What follows is a bridge – a bridge between the ‘new mother’ relationship between the parts of myself described in Part 1 of ‘A new experience of mother‘, and the ‘new mother’ relationship between me and my therapist, which I will talk about in Part 3. This bridge is a post that I wrote last weekend, but never published. I didn’t publish it because I realised as I wrote it, that it was coming from a ‘teenage’ place of resentment and that it was an indirect means of communicating with my therapist. As sometimes happens, my thoughts and understanding were working themselves out in the very process of writing; and what I understood was that the post was serving the function of repeating old patterns. It was self-sabotaging, and it was also passive aggressive. And as I’ve realised since, I think it was also an unconscious attempt to show my therapist how it feels (by creating similar emotions within her) to have your hands tied and to have no choice – about a therapy break (in my case), or about not being able to respond to a cry for help (in hers).
This is what I wrote:
“I’m meant to be practising.
In two weeks begins a 45 day therapy break – my longest since I started with my current therapist almost three years ago. A few weeks ago we were in the middle of some very difficult and valuable material, and I was also discovering what it felt like for her to connect with different parts of me, and I wanted more. So my therapist very kindly offered to give me more – more time and more of that connection – in the form of an extra session per week in the run-up to the break, to hopefully better prepare me to get through it.
The extra session means that I now see her on a Friday and a Monday, and so the break over the weekend feels shorter. Given that, my therapist suggested that I try to get through the weekend without email, as a form of ‘practice’ for when she will be out of contact for large portions of the break.
The first couple of weekends without email were okay, and last weekend I made it through even though it followed on from an incredibly difficult and triggering week which resulted in an intense and distressing session on the Friday. I fought every urge to email, as well as a strong desire to self-harm. My mind fought feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of endings. The resentful and resistant part of me was in the driving seat, and yet drove past my therapist’s house. I’ve only done that once before but I had to close the distance between us, even momentarily. Somehow, the situation righted itself by the second session of the week; somehow I shook off the obscuring cloud of ‘past mother’, and the resentful part of me was just too plain exhausted to be resentful anymore. I found the more adult me again, and the sessions that resulted were honest, helpful and connected.
But yesterday I found myself stuck in and brought down by painful thoughts and feelings of exclusion – not unusual for me, in the face of a break, but more worrying given the length of time for which I will have to try and rationalise them away. And then a brief ‘argument’ and flare-up at home took me right back into the distressing feelings of the week before and it was a case of staving off the urge to self-harm again. I really, really wanted to email her. I didn’t, though I did reach out to a friend.
This morning I drove a few hours to see some friends and was either crying or fighting back tears for much of the way. The hopelessness and suicidal ideation were back. I really, really, really wanted to email her. I didn’t, though now I’m writing this. I’m speaking to her indirectly, though I don’t know if she will see it.
I don’t think she will like what I’m doing. I think she will see this as ‘acting something out’ rather than talking about it. I want to contact and connect with her but am doing it in a way that is guaranteed to mean she can’t respond. She doesn’t have a choice. I don’t want to disappoint her by not being able to get through without email, so I guarantee feeling like I’ve disappointed her, but in a different way.
I tried to rationalise emailing her by thinking that by doing so I would be giving myself a different experience of mother – one in which I wasn’t afraid of being judged or disapproved of. But I was too wary of the possibility that that might be just a convenient excuse, and couldn’t shake off the obscuring cloud of ‘past mother’ sufficiently to just go ahead and do it. And so instead of a different experience of mother I have guaranteed myself the same old experience all over again, at least in my head, if not in reality.
I want to put off fear and take up a different experience of mother, but I’m meant to be practising. I’m meant to be practising but I love her and part of me feels like I’m losing her early. I know I’m not losing her, and that’s what I’m meant to be practising holding on to.
I hate practising.”
By the time I finished writing, something had changed. The ‘teenage self’ was a little less in charge, the urge to ‘act out’ a little less strong. And after a struggle with myself I made the decision (quickly, before I could change my mind) to send my therapist an email with the post, instead of publishing it. I wrote: “Attached is a draft post, that probably shouldn’t be a post, at least not now (the reasons being obvious in the post, I think)….so I’m emailing it – which is not as good as managing to not email at all, but is at least more direct and honest than posting the post….I hope…”.
It was a leap of faith – an attempt to take hold of that possibility of a new experience of mother, and also a relinquishing of attempting to determine the way mother responds (even if that is by cutting off the possibility of a response altogether). It might have been a leap, but it wasn’t a leap into the dark; it wasn’t blind faith. I know her, as much as I can; after all the time we have spent and the work we have done together, I know that she is there not just to ‘catch me’ but also to ‘hold me’, metaphorically.
And, once again, she did…..
July 25, 2016 at 12:15 am
Glad to hear it! As I suspect you know, behavior therapists often use “successive approximations” to shape and get closer to the desired behavior the patient and therapist are shooting for. Your behavior sounds like a step in that direction, whether called by that name or anything else. And, it was reinforced, as the behavior therapists say, by your own counselor.
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August 17, 2016 at 8:08 pm
It most definitely was -and I’ve just realised that that has probably happened a number of times, in different contexts. I tend to think of it as ‘good behaviour being rewarded’, which is sort of because I tend to think in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be doing, but ‘successive approximations’ and ‘shaping’ and ‘reinforcing’, are better terms to use!
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