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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Yoga, internal parts, and therapy

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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Memory Monday – “Censored: wearing a mask in therapy”

Sometimes I worry that if I lose a train of thought in session, or if I change subject or direction, I may not be able to find my way back or I may leave a topic ‘unfinished’. My therapist replies that if something is important, it will come round again in session, in one form or another, so that we ‘can take another bite at the cherry’. Over the last few months it feels as though I have made significant progress in therapy, and there have been a number of key components to that progress. These include the way in which I now think of myself as composed of a number of ‘personas’ (or parts), my ability to see my therapist as a ‘new mother‘ figure who I can relate to independently of how I related to my biological mother, and the honesty and vulnerability with which I am now often able to approach sessions, precisely because I am much more aware both of ‘new mother’ and the different parts of me that might try and oppose her.

In thinking of that progress I am struck by how often the core elements of these ideas and concepts were already present in my therapy some time ago, but had not had the impact they have had recently. In some cases I even believed I’d had a ‘light-bulb moment’, and yet still it hadn’t had a significant change on my behaviour. It is as if I had realised I’d found an important piece of the jigsaw, but until enough of the pieces were in place, I couldn’t see or understand the bigger picture. And once enough pieces were in place, the speed with which others could be slotted in, was magnified.

I found a particular example of this when I went back to a post from July 2015:

https://lifeinabind.com/2015/07/11/censored-wearing-a-mask-in-therapy/

The post describes the moment when I fully realised the enormous extent to which I routinely censored my thoughts in therapy. It also describes how, in the absence of communicating how I felt, I often ‘acted it out’ instead. Though these seemed like important insights at the time, I continued to censor my thoughts, though perhaps not quite so heavily, and I continued to ‘act out’, though not quite so blatantly. And it’s only now, more than a year later, that I can really see that that has changed.

In Part I of the post I wrote: “Judgement, lack of interest, intrusiveness. All of those past experiences make it hard to talk in therapy. But their absence in therapy makes it equally hard to talk. My therapist is not intrusive, she doesn’t judge me, and she is genuinely interested in me. But I have no idea how to operate in that environment…”. The difference now is that I see my therapist not just as not judgmental or intrusive – but as not my biological mother. I see her as ‘new mother’, and that frees me up to operate completely differently with her, and to speak without fear, and with confidence of acceptance.

In Part II of the post I wrote: “As this wonderful quote says:  ‘In a corner of my soul there hides a tiny frightened child, who is frightened by a corner where there lingers something wild’.  The difficult thing about therapy, is realising that the frightened child and the ‘something wild’ can both be parts of ourselves. When we start talking about them rather than acting them out – perhaps then we can start to integrate them into our view of ourselves, and to accept them. And perhaps then there will be no need of a mask to hide behind; at least in therapy, and to ourselves.” The difference now is that I have started to identify and integrate the different parts of me, and to talk about them and accept them. It is an ongoing process, but it does mean that there is much less ‘acting out’ either in or between sessions, and much more openness in talking about how I really feel.

There is a one small part of my most recent therapy session that really shows how the censorship described in both parts of my earlier post, has changed, for the reasons described above. I have had a run of difficult sessions in which I have been barely able to talk, with a large part of me feeling resentful and resistant and not really wanting to turn up to therapy at all. The (small and barely audible) non-resistant part of me managed to say ‘this reminds me a little of how things were at university‘, to which my therapist replied, ‘can you say a bit more about that‘? With only the smallest of pauses, I simply said ‘What just went through my mind was – no, because I don’t want to talk to you‘.

There was momentary censorship – after all, I could have immediately spoken the words that went through my mind. But when I did speak them, it was with confidence and trust, rather than fear, and that’s what made the censorship momentary – rather than ongoing and solitary.


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The Important Connection Between Creativity And Therapy

I hadn’t seen a blog post on the connection between creativity and therapy before, and so was really excited when I came across this one, by therapist Joshua Miles.
The longer I have been in therapy, the more important creativity has become to me. That’s not simply creativity in terms of writing, though that has been a key part of my therapy journey; but also the creative process of using dreams, quotes, music, landscapes, metaphors, and shared memories, to build a new narrative for my life, one that involves greater acceptance, freedom and significance. On a purely practical level, therapy is in some ways such a ‘narrow space’ – one room, two people, and a very particular sort of interaction. And yet this setting is the context for one of the most liberating experiences there can be, and it can give rise to the most extraordinary creativity and exploration of thought. It is that creative process, a joint endeavour between therapist and client, that I have found is one of the greatest agents  – along with the power of therapeutic relationship itself – of lasting change.

I hope you enjoy the post as much as I did!

Joshua Miles

In this article, I am to discuss the important connection between creativity and therapy, and why being creative in therapy matters. I will then look at the importance of letting our minds wander and why it is valuable to nourish our creative avenues in life. Lastly I will explore how therapy can promote and develop creativity.

The connection between creativity and therapy

There is a meaningful and real connection between the creative and therapeutic processes. These processes share commonalities and can often work in tandem and share many of the same structures. In therapy, clients share, explore and think about their thoughts, feelings and ideas. This process of self-exploration can often yield surprising results, or uncover to us some feelings or thoughts we once thought we had forgotten, or in fact thoughts or feelings we did not know we had. Like the creative process in arts, music or writing, we open…

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Censored: wearing a mask in therapy

censoring thoughts final

Part I – Speak before you think

Mask, verb: to hide, conceal, disguise

You can conceal something in many ways – by disguising it and making it look like something else; by hiding it away and making sure it isn’t seen. A mask can be something you put on to hide your expression; your expression can be something you put on to conceal your thoughts.

We all wear a mask and conceal our thoughts – in many ways life could not proceed without it. If we told everyone everything that was on our minds, all the time, the world would be an even noisier place and we would have precious few friends left in it. We pick and choose; we filter what we say, and in that sense we present the world a partial view. That’s okay – those are the accepted conventions of social conduct.

But the conventions in therapy are different. My therapist and I had talked about ‘free association’ in the past – mainly to comment on how difficult it was. Though associated with Freud, it does not need to be done on the proverbial couch or in the context of ‘traditional’ psychoanalysis. Free association is: “the mental process by which one word or image may spontaneously suggest another without any necessary logical connection”. The idea is that the patient, quite simply – oh, if ever there was a case of ‘anything BUT’ – talks about what is on their mind, with no effort to tell a linear story or shape the thoughts that come to mind.

I’ve lost count of the number of times my therapist has encouraged me to ‘just say what’s on your mind’, when I have been sitting there in silence, or admitted to not knowing what to say next. It’s only now that I realise that I heard the words, but what I took them to mean was: ‘just choose one of the many things you had on your list to talk about before you came here’; or ‘just think of something sensible or interesting to say’.

Which is why when she eventually told me that I censor my thoughts it was simultaneously both a statement of the blindingly obvious and also a blinding revelation. Censorship is not just the enemy of free association – by definition, if I am censoring my thoughts I cannot be free associating. Censorship is about suppressing something- free association is about revealing the suppressed. I find it hard (and sobering) to believe that I have been in psychotherapy for two years and have never thought about this before, let alone realised what I was doing and how it might be impacting the therapeutic process.

This realisation came a few sessions after another, similar ‘revelation’ in which I became conscious of the fact that I spend a lot of time during session talking to my therapist, as one might expect – but a fair amount of it happens IN MY HEAD. So when there’s a silence (which happens quite often), sometimes I will be panicking about what to say next, sometimes I will be trying to reach a thought or a memory or try and figure something out. But often, I’m simply continuing the conversation I was having a moment go, but in the safety and privacy of my own brain. Since I’ve become aware of this, I keep catching myself doing it with disturbing regularity – even, on occasion, catching myself ceasing to verbalise mid-sentence.

Why? Why am I doing these things when the very reason I am supposed to be there is to talk openly about how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking? I thought I trusted my therapist to a great extent and would tell her anything – but somehow the thought of telling her things as and when they happen, downloaded straight from my brain with no filtering – feels like a very different, and a much bigger, risk. The silence is a type of filter too – it’s just one that lets nothing through, rather than showing some parts, and hiding others.

My husband recently told me that I have never really talked to him in the way that many partners communicate with each other. I don’t really talk to him (or to others) about my day, or about how I feel. I can make small-talk at parties or intellectualise if it’s called for, but when someone asks me about myself, my tendency is to answer briefly and then focus all the attention on them, by asking lots of questions in return. That way lies safety – I’m in control of the questioning and my anxiety over what to say or not say, can dissipate. Why do I find it so difficult to talk about myself? I think there are probably three key reasons.

What I say isn’t interesting: fundamentally, I don’t understand why people would be interested in what I have to say, unless it benefits them directly in some way. Why would they want to hear about my day? Or about what I thought of the news, or a  particular situation at work? It feels as though it would be boring to talk about. Why would someone want to know about the minutiae of my life?

Defence against intrusiveness: the only person who DID want to know about the minutiae of my life – my mother – felt she had a right to know. And so keeping quiet about certain things was a way both of preserving my own space and keeping complete ownership and control over certain parts of my life and my thoughts. And if my mother wanted to know the minutiae, she also made it very clear that no one else could ever love me or be there for me, in the way that she was. By extension, no one could ever be as interested in me as she was. Or perhaps interest came to me to be synonymous with intrusiveness; and if there is an absence of the latter, perhaps I also take it as an absence of the former.

What I say will be judged: sometimes I don’t feel I can start a conversation because I know I don’t have the energy to finish it. Sometimes I don’t talk because I know my view-point won’t be accepted. When I was younger, people would ask me questions and I knew what answer they wanted me to give. The answer that accorded with their own view, or at least their view of me. And we’re back again to feeling as though no one would be interested in what I have to say: if my answers are judged, then what was behind the question was not a genuine interest in me.

Judgement, lack of interest, intrusiveness. All of those past experiences make it hard to talk in therapy. But their absence in therapy makes it equally hard to talk. My therapist is not intrusive, she doesn’t judge me, and she is genuinely interested in me. But I have no idea how to operate in that environment – all I can think of, is ‘what does she want to hear, what does she want me to say?’. It’s almost impossible to believe that she doesn’t have ‘an agenda’, however benign it might be. It’s hard to get my head around the fact that she values and wants to use whatever I bring, because whatever I bring is an expression of myself, and that is what she’s interested in.

Once I became aware of my censoring, I did start to tell my therapist things I would have ordinarily chosen not to mention. Thoughts and memories that came to mind that I couldn’t see the relevance of. Phrases that I would normally have reworded to sound more innocuous. Small details of my day that I thought inconsequential. And of course, they were anything BUT. She made use of them immediately, in ways that made perfect sense. They resulted in material we’re still working on now. Perhaps it was simply luck that the first few times I tried out ‘un-censoring’, the results felt really significant.

But it doesn’t feel like luck. It feels as though this is what I was meant to have been doing all along. Or, because my therapist often tells me there is no ‘should’ in therapy – it’s what it would have been helpful for me to have been doing all along.

Free association is hard; it’s uncomfortable; and it’s risky. Why? Because it involves a complete lack of censorship – it’s a revealing, an unmasking. I’m going to try and say what’s on my mind more often; and I’m going to try and always talk to my therapist aloud, and not in my head. I don’t want her to be able to say: “Your silences remain; they are your biggest mask”*.  Instead, I want to fill those silences with whatever comes to mind. It will take courage. As the children’s film ‘Cinderella’, says: “The greatest risk any of us will ever take – [is] to be seen as we truly are”. When it comes to therapy, at least, I think that is one risk that is definitely worth taking.

Part II – think before you act

Mask, noun: A covering, worn as a disguise

Sometimes we don’t just keep thinks hidden by omitting them in some way – we put something on to act as a disguise, or at the very least to act as a barrier to make access more difficult. Sometimes the mask isn’t a lack of communication, but communication by a veiled means. Saying something, but not transparently. Saying something, but in way that involves having to peel back the layers to find what lies beneath. Saying something, but not with words.

I have my therapist to thank for this observation too, though as she correctly identified, at some level I’m just as aware as she is of how I’m communicating, even if I will not consciously admit it. It’s the clothes that I wear – particularly the really inappropriate ones when I’m feeling flirtatious or when I suspect that our conversation will move onto the subject of sex. It’s the emails I bombard her with less than twenty four hours after session and with less than twenty four hours to go until the next; none of which really requires a reply, but I write to ask for one anyway.

My therapist talks about how sometimes I substitute action with thought – which is a nice way of saying ‘think before you act’. But it’s also a way of saying that although ‘actions may speak louder than words’, that tends to apply more to consciously chosen actions, where the action evidences the words, rather than avoiding them. Unconsciously chosen actions, not preceded by thought, are communication-avoidant, and what they are evidencing is much less clear.

My emails were communicating an urgent need to let her know I still needed her, still wanted her, still missed her, after I felt I’d ‘pushed her away’ the previous weekend and in the last session. The really short shorts and bare legs – well, I’m in the middle of talking about what they might have been communicating, so forgive me if I put that one on hold for now!

I tried to apologise to my therapist for the emails and for the inappropriate clothes – but she would have none of it. As she pointed out, it is all ‘grist for the mill’ and what’s important is that we talk about it. I know no one who always thinks before they act, and rather than berating myself for putting on a disguise, I should instead try and remember: “A mask is what we wear to hide from ourselves”**. If that’s the case, paying attention to how we’re ‘clothed’, can give us some insight into what we’re afraid of; what it is that we’re hiding from. As this wonderful quote says:  “In a corner of my soul there hides a tiny frightened child, who is frightened by a corner where there lingers something wild”***.  The difficult thing about therapy, is realising that the frightened child and the ‘something wild’ can both be parts of ourselves. When we start talking about them rather than acting them out – perhaps then we can start to integrate them into our view of ourselves, and to accept them.

And perhaps then there will be no need of a mask to hide behind; at least in therapy, and to ourselves.

 

 

* Sreesha Divakaran, ‘Those Imperfect Strokes’

** Khang Kijarro Nguyen

*** Shaun Hick, ‘The Army of Five Men’