Tears.

tear

Crying and me have an uncomfortable relationship, but of late, it’s been improving, and even–maybe–turning into a kind of love relationship.

When I was a little girl, I cried constantly.  I was an extraordinarily sensitive child who probably spent more time in tears than not.  In school I was bullied and called a crybaby.  Being constantly shamed, scolded and made fun of over my frequent (and intense) crying, both at school and at home, taught me some hard (and unhealthy) lessons.   Over time, I began to cry less.  At some point that I can’t pinpoint, probably during my late teens or twenties, I stopped being able to cry at all (except for movies, novels, certain pieces of music, sappy Hallmark commercials, sad news stories about animals or kids (especially if abuse was involved), and other emotion-laden things that were “safe” to cry over because they were disconnected from me and involved people I didn’t know or fictional characters.)

But all that emotion didn’t just suddenly go away.   It had to go somewhere.  Most of it got bottled up and turned inward; I experienced horrible depressions that felt like death–a terrible emptiness and emotional barrenness that felt like being smothered in the cold dark matter of intergalactic space and that seemed every bit as eternal.   But sometimes, like a pressure cooker with no escape valve, I’d explode.  These explosions–rages, really– were always overreactions to whatever had set them off, because they also served as a sudden release of weeks or months of bottled up emotion.  And they always happened with no forewarning. Even I could not predict them.

I’d overreact to everything and fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. I kicked in doors, smashed windows, threw vases, broke things I wish I hadn’t broken,  and uttered loud obscenities like someone who was possessed.  (I rarely hit anyone though–my violence was always aimed at inanimate objects).   People were scared of me and I was scared of myself.  But crying?  Nope–except for the bitter, sharp tears of rage that sometimes spit out of my eyes like BB bullets when I was REALLY out of control.

In the past few years, since I went No Contact, I’ve been evolving, spiritually and emotionally.   Therapy, faith, nature, and writing are all helping me do that.  But I won’t elaborate on that here, because this post isn’t about that and most of my other posts are.

Since I’ve been starting to unfold, I’m finding that tears come more easily.  I still have a hard time crying in general, especially in front of others.  I still have a lot of shame connected with crying, but gradually that shame is disappearing and being replaced with a desire to be vulnerable, a desire to be able to express deep emotions but without losing control–and a desire to cry openly and without shame.

Human beings are the only creatures who are known to have the ability to shed emotional tears (there has been some evidence that elephants may also have this ability).  What’s the first thing we do when we’re born?  We cry.   At every important juncture or milestone of life–whether happy or sad–there are tears.  And when we die, tears are shed for us.   We experience life within this great arc of tears, whether they’re our own or are shed for us.

Most people automatically think if you cry, that means you’re sad or upset.  They feel like they must try to stop you: “oh, please don’t cry,” they plead.   Of course, they mean well. But it makes people uncomfortable.   Our culture has made crying almost a social taboo, except for socially-sanctioned public crying of the type done at funerals.  Or shedding a few tears at the movies.

But crying may be the only thing you can do sometimes.  It’s healthy. You may need to do it as much as you need to eat or drink water.  Tears are both healing and connective, and they don’t mean you’re weak–they mean you’re courageous enough to allow yourself the luxury of feeling life deeply, whether it’s deep joy, deep faith, or deep sadness.  Crying itself isn’t negative or positive–it’s a very human expression of any intense emotion.   It’s really just a pre-verbal, visual language that we speak when what we feel is too deep for words to express.

But enough with the romantic philosophizing.    I wanted to talk about what I’ve noticed about my own tears during this journey.    At first it was hard.  I wanted to cry more; I knew I was repressing an entire ocean of pain, but I had to force myself to get any tears out.  Music helped the most. So did books and movies, but music had the most fast-acting, intense effect.    Even then, I could sometimes only squeeze out a fear tears.   It was frustrating.  Where was this blockage that was keeping my lacrimatory plumbing all gunked up and clogged?

johnny_depp

As I began to pay more attention to my body during moments of intense emotion, whatever it was, I realized that I seemed to have a dull ache or some feeling of blockage in the middle of my gut, right over my belly button.   There was a little of that in my throat and heart area too, but it was mostly in the solar plexus region.  Chakra meditation–particularly focusing on the solar plexus (third) chakra–helped loosen whatever it was that was blocking me there.   I could tell because whenever the music would get to that particular chakra, I’d feel this overwhelming sadness and feeling of great loss.  The middle of my gut would begin to actually hurt, and then, to my surprise (and delight), tears began to trickle down my cheeks.  At first I wiped them away but soon I realized how good they felt and let them flow.   They felt comforting–like the gentle fingers of a loving mother.  The more of these tears slid down my cheeks, the more cleansed I felt.  The pain went away and the uncomfortable tightness was gone.  It’s believed by some that people with cluster B disorders have blockages in these chakras, especially the solar plexus.

I couldn’t cry in therapy at first.  I still can’t–not really.  But many times I’ve teared up even though no actual tears left my eyes, and a few times  I’ve actually let a few tears escape.   In one very recent session, I actually cried more than a few tears and allowed him to see my face for a second or two, but wasn’t able to keep that going.   My therapist is the only person (besides my daughter) who has seen me cry in a long  time.  But even with him, I’m very guarded and unable to let him see my face too much–instead I look at my lap and cover my forehead with my hands so he can’t see the tears–but he always knows, because I’m sniffling and my nose is running.  I want so badly to not have to hide this from him anymore.  I think I’m coming closer.

As I said above, crying isn’t a negative thing and can even be a very positive thing, but most of western society  (both sexes, but mostly men) has been programmed to believe that tears are always somehow connected with sadness (a “negative” emotion) or with weakness.    But the reality is, any intense emotion fully experienced can and does elicit tears.  There are some empaths, who are not at all what anyone would call depressed–who cry every day, not because they feel bad, but because they feel everything so deeply.   In the Stephen King movie, “The Green Mile,” a man named John Coffey, unjustly imprisoned for the murder of two young girls, had an almost constant stream of tears running down his cheeks, because of his extremely high ability to feel everything fully, including the emotions of those around him.   He turned out to be the movie’s hero because of his high empathy.

Most people think they look ugly when they cry (I’m one of them) but have you ever noticed a certain radiance too?  After someone has had a “good cry” (not the manipulative or self-pitying kind of cry narcissists do, but a real, cathartic one), have you noticed the way their skin kind of glows and their features seem to soften?   If there was hardness or coldness in the expression before, it seems to disappear for awhile and be taken over by something much gentler and more human.

For myself, I’ve noticed there are two basic types of emotional crying.  “Happy” tears are those shed for joy, love, gratitude, feeling moved or touched, appreciation, awe, and matters of a spiritual nature.  They can also include tears of mirth or laughter.   Sometimes a certain type of sadness can qualify as “happy” too.    “Survival” tears (I don’t want to call them “negative” because they serve an important function) are those shed when we’re hurt, disappointed, angry, frustrated, lonely, afraid, or suffering grief, loss or pain (emotional or physical).

Both types of tears are necessary for normal functioning and both types have their own unique properties.

Happy tears are the kind that are almost fun to shed (if they didn’t make us feel so self conscious).  They can be numerous, but seem composed of a slightly thicker salt water that makes them take longer to run down the cheeks–or maybe they just spill over with less force and that makes them trickle or slide rather than stream or flow.   These oils or salts or whatever it is happy tears contain also makes them stick to the eyelashes and linger on the cheeks if they’re not wiped away.   This could be an evolutionary thing–with their conspicuousness meaning their real purpose is to connect us with others. They’re a kind of pre-verbal language for deep emotions that words can’t express and are meant to be shared.   I can’t share them yet, but I still find that even when shed in private, my heart feels more open and I feel more connected to life.

Almost every Sunday in church lately, I cry this way during the liturgy, and sometimes during the music or homily too.  I know this can only mean one thing–the holy spirit is working on my heart.  It’s a delicious feeling to cry like this–but I’m still so shy about it and don’t want anyone to see.  So what I do is always sit in the back pew, wearing waterproof mascara and I bring a lot of tissues because I know there’s no avoiding the waterfall.  It’s annoying to have to keep blowing my nose, but other than that, it feels like a kind of baptism.

When I sat last week for two hours in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, I was so overwhelmed by beauty surrounding me at one point that tears just started to flow.  I was already covered with the salt water of the Gulf, so my tears mingled with that, and I thought about how similar the composition of tears are to the ocean and wondered what the meaning of that might be.

When I nursed my babies as newborns, sometimes I’d be overcome with love touched with a kind of existential sadness (that is very difficult to explain) that tears would just start flowing.   I think it’s possible lactating and pregnant mothers might become extra-emotional because it facilitates a love bond and helps them attach to their newborns.  You can’t love someone without your heart being open, and opening your heart means you start to feel things more.

Happy tears aren’t usually accompanied by sobs, or if they are, only very soft sobs, almost like sighs.  Sometimes you don’t even know why you’re crying.  You just know you have to and it feels fucking great.

“Survival” tears or tears of pain, grief or loss are usually cathartic.  They can be connective too, because they attract help or sympathy when we need it and thus help us survive, but it’s a different kind of connection–a more survival oriented one, rather than the sublime and pure human connection of the “soft” or happy emotions. The survival type of crying is more likely to involve sobbing and the tears tend to run faster, as if communicating urgency.

When a person has been in therapy for awhile, especially if they have suffered early trauma or a traumatic event of some kind that set their psychological problems into motion, and a breakthrough is finally reached, it’s almost always expressed through prolonged, intense, cathartic crying. Not everyone has such a dramatic breakthrough; some may just start finding tears coming more easily during session and increasing over time.  But in many cases, especially if the person has been holding back or repressing strong emotions for a long time, some trigger or repressed memory may cause a kind of internal dam to break, resulting in convulsive, prolonged crying and copious tears.   In some dramatic movies, these “breakthroughs” are almost always the climax of the film: two excellent examples from the top of my head (and both involving emotionally repressed patients in therapy) are Nick Nolte’s character in Prince of Tides, and the emotionally abused and scapegoated teenager Conrad Jarrett (played by Timothy Hutton) in the movie Ordinary People.

Even though I still have so much trouble crying in therapy, often I make up for that when I get home.  Sometimes I can’t even hold back the tears for that long, and start crying in the car on the way home.  Sometimes I have to actually pull over because all the tears interfere with my vision, and I’ll just sit there in the car, my face buried in my hands, sobbing until I feel something like relaxation and relief take over.

I’m currently reading a book called Cross Roads, by Christian novelist William Paul Young (who also wrote The Shack).  I won’t review the book here (I’ll be doing that in a day or two, for both blogs) but it’s about a narcissist who has a near death experience (NDE) and there’s a LOT of cathartic crying as he begins to look back at his wasted life, the loved ones he had hurt, and all the bad choices he made.   Reading it is also cathartic for me, but in a good way (that should give you an idea of the sort of review I’ll be writing)

Gals’ Night at Home.

Disclaimer: This is going to be a little different than my usual posts on this blog. Although this is my “serious” blog where I refrain from posting about things that don’t fit the content of this blog (Lucky Otter’s Haven has a much broader scope), I think most of the content here is by its nature, dark, deadly serious, and triggering, so I don’t see any harm in lightening things up on rare occasions.
Besides, I feel like my night with my daughter tonight was a kind of “win” that’s a sign that I’m progressing in my healing.

Gals’ Night at Home.

My daughter and I had a nice time girl-bonding tonight.   I’m not the type that gets into female bonding in general ( most of my platonic friends have always been male), but every once in a blue moon, I can get down with it.

So we shared a bottle of chardonnay and got just a little goofy.   She decided she wanted to give me a makeover and do my hair.    I rarely have my hair done professionally; usually I do it myself, which means either a blunt, easy cut (if I’m ambitious) or a ho-hum parted down the center boring 1970s look.

I did have my hair done by a real hairdresser back in March (you might remember that post), but it’s expensive, and my hair was getting boring and lifeless again (and worse, frizzes in the high humidity, so I told her to be my guest and have at it.

She used a color called Soft Black Violet in the deepest layer of hair(near the scalp) and and after letting that sit about 20 minutes (rather than 40 like the box said–I didn’t want it  BLACK because I remember about 20 years ago when I dyed my hair jet black and I looked exactly like Morticia from The Addams Family, with my pale, almost redhead type of skin crashing into the blue-black of my hair like a cargo of black and white linoleum floor tiles after a truck explosion.

I asked her how much gray hair she could see (I have no gray where I can see it in the mirror).  She told me just a little in the deep layer near my neckline in the back.

“That’s it?” I marveled.  One thing my family did right with me was give me good genes. I hate sounding narcissistic, but I always thought I looked pretty good.  Most other people do too.  Hardly anyone on either my mother’s or my father’s side looked anywhere near their real age (until age finally caught up with them, usually around 70 or 80).

“Yup,” my girl confirmed.   Then, “Mom, you’re done.  Wow, you look great!”

The result is a color a little deeper than strawberry blonde, but not really red either, sort of a dark mauve (the mauve must be from the “violet” in the haircolors’ name). My medium blonde hair on the top layer remained intact, and the effect makes my hair look thicker and with more 3-D depth.

The choice of color might seem a little eccentric for a woman my age, but I never pretended to be anything but a bit off the beaten path.  Besides, my daughter picked it for me.  It’s true,  I’m not much of a risk taker in much of anything, but when it comes to doing weird stuff to my hair, well…

“Bring it on!”

It will always grow out if you hate it.

Here are the final results, after the blow dry and the hair straightening my daughter did.   I think I just saved about $80.00.

makeover1 makeover2

One last thing that made everything perfect.  Here’s the song we cranked up and sang at full volume so it reverberated against the white ceramic tiles that cover most of the bathroom walls.  It’s one of her favorite songs ever and it’s grown on me too.

Why a cold, detached therapist wouldn’t work for me.

Broken-Open-Heart
Broken Open Heart by Cari Pier

I have a therapist who is highly ethical and vigilant of boundaries. He has shared next to nothing about his personal life with me, unless it was somehow necessary to divulge something for therapeutic purposes. An example of this was telling me the reason why he has to reschedule some of our upcoming visits. He knew I felt jerked around (I told him so last session) and he was empathetic enough that he felt he needed to tell me it was due to his mother’s recent death, in which some financial matters need to be resolved, which require him to leave town to take care of these matters with other family members.

I was grateful to him for being sensitive enough to consider my feelings, and empathetic enough to know I needed to “have a reason” for the sudden schedule changes. In the months I’ve been seeing him, it’s been almost uncanny the way he seems to know how I am feeling about something, even sometimes before I’m aware of it. This shows me he has a high level of empathy, and I think high empathy is a requirement for the type of therapy we’re doing to be really effective, because it requires emotional attunement.

A few people have told me they’ve been concerned because of a recent post where I said my therapist has told me he likes me and looks forward to our sessions. Of course, I like it and find it highly validating that he said those things, but popular thought has it that to be “professional,” a therapist must be cold and detached and that any admission of personal feelings for a client, no matter how benign, must be somehow suspect.

That’s the stereotypical view of what a therapist must be like. A cold, detached, Cyborg in a white coat, writing everything down in a notebook and remaining stony faced no matter how emotional the patient gets. Maybe he rubs his beard and murmurs “very interesting!” while writing down everything.

I would do terribly with such a therapist. I would never get any better. Because I suffer from bad early attachment and a lifetime of trauma beginning in infancy, I have trouble trusting anyone or allowing myself to get close to anyone. I entered therapy for many reasons, not least of which is my difficulty in feeling my emotions fully and my near inability to connect with anyone in a meaningful way. Being so emotionally detached from others and myself has turned my life into a sterile, joyless desert. It’s sapped all the color out of my life, to the point where every day seemed much like the last, without anything to look forward to, or anything really even worth remembering. I wanted to change that. I wanted to be able to feel again, only tempered by the wisdom of my years so I wouldn’t have to shut myself off again. Only someone who could serve as a kind of surrogate parent and renurture me to a point where I could begin to trust again and share my deepest feelings, using the therapeutic relationship as a kind of template, would be able to help me achieve this.

Can you imagine a baby being “nurtured” by a cold, detached parent, who never mirrored them and stayed six feet away from them at all times? Who never cried with them, laughed with them, or picked them up and held them? That child would probably grow up to have PTSD or a personality disorder. Well, if my therapist is acting as my surrogate parent (and I am VERY much a small child and even a baby in my sessions), being cold and detached would just re-traumatize me! Of course he isn’t going to pick me up and hold me against him (as much as I sometimes might desire that), because there are certain boundaries it would be unethical for him to cross. But he is sensitive and empathic, and doesn’t hesitate to use these qualities to facilitate my healing.

During our sessions, he has done the following things (besides the compliments described in an earlier post) that some might think are “unprofessional”:

He moved about three feet closer to me at a point where he correctly perceived that I needed to feel closer (he sits about three feet in front of me now instead of the six feet at first, and leans forward when he thinks I need more closeness. He has never physically touched me.

Once or twice when I described a very upsetting incident from my past, he got teary eyed. In one recent session, he rubbed his eyes (discreetly) and I noticed they were damp. This was barely noticeable, not over the top so it didn’t make me uncomfortable or make me feel I had to “take care of my therapist.” (crying openly or sobbing would NOT have been appropriate and would have weirded me out in a big way). But it was noticeable enough that I felt mirrored and empathized with–and cared about. This was immensely helpful because it was only one session after this happened that I was finally able to let go and cry in front of him (which is necessary to my healing). I haven’t been able to cry in front of another person, even a family member, in years. I almost wonder if he did this on purpose, to “model” that sort of emotional expression for me so I could do it myself. But even if it was, I know it was based in actual empathy and not just an act.

He’s said things like, “I feel angry at him right now for hurting you that way” (referring to my narcissistic abusive ex) when I was describing the ways he’s abused me. He said this in an angry way too, and I felt enormously grateful to him for being so empathetic and feeling angry WITH me instead of letting me feel it all alone. Again, I doubt this was “acting.”

He laughs with me all the time, which I find beautiful and validating.

He may have an emotional, sensitive temperament, but if that is the case, I don’t find anything wrong with him using that to facilitate therapy. Almost all of the things I described are just him mirroring my own feelings, sometimes anticipating them before I can feel them consciously, and that gives me the courage to explore them further and let myself experience them. Not once has he violated my boundaries because he’s also empathetic enough to know how far he can go with this without going too far. It’s a delicate balance. This fine-tuning to my emotional needs makes me feel safe. I’m a young child in session and I’ve noticed my voice even takes on a childlike cadence. As my surrogate parent, he is simply doing what should have been done by my own birth parents: mirror me, validate me, and empathize with me. He’s teaching me that exploring my feelings is not only okay, but it’s beautiful.

We have a strong connection, but I realize it’s only a template. Just as a child growing up will eventually leave home and find others to connect with as an adult, eventually I’ll (hopefully) be able to transfer my new, healthy attachment feelings (it’s been theorized that even in adults, such mirroring by the therapist actually helps the client build new neural pathways) onto others and finally achieve genuine and mature emotional closeness with other human beings. I’m still just a little kid who’s trying to grow up. I need a detached, chilly therapist like I need a hole in the head.

So there are two possibilities  for what’s really going on here: (a) I found a nearly perfect therapist who suits my needs; or (b) my therapist is a raging narcissist who’s also an actor worthy of an Academy Award and is just doing these things to gain my trust before he proceeds to turn it all against me.   I think I’ve become good enough at noticing red flags that I’d suspect something fishy or feel uncomfortable if that were the case.

Erotic transference.

erotic_transference

This is one of the best and most detailed articles about transference in the psychotherapeutic relationship I’ve ever read.   In its proper place, and handled correctly, tranference (strong feelings of attachment) of a client toward their therapist is a desired outcome and facilitates treatment.    Infantile feelings of powerful attachment are triggered and when they’re right at the surface, they can be worked with more directly, which can be extremely beneficial.

The dark side of this is transference can also become a slippery slope to full-blown limerence (something I experienced toward a therapist in my early 20’s) and become painful if the feelings or not returned. Even worse is if the therapist returns the client’s feelings (this happens more often than you’d think and is called counter-transference) and the therapeutic relationship is destroyed by becoming sexual or romantic.

This post appeared on Diary of a Boundary Ninja in 2012.  I think it’s a must read for anyone in therapy or contemplating therapy.

Erotic Transference

 

Another brick in the wall…nuked!

crumbling-wall

How do I even begin? What happened tonight in my therapy session was a little thing, objectively speaking, really a very little thing. But to me it was a huge, HUGE deal, maybe even a breakthrough of some sort.

I refuse to write a separate post about this, but when I got home from work, my mother called. She had gotten my phone number through my son and I took the call because it was coming from a New York phone and my mother lives in Illinois so I had no idea who it was. Normally I don’t take phone calls if I can’t tell who’s calling but for some reason I took it this time. When I heard her voice, it was like being transported back to being a five year old again. All my mindfulness skills and everything I know about narcissism and No Contact went flying out the window.  I won’t go into detail because nothing of any consequence was said. She told me she just wanted to hear my voice and proceeded to ask a bunch of personal questions. I felt like she was checking up on me for her own benefit, which is probably the case. I put on my fake-nice act and answered her questions as politely as I could, telling her nothing too personal, and finally made an excuse about having a sore throat (which is actually true because I’m still sick) and had to get off the phone.

I brought up the phone call in therapy. I asked my therapist (rhetorically) why I can’t just tell her to bug off. Rationally I know nothing would happen if I did that. I know she’s read my blog so surely she knows how I feel about her. Sure, she might get mad, but really why should I care? What could she do to me? Nothing! He suggested (correctly) that I was programmed from an early age to always respond to her in a certain manner, and that programming is hard to break, and that’s what’s making it so hard for me. I started laughing about the idea of myself being a computer that could be programmed. I looked at him and told him to debug me. He laughed at that, but really it wasn’t funny. I felt a little hysterical.

I’m always a little more emotionally labile when I’m ill, and so this illness he gave me last week acted as a kind of emotional lubricant–or maybe I was just ready and what I’m about to describe was going to happen anyway.

I said I was tired of talking about my mother and I wanted to talk about my transference feelings instead. It’s what I’d been planning to talk about but my mother, even in my therapy sessions, always has a way of drawing all the attention to herself and I wasn’t going to let that happen tonight.  Recently we have been meeting twice a week instead of once a week, but I won’t be able to afford to do that for too much longer, or at least for the next few weeks. I explained hard it is for me to only be able to meet him once a week because of my strong feelings of attachment. He wanted me to elaborate on this and describe how it felt. I had to think about that for awhile. The closest I could come was that it’s a little bit like limerence but without the sexual and obsessive aspects and has a more infantile quality. (There’s also a kind of mindfulness to it that’s impossible to explain but that keeps it from getting out of control.) It’s the way I imagine a baby feels about their primary caregiver. That I’m this little baby and he’s the only person who ever mirrored me or accepted me unconditionally for me. Because of that I feel extra vulnerable with him, too close to my raw core and fearing rejection while at the same time being able to let my guard down in a way I normally can’t. When I was asked to elaborate on the vulnerable feelings I had to think about it for a long time.

Finally I began to explain (in what I felt was a very childlike manner) and to my surprise I started to cry. I’ve come close to crying a couple of times recently, but this time my eyes actually filled up and a couple of tears spilled over (which I wiped away quickly). Sure, I didn’t sob and there weren’t many tears and it all ended quickly, but it happened. For just a minute, I shed real tears in front of another human being! Even more astounding to me than that, I felt no shame doing so. In fact, I was very proud of myself and even while I cried, I knew exactly what was happening and felt really, really good about it. So my tears turned to laughter and he laughed along with me. It was a real, bona fide emotional connection. How can that be? I don’t have those! I don’t connect with people! This was surreal.

“How did you do that?” I asked, sort of gobsmacked.
“I did nothing,” he said. “You did that yourself.” He was smiling.
“Then I guess you’re just the facilitator!”
“Well, I do have a degree!” he said jokingly.
We laughed again. Then the tears almost started again.
“You’re getting emotional,” he observed. “What’s going on?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” I wailed like a three year old. And I didn’t. I didn’t know why I was so emotional, but I felt happy that I was. “I just feel fragile, that’s all.” My lower lip was trembling like a toddler’s.
“I want you to know I think you’re very strong.” His eyes were shining.

So, another brick in that f*cking wall crumbled tonight.
I put my shoes back on (lately I’ve been taking them off and putting my feet on the couch–it seems to help somehow).
As I was leaving, he said our session moved him. I wanted to hug him so much right then but of course I didn’t.

Feeling as one.

floating
Credit: fourthdimensionalrecovery.wordpress.com

 

Feeling as one

I know nothing of the boundary between you and me

and in the crucible of my attachment

Trust is born

in my naked vulnerability

I find unfamiliar feelings

like tendrils of alien scents both heavenly and noxious

merging and undulating

swirling up from the bottomless void

Feelings that have no names

Their names will come later

when they settle and resolve

I cradle myself and close my eyes

I bask in your care

I’m not a loser

I’m not a fuckup

I’m not a forever victim

They were all so wrong

In a womb full of tears I nourish my sleeping self

and the stone wall surrounding begins to crumble

I’m such a heavy burden and I’m tired, so tired

The labor pains will come

but I don’t have to worry about that now

Only this moment exists

of feeling as one

before the severing and unfolding begins.

 

 

I made my therapist cry, but I still can’t.

I told him about the dream I described here a few days ago.   The one where we were sitting in the grass and he just held me and I felt the bliss of a newborn bonded with a loving parent and feeling merged with them, unable to tell myself apart from the other and not caring because nothing else mattered but the nurturing bond.    I was shy about telling him because I was afraid he’d be disgusted. I think I was projecting my own feelings of disgust over being that helpless and vulnerable onto him.  He wasn’t disgusted at all.  He  was touched.   He wanted to talk about it further, so we did.

Our talk about attachment and bonding led to me talking about my mother’s rejection of me.  I told him I never got over my mother kicking me out of the house when I was 17.  It scarred me badly and still haunts me to this day.  I thought I’d mentioned it before but I guess I hadn’t.  When I finally looked at him, he was wiping his eyes.  That surprised and touched me but I felt envious too because all I can do is sit there and talk about horrible things that happened to me in an unemotional and disconnected way, as if they happened to someone else.   I intellectualize everything in session and can’t really feel the emotion of the thing.   But then I go home and am flooded with feelings, when I’m all alone and have no one to share it with.   No one to hold me and make me feel safe and loved the way I did in my dream.  But at least the emotions are happening, even if the timing is all wrong.   I guess I’m just not ready to shed tears in session yet.   But I do get frustrated with myself for not being able to break down that wall any faster.

Envious of him or not, I’m glad my therapist is so empathetic.  If I ever cry in front of anyone, it will be him.

Inner child work and a lovely dream.

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I really hesitated about posting this, because of the intensely personal nature of the events I’m about to describe.   But I need to document it in order to help me process it and also remember it for future reference.  I also think it’s so important that leaving it out would be like leaving a pivotal moment out of a novel.

This week in therapy we continued to work on my inner child/true self.   He said he noticed that whenever I talked about the “waif-like little 6 year old girl” who lived inside me,  I always looked over at the chair on the left hand side of the room (I’d already noticed that whenever I spoke of deep feelings or anything from the distant past, I had a tendency to glance over to the left).  So he asked me to put her in that chair and asked me questions about how she would feel about various things I was experiencing right now.

We talked about the shame and embarrassment I said I’d felt toward her in last week’s session.   There had been a lot of ambivalence–I felt protective but ashamed of her too.  He noticed there was a difference this week:  I didn’t mention the shame this time.   Instead, I told him I wanted to mother her, to be the validating, nurturing mother she never had.    He said he felt touched and this filled him with joy.    I have a habit of not looking at people when I talk, but I looked at him then.   He was smiling and his eyes looked glassy as if there were tears in them, so I knew he was telling the truth.    The moment felt slightly awkward.    I felt myself blush and I hid my face (like my 6-year old self would have).  I think I giggled nervously too.    But it was also so lovely and incredibly validating I got a lump in my throat.  I couldn’t speak for a minute.   I’m not used to that kind of emotion, but I’m starved for it.    I didn’t tell him that what I want more than anything else is  to cry with abandon in his arms like a little child, but I think he knows this.   I also think it might happen–sometime in the future.

He asked how I felt about him having emotions toward the things I told him.   I said emphatically that it helped me, because I would feel uncomfortable and intimidated if he sat there like a robot.   Knowing my therapist has  feelings during our sessions gives me more courage to feel my own feelings and express them, knowing they will be appropriately mirrored.  That’s why an empathetic therapist is so important, especially for patients who have trouble accessing their own feelings.   I’m so starved for this kind of validation that I lap it up like a starving kitten laps up milk from a plate.

He said something else at the end of the session that rather stunned me.   He said he wished our sessions lasted longer and he enjoyed our time together.  I’m not naive enough to think he has personal feelings for me of the romantic or even friendship sort, but I still have to be mindful because this counter-transference/transference (mutual feelings) are known to be a slippery slope between some clients and their therapists.   In their place, these mutual feelings indicate empathy and are an important part of the therapeutic relationship.  They can be very validating and healing and I think are necessary for therapy to work,  but there’s a fine line between appropriate emotional expression and something that might not be quite ethical.   But I trust my therapist and know he would never go there–and I wouldn’t either.

The Dream

I didn’t go home and have an emotional meltdown the way I did after last week’s session.  For a few days nothing much happened.  But this morning I had the most amazing dream. It was a short dream and pretty straightforward but I think it’s an indicator that I’m starting to break through.

We were sitting in a field of tall grass, isolated from the rest of the world.   As far as you could look in every direction, there were no people, houses, or indications of civilization of any kind.   But there we were, and I was leaning against him, and he was stroking my head the way a loving father strokes a child’s head.  I felt my body mold toward his, not in a sexual way, but in a way a baby or toddler molds their body to their parent when they are being held.   I was completely in the moment, not thinking about anything at all, but just feeling.   It was what you might call a zen moment.    I can’t even begin to describe the emotions.    I admit there was a sexual element present,  but the relationship was definitely not a sexual one, just an incredibly validating one.   Is this what unconditional love feels like?  I don’t know.

I also seem to recall another dream-snippet from before the main dream, in which I was pulling magnetic tape out of a cassette. This too seems to have some kind of meaning…

When your therapist rejects you.

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I just read a post from a blogger who describes how her therapist suddenly terminated her without warning.  She writes,

I spend pockets of time here and there throughout the days just wracking my brain trying to figure out what went so wrong. I replay our conversations in my head and try to decipher what this meant or why she said that. I try to figure out what the fuck I did wrong.

It’s devastating and crazymaking.  Unfortunately, being suddenly rejected by a mental health professional seems to be pretty common.   People who have never been in therapy sometimes have trouble understanding how devastating this can be.  We become extremely attached to our therapists through a process known as transference, especially when the therapy is of the psychodynamic type (as opposed to behavioral/cognitive methods like CBT).  The therapist acts as a surrogate parent and for a therapist to terminate a patient without warning is akin to a parent rejecting their child. It’s extremely traumatic and the victim often develops PTSD from the rejection, especially if they already have attachment or trauma-related issues due to rejection or neglect by caregivers when they were children.   The problem is that many people with mental disorders themselves become therapists, often to work out their own emotional issues by proxy.  They may not be aware they are doing this, but it happens all the time.  That’s why therapists are encouraged and even required to be in therapy themselves, in order to address any counter-transference issues that may come up with their patients.

If my therapist ever rejected me like that…ugh, I don’t even want to think about that. I think I would just want to crawl into a hole somewhere and die.  I know he would never suddenly terminate me without good reason and without explaining why, but because I worry about everything, sometimes I worry about that too.

I’ll give you an example of how ridiculous this worry gets.   In my last session, toward the end, I asked my therapist if he had any children.    I don’t think I had any reason to ask other than simple curiosity.   But after I asked I felt liked I’d somehow overstepped his boundaries (he did answer me).   I don’t even know why, really.  He asked me what made me ask him that.  Maybe he thinks this is significant.   I imagined I saw an angry or concerned look on his face after I asked.   But I always imagine negative looks on people’s faces even when their expression is actually neutral.   I feel like I should apologize.    I don’t even know if he was upset by my question but I still feel like it might have been a boundary invasion.    I know he wouldn’t terminate me for this, but I still worry that he might like me less because I *might* have invaded his boundaries.

It’s so dumb that sometimes I feel like I have to be perfect even for my therapist.

Further reading:

50 Warning Signs of Questionable Therapy  (red flags you should know about):

There are over 700 comments under the above post. I was shocked at some of the stories I read about horrible therapists who make their clients even worse.

Infatuation and Transference:  Please be aware that I wrote this post over a year ago and my views about transference, which were mostly negative at that time, have changed.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

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I never described the therapy technique my therapist uses, so I will now. He’s a psychodynamic trauma therapist who specializes in EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy), a humanistic, whole-person technique that grew out of the Gestalt therapies of the 1960s and 1970s and attachment theory. EFT  was developed by Sue Johnson in the 1980s and uses the attachment between therapist and client (or in the case of couples, their attachment to each other) as the basis for developing trust.  EFT requires the therapist to have a high level of empathy because what they do is model emotions for the client, sometimes before you can even describe it/be aware you are feeling it yourself. By the therapist empathically mirroring your emotions this way, you become aware of your own emotional state and can begin to describe it and name it and once you can do that, it’s possible to allow yourself to fully experience the emotion and eventually make connections between your emotional state and things that have happened in the past that triggered the reaction.

EFT can be a short term therapy (8 to 20 sessions) but not always. In my case, it could take a very long time since personality disorders cannot be fixed in only 8 to 10 sessions, if they can ever really be cured at all. But EFT goes far deeper into the psyche than behavioral therapies like CBT and DBT (which are certainly useful and have their merits) and looks for root causes of maladaptive defense mechanisms, so as to actually remove them rather than merely teaching the client how to avoid acting on them. EFT is also often used in couples and family therapy.

EFT is used for people suffering from many personality disorders, including BPD and NPD, but it’s probably most commonly used for people with PTSD and complex PTSD. I believe all personality disorders grow out of a PTSD or complex PTSD template established very early in life and are complications of that. My therapist and I have managed to build a very warm and powerful therapeutic bond and I’m currently experiencing a very strong transference, which is used as a basis to explore primal emotions.

EFT asks the client to pay attention to bodily sensations when an emotion comes to the surface. I’m getting very good at being mindful of this and even outside session I’m ultra-aware of my bodily reactions to my emotional state. In that way you become able to control and contain strong emotions and not overreact, underreact, or use defenses against feeling them. I now pay attention to my body and gestures and where emotions are trapped in my body; emotions are very somatic. Slowly, I can feel the stuck places beginning to give way way as I’m getting more in touch with my real emotions/true self.
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I feel a great deal of caring and empathy from my therapist, who is basically reparenting me using this technique. It’s from this basis of trust that healing becomes possible. I could see how this form of therapy could even work on someone with fullblown NPD (as long as they are self-aware and willing). I was surprised that this soon, apparently others are noticing changes too. People are reacting differently (more positively) to me, and I’m not sure if this is due to them actually treating me differently because I’m nicer to be around, or if it’s just a more positive self-image where I’m less hypervigilant, paranoid, avoidant and testy. Maybe it’s a little of both, but there’s definitely been a difference.

EFT is a beautiful form of therapy that recognizes the client not as a sick patient needing to be cured, or a machine that must learn new behaviors, but as a whole person, deeply damaged and hurt perhaps, but a human being with incredible potential and spiritual, physical, mental and emotional needs that are gently coaxed out through empathic understanding. It requires a therapist who has a well-developed capacity for empathy and also requires a strong emotional bond (attachment via transference) between the therapist and client. The entire process can be deeply moving at times. Attachment can be a really beautiful thing when it’s used as the basis to help another person grow emotionally and heal from trauma and abuse done to them in early childhood or later, enabling them to eventually be able to form healthy attachments to others. In that sense, the therapist serves as a surrogate parent. My therapist may be using other techniques besides EFT, but right now I think this is the one that’s being used most frequently in our sessions.