virus be damned) and won’t see her. So if we end today with an open rupture, I’ll have to carry that for nearly two weeks. The thought makes me nervous.
Oh okay, it doesn’t sound like its financial then. I can understand your reticence in discussing it for fear of rupture before an enforced break though. If you do mention it I hope it goes well! Maybe its something you could talk about when you get back, but I am rubbish at holding things for too long so I’d have to get it off my chest sooner rather than later. Not saying thats the right thing to do though, half the time I’m sure it probably isn’t! I can see its a hard place for you though.
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Ugh, ruptures. I’m just on the other side of one like this, something that simmered and hit me after. I think you have a great handle on it, and it’s amazing that you were able to lean In to discomfort, soothe some of that pain on your own, and kickstart the repair. It’s not a fun place to be. I hope you guys can figure out a happy medium where you have some space aroujnd the decision
I hope we figure it out, too. I thought we had, but evidently not!
I’m still going in mental circles: I don’t want to be like this! No, wait it’s okay to feel like this.
At any rate, I’m glad to read you are on the OTHER side of a rupture. I’m reading that to mean that things are healed up again? I hope that’s what you meant, because I know that’s always a big relief. I hope we can get there soon too.
Oh, Q. I feel this. I feel all of this, on multiple levels. Like…I could have written variations of this myself. Just…ugh. This is so hard. I’m sorry this is happening. I’m glad that journaling is helping some. You get to feel however you feel, and judging the feelings only intensifies them, as you know, and as I know. If only knowing that were enough! Hang in there. Take care.
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Thanks for understanding, Empress. That helps me feel a bit less alone with it all, actually. I’m so grateful to you, and to everyone making comments, for the validation and solidarity.
Yes, if only knowing were enough. If knowing were enough, I would have been done with therapy a while ago. It is one thing to start to understand how it all works, but something else entirely, something slow and difficult, to get that understanding into our stubborn hearts.
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Oh Q, I really felt for you reading this. We all recognise this pain and it’s horrible when you’re in the thick of it. It shows how far you’ve come that you’ve been able to journal and make sense of it. Have you actually decided your plan for therapy after this trial time ends? Or did I miss that in amongst the rest? Take care xx
Hi RB (still haven’t figured out the best name to call you!), I appreciate your empathy. A lot!
I haven’t decided my longer-term therapy plan, actually. February was too little support, especially when I had that nose dive. March will get interrupted some anyway, because of my upcoming trip to see my sisters. In April, E is taking two weeks off (grr, therapist vacations!). Then in May, assuming COVID-19 hasn’t shut down the whole world, we’re supposed to go to Copenhagen for my stepson’s wedding. So there are already a lot of interruptions coming up. Then after that trip, I was thinking I might try another big drop in my Effexor dose, knowing that it might make me very miserable for two months or so. I was thinking maybe I should keep the frequent visits until I see how I am doing through the withdrawal period.
But perhaps I’m just too reluctant to let go. Maybe journaling and blogging and screaming into my pillow can get me though it. It’s not that I have a lot of new things to learn from E anymore. It’s more that her office feels like a safe place where I’m really free to express what’s going on for me. Perhaps that’s not a good use of her time, I don’t know.
Deep breath. It’s okay if I don’t have all the answers right now. E and I will figure this out, in time. She’ll throw me out, or I’ll toss my head and cancel a bunch of sessions and pretend I don’t care, or maybe we’ll just have a good, cautious, caring conversation and decide on something that is less emotionally wrenching. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!
Gosh this post, I hear you, I’m feeling a similar way, I wish I had the answers too x
It’s just a complicated, painful thing, this reactive attachment. I feel like I am making progress, slow and difficult progress. But I so wish someone would point me to a shortcut! I guess I thought EMDR would be a shortcut, but it didn’t turn out that way.
Oops, I posted too fast. And I meant to add: I hope you find some peace soon. I know it’s rough.
[…] shut down in our state in March, maybe ten days before businesses were ordered to shut down, I wrote in my journal about how upset I was with my therapist. E had asked me if I’d given more thought to when I might let go of my second weekly session […]