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.

When I realised how much therapy has helped me change – Part 1

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This post, together with Part 2 (still to come), describe in detail the recent events referred to in my post Memory Monday – “Progress in therapy – being ‘all in’ “. The article mentioned below, is the one linked to from my post ‘How does therapy work?’.

Friday

We had had discussions about dreams before. I struggled to remember my dreams and to interpret them, but I knew my therapist believed them to be valuable for gaining insight into one’s subconscious. Last year, she said that I brought my dreams to session almost as if they were a bunch of flowers I was giving her. She was right – I was treating them like a gift, because I knew she would find them interesting and I wanted to please her. When she asked for my thoughts on them, I often just said I didn’t really know. I always asked her what her own thoughts were, and she would say that my own interpretations were the most significant.

Last week, after a ‘dream dry spell’ lasting many months, I remembered a number of dreams in a row and brought them to her. Or rather, I just dropped them into her lap. I made some comment about the fact that I am a lucid dreamer and love dreaming; to my surprise she replied that she wondered therefore, how it was that I did not show more interest in engaging with my dreams and what they might have to tell me. She emphasized again how valuable she believed they could be to our work, and noted that I appeared to be very wary of delving into my subconscious. She said that she would ‘love’ for me to engage with dream work. It was at that point and with that word, that I realised quite how passionate she was about the subject and how much she cared about it – and not just the subject in the abstract but specifically about my own engagement with it.

She encouraged me to write down a recent dream and try and think about who or what the characters might represent. The dismissive part of me that is essentially the voice of my mother, told her that dream interpetation just felt like a game with little substance. I could come up with a number of interpretations, but they seemed to tell me little I didn’t already know, and in any case, how could I ever know which interpretations were informative, and which were simply pure invention? I left the session feeling resistant and resentful, and I sent an email telling her as much.

Sunday

I was brave. I debated with myself, but the desire was so strong, I took a risk. I sent my therapist an email on Sunday night, that started ‘Dear Mum…’. It was the first time I’d addressed an email in that way – and I wasn’t planning on making a habit of it. But it felt like the most fitting way of conveying the incredibly strong connection, love and security that I’d felt for the last couple of days. It was an expression of me, just as much as it was an expression of how I felt. I took courage from a past conversation in which she had implied that I had the freedom to address her as I chose; and from the time when she had referred to me using ‘I love you’ at the end of an email, as an expression of self.

Earlier that day, I read an interesting article on ‘inner child work’ in therapy. It discussed the importance of working in therapy to grieve what we never had as children, so that we can heal, rather than expecting to be ‘re-parented’ by a therapist acting as a substitute for what was missing. I wanted to talk to my therapist about it, but it felt like a ‘distraction’ from the topic of dream work, and so I refrained from sending it to her at that point.

When it came to dream work, Friday’s resistance and resentment had melted away, largely as a result of hard work on my part to self-soothe and maintain connection by talking to my ‘inner child’ and summoning up images of my therapist comforting her. But I had not conveyed that change to my therapist, in the forty eight hours since Friday’s email. And so, though I didn’t realise it at the time, to my therapist Sunday night’s email was a case of discordant misattunement, and a baffling surprise.

Tuesday

It’s ironic that during a weekend when I felt so utterly connected, my therapist felt disconnected. As far as she was aware, she had completely failed to get through my resistance and help me to understand why working with dreams might have benefits. When she read Sunday’s email, it simply did not fit with where she was at, at that time (or indeed with where she thought that I was at). That is not speculation – it came from her directly. She rarely shares details about her reactions, but when she does, it is invariably helpful.

I tried to explain to her how my change in attitude over the weekend had come about, and as ‘proof’, I showed her my ‘homework’ – the pieces of paper on which I’d written down a recent dream, and tried to analyse it. Despite what I’d said in Friday’s email, once my resistance faded I had resolved to be more vulnerable and open to my subconscious, and to make a real effort to work with my dreams. I trust my therapist – and it was hard to ignore the obvious value she placed on this work. I also wanted to gain as much as I could from our sessions, and to immerse myself as fully as possible.

Perhaps it was that thought that led me to mention, almost as an aside, the article I had read regarding the work of therapy. I said that I still wasn’t quite sure what it would look like to grieve the mothering I never had. Despite having written about the subject some time ago, and having experienced at least some of that grieving, I didn’t know if I was ‘doing it right’. Was I missing something? Was I gaining as much as I could? I felt as though I was doing the work intellectually, but was I immersing myself as much as I should, emotionally?

The privilege (but also the pain) of working closely together for a number of years, is that my therapist is able to be more direct and more overtly challenging, than she could have been in the past. It is a sign of my progress and of closeness. But, like my email from Sunday night, her reply was unexpected, and did not seem to fit with where I was at.

She said that I did sometimes approach things intellectually, and without emotional engagement. She said that part of me did want a replacement mother; that I wanted her to be someone other than her, and that I wanted her to respond to me in a particular way. She said ‘I am [name]’ – did I draw the implication ‘and not Mum’, or did she actually say it?

I can’t remember. By this point I was in shock, and I spent almost the entirety of the rest of the session in silence, even when she tried to encourage me to talk by asking me, ‘where are you?’. I wasn’t lost in thought, so much as lost in a thought – the only thought going round and round my head, which was ‘I am trying to stop my world from caving in’. The trying consisted in the repeating of the phrase – the monotony prevented any other thought from rising up and destroying me. It also somehow kept me physically immobile so that I didn’t collapse, or move, or somehow disintegrate under the weight of her words.

If this had been a lucid dream I would have pressed rewind, to the point just before I mentioned the article and asked those questions. But I was all too conscious of the reality and immutability of her words that still hung in the air, with an annihilating quality far more frightening than any nightmare I had ever had.

 

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7 thoughts on “When I realised how much therapy has helped me change – Part 1

  1. Very good post, as usual. It made me think about my own therapy and my relationship with my therapist. Often I hold her at arms length because I am in too much pain to go “there” where I need to go with her by my side in order to heal. Then I try to write and express my feelings about a memory or a dream and it’s all so flat and distant by then and I feel as if I shouldn’t have said anything at all. I admire that it seems like you get a good deal of authentic communication with your therapist on both your side and hers. I admire that you are able to do that and receive that even though at times its like your world caves in. You are brave. You deserve to be safe and whole and well.

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    • Thank you so much for your lovely words…..I’m sending very warm wishes and thoughts, and also encouragement, as it wasn’t always (far from it!) this way with my therapist. It feels really good to have reached this place, and you will get there too – knowing that you hold her at arms’ length is a really good start, I didn’t even realise I was doing it for much of the last few months! Sometimes it’s obvious, but sometimes, as my therapist pointed out, it’s more the way we interact or present material, than what it is we say, that does the keeping at arms’ length…..thank you again and I hope you feel able to ‘go there with her’, at the right time for you……

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  2. Pingback: When I realised how much therapy has helped me change – Part 2 | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

  3. One of the wisest (but most painful) things said to me earlier in my process was: ‘One of the hardest things to do is to let go of what we’ve never had… to accept that ‘Mummy’ /whoever/whatever isn’t coming and so it won’t be fixed that way… and that we have to find what we need inside, and from that pleace we can then relate to others in healthy ways, without needing them to be somebody who fills the holes left by what was absent for us.

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    • Thank you so much for a really helpful comment – it is painful, and so hard to process in practice. Hard not just because it’s painful, but because I find myself wondering, sometimes, what it looks like, this letting go. How do I know if I’m doing it? If I’m crying about it, it’s more obvious; if I’m talking about it, it’s less so. And sometimes the boundary between one thing and another, is so insubstantial, or hard to quantify. For example, I had a good session last Friday in which I was crying because I was grieving certain things I hadn’t had and don’t currently have, with my own mother. But that’s a hair’s breadth away from grieving the fact that I don’t have those things with my therapist – I was conscious of the difference, and still sad about the latter, but I felt I could neither identify nor control what it was that on that occasion, meant I was doing some of this ‘letting go’…..if that makes any sense……Thank you again for reading and commenting!

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  4. Pingback: When I realised how much therapy has helped me change – Part 3 | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

  5. Pingback: Yoga, internal parts, and therapy | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

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