Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges.

An open letter to my therapist

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It’s been a long time since you’ve felt so much like the enemy. Since I’ve wanted to keep you at arms’ length and push you away. When I asked you a question at the start of our last session and felt brushed off by your reply, I was surprised at how much it hurt. Surprised because I’d been feeling so cut-off I wasn’t sure if you still had the power to wound me like that.  Before the Christmas break I would have just let go and cried, but instead I tried to contain it and keep it inside. I was guarded and I was holding back.

I’ve been turning away from you in session, I know I have, but I don’t know if you’ve noticed. It’s very subtle – just shifting in my chair so that I can turn a little to the side. It’s not deliberate, but I’m aware of it happening. Before the Christmas break I was pulling my chair closer because it felt as though the distance between us was too great; but recently I’ve been pushing myself back into my chair in an attempt to get further away. Sometimes I want to leave mid-session – it feels pointless to keep talking when I’m not connecting emotionally with anything I’m saying. It feels too difficult to carry on when you feel like an outsider and I feel so alone.

I feel disconnected – from you, and from my own feelings about you. I can’t reach you – you feel completely inaccessible. I feel as though I’m relating to you from behind a glass wall and I have no idea how to break through. What are you thinking and feeling? Are you feeling anything at all? Does anything I say have an emotional impact on you? And what do I have to do to get some sort of reaction from you that makes you seem real, human and invested in me, and not just like a well-meaning bystander?

When there’s a chink in the armour of my disconnection, I bounce between longing –  and anger and resentment. When I opened up to you about the more troubling aspects of my feelings for you, on some level I felt as though I was trying to forge a connection by bringing something to the table that you would find psychotherapeutically interesting – something to analyse and theorise over. It was almost as if I was giving you a special gift, not just of my trust, but one that represented professional excitement for you, and emotional intensity for me. But the reality was very different – it seemed to be just an ‘ordinary’ gift to you, and I felt little apart from confusion. As for you – I had no idea how you felt.

It was afterwards that the anger and resentment kicked in. You’re so keen to try and show me other viewpoints, other ways of seeing things. So keen to open me up to the possibility that there are explanations for things that don’t involve me blaming myself all the time. So maybe it’s you who cannot reach me; you who’s not trying hard enough and who’s failing to tune into me, and not the other way around. Do I really believe that? I don’t know. I want to hurt you and to protect you from hurt, all at the same time.

I feel so terribly unfair. You don’t deserve these words and on some level I know that they’re not true. But I’m so desperate and frustrated. Where is the person that I love? Where is that love, and why can’t I feel it as immediately as I did? Why do I hesitate to trust you?

I spend so much time not looking at you in session. And when I do look, I try and remind myself that what I’m seeing is thoughtfulness, rather than judgement; seriousness rather than dislike; amusement rather than dismissiveness. Sometimes I’m too afraid to look, in case it hurts. But sometimes I want to look and look at your face just to try and find something that I recognize. Maybe I want to see the smile that I love, and feel that it’s for me. Maybe I want to see empathy, understanding, or compassion. Maybe I want to see something of what I’m feeling, mirrored in you. Or maybe I just think that looking hard enough will be sufficient to build a connection again. But I could never keep your gaze for very long; and in any case I’m too worried that I could never keep your attention.

Therapy has such a limited repertoire of senses – and when I cannot look at you in session, the only thing that I have left is sound. Sometimes your voice changes – it’s one of the reasons that I’m here. I don’t know why, or what it means, but it’s beautiful and it makes me feel held and cared for. You used that voice in our very first session when I was drowning and in floods of tears, grieving over the imminent loss of Jane. You used it a few months ago when I was distraught because I thought that I was a ‘bad patient’ and was ‘failing at therapy’. It’s a warmer, softer, gentler voice, and I wish that I could remember it clearly, or bottle it and let it out when I need it most.

I so wanted some of that gentleness when we were talking about how overwhelmed I was feeling at work. I knew I couldn’t be physically held, but I wanted to be held by that voice. I wanted to feel it wash over me; for it to be my comfort. I needed you to reach me with that gentleness and to connect us with that warmth. But we don’t feel bound together anymore. There is no ‘we’. There is me trying to steer a course in a stormy sea, and there’s you trying to give directions from the shore. But all I wanted was for you to speak the voice that stills the storm.

I want to fix this. I want to fix us, but I don’t know how. You said I was resourceful – because I had tried to connect us by talking about things that I thought you would find interesting; by asking you questions to try and find areas of similarity between us and to draw us closer together. But this is my last resource; I don’t know what else to do. I wrote a letter to Jane once, about half-way through our sessions together, and it was the key that unlocked the most intense aspects of my feelings for her. Perhaps I’m hoping that it will do the same for us; or at least, that it will break down the defences that I feel I have been putting up so that I can release what I’m thinking and feeling to you, instead of holding it back. But I’m not sure that my last resource will work. Words are powerful, but on this occasion it feels as though they are failing me. They haven’t unravelled the knots that are keeping me trapped within myself. I’m throwing them out as a lifeline, but they’re falling short. They haven’t anchored me to you – like my spoken words, they still leave me feeling floating and alone.

It’s been a long time since you’ve felt so much like the enemy, but maybe I just have to trust that that will change. Unless we sit in silence when we meet, I have no choice but to keep on talking. I can keep on focusing on the ‘less difficult’ areas; I can keep trying to talk about you, and not me. But eventually I’m going to have to take a risk and talk about something harder, even if it feels like nothing. Eventually, I hope the nothing will start to feel like something and you won’t feel so distant anymore. In the meantime, please don’t get frustrated with me, and please don’t close yourself off. I’m trying to feel comfortable enough to feel – but I need to see you being you, to sense you’re really here. To quote a favourite TV episode of mine: “People who are broken don’t want you to be professional, they want you to be real”….

 

 [* quote is from the last episode of Season 2 of ‘My Mad Fat Diary’]

 

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9 thoughts on “An open letter to my therapist

  1. Reblogged this on Lost in your own depression and commented:
    A very honest letter to a therapist pleading for real feedback from a real and caring person

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  2. Therapists could do with reading this.

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    • Thank you! Mine _has_ read it, so of course I’m trying not to think about what she’s thinking about it, and wondering what on earth I’m going to say to her on Tuesday. I will probably be hoping the earth opens up and swallows me whole, and I’ll probably go all silent on her….! Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

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  3. Thanks for this post. It is quite tricky to discern which of our perceptions about therapists are realistic, and which are based on projections and feelings about figures from the past. Ultimately I think the therapist has to be a good enough person in reality for us to overcome our fears/negative expectations associated with closeness and form a good relationship with them.
    I think eye contact is quite important. If you rarely make eye contact, I’d suggest that means that all-negative perceptions (of yourself and the therapist) and probably predominating and blocking you from seeing the therapist as she really is. This is something you actively try to challenge and break through, to “break the spell” as it were.

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    • Thank you so much for your thoughts. I agree, I find it very hard to tell what is real and what is projection, and in some ways I don’t like to think about transference/projection because I want to believe that all positive and loving feelings towards her are ‘genuine’ and not just a ‘product’ of therapy. Yes, I think you’re right about the negatives predominating when I don’t look at her, and it’s also true that those negative feelings could be about myself or about her, or both. Often it’s a combination as I will feel bad about something and worry what she will think of me or that she will be judging, which is why I’m not looking. I so want to see her as she really is – the problem is that I also know that when I’m looking, the way I see her is also coloured by how I’m feeling about her. If I’m feeling disconnected she looks ‘serious’ or ‘stern’ to me – whereas if I’m feeling very connected I’m much more likely to see her facial expressions as positive. I told my therapist about your comment about trying to challenge this and break through the spell, and she found it interesting and asked me what I thought and whether I agreed… 🙂 I love taking others’ comments into my therapy and that’s part of the wonderful world of blogging….!

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  4. It is quite amusing how ones opinion can change in such a short space of time. If I had read this only a few weeks ago, I would have viewed the focus of your letter entirely differently. I am glad to read your last comment about the Therapist reading the letter.
    When I was reading, a couple of things came to mind. Maybe the Therapist is not making enough of an effort to reach you, perhaps she is failing to tune in, and maybe isn’t right for you. On the other hand, I wondered if it’s you who is difficult to reach. I don’t necessarily see this, but it is the other side of the coin and, in my case, highly probable.
    If my Therapist tried to show other viewpoints, or other explanations rather than simply accepting my own, I would feel a little put off, maybe less validated. My T always responds with great understanding and empathy, often a little OTT, but at least I know he’s with me.
    You said, “I want to fix us,” well, I think you have done as much as you possibly can. In many ways, now that she’s aware of your letter, it is also her job to try to “fix” the therapeutic relationship.

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  5. Pingback: Making all things new – BPD and idealism | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

  6. hello dear its the first time i write about this when i read this post i could understand it with all my cells i know what you say about her voice and not looking to her eyes im in teraphy about 5 months and i really feel pain and need more intimacy from my male therapis i didnt read all your post yet but im going to read more you writes details so good i know this post is for last year i hope you feel less frusterated this year , lili

    Liked by 1 person

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