Here is my response to yesterday’s inflammatory article in The Guardian, which has now thankfully been removed. Many thanks to welldoing.org for publishing this, and please share and retweet on social media, if you can:
I wish I could email my therapist. Sometimes you just want to reach out to the person your heart feels safe with. Not even for a reply or an acknowledgment, but to be received and wrapped in thought.
You know that it will pass. That you will talk about it tomorrow. But right now she is the only person you feel intimately connected to. And you miss her, very much.
I wish that I could say: “I’m crying, and you make me feel safe ; I just wanted you to know”.
But what could she do? And would it disturb her peace of mind? And one day you won’t be able to email her just because ‘you wanted her to know’; and she wants to prepare you for that.
When I was at university I held on at night through absolute fear during panic attacks, constantly fending off the urge to go and wake up a friend. It felt like I was going to die, and I needed reassurance that everything would be okay.
I never woke anyone up. It always passed. I didn’t die. But it always felt like terror and it always felt like death. I got through it alone. I got through it.
She would tell you that you’re not alone; that you have her with you because you are slowly internalising her. That you have the resources within yourself to get through it. That tomorrow is not so far away.
I know. But is it so wrong to want to reach out through words and say: “I’m crying and I’m so tired of battles and feeling hopeless and you – you make it better and even though you’re not here I wanted to share some of myself tonight”?
It’s not wrong – but……what feels like the greatest imperative is not always the things that makes the most relational sense. There is a shifting to adjust to each other, even when apart.
I don’t know, I don’t know. I need her, I want her, I’m confused. I’m sad, I’m lonely, I’m unhappy, I’m wretched. I’m.
Waiting for tomorrow. I can honour the space and relational language we are creating – that lives in session and abides in silent connection between times.
She told you once that you were brave. This is something that she sees in you. This is something you are living out. And yes, it is heartbreakingly hard.
Therapy is a work of faith, and ‘steadfastedness’, and love. Tonight, I’m doing the work of therapy.
In therapy, anything and everything is up for discussion – whatever happens in and outside the therapy room, provides ‘grist to the mill’. But the material of therapy is not just about the experiences we bring; it can include how we experience therapy itself. The context in which it occurs, the practicalities that govern it, and the boundaries that contain it, can provide fertile ground for exploration and self-discovery. In the interactions that take place between two people in one room, even the practical and the mundane can become a vehicle for expression and a means of unconscious illustration of what is going on for the client, and what is going on in the therapeutic relationship.
Unless the therapist is using an online payment system such as that provided by welldoing.org, for many clients one of the first practicalities they have to contend with, is payment. Even those who are comfortable with the ‘great British taboo’ of talking about money, may find it awkward or jarring discussing payment in the same session as covering very personal or emotional issues.
In addition, the fact that they are paying for a ‘service’ can make it difficult for some clients to accept the very genuine nature of their therapist’s attention, interest, and caring. It is also a reminder of what many clients would rather forget – that despite the real closeness and intimacy that can be involved, the interaction is not a friendship, and it must retain some of the distance and imbalance of a professional relationship. Raising these issues and talking about them can feel embarrassing or painful, but they can be ‘therapeutic gold’, resulting in a rich exploration of clients’ doubts and fears around relationships, intimacy, and boundaries. They are also important to tackle because overcoming them and achieving a positive and secure attachment to their therapist, is what enables many clients to heal from past and present relational trauma or other difficulties.
The practicalities of payment can also function as the non-verbal equivalent of a Freudian slip and can be revealing of a client’s feelings and attitude at particular points in time. A few examples come to mind from my own therapy. Early on, my therapist wrote a note on one of her monthly invoices, asking me to pay by cheque or bank transfer (rather than by cash). Her simple request – made in that way, I am sure, to save me the potential embarrassment of discussing it face to face – triggered intense feelings of shame, anger and distrust. We spent a number of sessions talking about the childhood origin of those feelings, and my fear of ‘doing the wrong thing’ and not being communicated with directly. The same issues have come up again and again in the last four years, in a number of other guises.
I now pay by cheque, and I do so within a couple of days of receiving an invoice; however, my therapist recently remarked on how my payment wasn’t always this prompt. It used to take me several weeks to pay, though she kindly never mentioned it at the time. I felt too unwell to be organised; I kept losing my cheque book; I didn’t have time to look for it, or I kept forgetting. My therapist’s comment was not a complaint, but an observation on how things had changed. She interpreted the change as evidence of my commitment to and investment in the process of therapy and the therapeutic relationship, and the priority I now give to it. Though I never delayed payment deliberately, I think she is right in seeing the difference in the way I now approach it as a reflection of more than just an improvement in mental wellbeing, or greater organisation. It is a matter of the regard in which I hold her and her role in my life, and the importance of the task we are engaged in together. This has impacted me in several ways – including making sure I never misplace my cheque book!
I’ve also had a very recent realisation about the significance of a past payment habit of mine. I now feel comfortable handing over cheques in person, but for a while I used to send them in brightly coloured envelopes, imagining them dropping through her letterbox and onto the doormat and being instantly recognisable as having come from me. I was aware at the time of a desire to be seen as creative, and perhaps a little quirky. I shared a feeling that many clients experience – a desire to be ‘special’, their therapist’s ‘favourite’, and to stand out from the ‘crowd’ of other clients. It’s interesting to me now that it didn’t even occur to me that my personal qualities, our interactions, and the time we spend together in sessions, could be sufficient and special in their own right.
What I recently realised is that my behaviour was also driven by a powerful desire to be present to my therapist, when we were not together. The envelopes were a way of making contact, and of trying to ensure I was remembered, and kept in mind. This hunger for remembrance has become more obvious as I have become more adept at ‘keeping my therapist alive’ between sessions and holding onto a feeling of connection. It is as if my previous preoccupation with needing to keep her in mind was masking an underlying preoccupation with needing to keep me in hers. It’s a realisation I’ve come to after the fact, but it’s also another potent example of the way in which deep fears and desires can be communicated through the vehicle of the most ordinary and seemingly mundane things. I continue to realise that how and when you pay your therapist, can be so much more than a purely financial transaction!
Since the 2016 summer therapy break, I have been posting daily #therapybreak tweets during my therapy breaks, as a form of self-care, and also as a record of the breaks. It started simply as a way of trying to count down the days and to self-distract, but it ended up as somewhat of my own personal take on a ‘gratitude journal’. I found that as well as posting about difficult times, I also ended up capturing, and then actively seeking to capture, the small little positive steps or events that kept me going, and lifted me up.
That is, until this summer’s therapy break, the #therapybreak tweets of which, can be found here:
In my previous post I talked about some of the reasons why this was my worst therapy break in a while. On a very practical level, I realised how valuable it is for me to be at work for the first parts of a therapy break. I am a different person when at work, and the distraction and interaction with other people forces me into a place outside my head, where I can appear competent and content, and can leave my ‘other selves’ at the door. Work also means a familiar routine, and that, in combination with my ability to compartmentalize and put on ‘work me’, places me on a more familiar and even keel. That even keel helps me to deal with the start of a therapy break and for me, a break that starts well, has a better chance of continuing well.
This time, however, the start of my therapy break coincided with my summer holidays, and therefore time off work. It had never occurred to me that that might be a problem, but in hindsight I can see how the sudden loss of both my therapy routine and my work routine, led into a rapid decline in mood and an inability to lift myself out of that place. Everything described in my previous post – in terms of poor decision making, the setting in of fear and anxiety, and difficulty in feeling connected to my therapist – crept in so much more easily and quickly. Low mood meant I had fewer resources to fight those feelings off, and giving in to them affected my mood even more, so that it became a very difficult circle to try and break out of.
My #therapybreak tweets stop fairly abruptly on Day 30, two days earlier than I had meant to stop them. I have thought about going back and retrospectively adding those days in, but it would feel somehow dishonest, and I think leaving the story as is, is a more accurate portrayal of what happened. I will pick up on that in a future post, tying it in with resuming therapy after the break. In summary, on Day 31 I received a brief email reply from my therapist to a long update I had sent her a few days before; and on Day 32 I had my first session back. In that session we spent most of the time talking about my reaction to that brief email, and how it had felt as though it reinforced all my fears from the previous four weeks. But by the end of Day 32 I also knew that all my fears belonged to the past, and that my therapist was the same as she had always been. I’ve been back in therapy for a week – my deep depression has persisted, but at the same time I feel the safety, security, caring, and metaphorical warm embrace that I was so missing and unable to feel, during those four long weeks. I feel I’ve come back home.
When I returned to therapy last month after a short one week break, it was with a sense of excitement to be able to talk to my therapist about how things had been, and a sense of safety and relief at being ‘home’ again. I’m returning to therapy in a couple of days, after my therapist’s four week summer break, and it’s with the knowledge that this has been the worst break for a while. I’m nervous, afraid, in need of reassurance, low and sad – in that sense, we will be picking up from how things were for several weeks leading up to the break. It was a tough summer of sessions, with a horrendous ‘muddle’ (as my therapist called it – rupture, in other words) back in June. I muddled through after that, but I don’t think I fully recovered. And my big worry, of course, is that in some sense, perhaps neither did she, or our relationship.
In these last few days before I go back, I’ve been trying hard to ‘give myself a talking to’, to clear my head of all the scare-mongering, worrying, and self-critical thinking, and to remind myself of the good sessions that we had in the run up to the break, and the close moments; but much more than that, of the fact that this is a four year relationship with a history and a solid basis , with deep trust and genuine caring, that doesn’t just get wiped out or set back by a few difficult months, or the seemingly real fears in my head. It’s what I should have been doing for the last four weeks, not just the last four days. But I didn’t. And I was in a bad place. And I can put part of the blame on lots of things, some of them external, and others also external but more within my control. But I did not exercise control – over what I read, or allowed to influence my thoughts. I made poor choices, or no choices. I didn’t feel very much, because I was completely overwhelmed by feeling too much – too much filthy, contaminating, miring, all-consuming unhappiness and hopelessness; unhappiness that covered so much ground it ate up everything else. Unhappiness born of being unreconciled – to myself, and to my past, present, and future.
‘There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient’ – this was by far the most challenging thing I read during the break. There were many more that were far more depressing, but even this challenge, rather than becoming an inspiration, turned into a self-judgment – a pinnacle I couldn’t scale, a personal quality I was too flawed to possess. In a book full of challenging passages on humility, forgiveness, vulnerability – this was the one that hit me hardest at the time. There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life; yet during the last four weeks only one of them seemed sufficient – my children.
I think what I have learned during the last four weeks, from a range of different sources, is that it’s hard to be reconciled – to yourself, to others, and to your circumstances – when you are under judgment – your own, and the perceived judgment of others. If you pray – as autumn approaches, pray for me that like the trees, I will be able to let things go. I don’t want to be or to feel under judgment. I want to be reconciled – I want to feel at home.
[Quote is from ‘Gilead’, by Marilynne Robinson, the first book in a trilogy, with the other two being ‘Home’ and ‘Lila’.]
A few weeks ago, I wrote the following section of a post, before I decided that it shouldn’t be a post at all, or at least, not until I’d spoken about its contents with my therapist. Within the part-post that wasn’t a post that now is part of a post (!) I mentioned the fact that I have never wanted to use my blogging as a way of communicating with my therapist, but I was very conscious that that is what I was attempting to do, and ultimately that held me back from publishing it. I considered emailing her the part-post, but given that it was about the fact that we were trying to curtail out of session contact, I didn’t really feel I could do that either. I even considered putting a copy of the part-post in the post (this is getting ridiculous 😉 ) but I wasn’t convinced that my therapist would respond to that particularly well! And it still didn’t meet the aim of what the whole ‘email experiment’ was meant to do – create spontaneous and immediate and ‘lively’ (as my therapist calls it) discussion in session.
So I took the part-post, printed out, to session, and we talked about it, noting that it was a positive sign that I had been able to ‘hold on’ until session, and bring it with me. But the feelings described in my post lingered on, and became magnified. A couple of weeks later the same thoughts and feelings poured out again in session, in the form of a ‘lecture’ on the things my therapist wasn’t doing and the things I wasn’t receiving – namely, reassurance – that I felt were preventing me from being able to accept and openly engage with reducing contact, while still feeling connected. As an aside, to have reached a point of familiarity, closeness, and trust, and to have made sufficient progress, that my therapist feels comfortable telling me (good humouredly) that I was lecturing her (and for that to feel okay), feels like a special and comforting place to be……!
This is the part-post that wasn’t a post that now is part of a post…..
I woke up this morning with no recollection of my dreams, apart from the fact that they had involved the need to ‘follow rules’ (‘needing to be good’ and to ‘get it right’, having been part of the discussion during my session on Friday), and with a heavy sense of things not being right.
The feelings I described in my previous two posts (Part 1 and Part 2) regarding reducing (or, in fact, stopping) email contact with my therapist, have not changed. If anything, they are becoming more entrenched. As well as feeling distanced from her, outside of sessions, I am now feeling increasingly distanced from myself. I feel able to engage (as long as I feel secure) in session, but outside it I feel a little numb. Or, as Anna (from ‘When Marnie was there’) would put it, I feel ‘on the outside’, but not only as far as the world is concerned, but as far as I myself am concerned, as well.
This isn’t working for me. I can’t help thinking that it must be working for my therapist, which is an important consideration in itself – less time spent reading or replying to things I have sent her, means more time for herself and her family. But it doesn’t feel like it is working for me at the moment, and I think I need to talk to her about it at my next session. I was thinking of writing a more detailed post about this but would like to at least partly honour one of the reasons we did this in the first place – to try and keep more material within the session itself. I’m also conscious that I have always been careful and keen not to use my blog as a means of communication with her – and though that is clearly what I am doing now, I would like to minimize the extent to which I am doing it.
I could just email her about this – but the fact that I can’t, illustrates part of the problem. Reducing email contact was never meant to be another way in which I could enslave myself to the endless list of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ in my life, but that’s what it has become. It was meant to be a way of deepening and freeing up the relationship and the discussion in session, but instead it inhibits it in the sense that I am worried about carrying material and feelings out of session, where it doesn’t feel safe to think about or experience them without her.
Reducing email contact was a good idea – but in hindsight, I think the timing was pretty terrible. Things have been very difficult over the last few weeks, and though I’ve come through them, with her, it still means that I started this ‘experiment’ off the back of painful and unsettling experiences (unsettling, in some ways, for both of us). In addition, though I have more of a sense of object constancy now, such that it’s not just our more recent interactions and conversations that define our relationship, but the entirety of our experience; nevertheless, at the moment, it is the difficult memories of recent words and interactions that are dominating and at least partly defining how I feel about myself, and how secure I feel in her regard of me. And that is not a good springboard from which to take a step that requires an almost unwavering sense of security and more than a little self-belief.
And there’s an important additional consideration – I am genuinely worried about the timing of this, in relation to the upcoming summer therapy break. Being able to sustain a positive experience during the break is both personally important to me, and very important to the therapy. I feel as though I simply cannot risk going into the break feeling as disconnected and numb as I am feeling now. During my last session my therapist said that it seemed as though I was ‘lost’, that I didn’t ‘know which way was up’. I need to be found again, and turned upright, on a secure footing, before going into a long break. I worry about me, but I worry about the therapy most of all. And given my anxiety over how much time there might be left in the therapy (before my therapist retires), that is an even more vital consideration.
I have written more than I intended, but I’m sure there is plenty still to talk about on Tuesday. I am worrying, of course, about whether I have done ‘the wrong thing’ here, by communicating in this way. I have also now set up a situation in which I will be anxious about how my therapist greets me on Tuesday. I feel as though I have been ‘failing’ a great deal recently, and that reducing email contact, and this post, are just two more examples. There is, of course, a never-ending loop here – I even feel I’m failing because I think in terms of right/wrong and failure, to start with!
I did get through the situation and the feelings I talked about in my part-post, as recently demonstrated in ‘My therapist was right – again!‘. But only after a great many weeks of ‘failing’, though not of the kind described above. My therapist and I had a fairly significant (and distressing) rupture a couple of months ago, which was, as my therapist described it, ‘a muddle on both sides’. And since then, I have been failing to see through my projections of my mother and to see my therapist as she really is, despite her repeated encouragement to rely on the four years of therapy with her, and on my knowledge of her as my ‘therapy-mother’ (who is very different to my biological mother). I had also been failing to ignore the critical voice of those projections, and therefore spent a great deal of time drowning in self-hatred and feeling desperate for reassurance that I am worth something. And all of those things felt as though they were making it so much harder to be okay with reducing contact, because it felt like rejection, as did every unsuccessful attempt at obtaining reassurance.
If there’s anything I hope this part-post illustrates, it is that what feels indubitable and persuasive when seen through a particular lens (which may be heavily distorted), can seem very different when seen through a lens undistorted by self-hatred and projections from the past. It is possible to reconcile oneself to things that it might feel almost impossible to reconcile oneself to – and I hope that that is an encouragement to anyone going through a similar situation at the moment.
As I write those words I am recalling my own most recent post about my fear of the eventual end of therapy, and the kind comments of readers who indicated that impossible though it may feel now, the ending may be a little more bearable, when it comes to it, than I imagine. A point also made my therapist, of course. Perhaps if I am not able to take on board all of their words at this stage, I should at least try to listen to my own!
I am really pleased to share this important post by psychotherapist Joshua Miles, and I am glad that he is writing again! I have shared some of his posts before, and initially what resonated with me in his writing was his emphasis both on the therapeutic relationship, and on creativity in the therapeutic process.
This post is on intimacy, and I suspect that many of those with BPD will recognise in themselves most if not all of the symptoms of fear of intimacy described above. I would add only, to the section on how and why that fear develops, that it can arise as much out of too much attention in childhood, as well as out of too little. My mother was not able to meet my emotional needs, but she was also very intrusive and tried to force a level of emotional intimacy that I did not want and that violated my own space. It was not, of course, genuine intimacy in any sense, but it still left me with a fear of being intruded upon and swamped by another’s needs and wants.
Through the process of therapy, I have become much more conscious of my own fear of intimacy. I have always been used to throwing myself really quickly and seemingly ‘deeply’, into both romantic relationships and friendships. It was easy for this to masquerade as intimacy, but I tended to share facts rather than feelings; and as I tended to ‘chase’ rather than ‘be chased’, I didn’t have to deal with the fear of someone else wanting to draw closer than I was happy to allow.
My therapeutic relationship was the first time I was involved in something where I became known, and got to know, slowly. Where the process involved conflict, as well as closeness. Where it took wrong turns and misunderstandings but got stronger through them, rather than weaker. It helped me to realise that genuine intimacy can only take place in the two context of two people acting freely and openly, and it has little to do with the volume of information shared, and much more with the nature of what is shared, and the quality of the sharing.
I hope you enjoy this excellent post!
We as humans are relational beings, and inherent in all of our relationships is a need for physical and or emotional closeness and intimacy. We need to develop, build and experience relational bonds and experience closeness from another person. For some people however, intimacy is not so simple, and for some people it can be a source of fear, worry and difficulty. In this article, I aim to look at possible reasons for why people might develop a fear of intimacy, detail some of the symptoms people might exhibit and lastly, how psychotherapy can help those who may be struggling with a fear of intimacy.
What is a fear of intimacy?
At points, we all experience find ourselves contemplating the validity or meaning of our intimacy or closeness to another person. We may have concerns over the outcome of the relationship, whether we will be rejected, that the relationship will…
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