Shut Down the Attachment Pain

Just two days before schools 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 and go back to one session a week.

I couldn’t understand why she would even ask me that. We had talked about it a number of times, going back at least to last summer, and I had told her to just trust me. I would let go when I was ready. She didn’t need to push me or prompt me or encourage me.

But it felt as though that message didn’t penetrate for her. Every few weeks, okay maybe months, she would say something about it again, and each time it would send me into spiraling pain.

Why?!? I would think. Why does she keep doing this? Why doesn’t she understand that she is poking a sharp stick into my heart?

I still worked, still ran errands, still cleaned, but under the surface, I was obsessed with the pain of her rejection. It didn’t matter that she said things like, “I’m not rushing you, just wanting to know what you are thinking.” I still felt as though she had said, “I am so worn out working with you. Would you please just move along so I can take on some other, better client? You are getting tiresome and asking for too much.”

What should I do? I would ask myself. I should harm myself, I deserve it. But no, no, I am trying to do things differently. I should just cancel my next session, because it’s only going to frustrate me all over again. No, no, I can’t do that! I have to go and somehow make her understand. Should I reach out by text or phone before my next session, to let her know how much this is bothering me? No, don’t be so clingy; that will only make everything harder.

Some anxious part of myself was not just distressed, but also furious at her.

So here is the strange thing. I have experienced NONE of that since the shut down. Seriously. I did go back and talk to her the day after that last journal entry. I told her that every time she asked me, she was actually delaying my ability to make any change, because I started to feel pushed. And that just triggered all my old wounds about being pushed, unsupported, unprotected, and unwelcome.

E heard me, though I don’t know that she really changed the way she thought about it. She’s very into the idea that she should be able to ask for what she wants (a potential time slot for a new client), and I should be developing my self-advocacy skills by saying “no,” if I don’t agree with a proposed change. I see her logic, but I think that her approach is not helpful in healing an attachment wound.

Don’t worry, she wasn’t mean or anything. She did say that I mattered to her, and she was fine with keeping the slot for me and making the new client wait. My needs mattered more, she said. Good words, but in my mind, it would have been better if she had just stuck to waiting for me to let her know when I was ready to reduce therapy sessions.

So it’s not really that we resolved things. I believe we still see the question differently. But something started to feel different to me around the time of the shut down. Maybe it was the sense that the world was in crisis and I had bigger things to think about. Maybe it was my old familiar sense of calm in the midst of chaos (I am actually a useful person to have around when everything is falling apart). Maybe I have learned to accept things I don’t really like. Maybe it was just something utterly random.

At any rate, I have been concerned, sad, and worried, of course, like everyone else. But I have been more emotionally centered and also less reliant on E. I have remained very consistent in my daily meditation practice and my daily walks, both of which help me stay in touch with the wisdom at my core. I have intentionally stayed connected to my sisters and friends, checking in on them but also making sure I have people I care about to talk to.

Recently I gave up my Monday sessions. Now I see E on Wednesday afternoons, and every other week for group. I miss her sometimes. I still, 15 months after she abruptly cut off our texting, miss that close connection. Every few days I will think of something I want to text her, but I don’t do it. I save it for our session, or I send the thought to one of my friends instead.

I’m surprised that it’s been (knock on wood) so easy. I haven’t been triggered at all. I haven’t had any of that painful, intense longing. I haven’t felt afraid that I can’t make it from Wednesday to Wednesday.

Is there another shoe that’s about to drop? Or has something really changed? Can it be better without ever having had a proper resolution?

CREDIT: Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

11 comments

  1. Funny, before you wrote that you’re a really useful person to have around when everything is falling apart, I was getting a strong sense of that! It’s like you’re this yoga-y type person who has a strength and flexibility at the core, even if you still can trip over and sprain an ankle. Probably not a great analogy but hopefully what I’m trying to say is coming across.
    I would find that so hard too, by the way, if Guy asked me to think about doing less hours. I’d feel rejected by that too. It must the the attachment stuff mustn’t it? I wish ‘experts’ would write more papers on every little detail of what can happen in a therapeutic relationship and to clients in this situation; it might all make more sense. But reading what you’ve put here is just as good as any expert. Sometimes there’s nothing like the expert of experience.
    It must have been amazing to be able to text freely, but horrible to have had that stopped before you were the one who decided to stop. But the way you write about not being concerned how you’ll get from one Wednesday to the next, that is such a good milestone, one I quite envy! But it gives me hope that if you can get there then so can I, it’s just not my turn yet, it’s yours. And it’s lovely to read your journey 😊

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    • It took me a long time to feel ready to reduce my time with E. Even when I could see I was moving in that general direction, I still felt afraid to let go. Her office represented some kind of security for me. I was still experiencing a lot of ups and downs, and my connection to her was a refuge when other things were hard. But it’s like some of the qualities I felt in therapy will her have been gradually transferred over to me. They are mine now, and since I carry them with me, I can still be okay from Wednesday to Wednesday.

      But let’s be real. I’m sure there are still ups and downs ahead. I imagine there will be times when I might ask for more support again. But I bet it won’t be for very long. Maybe I’ll just lean on her a bit to help me right myself.

      Anyway, as I started to say, it has been a long slow process. Your process can be slow too. It can take however long you need it to take. Just hang on to the faith that this path is taking you someplace good, someplace where you will feel better, someplace where you can more fully own your own power. xxoo

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Q, that’s really helpful to hear. I especially liked what you said about transferring of some of the therapist qualities, I replay in my head what Guy has said and hear myself saying it word for word, even using his tone of voice! That’s a new thing that started this past couple of weeks but I quite like it. It shows something has rubbed off on me in a good way!

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  2. Hey Q. I have always really related to your experiences with E – think we’ve had similar difficulties with outside contact etc. I guess right now if you can, just take it as it comes. It’s great that things have been ok and your coping self is managing. If the other shoe drops eventually then that’s fine, you’ll work through it. Sending love in this crazy time xx

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    • These days I can easily enough agree with “take it as it comes,” since it’s not that hard. I imagine there may be other days in the future when it’s rougher. But I’m learning now that I have a lot of coping strategies I never used to have. And I have a different attitude about caring for myself.

      I think you are right; if the other shoe drops, I’ll work through it. That’s an incredibly valuable thing to know.

      Thank you, and sending love back. xx

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  3. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ve always really admired your strength. This is a situation that could have knocked you right off your feet but you’re able to collect yourself, acknowledge your impulses, and push past them to do what’s more effective for you. And you recognize your own strength, which is key! I’m sorry that E keeps pushing for something you weren’t ready for – applause to you for taking the leap anyway. After being in twice a week therapy for the last six months, I can’t imagine going back to just once. That’s a lot of time to hold a lot of feelings, so you’re doing great!! I’ll keep you in mind and hope things continue down the path you’re taking now, it seems to be working for you as best it can 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just to be clear, the decision to reduce the number of session I have was mine, not hers. Even though E repeatedly said things that suggested I could do with fewer session, I was very resistant. I guess I can drag my heals when I need to!

      No, in the end, I was the one who said, okay, I think I can do this. I had been playing off and on with canceling a few appointments, but it was different to say, I’m going to give up my Monday slot entirely. We spent a good amount of time talking about it. What helped the most was the E said if something came up and I needed more time with her, she would find time in her schedule for me. I probably won’t need it, but the reassurance gave me an extra layer of security.

      I was in twice-a-week therapy for three years I think. I never would have imagined that it would last so long. I’m very glad I did it though. I’m grateful that E made it possible, and that my insurance permitted it. I think it allowed me to dare to go deeper, because I didn’t have to hold all the difficult feelings by myself for a whole week until the next session. I could open something difficult up on Monday, and on Wednesday we could kind of clean up, or help me stabilize if necessary. It also made me trust that her support was consistently going to be there. I had a hard time with that when we had less time together.

      I hope your more frequent sessions bring you as much growth and learning and hope as mine have given me. Sending loads of good wishes!

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  4. Q, are you living in my mind? This week it feels like you are. When you say this, I am nodding along:
    “I’m surprised that it’s been (knock on wood) so easy. I haven’t been triggered at all. I haven’t had any of that painful, intense longing. I haven’t felt afraid that I can’t make it from Wednesday to Wednesday.”

    I have been facing the similar thing around the easing up of the attachment pain – I spent the last year fighting to be close to my T and to work through some huge feelings of betrayal and rejection, then the pandemic hits, and suddenly I am dropping sessions, not needing her. It feels, on the one hand, like getting to exercise a resilience that has always been there, and that I’ve used therapy to cultivate from a place of vulnerability. It also feels like maybe I have just shut down a big part of myself to survive the dramatic changes to our life (working full time from home, working more than before, little kids at home to manage, compromised adults to care for). I haven’t seen my T in 5 weeks, and while I miss her, I don’t feel like I need a session. We will likely meet in person in mid-June, and then I will ask to go down to once a month, just to keep something alive if the shoe does drop.

    and this is precisely what I keep asking myself:
    “Is there another shoe that’s about to drop? Or has something really changed? Can it be better without ever having had a proper resolution?”

    the latter part of this thought gives me pause.. after a month of feeling fine without her, I wondered if it was time for a more indefinite break. I wondered a lot about what it would be like to ease out of it without having actually resolved my attachment trauma, to just walk away from it all ow having got what i got, and understanding that nothing was resolved. i have come to understand it a lot, but all of a sudden not feeling it is not a resolution. So your question lingers, and makes me wonder how things will turn out for both of us.

    is it the pandemic, or is growth? i just don’t know.

    Liked by 2 people

    • YES, I AM INSIDE YOUR HEAD!

      Okay, no, just kidding. But thanks for that; it’s very validating to have someone really understand my experience.

      I still can’t figure it out. Why am I more stable, more resilient, more independent now? I honestly cannot answer that. I can’t say if I’ll need to go back and chew on that attachment bone some more or not. I kind of hope not; it’s painful work. But if it’s what I need to do at some future time, I’ll do it anyway, because I’ve seen how much growth comes out of it.

      I had a very useful session with E today, not painful, not attachment stuff. But it still felt great to see her–in person! though outside and with social distancing. I’ll write more about it tomorrow or the next day. For now, time to sleep.

      Wishing you all the best with your heavy load–working a lot from home, little kids, compromised adults to care for. Please remember to take good care of yourself as well. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 1 person


      • looking forward to hearing about your session. maybe it'll help me decided what to do if i do go back soon!

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