I recently encountered the second person, over the lifetime of my blog, who has had a less than complimentary view of what I do and how I approach life. I feel very fortunate to have had so little criticism; in fact the individual I just mentioned believed that their comment would not be published because they couldn’t see any negative comments and therefore assumed I simply deleted them all. That is not the case – I’m very happy to have an open discussion with anyone holding views either similar or very different to my own, and I’m happy to be challenged. But I believe that that conversation should be respectful, and always mindful of the fact that while differing views on therapy abound, no one knows really knows a therapeutic relationship apart from the two individuals engaged in it, and I believe strongly in choosing words carefully such they uphold rather than undermine that relationship. On the couple of occasions I haven’t published comments, it was because they were not made respectfully, but aggressively, and because I believed that they had the potential to undermine not just my own, but others’ therapeutic journeys as well.
On this occasion, the commenter said (amongst other things!) that they were concerned that my posts would encourage readers to live in a fantasy world and not try and make any changes to their lives; the fantasy world in question, was the way in which I see my therapeutic relationship. Though I disagree with the individual’s point of view, I think it is, in part, understandable. It’s impossible to gain a complete picture of my therapeutic journey, even if one were to read every post I’ve written over the last four years; not just because one cannot capture the essence of a relationship, in writing, but also because I write about only a fraction of what takes place either within session, or outside it. Someone reading a handful of posts without the context of what came before or after, might gain an inaccurate or partial picture of what I believe, what my life and therapeutic process are like, and how (or whether) things have changed. I have written posts when feeling hopeful and optimistic, but I have also written posts in the midst of suicidal ideation or profound despair and grief. Drawing broad conclusions about my beliefs, attitudes, or worldview, from these snapshots into my life, is like opening the pages of a book at random, and making assumptions about the characters and the ending of the story, based on what happens in a single chapter.
I would be saddened and mortified if I thought that what I’ve written implies that change in therapy isn’t vital or necessary. It isn’t a point I make overtly, or in a directive way, because I believe that everyone has to take change at their own pace. We cannot force ourselves – let alone others – to be open to the enormous shifts involved in therapy, before we are truly ready. For my own part, I believe that I have made significant progress in therapy over the last few years, and I hope that that is evident in at least some of what I write; some of the comments I have received, indicate that that is so. But this particular commenter’s barbed remarks did prick my conscience, and brought again into the foreground, the uncomfortable feelings I sometimes have when I think about how my blogging has developed over time.
It’s a pattern that I see not just in myself, but in a number of others who write about their therapeutic journeys. And it’s fundamentally a positive pattern, indicating recovery, growth, and a necessary deepening of relationship and trust within therapy. But how does that pattern impact upon others?
It seems to be, that as we get better, and as we bring more of ourselves into therapy, we put less of ourselves out there in our writing. Sometimes this is a conscious decision; often it is not. Some like to claim that suffering and creativity go hand in hand – I don’t necessarily agree, but it’s certainly true that I wrote most, when my mental health was at its lowest point. Another way of looking at it is that writing can be a coping mechanism, a way of releasing and processing powerful emotions, particularly when there is no other mechanism for release. It can be a source of comfort and solace, a means of expression. It can be many things, that is, that therapy can also be – which is why in many ways, it can be a helpful companion to therapy. But it also runs the risk of taking the place of some of those things that therapy should be providing instead, potentially diluting both the process and the relationship, or at least circumventing some of its lessons and the bonding quality of spontaneous relating.
It seems to be that we write less as we recover more, and as our therapeutic relationship deepens. We want to take things to our therapist, rather than to the page. We want our therapist to be the first to know what we’ve discovered; perhaps the only person to know, for a little while, about some important aspect of us that has changed. It is a private, bounded, intimacy – not just because of the vulnerability present within it, but because it is so precious, and many of us keep our most precious things, close to our hearts. Many of us do our growing up within the context of our therapeutic relationship; we grow into different people, or at least, whole people, living life from a different place. Who wants to do all of their growing up in public? We want to share aspects of our stories, we want to give and receive support; but we also want to cherish the safety and privacy of our intimate therapeutic relationship, as others might cherish the safety and privacy of family.
There is so much I haven’t written about over the last couple of years. Significant therapeutic ruptures, and even more significant repairs. Many lessons learned, but few written down. Important milestones, and even more important small, ordinary steps towards wholeness. And an absolute confidence and trust – not yet in myself, that is a huge work still to be done – but in my therapist, and in who she is. Projections still get in the way sometimes. Sometimes I still react as if she were like my biological mother, rather than reacting from a place of knowing who my therapy mother is – and she is very different. But I’ve reached the point where I feel there are no walls, and no fear – just a deep trust that I know her and can tell her anything, and we will be okay.
And so the picture that I’ve put forward in my writing, is incomplete. I can remember avidly reading blogs in the early years of my diagnosis and therapy, and that wonderful feeling when you find someone who seems to see right into your head, and puts down on the page the very things you’ve thought and felt. Comments from readers of my own and others’ blogs, shows how common this experience is. And so sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not offering up to someone who might need it, the encouragement of knowing that for every difficult and painful time I wrote about, there are many other moments of precious connection and progress. And there is a constant – sometimes bizarrely and frustratingly meandering, but still life-giving – thread of change and growth. And for my own part, I feel worried that if I need something to look back on, I will be missing, in words, the very best bits of my story. But that is part of my inner work that has still to be done – to develop trust in myself, in recollection, and in the presence of this experience, lasting through time, sustained internally and eternally, without the need for an external reference point.
And it occurs to me, too, that just as I have written less over the last couple of years, I have also been reading less about therapy, and about others’ experience of it. Honouring the precious intimacy of the relationship means not just keeping cherished moments within the bounds of the space, but to a certain extent, keeping other influences out of it. I don’t mean that therapy is a bubble, apart from the world – that would be to reinforce the commenter’s criticism about living in a fantasy. It is to say that therapy is about authenticity and finding our own way through the process – and that it is very easy to be influenced by others’ stories, and even to use them as vehicles for saying something about ourselves, thus circumventing tougher but ultimately more useful and personal forms of expression.
It is also true, I think, and demonstrated throughout life, both within therapy and outside it, that people don’t really hear or see what is being said, until they’re ready to do so. Many of us know that when on the very edge of despair, having someone meet us where we are, can sometimes be more encouraging than being shown the person who has already made it through. It’s difficult to relate to who we might be in future, when we cannot envisage a future; but relating to someone who experiences a similar present, helps us to feel another’s presence, and to feel less alone. In my earlier years of therapy, I would have found it very difficult to envisage and accept that things would change in certain ways; just as I find it difficult to accept even now, that the eventual end of therapy might be less traumatic than I currently imagine it will be.
And so perhaps it does not matter that I haven’t written much about how things have changed over the last couple of years. Perhaps this guilt and unease that the commenter triggered in me, is misplaced. Perhaps my posts are meeting people where they are, at a particular period in their therapy; and when that period is over, they no longer seek the same sort of meeting. My story is presented incompletely, and it is still incomplete – as all of our stories are. And if you don’t see change in its pages, perhaps that is because you have dipped into it at a point when change is moving incrementally slowly, inching its way into my being. Or perhaps you missed the lightning flash of revelation that came a couple of pages before, or that awaits you in the next chapter. I’m awaiting that one too – but who knows how things will unfold…..
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver
June 4, 2018 at 12:53 am
Really loved this post. I’ve had quite a few aggressive and negative comments on my blog and it’s never pleasant. However I’m most interested in what you’ve said about the process of blogging and how the need to write about therapy ebbs and flows in time. I’ve had this conversation just this week with a friend as I struggle to find the motivation to write about my sessions these days my thoughts on that are similar to yours and similarly find myself not wanting to read other blogs so much either, particularly if those bloggers are at the beginning of their therapy journey.
Thanks for writing this insightful piece.
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July 22, 2018 at 8:39 pm
Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said. My struggle to find motivation extends also to making brief notes of sessions, which I didn’t used to do regularly, but now and again I captured the most significant/most moving moments, and I haven’t even been doing that! And yes, I think our reading habits follow us through our journey, and we will choose to read different quantities and different amounts, and different types of writing, at different stages in our journey. Having said that, it’s lovely keeping up with long term bloggers/readers/followers and seeing each other grow – I was on your blog recently and there was something indefinably different in how you expressed yourself and the way you were thinking about things….and to see your confidence in being loved by your therapist, was inspiring 🙂 x
July 22, 2018 at 11:14 pm
aww thank you. Yes, there’s lots of change going on right now, some growth and sometimes some regression LOL. x
June 4, 2018 at 2:14 am
Hello, I have been following you for awhile but have never commented. Just want to say that, being on my own therapy journey, I find your posts always intriguing and relevant. I can also attest to a similar experience of writing (journaling) less about my therapy the longer it goes on (almost two years now) and instead just “diving in”, immersing myself in the relationship with my therapist, trusting that that is the way through. Thank you for writing and sharing. You are doing wonderful work.
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July 22, 2018 at 8:35 pm
Thank you for your fantastic comment! I really really appreciate it, even more so (as I mentioned to another reader) because you say you read but never commented before, and so it’s humbling to have written something that speaks to you and moves you to say ‘hi’ 🙂 it’s good to hear from you 🙂 I’m really glad this resonated with you and am wishing you so much luck and perseverance and courage in your own therapy journey….take care!
June 4, 2018 at 6:01 am
I definitely see change! You only have to look back at your blog in its early life and it feels like the author is someone completely different. If you compare what you wrote back then with now… there’s one huge difference. Back then, when I read your posts, I got a real feeling of despair and pain. Now when I read it I sense peace and acceptance. Not complete, granted, and like you say I cannot know all of what goes on in your head, but it’s like someone who can take the rough with the smooth is emerging. It’s just a sense of calm and peace I feel now.
I think that it’s also important to note that our boundaries change too. We write less when we begin to realise that we don’t want or need to be completely open books in order to be understood and accepted. People can know us without knowing our innermost. People can love us without knowing what we had for breakfast. That (in my experience) comes directly from the therapeutic relationship; firstly in that our therapist loves us without being able to live in our heads, secondly that we love them without knowing every detail of their lives. That’s a significant change for me. I used to believe unless someone saw me completely the relationship was not real. Unless I knew everything about my T I didn’t know her. I’ve encountered the flip side of this too – people who got insecure when I stopped disclosing everything to them. It’s a sign that we are respecting our own privacy and silently saying ‘if this isn’t enough for you to love/like me then goodbye and thanks for all the fish because I don’t have to give you more’
I’m also going through this. I stopped blogging a while ago. I tried a more positive spin on it; only writing about my art as a form of self-care but not even that lastes. I’m even finding lately (last few weeks) that as my pain has ramped up with the divorce and solicitors and moving out and protecting my kids and urgh(!!!) that I’m not even journalling or doing art. So I’m not even convinced by the suffering = art argument because I feel pretty damn crap right now, losing my home and possibly filing reports against my ex just to get a roof over my kids’ heads. It’s my worst nightmare as a mum. It’s because my needs are not met adequately through writing or art. I need to go to my T, sit on her floor and sob, wrapped in our blanket. That’s where I get my needs met best. I want her, nobody and nothing else right now. I want to be “held” and contained.
I also agree with you – everyone heals in their own time. Some people (myself included) do find solace and escape in fantasy. I daydream a lot, it’s how I survive abuse. If someone needs to be in fantasyland to survive, where is the harm? Who does it hurt? Eventually their T will bring them back, help them learn ways to remain present and enjoy life as it really is. That’s their T’s job, not yours. Not your circus, not your monkeys as my T says (to remind me to stop taking responsibility for things which are not mine to control – someone else’s reaction to me, how someone perceives me, a relationship out of my jurisdiction etc).
At the end of the day, this is your space. Use it however is helpful to you. Yes, you have to be mindful of the audience (nobody can accuse you of anything less) but not to the exclusion of your own healing. That should be priority.
Big hugs hunny, you’re doing a great job xxx
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July 22, 2018 at 8:42 pm
Oh wow, I can’t believe I never thanked you for this amazing comment, thank you so much…wish I knew how to do hearts on my laptop!! I don’t quite understand why I’ve been so absent over the last three months – if I hadn’t been, I hope I would have thanked you properly, and responded properly. I am thankful you took the time and energy to write your encouragement, which always comes from a place of insight and caring, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve missed being in touch, including over twitter – I’m hoping I can be a bit more with it, going forward! Big hugs xx
June 4, 2018 at 8:14 am
Criticism is really hard to take. I think people don’t realise and respect the privilege it truly is to be able to read people’s blogs and their innermost thoughts, so see you as unfair targets. Noone has a right to critique how you write about your therapy process. It is absolutely true that the urge to write gets less with time, as progress happens, and there is so much that I wouldn’t share about my therapy sessions too, because it’s between me and her and I would feel wrong disclosing everything for public consumption. For the most part, blog readers are kind and supportive, but there will always be a minority who arrogantly offer their critical opinions. Well done for suspending your hurt feelings and taking this opportunity to describe the bigger picture. What you’ve written really resonates with me. 💗💛💗
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July 22, 2018 at 8:33 pm
Thank you so much, I’m really glad this resonates, and your comment is spot on – for the most part blog readers are indeed really lovely and supportive, and in the last few months when I’ve been fairly out of things, I’ve really missed that sense of community and support. All of those things are worth the occasional angry or critical opinion, thank you for helping put things in perspective 🙂 x
June 4, 2018 at 11:30 am
I’m shy and never comment but I just want to say thank you. Your blog is literally the only one I read on any topic whatsoever. Your writing is amazingly insightful and eloquent. Thank you again! x
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July 22, 2018 at 8:32 pm
Wow – what an awesome and humbling comment, thank you. I particularly appreciate it given you say you read but don’t normally comment, and I’d love you to know that means a lot to me, and I’m very sorry indeed it’s taken me such a long time to respond. Your comment is an enormous, treasured compliment, thank you, and I wish you all the very very best in your own situation. Sending you a hug x
June 14, 2018 at 2:43 pm
You write very intelligently, with a steady calmness, rather than lashing out or over-defending yourself. That’s the best response to negativity. For true hater or trolls, the best response is no response. This is an issue all writers must deal with when publishing online–whether opinion pieces, memoir, or personal experiences. The Atlantic Magazine is a good example of this–some great writing and awful comments. While I’ve only received one negative comment on my monthly blog over the past 6 years, I’ve have to grow a thick skin to publish in larger venues. People assume as you say, after reading just one part of your story, they know everything and therefore can rightly judge, advise, or admonish. Some writers choose not to read the comments (or book reviews). Wishing you continued clarity and growth in your therapy journey.
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July 22, 2018 at 8:29 pm
Thank you so much for your wise, thoughtful and understanding comment! I really appreciate your feedback, and I’m glad you yourself have not had to deal with too many of these incidents either. Wishing you all the best, and thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment 🙂