In general, I would not describe myself as an angry person, not at all. I seldom raise my voice. I don’t hold grudges. I tend to forgive easily, sometimes maybe too easily.
But then, there’s this anger I have been carrying toward E, my former therapist. I haven’t even seen her since August 12, and we parted on good terms, so it’s not as though anything new has come up to disturb me. Instead, it’s all this old, unresolved stuff that has bubbled up. And now that it’s here, it’s really here. And it doesn’t want to let up.
My husband and I just got back from a trip to Denmark, where he comes from. We hadn’t seen his family in two and a half years (because, of course, COVID), so it was a busy, sweet, hectic visit. I got a lot of opportunities to practice my rudimentary Danish while playing with some of his grandchildren.
I thought this trip would prove to be a good distraction from thinking about E, about our old ruptures and how we sort of made up and continued going forward, but we never explicitly dealt with the rupture itself. And in fact, some of the time, I was distracted, as I hoped. But when I wasn’t busy, I could still feel it, nagging at me: a grumpy, scraggly little girl tugging on my sleeve, wanting my attention.
Go away! I wanted to say. I don’t want to be angry! I want to let go of this and just feel at peace with E. I just want to appreciate the good work we did together.
Even as I was thinking that, however, I knew that it never works to tell an emotion to go away—you know, “what we resist, persists,” and all that. So I have also tried saying telling that insistent child, Okay, you are mad about a rupture we had with E years ago. Okay, you can be mad…
But I don’t know; that didn’t shift anything. It all feels so hopeless. So stuck. Now that I’m done working with E, there is no chance to resolve anything.
I am still seeing Charo every two weeks, the therapist I started seeing in the spring for brainspotting (Have I even written about this? I can’t remember). We actually don’t do very much brainspotting, but we always do some art therapy, which I have found somewhat useful. Charo gives me a space to talk (or draw or paint or collage) through things I feel uncertain about, without any of the attachment drama. I haven’t met her in person. I like her, but I don’t have any deep yearning for her, no vital connection–and that’s fine, I want it that way.
Anyway, after I got back from Denmark I had an online session with Charo and brought up this anger I feel, as well as my wish I didn’t feel it. She welcomed me to talk about it. She said it was a hard thing, but a good thing, to address, and both clients and therapists often avoid it.
Next she asked me to examine that anger a little more deeply, I roughly described the initial rupture. It was very rough, because I felt like Charo didn’t need the details, and it would upset me to describe them all. So I said something like, I trusted her enough to reveal that something she had said to me hurt my feelings. I thought it would be okay to say that. But she grew distant. She talked about how we are all ultimately alone… I forget exactly what I said.
Charo responded with the “everyone makes mistakes,” and “therapists are human, too.” She went on to tell me that she knows she has good days and bad days, and sometimes she looks back and kicks herself for not catching an important moment or not responding in the best way.
Well, there was an example of not responding the best way. I just looked at Charo on the screen of my laptop and said nothing. Therapists are human. It’s normal to make mistakes. So what does that mean? That I shouldn’t be upset? I guess not. I guess it’s all just my own sensitivity.
I’m usually pretty talkative in sessions, so Charo noticed that I’d grown quiet. Honestly, I was probably pouting. I was thinking something like, even though you said I was welcome to talk about it, you aren’t making it feel welcoming.
It’s funny how fuzzy this session is in my head now. I can’t remember exactly how we got there, but at some point Charo got me talking again by asking me what I wish would have happened.
“I wish,” I said, slowly, pulling my thoughts together, “I wish she had said, ‘Oh, it’s clear that something I just said really touched a nerve. I think you know, I hope anyway, that I would never intentionally hurt your feelings. When you come in tomorrow [this took place over the phone], let’s talk about this and explore what is going on for you. I suspect it has some kind of resonance with older wounds, but we can figure that out together. Will you be okay until tomorrow?’ Something like that, maybe with extra reassurances that she was still there, still on my side.”
Charo nodded, and I continued, with an increasingly emotional tone, “Instead she gets defensive and cold. She doubles down that she hasn’t said anything wrong. And there I am in her office the next day, wide-eyed in the midst of a trauma response, and she tells me that I’m not special, that we are all alone, that I need to come to terms with that… and not a bit of warmth or reassurance or assistance to stabilize me when I feel that her care has suddenly been withdrawn.”
That’s when Charo got it, finally, when I raised my voice a bit and got more dramatic about it. Or maybe when I said that E had ignored or not seen that I was lost in some kind of trauma space and done nothing but left me there by myself.
Of course, fat lot of good it did me to have her get it. She’s still sitting in her office ten miles away, and I’m sitting in my art/guest room looking at her on a small screen. It’s not like she could take my hand or touch my arm or provide any personal touch. I think my head noticed she got it, but my emotions didn’t feel much of anything. That angry child did not suddenly feel better.
Anyway, we were nearly out of time. Charo asked me to make time each day to check in with that angry girl part, to tell her that she matters and that we (she and I) are willing to listen to her. And I’m doing that, a little half-heartedly maybe. I think I still feel skeptical and uneasy. I feel like I don’t exactly know how to manage this one on my own, and I’m not sure if Charo is going to be able to help. Sometimes I feel like begging her for an in-person session, even just one, to build more attachment and more trust in her. Other times, as I said, I am happy not to be attached.
The thing is, relational wounds need to be healed in relationship. They don’t have to be healed with the person who caused the wound. I don’t have to go back to E (and anyway, I tried various times to broach this with her, and we never went anywhere; maybe both of us were too afraid?). I can do this with Charo, or someone else maybe, but then do I need to first form a deeper connection to her? I really don’t know.