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.

A new experience of mother, Part 4

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At the end of  ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’, I wrote about how my therapist’s own words about the ‘mothering’ that she offers me, have been a constant source of comfort and security, and a reminder of who she really is.

It’s important to add to this that they are also an indirect reminder of who she is not. The concept of experiencing my therapist as a ‘new mother’ really sunk in for me when I finally realised that she is not like my own mother; that she does not and will not behave towards me, in the way that my own mother did and does. And that realisation precisely mirrors the way in which I first made a positive connection with the ‘teenage part’ of myself (as described in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 1‘). She (my inner teenager) finally realised that I am not like my own mother, and that I don’t behave like her either (or at least, not most of the time!).

As I was writing ‘A new experience of mother, Part 1’, I was frequently struck by the parallels between my relationship with my inner parts, and my therapist’s relationship with me. I realised that these two experiences were not separate, but completely interlinked. We were both trying to be ‘new mother’ to an often distrustful and angry child with a short memory, who acted out to feel loved – and all of a sudden I could feel a great deal more sympathy (and empathy) for what I had been putting my therapist through!

***

In Part 1 of this post, I spoke about the fact that although I had forged a better relationship with and between my ‘inner parts’, there was an occasion on which the different ‘parts’ went back to being strangers to each other (and to me). This situation lasted a few days, and I mentioned that the key to my ‘inner reconciliation’ was my interaction with my therapist. What happened in that interaction was that instead of turning up to session in sarcastic and stand-offish mode (which I had been expecting to do), I somehow managed to keep sufficient control of that teenage side of me and instead went in with complete openness and a determination to be honest and vulnerable. In the past, I would have tried to keep up the appearance of co-operating while being internally resistant and closed off to my therapist. Instead, I said that I felt as though I really didn’t want to be there; my therapist simply asked if I could say something about why.

And we talked. We talked honestly, clearly, and compassionately, and it was warm and connected and completely different to how I’d been feeling a few hours before. I realised that approaching with honesty and vulnerability had only been possible because I had also approached without fear. And approaching without fear was only possible because I was able to see her as ‘new mother’, or at least allow for that possibility. In the past I would have been too scared of her response and what she might think of me, to tell her that I didn’t want to be there. More than that, I would have worried that she would think I didn’t love her anymore. Because that is how my own mother would have interpreted the situation.

I approached without fear of her response, but most importantly, without any sense of needing or wanting to control her response. I used to spend so much time worrying about what to say or do, in relation to her. What impact would it have, on her or on me? What was she likely to do or say in response? What would she think of me? Is saying ‘such and such’ too risky? Could I get hurt? Will she get angry? In the past, this never seemed like an attempt at control – in fact, I would have been horrified at the suggestion that that might be what I was doing. I have such an intense reaction against being controlled, that the thought of me doing that to someone else feels appalling. But the more I think about it, the more it seems that for years I poured my energy into attempts to try to indirectly control others’ responses, in an effort to feel loved and to stay ‘emotionally safe’. By endlessly analysing and trying to work how others might respond, I’d hoped to discover what I needed to say or do so as to minimize the negative impact both on me and on them. Looking at it now, it seems like an elaborate way of trying to feel less at sea, less helpless, and less at the mercy of others – a necessity when I have so little confidence in either them or me.

***

This incident showed me that when I come to my therapist as ‘new mother’ – with a complete openness in terms of what I tell her, and a complete openness to her response rather than fear of it – what takes place in the room is beautiful and healing. And that is not simply about the words that are used, it is about the experience of relating in a new, safe, and intimately connected way. And that connection is internal as well as external – my ‘inner parts’ and I found our way back to each other because by being open about how they were really feeling, I gave them a chance to be fully heard, and to be responded to compassionately.

The incident was also one in which my therapist and I talked about how our communication was changing, following my acceptance of her as ‘new mother’. In Part 1, I said that I made a connection with my ‘inner teenager’ as soon as she was able to see me differently (that is, to see that I was not the ‘old mother’ that she expected me to be). Thereafter, it became much easier for me to talk to her, and for her to hear me. Exactly the same was happening between me and my therapist. My therapist observed that if we have a misunderstanding and I don’t feel heard, this can trigger my fear (and expectation) of the presence of ‘old mother’. I will then see her in that role (along with all the judgment, disappointment and crossness that I expect), and this makes it almost impossible for my therapist to say or do anything right. Nothing she says or does can get through to me, because I can no longer hear it as it was intended. Everything is interpreted through the lens of my past knowledge and experience of ‘old mother’.

Over recent weeks however, now that I am able to see her differently (much of the time), it is not just easier for me to talk to her (because of lack of fear), but also easier for me to hear her. It’s not that the words that she is using have changed, or that her facial expressions are different; it is that without the veil or fog of ‘old mother’ in the way, I can hear what she is really saying and intending, and I can see her for who she is.

Just before the summer therapy break, I gave my therapist a CD with five pieces of music that were important to me; one of them was the track ‘Now I see the light’ from the Disney film ‘Tangled’. Although it is overly ‘sweet’ and idealised, as one might expect from the ‘happily ever after’ world of Disney, the track has a number of lines that remind me of the wonderful ways in which things can shift in therapy, following a large or small realisation or change in perspective. And so as I was wondering how to end Part 4, and recalling what I had written about the fog of ‘old mother’ and the fact that I can now see my ‘new therapy mother’ for who she is, these words from the song came to my mind:

“And at last I see the light
And it’s like the fog has lifted
And at last I see the light
And it’s like the sky is new
And it’s warm and real and bright
And the world has somehow shifted
All at once everything looks different
Now that I see you.”

 

[‘A new experience of mother’ has grown and grown, each time I have sat down to write about this subject. Originally it was going to be one post; then two, and then three. I thought this would be the fourth and final part, but when it turned into a two and half thousand word post, I knew there had to be a Part 5. But Part 5 is written, and so I can promise that it will be the final part!]

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10 thoughts on “A new experience of mother, Part 4

  1. It is wonderful how you explain being able to shift perspective so the inner parts are able to see your therapist for who she is and not as old mother. It sounds like you are working really hard to become secure in your vulnerability.
    I have often had many sessions where my younger parts are completely vulnerable and quite insistent that my therapist do something to “prove” she loves me. ie. take me home with her, take an object that I had given her home with her (to make me feel she would remember me when away from me).
    I am constantly amazed at just how needy I feel when I feel truly “heard”. Finally I may be able to ask for what I need. Really I am only able to do this with my therapist and partner and even then, there is the specter of not being heard or taken seriously (once in a while).
    Love how your parts are “coming together”.

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    • I love the phrase ‘become secure in your vulnerability’ – thank you for saying that, and for your great comment! Like you, I used to want her to ‘prove it’ all the time – it’s amazing what we can receive though, when we stop wanting proof, and stop expecting. I still do it, but not as much as I used to, and I have been amazingly awed and moved by some of the things my therapist has done, in the absence of me ‘pushing’ or expecting something….I am sure both your previous and your current therapist remember you when they are away from you – I am sure they think about you and care about you. I still find it very hard to ask for what I need, and often I’m not even sure, so well done for every occasion when you are able to do that!

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  2. I have a question to ask that is completely separate to your post and I hope you don’t mind.
    Since I am waiting for my therapist to return to work (and me) for what will be 7 months soon, I have been questioning if I am too attached to her.
    I can’t answer this question but I am curious what your therapist or you might say about a client waiting for 7 months or more (still have no idea when or if she will return), and if there might be an unhealthy attachment going on between me and my therapist.
    I have been seeing a “replacement” since she has been gone and it has been “okay” but I still really miss my “mother figure” and feel there is still so much for us to work on in this “mother” issue.
    BUT, is it healthy to wait so long?
    I can say that I am learning at least during this time about loss, grief and trying to continue with “normal” day to day activities. So it is not like my life stopped when she left…BUT
    If you could ponder this and perhaps put it towards your therapist I would be grateful!

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    • I can only speak from my own perspective, but this doesn’t sound ‘unhealthy’ – to me it sounds ‘normal’ and ‘to be expected’ in this context. You had a close bond with your previous therapist, and things came to a halt unexpectedly, and she indicated she would return. Under those circumstances I think it’s completely understandable you would wait. I waited 8 months in the expectation of going back to Jane, and I only stopped hankering after that possibility once it became clear she was definitely retiring. Even then, it took me a long time still to ‘grieve’ her loss. So I don’t think what you’re experiencing in strictly speaking ‘unhealthy’. Having said that, you have indicated that it is understandably preventing you from ‘bonding’ in the way that you might otherwise be, with your current therapist. If you knew you would definitely be ‘leaving her’ soon, that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but if you are to stay with her, then it may be helpful to be able to feel ‘settled’ and more invested, sooner rather than later. Is there any way you can get an indication of what your previous therapist intends? Although I know you don’t want to put her under pressure, is there any way you can write and explain that in fairness to both of you, would she be able to give you a timeframe either for a) her return or b) a decision on what will happen next? What would she herself advise? This may end up being really hard – and in some ways ‘waiting’ postpones the moment of a decision and hearing things which may be difficult or may ‘leave you hanging’. But it’s been a number of months, and personally I think it’s fair to consider the impact of this for everyone, and even if she says she really can’t comment on what will happen next, at least that’s an answer of sorts, which you can discuss with your current therapist. Does that make sense? I hope at least it helps you feel better about your feelings and your attachment…take care…

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      • Thanks for your perspective…it does help and everyone I have asked have basically said the same thing. I really want to wait and will probably continue but I don’t feel I should really ask her directly if she has a sense of when she will be/or confirmation that at least she is even returning.
        I have sent a variety of cards over the past 7 months (mostly to send my condolences but also so she doesn’t forget me).
        I need to wait…I want to wait…but the hardest part is not knowing FOR SURE that she will indeed come back!!
        I have worked with the therapist I am seeing now before when my regular therapist was on holidays so there is a closeness but I am not sure it would work long term…who knows.
        Anyway, thanks for the kind thoughts and take care of yourself also!!

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  3. It seems like you were really able to work THROUGH the mother transference, and those is you emerging on there other side of that work. It’s beautiful. And I love that song from Tangled.

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  4. Children would rather blame themselves than face the collapse of a parent. Your therapist doesn’t sound like she is about to collapse. Good job for realizing this and other differences between her and your mum.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: A new experience of mother, Part 5 | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

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