I have group therapy with six other women every other Monday,–these days on Zoom, of course. Last week, like so many other weeks when we go around and say what’s up for us, I brought up something a lot more personal than did any of the others did, and it set me up for a very difficult week.
That evening, the others mostly spoke before me and said things like, “I have so much work to do; it’s hard to really let myself relax on the weekend,” or “I find myself checking out a lot and not really paying attention to my child,” or “I’m concerned about what my son will do when school starts up online again this fall.” Nothing very out of the ordinary.
I was second to last. I said, “I have been thinking a lot about something from my past that I really regret. In fact, I feel so ashamed of it that I can’t tell you right now specifically what it was. But I’ve been struggling with it, really thinking about it, about how we come to accept these things about ourselves. I listened to a guided visualization that helped me a little, one focused on dealing with experiences we regret…” and I described it a little. “So that’s what has been up for me.”
After me, the last woman told us that she was devastated because a coworker and friend had committed suicide the week before. “I keep thinking maybe there was something I could have done to help,” she said. “Also I keep thinking how mad I am, about what he was suffering and so many people in our country are suffering now…”
Not surprisingly, we spent most of the remaining time listening to this woman, supporting her, validating her range of reactions. All very appropriate and rich with lessons about how complicated grief is.
With only about 10 minutes left, E turned back to me and asked if we could talk a bit more about what I had brought up.
“Sure,” I said, “but I don’t know what I need to process exactly.”
E suggested that maybe each woman could just share how it felt for her to hear what I said, since clearly what I talked about was at a different level than what they had brought up. I think she was trying to call attention to my vulnerability and also to provide reassurance from the others that it was okay to say something like I did. I can’t even remember now exactly what was said, but they told me things like I was “brave”, that I am a good example for them, that it helps them to see me grapple with questions like this. Warm, validating words.
It’s not the first time we’ve enacted this ritual–Q takes an emotional risk in group, the others say supportive things. I first did it maybe 14 months ago, deliberately trying to shift the group conversation towards something deeper. I’ve done it a number of times since then. I have even talked about how I’ve thought about leaving the group but wanted to challenge myself to show up authentically, to take responsibility for shaping the group to be something I would like it to be.
But this time, after group ended, I started feeling upset, really upset. I realized that even though all the group members say nice things, in fact it has changed nothing. Literally nothing.
Don’t get me wrong; the things the others talk about matter, even when it’s not something as tragic as a suicide. Themes like boundaries, self-care, and assertiveness come up all the time, and we all need support for that. They are completely legitimate things to talk about in a women’s therapy group.
But that’s different than talking about trauma and healing and your inner child and the shame you carry from your past. Those are things I am grappling with, and they are things I would like to talk about in group. It would help me to hear that others struggle with similar things, or to have validation for my emotions and my healing work, or to know that people can hear about my experience and still care about me. That’s why I have continued to try to shift the conversation, at least some of the time.
But after last Monday night, I saw clearly that I have been going in a consistently different direction than the rest of the group. And I felt raw. Overexposed. Foolish. Inappropriately trusting. Guilty of over-sharing. Awkward. I felt as though I had just climbed up to the high dive and then realized that it’s too high for me. I wanted to back down. I wanted to return to jumping off the steps of the kiddie pool.
Next I thought, I’m a misfit. I’m a freak in this group. Harsh words, I know, but in that moment, I immediately judged myself very harshly. And that judgment tied directly into many old fears: I don’t belong. There is something different about me, so I can never fit anywhere. People won’t really care about me. I’m not lovable. I’m not worthy.
Furthermore, I told myself, not only do you not fit, but you are trying to make the group into something it’s not. The others want the group to be what it is. They come together to talk about their lives, and then they have to contend with you, always trying to redirect the conversation. What a drag you must be. How they must roll their eyes (internally) when you start to talk.
It set off a real emotional storm. I became obsessed–many of you know what I’m talking about–thinking about the same things over and over, telling myself stories about what a misfit I am, scolding myself for being different and wrong and not belonging. Seeing E for individual therapy on Wednesday did not put it to rest.
And to my disappointment, I did what I have so often done when I am really triggered: I collapsed. I fell into bed, not all day every day, but a lot of the time. I lost energy and motivation. It was hard to do anything of the things I usually rely on to support me, like meditation, yoga, walks. I tried a little of that, half-heartedly though, and it didn’t help, or if it did, only briefly. On Thursday, I even burned myself–just a little, and I have to say, it provided more release than anything else I tried. But I felt ashamed about regressing, like I let myself down, and E, too.
Slowly, though, hurricane winds started to recede. By late Friday, I was still feeling lousy, but I had just enough distance from the center of the emotional storm to do two things: 1) challenge my own thinking, and 2) start to value what I needed.
I started examining my thoughts and asking myself, is this really true? Or am I perhaps exaggerating things? Could I say the same thing in a less judgmental way? So, I told myself, maybe I’m not personally a misfit. Maybe there is just a poor fit between what I want from group and what the others want from group. We could have different desires, and they could all be valid.
Maybe it’s not true that I don’t belong anywhere. I have intentionally cultivated deeper friendships over the past several years. This has been a struggle for me, because I’ve found it hard to trust and therefore hard to connect deeply, but I have made progress. I’m not all alone. There are people who value having me in their life.
And if I’m not a misfit, and my desires are valid too, maybe I can take them more seriously. So I did a search online for group therapy options in my city. I found out that there is an art therapy class (online) for women survivors of childhood sexual abuse starting up in September. I emailed the therapist running the group to find out more about it.
Over the weekend, I continued to feel more stable, little by little, and this let me think about the whole week with a sense of perspective. I started thinking about how hard it had been, how much I had felt as if an alien being had taken over my body and my brain. My body had felt agitated, alert, and sickened. My brain had circled around the same thoughts, repeatedly stabbing me with negative judgments. Do I really need to re-experience this every time I doubt my ability to fit into a group, every time I fear rejection?
I’m not a psychologist, but I have learned enough about trauma to know that I can’t just talk myself out of a trauma reaction. I have a ton of cognitive behavioral strategies, but they don’t touch the triggered brain. I have mindfulness strategies too, but when I’m really activated, I can’t use them, at least not immediately. And while the virus persists, I don’t have access to my cranio-sacral therapist, who can help me slow down my reactive brain. This leaves me still in need of more assistance getting out of my lizard brain.
Maybe I should consider going back to EMDR, the one approach I know of that doesn’t just help me cope with the pain traumatic memories but actually reduces the distress attached to them. Supposedly.
I’m not really a misfit, not really. I’m just a human being, like so many others, with a trauma history. And as much healing as I’ve done, I can still be knocked off my feet by those trauma hurricanes.
I find it both surprising and yet fully understandable to hear you say you feel a misfit.
Surprising because you fit so well here on WordPress, it’s easy to assume it’s like that for you out there in real life too.
But it’s not surprising in the sense that the things you DO say here are very deep, and I’ve always got a sense that if people work on a deep level they sometimes have to wait a long time for someone else to come along who works on that same deep level as they do. I wonder if psychotherapists are deeper people who work to that level, or whether that’s why those who work to that level form such deep bonds with their therapists? Just a thought. Maybe the therapeutic bonding is more to do with the trauma being dealt with. But I suspect that the depth a person works at is often linked to their traumas and not just their personalities (could be wrong though).
Anyway, my musings probably don’t help much. I’m sorry you feel this isolation and feel knocked so flat by it. I hope this new group comes good for you and gives you more of what you need.
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Hi LS, I’m confused because I wrote you a reply maybe a week ago, but I don’t see it posted here. Mysterious disappearing replies!
At any rate, thank you for understanding that it can be hard to find others who want to do deep work. I didn’t expect it to be all that hard, since there are many (including you) who are wiling to go there on WP. Of course, it seems like “many” but actually given that we are from all over the world, it’s actually a pretty small number.
The thing I would wish for everyone to know is that deep work is painful, but it also opens the door to incredible growth. I don’t regret the risks I have taken to change my emotional well-being. They aren’t all successful, but overall, I find they are leading me to a better place. I hope the new group I want to try will take me an additional step forward.
Yes to all of this! It is truly amazing to experience a group therapy dynamic where other members are seeking the same level of depth. When others share deeply it invites us to be more honest and vulnerable. When others are unable or unwilling to do so I find that it really hinders my own progress. Your personal response of turning inward and finding fault with yourself as a result is very relatable. I find myself constantly and unknowingly searching for evidence to prove that I do not belong – that no one cares – that I am alone. Reading your process of slowly reframing that internal dialogue is a very timely reminder for me at the moment. Thank you for that. Your choice to explore and consider a new group setting sounds like an excellent productive response. I hope you find a group that encourages you to dig deeper in your healing. 💕
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As I commented to LS above, I am surprised tonight not to see my response to your comment. I am sure, well, 90 percent sure, that I replied to all the comments.
At any rate, thank you for your comment. You are so right; when others share, it gives us permission to be honest and vulnerable as well. When they don’t, it is easy to start asking ourselves if we are wrong to be telling our truth.The balance needs to be just right for everyone to feel safe.
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This feeling of being different and not belonging is so, so painful. I know this fear well. You aren’t the only “misfit”. I’m glad the hurricane has mostly subsided. It’s really so hard when we are doing well and those high winds (seemingly)come out of nowhere and knock us off our feet. Just to play devil’s advocate — what if some of the women in your group do wish they had courage to talk about deeper things? In my bible study group this winter (and we have all been together for 3 years this fall!) the subject of sexual abuse came up. One woman shared some of her story, and another said that she had also been hurt like this but didn’t want to share her story right then. I sat there and offered kind words and encouragement but never said a thing about my own history. I wish I had, and I’m truth, I’m a little bit jealous that sharing seemed so easy for them. I’m not saying that’s the case here, and I think it’s a good idea to maybe try other groups and find one that really feels like a good fit.
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You know, Alice, after I first read your comment, I thought about it for a long time. What if my sharing was making it easier for others in the group to tip toe towards being able to share their own stories?
I hope that hearing the woman in your bible study share served that role for you. I hope she planted a seed that maybe someday turns into you thinking you could say a little about that in that group, or another group, and know you would be held with compassion and kindness. You so deserve that. And I do hope that my risk-taking in group does that for others.
However, I also realized that while I want to be helpful for others, ultimately I am in group to address my own needs. And my needs are not being met. It’s not the fault of the others in group; I have no criticism of them. They are wherever they are in their own therapy journey. Certainly there were years upon years when I didn’t (couldn’t) say anything about my own history.
I’m curious and kind of excited to see what I might gain from a different kind of group. Stay tuned! I’m sure I’ll end up writing about it.
Thanks again for all the kindness and encouragement you always offer.
Ouch. So painful when trauma and attachment are triggered. I have found groups magnify reactions sometimes also.
My first response was similar to Alice’s actually. I relate to this because I belong to a monthly ‘journey’ group through my church, where we focus on a particular theme each month (e.g., courage, mindfulness, kindness…). There are questions for discussion, and also a check-in where we share what’s bringing us up, what’s bringing us down. Anyway, I consistently have harder downs than most of the rest of the group, and though I don’t discuss trauma, even a softened version of my past and take on the questions is ‘worse’ or more painful than what the rest of the group brings up. The other members mention beautiful walks, or time with grandchildren, and downs are difficulties with aging parents for instance. And for me, my downs are legitimate fears of losing work, an adult child who is ill and won’t talk to me, parents who were abusive and how to relate to them now. And I feel that fear that I’m traumatizing the group, and also that feeling of being different from their middle class existence of stable jobs, children who are able to function, stable marriages, financial security…It’s a painful feeling for sure.
But I did wonder if maybe the other members of your group admire your ability to go deep, when they stay in the shallows? As it is a therapy group….Rather than judge you in any way.
I think the art therapy group, specifically focused on trauma, may be a better fit. At the same time, it could be you feel uncomfortable with groups, and that is such a tricky thing to work through. It is for me anyway. One option could be to keep talking about how uncomfortable/judged/different you feel. Possibly? Could it be that those feelings would lessen with ventilation? But maybe that is not a fit for you.
I think I’ll search for a women’s trauma therapy group in my city. Great idea.
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It does sound like you have had a kind of similar experience with group, feeling like maybe the “downs” you share are bigger and scarier than those the others share. And just like you, I have wondered at times, am I freaking them all out with the things I bring up? Do I make them feel pressured, or maybe depressed, or maybe sorry for me? And if they knew ALL of it, oh my god, then what would they think?!?
I’ve also had the other thought you mentioned… maybe I will feel like the misfit in any group! It’s entirely possible. If I do, I suspect that talking about it would probably be a good idea. To the degree I have done that in my current group, I’ve always been met with a lot of understanding and validation, which helps for sure. The other thing that would probably help would be to warmly invite the misfit part of myself into my internal house, to treat her kindly, and to assure her that I will care for her even if she is the odd woman out. Self-compassion, that practice I have to keep relearning, and relearning, and relearning, probably for the rest of my life!
Let me know what happens with your search for a women’s trauma therapy group in your city. xxoo
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For every time you’re knocked off by the trauma hurricane, I am always impressed by your ability to get back up and battle through the storm. I think it’s natural to feel like you’re incompatible with your women’s group when you share so much more intimately than they do. Although I agree with the commenter who said the women likely admire you, I understand that this doesn’t erase the fact that they still don’t get it the way you need and that can be profoundly lonely. I hope the art therapy group gives you more of what you’re craving. Have you talked to E about this and gotten her insights?
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Ah, you know, I HAVE talked to E about this, leading to a minor rupture. I say “minor” not because it wasn’t painful. It was. But it was minor in the amount of time it lasted. I was confused and hurt and, frankly, mad. But I didn’t stew in my own juices for long. I wrote her an email, let it sit a few hours, edited it a bit, and sent it off. Then I felt terrified that I’d made everything worse.
Luckily for me, she replied within two hours in a gracious and understanding way. Furthermore, she said she respected my “fierceness” in advocating for myself. Perhaps I’ll write more about this, or maybe I’ll feel better if I don’t dive to deeply into all those emotions again.
Maybe the short version would be to say that E initially understood me to be saying in effect “I got really triggered in group and am running away.” So she really opposed that, thinking it’s not good professional practice for her to encourage me to run from something that bothered me. I felt she didn’t understand me (and she didn’t, actually), and that she was being obstinate and difficult and not supportive. It sucked.
But as I said, she eventually came to understand that I wasn’t running away. I had spent over a year making repeated efforts to ask for what I needed, and it wasn’t working. While I had been very triggered, ultimately my decision to leave was not impulsive, but a rational response to 14 months of failed efforts.
I don’t know why she and I have had to butt heads so many times. I hate it every time. It’s frightening to be at odds with her. But in a weird way, little by little, it is making me more confident of my own opinion.
Q those women in your group are so lucky to have someone like you in the group. I can understand though how it can feel like you don’t fit in when they are so much more … err… simple in what they discuss. Maybe over time they will gain confidence and be prepared to risk being more vulnerable with deeper things. I just wish you had an ally in the group. It must feel quite isolating at times. Are there no other groups local to you that might have some people who are a little more on your page? It seems to me like they are in a group for chick lit and you are off reading The Odyssey. x
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Maybe over time they will become more willing to be vulnerable. I guess I kind of hope so, since I find that we need to be vulnerable to make progress in our healing. But I am not going to wait around to see if things change.
Or rather, I am going to continue to pursue what I feel I need now. Who knows? Maybe if I go do this trauma group for 12 weeks (it’s just for that limited time), I will freer of the need to talk about, and I’ll come back to this kind group of women and use it as a place to discuss how to be a good mother to my lovable, challenging son, or any number of other life struggles. I don’t know what will come in the future. All I know is that it’s not helping me right now to be in the group and long for something that isn’t happening there.
I do kind of have an ally in group. One of the women and I have become friends outside of group as well. The funny thing is, in group she doesn’t share too deeply. But when she and I are together on our own, she shares a lot more with me. I do feel like she gets it and even wants to go deeper herself but doesn’t quite dare in the group setting. Anyway, the lucky thing for me is that I feel she and I will stay friends even after I leave our shared group.
Reading what you have shared here, I would suggest was an extremely difficult task for you. Getting all that emotion into words without screaming for instance – shows a lot of inner strength, and perhaps take that as a starting point for a different approach to the group? Maybe that particular group is not right for you at this time; seeking other options.
There are some wonderful people here on WordPress, and offer all kinds of support. Sorry if I sound like I am bulldozing in here, appearing to know things, when I don’t know you. My words are meant to let you know, like the others here, we care.
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Thank you Steve, that is kind of you. I do, indeed, find WP to be a great source of support. It’s made a huge difference for me over the five years I’ve been writing this blog. Now I want to keep this WP safe place but also experiment with being honest about who I am to people I start to know in person. It’s scary, but I think it will be good for me.
You are not bulldozing at all. On the contrary, it feels good to receive comments. Thanks for reaching out.