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.

Yoga, internal parts, and therapy

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In an article for the therapy website welldoing.org back in January, I wrote about the ways in which Yin yoga supports my therapy. As well as the physical and emotional benefits of a yoga practice, I mentioned that for me personally, yoga was also an opportunity to ‘catch-up’ with the ‘parts of myself’, or my internal ‘personas’. I find that though my mind doesn’t tend to wander onto the events of the day or onto my to-do-list for the coming week, it does drift off into ‘daydreams’ (or ‘yoga imaginings’ as I call them when I discuss them with my therapist). Those ‘imaginings’ tend to centre on my various internal characters, and rather than being elaborate stories, they are often only a simple set of images or interactions, often wordless.

Like dreams, I have found them fascinating to try and interpret, and also like dreams, they seem to offer insight into how I am feeling, and in particular, how I am feeling about therapy and the therapeutic relationship. I find it fascinating how my ‘imaginings’ have changed over time – but rather than changing gradually, there have been significant key differences or step-changes at particular points in time, which reflect the deepening of my therapeutic relationship and the changes that are occurring within me.

There have been three key developments in my ‘yoga imaginings’ that I have identified since I started yoga in September, the most recent of which happened only last weekend. It used to be that the only protagonists of these scenarios or images, were my internal parts, which interacted with each other. But then, on one occasion when my inner child was crying alone in the snow, next to the unfinished house described in this post (which symbolises my ‘self’ and my therapy being a ‘work in progress’), my therapist appeared in the picture, took off her blue cardigan, and put it around my inner child’s shoulders, to comfort her. Since then, the figure of my therapist has almost always been part of these imaginings, and I have taken that as a reflection of the way in which I am internalising her and am able to hold onto a connection with her – who is both my ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ therapy-mother – when we are apart.

The second change occurred within the last month, and followed on closely from the incidents described in my post ‘When I realised how much therapy has helped me change’ (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Rather than visualising my ‘internal parts’, I found myself gazing internally at a picture of ‘adult me’ standing on a beach and looking out to sea. The air and water were calm, but in the far distance, a storm was brewing. I called out for my therapist, and she came to join me. She took my hand and we looked out at what was to come, together. I said that I was scared, and she said that she was with me. It felt significant to me, that this was the first time that ‘adult me’ had appeared in the picture, and the first time therefore that my therapist’s interaction was with that developing part of me, rather than with a younger or a more resistant aspect. Given the deep trust I have felt recently in therapy, and the strong determination to be open and vulnerable and to engage more fully, this change in my ‘yoga imaginings’ made complete sense, and acted almost like validation or verification of what was taking place both within me, and during sessions.

And then last weekend I was taken by surprise by the third change, which occurred in the form of a spontaneous ‘internal comment’. Over the last few months, four characters in particular have been dominant in my internal world and imaginings. Three of those characters feel like ‘core elements’ of myself; one has felt like an aspect that I needed to ‘win over’ and integrate in some way. That fourth character is the ‘I-don’t-care’ part of myself – the defensive, resistant part that comes to the surface to defend me and cut me off from pain and from attachment. I’ve known for a while that she is ‘problematic’ and gets in the way of me feeling my feelings and being vulnerable or authentic, but I always used to think that somehow I just needed to ‘give her a heart’ and win her over.

It was a complete surprise, therefore, when, during one of my yoga poses at the weekend, she tried to enter the picture where the other three characters were present, and they said to her “you have no place here”. It felt like a bizarre type of free-association, because it seemed as though it came out of nowhere and completely flew in the face of what I thought I was aiming to do with the more resistant parts of myself. My therapist has long spoken about keeping them at bay, but previously I was always wary of that, as it didn’t feel right to ignore them or to stave them off. However, when other aspects of myself told that part of me that she had ‘no place here’, it felt right, somehow. A little sad, maybe, but right. Again, it felt very much as though this development was a reflection of the changes I was trying to make in terms of being more engaged and vulnerable in therapy, and not keeping my therapist at arms’ length.

I’m looking forward to discovering what else my ‘yoga imaginings’ have to tell me! I don’t think this is quite what my yoga teacher has in mind when she talks us through poses during the classes, but it’s an invaluable part of my practice, and a helpful, motivating, and validating adjunct to my therapy…..

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10 thoughts on “Yoga, internal parts, and therapy

  1. Almost makes me want to try Yoga! So fascinating the depth of insight you have x

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    • Thank you, I really appreciate that 🙂 x I really surprised myself by trying it, and then sticking at it! Let me know, if you ever do 🙂 It’s the yin yoga that is the type I do, which is more meditative and has more mindfulness. It’s about holding poses on the floor, rather than moving through poses in a more dynamic way….

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      • I will definitely look into it. I need some ‘me’ time beyond therapy which (let’s face it is exhausting ‘me’ time – sounds hreat to have someone listen for 50 mins but actually it’s hard work and very painful)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. How knowledgeable is your therapist when it comes to discussing the things that come up for you in yoga? One of the things I found difficult with yoga (yin in particular) was handling all of the intense emotions that came up – my therapist was not knowledgeable enough about this to understand what was happening or really help, and I found myself wanting a degree of caring/nurturing and attention from the yoga teacher that she wasn’t really expecting or able to give either, which in turn activated a lot of attachment-abandonment feelings.

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    • Thank you so much for the comment! My therapist has many years’ experience and I guess I don’t at the moment see the things that come up in yoga as being different to the things that come up in session…..they seem very complementary, and the yoga stuff often sheds helpful light on, or mirrors, things that are happening in session. And my therapist was really pleased and supportive when I started to use the ‘inner parts’ model, as she feels it is helpful. As for wanting caring and nurturing from the yoga teacher, I can completely see how this might happen, and was worried about exactly the same thing myself, when I started. I know I have this great ‘pit of need’ that can be activated, but at the same time, through therapy and with a lot of pain along the way (!), I’ve come to see that the activation isn’t necessarily anything to do with that individual at all, it’s coming from a younger place and a younger need. And I guess that helps me to separate out those intense feelings, from the person who triggered them. But they’re still very painful, and I’m so sorry you have felt this and it triggered abandonment feelings 😦 I’m lucky, I think, in some ways, that my yoga teacher is not someone I perceive as particularly nurturing! She is obviously caring and friendly, but she is also quite ‘teacher-y’ if that’s the right word? She says things like ‘quieten down’ at the beginning of class, and it’s clear she has very firm boundaries and doesn’t attach herself to what she would call ‘drama’. I find a ‘teacher-y’ attitude and the slight overtures of control and treating others like children, that that entails, to be off-putting and immediately makes me wary of her. Not in a way that prevents me in any way from benefiting from class or from her teaching, but it does mean I have little or no desire or expectation of getting close to her, or becoming attached…..if you’re happy to say something more about this, how were the feelings that came up in yoga, different to those that came up in therapy? Thank you again for such a thought-provoking comment!

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      • That’s a complicated question to answer, because being able to put what has been happening into words is a fairly recent thing.

        My therapist is male and has very clear boundaries. For most of the on-off 14 years I’ve been seeing him I would describe my attachment style as being more avoidant-insecure (which mirrors most of my relationships outside therapy), moving into disorganised-insecure when I’m in crisis. I’ve always felt wary of asking too much of him. Since we started exploring more about my childhood and the sexual assaults I think the pattern has become less avoidant and more disorganised over all (but this has been steadying a bit in the last six months I’ve been back seeing him due to efforts on his part). I’ve had a lot of trouble acknowledging that I want any degree of closeness and nurturing from him, something I understand now is partly because it feels dangerous because of the mental association with the sexual assault by a male psych professional – it’s all just too close to the bone; but in many ways it is also similar to aspects of my relationship with my mother (seeking comfort but instead being rejected or harmed).

        With the yoga a teacher, it was partly the timing (I was especially open to the feelings of need at the point where I was doing the classes) and partly her personality that led to me wanting that nurturing from her. It felt like something she *could* give – maybe not to me, and maybe not in this context, but just my general perception of her. It fed into idealising her as a kind of ‘good mother’ who could give me what my own mother hadn’t. Completely unrealistic, but unconsciously driven and out of my control.

        I’m only just now starting to recognise that these needs and attachment feelings come up in a lot of contexts that I previously hadn’t noticed and to understand that they can’t really be met by the people I have them for, and to be able to address those needs in therapy while still getting the thing I originally came for (Like yoga, or more recently, massage) from that person.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Really good stuff. Keep it up!
    Inspiring for my blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love Yoga and really enjoyed this piece! Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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