This Anger


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.

17 comments

  1. I hear you on that personal touch part. It can be disheartening not to have a session fulfilled like you want it. Believe me it is frustrating for me to see a client in need of more, while faced with a screen, which has no soul. Take care, Steve

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for commenting! I waffle on the Zoom therapy thing. It often feels too cold and distant, and yet I’m thankful we’ve at least had the technology to make this an option during the pandemic. I guess both those things are true, right?

      Like

  2. The fact that you’re exploring these thoughts on writing is pretty awesome, and I hope you find your answers through more of these explorations. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing this. Wishing you all the best!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Stuart. It always means a lot to me when someone takes the trouble to respond to what I’ve written.

      I’ve found it easier to kind of explore my vulnerability here, in a safely anonymous space, than in person. But I’ve also found, over time, that the warmth and understanding I’ve been met with here online has made me braver about being vulnerable in real life. It’s been very good for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t have answers either. My therapist says relational trauma needs relational healing too. It can be so terrifying for me/us because there’s a lot of risk to voice anger towards a therapist because so many of them use that cop out phrase that Charo used. Of course we know they’re human and that mistakes happen. But in depth work to heal from complex relational trauma during childhood at the hands of caregiving adults, attunement and sensitivity is required from the therapist TO mend the rupture.

    From a Psychologist: https://www.instagram.com/p/CVeEPujP3tj/?utm_medium=copy_link

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do appreciated this reply when I first read it, bc I saw how much you could relate. And that of course helps to normalize my experience, so thank you!

      I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner. I had another one of my strange glare-ups of neck pain that literally knocks me flat and keeps me from writing for 10 days or so. I’m so relieved to be coming out of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Q, I’m not sure if I have commented before so apologies if you aren’t sure who I am. I have followed you for a long time and have the deepest respect for your integrity, your bravery and your journey. I always learn so much from you.
    I don’t know if this will help, but I guess anger and rumination serve the function of trying to stay connected, trying still to live in a world where the bad thing didn’t happen. For example, someone who is caught in PTSD rumination about an incident that occurred (say a medical trauma), could get very focussed on, “if the doctor had done x/hadn’t done y then this wouldn’t have happened”. Perfectly true, and of course they have a right to feel angry, but it stops them from dealing with the fact that they live in a world where x did happen and how the heck do you start to live with that? The grief, the loss, the terror and shame & vulnerability; anger blocks all that and can be a desperate attempt to try to live in a world where the bad thing didn’t happen. So for you-maybe this is coming up so strongly now because you are grieving E? You’re going back to a moment where she didn’t meet a need that you had and she reactivated trauma of being seen unseen and unmet and unheard, and that little girl part is perhaps still angry and still trying to be seen and still trying to get what she needs in that moment. And instead perhaps the work is grief: you didn’t get it, you never will get it now from E, in that moment she failed you, and you need to be allowed to feel all of the complex painful feelings you have about that before coming to a place where you can see the whole of the relationship and the good as well as the bad bits with her. The ending of the therapy relationship is such a huge loss, all that it represents about wounds and needs that stay unmet as well as the affection and attachment of a long and intimate relationship. You need so much looking after and gentle care just now and I wonder if this little girl is letting you know that.
    I hope this is ok and doesn’t come across as patronising or intrusive; it’s something I’ve learned in my own work but everyone’s journey is different.
    Take your time with the new therapist, just honour the parts that might be curious about closeness and the parts that don’t want to risk another relationship yet. Both are looking out for you. FWIW I I’m bewildered why the therapists you have seen who are trained in brainspotting and EMDR do not use these with you; they are really deep and effective ways of healing and both have been so helpful to me. It does need the therapist to push you and keep you on track and I’m bewildered why these therapists are not doing that with you. Perhaps that’s a discussion you can have when you feel a bit safer.
    Take care Q; you are such an incredible woman and you are going through so much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi pink, you have commented before or at least “liked” posts, bc I have seen your name here. Thank you for following along and also for your very kind words. Your take on this is very wise and insightful. I have learned that resisting reality only increases suffering, but I hadn’t thought of anger as a form of resistance. It can be a shield against the hurt, I guess.

      I have more thinking to do about this. Also, thank you for this too, I will ask Charo why we do so little brainspotting. It could be interesting to talk that through with her.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Ah Q. I hear you. I’ve been meeting anger a lot this week and I really feel for that part of you that was so let down by E’s response at that time, and others, when you needed a far more relational experience with her. I was raging on Monday evening about my shit family and yesterday text Anita this:

    ‘Ahhh don’t they say that anger is really just sadness and grief’s bodyguard? It’s definitely a boundary maker but beneath all that is something much more vulnerable. Anger has gone today and instead there’s just that pervading sense of loss – not loss of what there was, because there was nothing good, but loss of what should or might have been. It’s no wonder anger is an easier emotion to express because the other, underside of it is really painful and depressing.’

    Anita sent me a photo of the anger iceberg. I’ve seen it many times, but it was a reminder. It’s interesting actually because like you anger has not come naturally to me, it’s too dangerous, unacceptable even but it’s definitely potent. I think that healthy anger is needed. It’s that part of you stepping up and fighting for your hurt, disappointed, scared, embarrassed, shamed parts.

    I’m not sure about Charo- didn’t like her initial response (and no you’ve not mentioned her before) but I think there’s definitely work that can be done on this with a therapist. In fact, I think your inner child is screaming for you to do it.

    Big hugs x

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anita is so great! Anger as grief’s bodyguard—that sounds about right. After all this time, I still seldom really feel grief and loss.

      Maybe it’s a process. I used to be depressed and numb most of the time. Then as I opened up to more emotions, it took a while for anger to show up. Perhaps it has to hold that space for a while until I’m prepared to confront grief? I don’t know, just a thought that occurred to me.

      Thanks for your wisdom, and for those big hugs too! xx

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yeah- anger is important to feel, especially when in the past we’ve been made to feel anger is unacceptable or even dangerous. Anger is a boundary maker, too. Finding my ‘no’ is big. Even if my anger is disproportionate to the situation it’s great it’s there now after, like you, being numb for years. I used to say I didn’t get angry…. ha…. sure do now! Lots of repressed feelings coming up! 🤪😂. Enjoy your weekend x

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I love that you are making space to get curious about what this inner part needs from you right now. And the fact that you are exploring this a little bit with Charo will surely help reveal more and more what these needs are for you.
    When I ended a therapy relationship over feeling blamed for expressing hurt/unmet needs in therapy, the young abandoned and hurt one inside of me began to heal only when I began to tend to and experience the validating and caring support of a new therapist…a therapist that now openly encourages me to voice any feelings of anger or hurt towards her while working hard to tend to the young parts that get disrupted as a result.
    I’m not trying to suggest that the answers lie in more therapy for you, but I do know that the space you are making for yourself to work through and identify needs right now is hugely important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad to read that you found a different therapist who could do this deep healing work with you. I’m convinced that our learning to recognize, accept and soothe the attachment pain of our young parts is one of the most transformative things we can experience. Sometimes I feel I’m part way there, only to find that there’s a different part or wound I have overlooked. I’m not sure yet if Charo will be the person to help me, or if it’s work I’ll end up tackling on my own… or looking for someone else. I’m trying to let it be okay for me not to know that yet. It’s very encouraging for me to read that it IS possible to do it w a therapist, if you find the right person. So thank you! 💜

      Liked by 2 people

      • I couldn’t agree more. Addressing the attachment wounds of my young parts has been some of the hardest and yet most transformative therapy work I have ever done. Sometimes I look back at previous therapy work I’ve done and it feels almost superficial compared to what I am venturing into now. But then I have to remind myself that the foundational work I did at the beginning was not only important, but it also is what has made this type of work possible for me now.

        I think it’s more than okay to not know your own path right now. The transition period you are currently in will bring enough of its own introspection and internal shifting to help nudge you in whatever direction you need to go. Take your time. 💗

        Like

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