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.


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Understanding fear of intimacy – A brief exploration

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!

Joshua Miles

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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Reducing email contact with my therapist – Part 2

Once again I find myself in the position of not being able to write about what I thought I was going to write about. This is not turning out to be at all the way in which I thought my posts about email contact with my therapist, would go! Once again I find myself wanting to write about how I feel, rather than how this reduction in email contact with my therapist, has come about. Writing seems to be mirroring the therapeutic process – I may have an idea of how a session will go, or what I want to talk about, and then things turn out differently. When I am able to follow my instinct and the thread that presents itself, rather than worry about the unexpected and about things left uncovered, it is usually helpful…..

I did manage to go from Friday to Tuesday between sessions, without any email contact with my therapist. Despite the temptation to do so, I didn’t send any messages. But, as in the image that came to mind during my yoga class last weekend – in which my therapist was trying, but could not get through in order to comfort me- I have felt defended all week. I have been completely open about it, and I’ve said that I wished it weren’t the case. In that sense, it hasn’t created the barrier between me and my therapist that a more unconscious type of resistance can do. The image in my mind all week was of a little wall around me – a very low one, but still enough of a barrier to make itself felt, at least internally. I don’t even know if my therapist would have been able to tell it was there, if I hadn’t mentioned it. Would she have said, as she has done in the past, that I was keeping her at arms’ length? Is that how it felt to her? Or was the barrier mostly present in my mind? Was it mainly  closing me off from myself, rather than from her?

***

I came in to session on Tuesday and asked: “Did you think of me?”. You laughed, fondly (I like to think). You asked why I would assume that you hadn’t thought of me, and said that my challenge was to keep you in mind, and not to ‘kill you off’. I asked if you’d read my blog post, and you had – you said you had wondered how I was getting on. So you had thought of me, then. “So you know how I got on’” I said.

***

This has been a strange sort of week. Already, with only one out of three sessions over, I felt as though my sessions were like little islands in a vast space of ‘other’. All of a sudden, therapy, which is such a dominant part of my life, felt as though it had shrunk, to be a tiny proportion of my week. I knew that just because I wasn’t emailing my therapist, that didn’t mean I either should stop, or did stop, thinking about her. I was still going over sessions in my mind, and still thinking about what I wanted to talk about next; I was still keeping my therapist very much in mind. But somehow this thread that previously felt as though it ran through my entire week and permeated everything, had started to feel instead like three drops in a very large and dilute ocean. And I felt very alone in that ocean.

***

It didn’t even occur to me that Fridays might feel different now. Friday is my only morning session, and without having already spent a day at work, the version of me that turns up to session on a Friday is often more open and much more vulnerable, right from the start, than the ‘me’ who begins my other sessions. I usually allow myself to feel more, on a Friday. Or perhaps the feelings are just closer to the surface. And so Friday sessions tend to feel quite intense and emotional, particularly towards the end, as the most difficult material takes a while to work up to. I often used to email my therapist within an hour or two of my Friday session, while I was still caught up in the emotion triggered by it.

However, this time, the last fifteen minutes of Friday’s session were different. We had talked about a couple of dreams, in connection with some very difficult events two weeks ago. We had made some uncomfortable and upsetting links. I closed my eyes, and didn’t speak. I knew my therapist would eventually ask me what had come to mind – and she did. But I stayed silent for a while longer.

The difficulty is that sometimes I freeze, and nothing comes to mind. Or rather, nothing comes, apart from a single phrase or image or feeling, blocking the space so entirely that absolutely no other thought is possible. The freezing can be caused by fear, or distress, or anger – perhaps by any strong emotion. Sometimes it’s caused purely by the heightened discomfort of feeling as though I don’t have anything to say. My therapist says that we can wait to ‘see what comes up’ – but I feel paralysed, not knowing how to move forward – and so my mind becomes paralysed.

***

The only thought in my mind was ‘I must not feel’ and my every effort was consumed with ‘holding things in’. If I didn’t allow myself to cry freely, I could contain the emotion. And I was determined to contain it, because what else was there to do? I remember saying to you: “I feel like I did when I was a little girl. When I decided I wouldn’t allow myself to be affected by death anymore…..I want to let go, but I can’t let go, because in fifteen minutes I have to leave here and deal with this alone until next week. And so I cannot feel”.

We seem to have recreated the past again, between us. That is therapy, after all. You said that this time things can be different because I have internal resources – an internalised therapy-mother – which means that I do not have to deal with my emotions alone. I do not have to refuse to feel them anymore – it might have been safer then, but it is no longer necessary now.

I didn’t anticipate this recreation – but why not? The last few weeks have revealed how much I trust you, how determined I am to really connect and be open – and so it seems strange to see how easy it is to fall again into ways learned in childhood, despite how different the situation and our relationship, are, to the past. After all, I chose this – I said that I wanted to do something different with email. You said you thought I was ready, but it was important that I chose it, rather than feeling it was something that I had to do. So why the same old determination not to feel? Surely I knew my choice would have consequences…..

A few weeks ago you made the point that I was holding you at arms’ length and that I was relating more to the version of you inside my head, than I was to the person sitting in front of me in session. I hope I have managed to change that a little, and to engage more with you; but it seems now that it is my internal version of you, instead, that I am keeping away.

***

Unlike previous weekends over the last few months, not once, last weekend, did I think about the ‘internal parts of me’, or use images of those parts or of my therapist, to comfort myself. Any awareness of an internalised therapy-mother was absent – and the images that came to mind during my yoga class last week, illustrated that in a very obvious way. My therapist was trying to reach out to comfort me, but my conscious mind was not allowing her through. And yet my experience of the therapeutic relationship, and my internalisation of my therapist, were the very means by which I should be able to do things differently now, rather than simply repeating a childhood pattern with the same old outcome. It is in doing things differently, that I am meant to be healing.

But what was true of the previous weekend, has been true of this one as well. I have thought about my therapist a great deal, and about various aspects of our therapy. I have tried to make sense of things, wondered about what might help, thought about metaphor, and music, and words. But I haven’t turned my awareness properly inwards. I haven’t tried to lean on my internal therapy-mother. Or on anyone at all.

***

I think I’m waiting, but I’m not sure for what. You should be glad – you have so often encouraged me to ‘wait’ and see what comes up, when I have impatient to move on and frustrated at my inability to do so. I have the sense that I don’t want to rush through this recreation just yet. I wonder why?

Maybe I want my right to feel angry and frustrated. Maybe I want to fully experience the resentment of not being able to tell you everything I’ve thought about, dreamed about, and done this weekend. There is so much I want to share with you and I’m not able to put it into words.

“You know that I will be here on Tuesday”, you said. I do, and I know that then I can put these things that I have been dreaming, reading and discovering, into words. Then I can tell you what I’ve been thinking and doing this weekend. And I know that one of the main reasons for doing something different with email, was precisely that – that we should engage more fully in person rather than remotely, and that we should share these things in a more meaningful way, that contributes actively to the therapy. I know, intellectually, that that way lies relationship building, not simply information relaying. And yet…..perhaps it is simply a new-generation intolerance of anything other than instant gratification and communication. 

“But”, I think to myself, “with all of that to tell and talk about, we will get so behind!”. “But we cannot ‘get behind’ in therapy, this is all a part of the work!”  – that sometimes-irritating (yes, because it’s right) little voice-version of you inside, says…..ah, there you are, still breathing, after all, internal therapy-mother…….

***

But at the same time I want to wait. I want to let this frustrated girl inside me have her day – I don’t yet want to shut her down.

I think I’m also waiting until I’ve finished reading ‘When Marnie was there’ (a children’s book that I recently rediscovered) for the second time in a few weeks. Anna, the main character in the book, is so much like me (or I, like her), that perhaps I am expecting her transformation, by the end of the book, to have magically become my transformation, as well.

Or perhaps I’m waiting for a line from a poem, or a paragraph from a book, or a melody from a song, or a section of a dance – to be the meaning or the metaphor that turns the key and releases what I’m holding in. Perhaps I’m hoping that one of those things might come from my therapist. I’m aware that I’m looking for answers from the outside; and that that may not be the best place to be doing my looking.

***

Tonight at yoga class, when it came to the images in my head, I couldn’t even get onto the beach that is my safe space during meditation. There was a giant blocking the way. Or perhaps an enormous, overgrown child. “Who are you?” I said. But there was no reply. There was also no getting past, and so in my mind, I disappeared into Anna and Marnie’s world, instead. And there I met another internal character I hadn’t come across before. She was a mysterious (but light-hearted), dark-haired shape-shifter. She kept transforming both herself, and the objects around her. And when I asked her who she was, she replied in just the sort of tone with which Marnie sometimes affectionately teased Anna, and said: ‘I’m you, silly!’ .

I should have asked her why she didn’t just make the overgrown child disappear in the way that she herself kept vanishing. Instead I thought that she was a strange sort of comfort, though not around long enough, at any one time or in any one form, to put her arms around me, like you used to do when you entered my daydreams.  

***

For some reason, the end of the film ‘Predestination’, comes to mind. I think it is because earlier today I really wanted to send my therapist a brief email to tell her that I miss her. If Marnie (from ‘When Marnie was there’) plays a role a little like that of a therapist, so too does the Bartender in ‘Predestination’. In both cases, issues of identity and relationship with self, define the main characters. Memory, time, re-experiencing, parts of ourselves – all of these are important, in both stories. A present experience of the past becomes a powerful transformation for the future, in which the past is re-experienced differently.

The film ends with these words:

“Can we change our futures? I don’t know. The only thing I know for sure is that you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I miss you dreadfully”.