Life in a Bind – BPD and me

My therapy journey, recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I write for welldoing.org , for Planet Mindful magazine, and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org.

Resistance in therapy – facing the dark parts of the shadow

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[The 5-minute Youtube clip is from the film ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’, and I would recommend watching  it before reading the post, if possible, as so much of the content of the post relates to the imagery of the clip. You don’t need to have watched the film, but the following synopsis of the clip might be helpful. The scene takes place towards the very end of the film; Arthur is fighting his uncle Vortigern, who through sacrificing loved ones to magical creatures, gains the ability to temporarily become a demon-warrior. In the past, Vortigern killed Arthur’s father and mother in order to become King, but Arthur, as a child, escaped, and was raised in a brothel and on the streets. The clip of the battle contains a flash-back while Arthur is lying on the ground, knocked down by Vortigern. In the flash-back, Arthur is standing watching the scene of his father’s murder, and himself as a small child.]

This is my Resistance, my inner saboteur.

Underneath, just a person, a part of me, but when it rises up against me, a more than merely human force, armoured up through years of moments of sacrificing the best parts of me in the name of self-preservation.

This is my Resistance. It rises up as backlash after progress and insight. It rises in my moments of victory and says: “You have won – now play with me”. But toying with Resistance is playing with fire. It is a dangerous game because it is not really a game at all; Resistance is the reaper of destruction.

For a long time, I was afraid of my Resistance. When it rose up against me, I ran. When it got too close, I looked away. I let it claim me as its own belonging.

To my Resistance I say, “I am here now, because of you”. Because your fortress is not my fortress, because your tower needs tearing down. You violated me, and you cut me, and over a lifetime, you co-created me. But you don’t own me – my Self is mine to take hold of. I don’t need to run anymore, and I don’t need to look away. I can make a choice to stay and fight, and to stop a repetition of the past. I am no longer small. I became big, because you, Resistance, gave me something big to think about, and I have learned how to douse your flames.

***

This was the second time in my therapy when I connected immediately to an image on screen that felt as though it represented a part of me. The first was when I saw the video for Sia’s song ‘Chandelier’ – it was if I was seeing my inner child dancing around, in pain, in front of me. Both times, externalising something that had previously felt hard to grasp and relate to, was a powerful, change-motivating experience, that enabled something different to happen. As I wrote in a post called ‘Inner child and past child’, watching ‘Chandelier’ (repeatedly) enabled me, for the first time, to feel love and feel compassion for my inner child. Previously I had wanted only to blame and hurt her, for ‘failing’ as I saw it, to prevent me from feeling pain, both in the past and in the present.

Watching this battle between Arthur and Vortigern, the enormous exhaustion that had surrounded me for the last few days, and the feeling of resentment with regard to a recent therapy session, lifted. The exhaustion stemmed from having fought my Resistance almost constantly for weeks; the resentment stemmed from a session which I felt had needlessly thrown me back into the battlefield, when all I wanted was a respite from fighting. My therapist asked if the film clip had helped me to feel that victory was possible – I replied that I believed deep down that it was, but that seeing my saboteur ‘in the flesh’ and not just feeling him in my mind, gave me the motivation I needed to keep fighting. And I absolutely had to keep fighting – I learned that a very hard way, a few weeks ago.

***

I allowed a serious act of sabotage of self and the therapeutic relationship to happen. I allowed it, I did it – it was shocking, shameful, and I couldn’t understand how it had happened. But trying to figure out how it had happened, was a fundamental part of trying to repair the relationship with my therapist, who was still committed to our work – an act of love on her part, full of grace.

Whenever I thought about what had happened, this thought struck me most – that it happened almost without thought, and very quickly. That it happened without a fight. Thinking back on it, I felt very strongly as if my Resistance turned up, and everyone fled the building. There was no fight because no part of me stayed to fight. No one could bear to look on what I ultimately had to look upon anyway – the shame of what I was thinking of doing which turned into the shame of what I did do. No one could stand and look the ‘monster’ in the eye, let alone stay long enough to do battle. And so it was as if my Resistance simply turned up and said: “I think this body and this mind, belong to me now”.

***

For the last few months my dreams and active imagination have been urging me to face the parts of me that I find unacceptable. In dreams the parts appeared as monsters of one kind or another, that chased me – hurting, raping, or killing. In one active imagination a ‘wise woman guide’ told me she couldn’t work with me or take me any further on my journey until I’d found and dealt with my inner saboteur, who I named Tempest.

In another active imagination I saw a doorway standing in the sand, with twins who looked just like me, standing on either side of the doorframe. Behind the closed door was a monstrous but still recognisably human looking creature, which also resembled me. I stood in front of the door but did not want to open it and look at what I knew was there. I tried to turn and walk away but another door – the same scenario – appeared in front of me. I asked my wise woman guide if she could turn the monster into a frog. “Why would you want to turn yourself into a frog?” she asked me. Later on in the same active imagination, I was giving birth, flanked by the same twins. I swore loudly, wanting to keep the baby inside, preventing it from being born because I knew it was a monster. The perspective shifted from first to third person, and I saw not me, but the monstrous figure from earlier, lying on the bed in labour. My wise woman guide said: “Are you sure it’s the baby that’s the monster?”

***

When the urge to self-harm rises up in me, I engage in battle with it. I face it, I feel it, I argue with it. I don’t just acknowledge to myself what I want to do, I let myself feel the full hunger of it, I let myself remember what draws me, and what it used to feel like. I accept the part of me that wants to self-harm, and I am not ashamed of it. I do not judge it. At the same time I know that when I oppose it, I need to use a strength that matches the strength with which it draws me; and I can only do that if I acknowledge its power to start with. I need to bring as much of it as I can into my awareness, so that it does not have a hidden power with which to overcome me later, by surprise. If I try and minimise it or hide from the temptation, it is as if I am also minimising myself and my power to deal with it effectively. If I try and suppress it altogether, long experience in therapy has taught me that its self-destructive power becomes manifest in other ways, and I become the destruction that I was seeking to suppress.

***

In my therapy session just before the Christmas break, my therapist and I talked about how significant these last few months have been. She asked me what I felt I’d learned, and I said that I’d found a new way of approaching things in therapy, and also outside it, that will stand me in good stead for the rest of my life.

I’ve learned to not flee the building. I’ve learned the vital importance of opening the door to the monster, facing it, bringing it into my awareness, and doing battle with it. After the flashback in which Arthur realises that he doesn’t need to look away from Vortigern, that he doesn’t need to run anymore and that he can act to stop a repetition of the past – he doesn’t just get up to carry on fighting Vortigern, he battles with him verbally, as well as physically. Unlike the first part of the battle, he engages with him on an emotional level – he acknowledges Vortigern’s power, and its inherent link to his own.  At the climax of the battle, he recognises who he is and how he is made, and ultimately, that is how he overcomes his adversary.

I’ve learned that when I face my darkness – which involves accepting it rather than feeling ashamed of it – I don’t just resist temptation, or feel better, I gain insight. When I hang around for long enough, I realise things that were hidden before; motivations that lay under wraps, desires that went denied or unacknowledged. Some of those motivations and desires are described in the post that I wrote after my recent act of self-and-therapy sabotage. Ultimately, radical acceptance of reality as it is, is what’s left when my Resistance fades away, like Vortigern’s power disappearing in a writhing black mist.

***

The film clip ends before the final two lines of the scene – but I think they’re worth paying attention to. Arthur said to Vortigern: “You created me” – but his words didn’t end there. He went on to say: “And for that, I bless you. You make sense of the devil”.

Psychologically speaking, making sense of the pain and destruction that we encounter during the course of our lives, is I think only possible if we locate and come to terms with the dark parts of ourselves. It’s what makes acceptance possible, and forgiveness possible. It’s what allows gratitude to be felt and flow out of us, and what allows us to bless and receive blessing. I’ve talked a great deal about fighting, because that is what it so often feels like, day to day – but perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’ve learned a way of making sense of things, and I hope that that will be an ongoing blessing. I hope that it will be an encouragement to remember that we are indeed, “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

 

[I know that I have mentioned the ‘shadow’ in the title of this post, but not in its body, which is poor technique for one thing (!) – but I also wanted to clarify its meaning, for those not familiar with the term. Carl Jung used the term ‘Shadow’ to refer to the unconscious parts of the personality – they needn’t be ‘dark’ parts of the personality, but they are difficult in the sense that they are parts that there is  an unwillingness to acknowledge.]

[The final quote is from Psalm 139, verse 14, and I include it because it came to mind as I was writing. I appreciate it is taken completely out of context and in a way that could cause offence, for which I apologise, and I hasten to add that I am making no direct connection between those words and the characters or occurrences in the film clip. But I am making a connection between how it feels for me to individuate and grasp hold of who I am, as a whole person, and the sense that there is something awesome, mysterious, and wonderful both about that process, and its result.] 

[King Arthur: Legend of the Sword did not do particularly well at the box office, and though this may not have been the film’s main intention (!), I personally think it works well as a portrayal of one person’s journey working through their trauma, and growing into their true self. Metaphorically, there is a therapist in the form of a mage, and at one point Arthur has to enter the ‘Badlands’ where he wrestles with various creatures, before he recovers some of his memories about what happened to his father.]

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7 thoughts on “Resistance in therapy – facing the dark parts of the shadow

  1. That is an incredibly powerful and resonant post. I remember when I first discovered that part of me that I was terrified of myself and the sabotage and harm it could create. I slowly got to know it in relationship to my therapist, from dreams, and in working with masks, during retreats led by Jungian analayst, Marion Woodman, and two other crones. What also made a profound difference to me – and opened up all kinds of doors, was the work by Jungian analyst, Donald Kalsched on what he called ‘the self-care system’. An accessible way to access Kalsched’s work is through an itnerview that I did with him for my book, ‘Understanding and Healing Emotional Truama’. The most upto date version of that interview is in the book, but an older version is freely available at http://www.danielasieff.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Unlocking-the-Secrets-of-the-Wounded-Psyche-2008-JN-b..pdf

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are a brave soul. Let 2019 be less trying. Remember Churchill? “Never give in, never, never, never … “

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rest up. Churchill reportedly slept, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing this…
    It’s strange how I’m reading it now, when just yesterday I was saying that the monsters, when I had from them, grow so much bigger in their power and what they can do (whilst I’ll lay huddled in my bed in fear, building walls to barricade them away), whereas if I’d just face them, I’d see what they are and then be able to deal with them. Yet fear often,usually, wins, for hiding is still safer than the option of them reaching out their claws to break me and then devour and enjoy.
    Thanks for sharing this, as I said. It helps me.
    Sending hugs your way. And wishes for you to feel the strength that I, a random reader, see. The courage and conviction that has gotten you this far, and will always be with you taking you further.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Acceptance (changes) | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

  6. Pingback: Small victories | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

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