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 under the name Clara Bridges.


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A new experience of mother, Part 5

Just before our summer break started, my therapist told me that she now has an ‘internal ally’ – who is my ally too – and I know that she feels that that is making all the difference. This ally advocates for her and reminds the various parts of me that she exists and that she is on my side. My therapist knows that when she is trying to get through to me, particularly when I am distressed, there is now someone inside me who is also reaching out for her, and wants to take in what she has to offer. However many parts of me are angry with her, or feel betrayed, or want to act out or push her away, she knows that there is also a part that is capable of noticing, analysing, standing back, and keeping close to her. A part that wants to talk to her about what is going on, and who sees her as an unwavering ally, too. That part is the one who has the task of trying to be my own ‘new mother’ to my younger parts, as described in the previous ‘installments’ of this post.

I think it’s also true to say, however, that there is another aspect to this internal ally. I’m now better able to internalise my therapist herself, and to hold on to her and keep her real as ‘new mother’, even when she is absent. The sense of her ‘within’, is a powerful comfort and motivator; and one of the ways in which my own ‘new mother’ part reassures my other voices, is to remind them of my therapist’s caring. My therapist as ‘new mother’ sustains, builds and nurtures my own growing ‘internal mother’, and she in turn reminds the other parts of me, of my therapist’s presence, because she can hold onto it, even when they can’t.

In ‘A new experience of mother, Part 4‘, I said that these experiences of a ‘new mother’,  both between me and my therapist and me and my ‘younger parts’, were completely interlinked. But they are not just interlinked, they each make the other possible. And what makes both of those things possible, is the very concept of seeing myself as consisting of various ‘parts’, in the first place. As highlighted in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’, it is my own ‘internal re-organisation’ that has facilitated these ‘new mother’ relationships. Before I was aware of those parts, I inhabited each of them, in the moment, as if they were ‘fully me’ and as if their viewpoint was my only reality. There was no distance or distinction between my feelings, my perceptions, and what I believed to be true. Seeing myself as composed of certain ‘parts’, has created a new and bigger space, a space with more possibilities. It has created the possibility of lots of different perspectives existing at the same time, even if one particular one is at the fore in a specific moment. It has created the possibility of a vantage point from which to observe the parts and their interactions with each other and the outside world, and to think about them and talk about them.

This then, finally, is the difference between ‘talking about things’ and ‘acting them out’, that my therapist has been trying to get across to me for so long, and which I never quite understood. Without an awareness of the different parts, and without the existence of an ‘internal ally’, there was nothing to stop the child, or the teenager, from taking the wheel and communicating what they had to say in whatever way they wanted. Their ways were sometimes indirect, provocative, self-centred, resentful, testing, boundary pushing, and completely driven by their experience of ‘old mother’. This not only made it difficult for my therapist to respond to me – on occasion it actually manoeuvred her into responding in exactly the ‘old mother’ way I was expecting. She sometimes spoke of me creating traps for her to fall into – traps that were essentially recreations of dynamics I was familiar with and was unconsciously trying to re-enact. This was illuminating, for a while, in that it showed her quite vividly what my previous experience had been like. But there is only value in that information, if it can be used to help break the pattern and find a new way of relating. And my own experience of these ‘parts of me‘ gave me a way to break the cycle of ‘acting out’, and instead to start talking about what I was feeling.

***

This has been a five-part post – I’ve spent a great deal of time and a great many words talking about something that is one of the most significant parts of my therapy so far. But I don’t want to give the impression that now that I’ve taken on board this concept of a ‘new mother’, everything is suddenly ‘fixed’. Having an internal ally and being able to keep hold of new mother has definitely made a difference to my summer therapy break. I’m half way through the six week break and for the first two weeks I felt connected to my therapist every single day and there were no resistant or resentful murmurings at all from my ‘inner parts’.

But more recently I have struggled again with internal battles, though on a much less intense scale than before. Although I still feel connected to my therapist, last week it felt as though my inner parts ‘woke up’ and I could feel them going on the defensive (or offensive, depending on the part). I wasn’t sure what to do about them; even worse, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do something about them. The internal ally felt weak, and the temptation to let whoever wanted to, act out whatever they wished, was definitely there. But the ally was weak, not non-existent; and in many ways this reaction did not surprise me. I always feel much more antagonistic towards the end of a break, in the expectation and frustration of waiting to seeing my therapist again; I get the sense that it’s a form of backlash from the parts who resent the separation and who have spent the break feeling ‘unheard’. Although I am only half way through this break, my therapist and I had a couple of phone sessions this week, and so I think that this waking up of my various parts occurred in anticipation of this ‘reunion’ of sorts.

Though I had been afraid that these internal battles might mean that I would sabotage the phone sessions (or at the very least, that I wouldn’t fully engage with them), they ended up feeling comforting and productive. As described in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 4‘, what made the difference was an ability (which I still have not got used to) to be completely open about how I was feeling; and therefore to stay in that new space, the place of perspective, rather than inhabiting a ‘part’. I talked about the specific ways (which I felt ashamed of) in which a part of me had been thinking of sabotaging our phone sessions. I said later on in the conversation that I was worried about how to bring this powerful and frightening part into sessions in September. My therapist pointed out that by talking about her and her thoughts and desires, I had already done that. Bringing her into session, in this ‘new mode’ in which we’re operating, doesn’t mean turning all my thoughts, actions and feelings over to her; it means ensuring she is heard and that she has a chance to speak – and this new ‘internal ally’ is the best interpreter she could have.

***

One of the most significant things that my therapist pointed out during our phone conversations, is that my internal landscape has changed, a new part has been introduced, and that is bound to stir things up a little. I hadn’t really thought of it in that way, even though we had talked about this ‘internal ally’ before. I think I had thought of this persona as some sort of ‘overarching identity’ that I was trying to build, rather than as a ‘part of me’, similar to the others. And perhaps both pictures are equally valid. It is certainly the case that I can feel the internal landscape being redrawn and rebalanced, and I understand it better; and I think the presence of this ‘ally’ is making that possible.

This growing part is allied very closely to my therapist; and she has formed a much better relationship with certain parts of me – the inner child and teenager, for example. But there are still parts that are ‘out on a limb’ as my therapist put it – aspects of myself I have never really accepted as belonging to me, who still have the ability and desire (as they quite clearly showed me during this break) to undermine, disrupt, and destroy. Parts with which I have little relationship and as yet little understanding of how to reach. But I know that these alliances and experiences of new mother, both within myself and with my therapist, are going to enable me to reach those parts and build those relationships, even if the process is painful and slow. We just have to get through the September post-break  ‘reunion’ onslaught first – given that I’m anticipating it, that almost guarantees it will come in a form and from a direction that I’m not expecting! I must admit, I am more than a little afraid – but also curious to see how the next year of therapy will unfold. Most of all, I’m looking forward to what this developing  and fulfilling experience of new mother (both internal and external) will bring.


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A new experience of mother, Part 4

At the end of  ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’, I wrote about how my therapist’s own words about the ‘mothering’ that she offers me, have been a constant source of comfort and security, and a reminder of who she really is.

It’s important to add to this that they are also an indirect reminder of who she is not. The concept of experiencing my therapist as a ‘new mother’ really sunk in for me when I finally realised that she is not like my own mother; that she does not and will not behave towards me, in the way that my own mother did and does. And that realisation precisely mirrors the way in which I first made a positive connection with the ‘teenage part’ of myself (as described in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 1‘). She (my inner teenager) finally realised that I am not like my own mother, and that I don’t behave like her either (or at least, not most of the time!).

As I was writing ‘A new experience of mother, Part 1’, I was frequently struck by the parallels between my relationship with my inner parts, and my therapist’s relationship with me. I realised that these two experiences were not separate, but completely interlinked. We were both trying to be ‘new mother’ to an often distrustful and angry child with a short memory, who acted out to feel loved – and all of a sudden I could feel a great deal more sympathy (and empathy) for what I had been putting my therapist through!

***

In Part 1 of this post, I spoke about the fact that although I had forged a better relationship with and between my ‘inner parts’, there was an occasion on which the different ‘parts’ went back to being strangers to each other (and to me). This situation lasted a few days, and I mentioned that the key to my ‘inner reconciliation’ was my interaction with my therapist. What happened in that interaction was that instead of turning up to session in sarcastic and stand-offish mode (which I had been expecting to do), I somehow managed to keep sufficient control of that teenage side of me and instead went in with complete openness and a determination to be honest and vulnerable. In the past, I would have tried to keep up the appearance of co-operating while being internally resistant and closed off to my therapist. Instead, I said that I felt as though I really didn’t want to be there; my therapist simply asked if I could say something about why.

And we talked. We talked honestly, clearly, and compassionately, and it was warm and connected and completely different to how I’d been feeling a few hours before. I realised that approaching with honesty and vulnerability had only been possible because I had also approached without fear. And approaching without fear was only possible because I was able to see her as ‘new mother’, or at least allow for that possibility. In the past I would have been too scared of her response and what she might think of me, to tell her that I didn’t want to be there. More than that, I would have worried that she would think I didn’t love her anymore. Because that is how my own mother would have interpreted the situation.

I approached without fear of her response, but most importantly, without any sense of needing or wanting to control her response. I used to spend so much time worrying about what to say or do, in relation to her. What impact would it have, on her or on me? What was she likely to do or say in response? What would she think of me? Is saying ‘such and such’ too risky? Could I get hurt? Will she get angry? In the past, this never seemed like an attempt at control – in fact, I would have been horrified at the suggestion that that might be what I was doing. I have such an intense reaction against being controlled, that the thought of me doing that to someone else feels appalling. But the more I think about it, the more it seems that for years I poured my energy into attempts to try to indirectly control others’ responses, in an effort to feel loved and to stay ‘emotionally safe’. By endlessly analysing and trying to work how others might respond, I’d hoped to discover what I needed to say or do so as to minimize the negative impact both on me and on them. Looking at it now, it seems like an elaborate way of trying to feel less at sea, less helpless, and less at the mercy of others – a necessity when I have so little confidence in either them or me.

***

This incident showed me that when I come to my therapist as ‘new mother’ – with a complete openness in terms of what I tell her, and a complete openness to her response rather than fear of it – what takes place in the room is beautiful and healing. And that is not simply about the words that are used, it is about the experience of relating in a new, safe, and intimately connected way. And that connection is internal as well as external – my ‘inner parts’ and I found our way back to each other because by being open about how they were really feeling, I gave them a chance to be fully heard, and to be responded to compassionately.

The incident was also one in which my therapist and I talked about how our communication was changing, following my acceptance of her as ‘new mother’. In Part 1, I said that I made a connection with my ‘inner teenager’ as soon as she was able to see me differently (that is, to see that I was not the ‘old mother’ that she expected me to be). Thereafter, it became much easier for me to talk to her, and for her to hear me. Exactly the same was happening between me and my therapist. My therapist observed that if we have a misunderstanding and I don’t feel heard, this can trigger my fear (and expectation) of the presence of ‘old mother’. I will then see her in that role (along with all the judgment, disappointment and crossness that I expect), and this makes it almost impossible for my therapist to say or do anything right. Nothing she says or does can get through to me, because I can no longer hear it as it was intended. Everything is interpreted through the lens of my past knowledge and experience of ‘old mother’.

Over recent weeks however, now that I am able to see her differently (much of the time), it is not just easier for me to talk to her (because of lack of fear), but also easier for me to hear her. It’s not that the words that she is using have changed, or that her facial expressions are different; it is that without the veil or fog of ‘old mother’ in the way, I can hear what she is really saying and intending, and I can see her for who she is.

Just before the summer therapy break, I gave my therapist a CD with five pieces of music that were important to me; one of them was the track ‘Now I see the light’ from the Disney film ‘Tangled’. Although it is overly ‘sweet’ and idealised, as one might expect from the ‘happily ever after’ world of Disney, the track has a number of lines that remind me of the wonderful ways in which things can shift in therapy, following a large or small realisation or change in perspective. And so as I was wondering how to end Part 4, and recalling what I had written about the fog of ‘old mother’ and the fact that I can now see my ‘new therapy mother’ for who she is, these words from the song came to my mind:

“And at last I see the light
And it’s like the fog has lifted
And at last I see the light
And it’s like the sky is new
And it’s warm and real and bright
And the world has somehow shifted
All at once everything looks different
Now that I see you.”

 

[‘A new experience of mother’ has grown and grown, each time I have sat down to write about this subject. Originally it was going to be one post; then two, and then three. I thought this would be the fourth and final part, but when it turned into a two and half thousand word post, I knew there had to be a Part 5. But Part 5 is written, and so I can promise that it will be the final part!]


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A new experience of mother, Part 3

You can hear something over and over again, but until you hear it at the right time, in the right context, in the right frame of mind and with the right understanding, it makes no impact. You can hear words and you may comprehend their meaning, but it may still not be clear what the words are meant to change, and how . In ‘Deprivation and Delinquency’, Donald Winnicott wrote about an occasion with a client, which he called a ‘mistake which nearly ended everything’. He made an interpretation for which, he says, ‘I had plenty of evidence, and indeed I was right, but the interpretation was given ten years too soon’. He added, ‘In the long treatment which followed, the patient re-organised herself…eventually she became ready for this interpretation….’.

My therapist often made the point that she was different to my mother, and she made it in numerous ways. She made it by actually being different; by responding in ways I didn’t expect and then drawing my attention to the fact that I’d been anticipating the reaction my mother would have had. She was understanding when I expected judgment; caring when I expected criticism; comforting when I expected shaming. She made the point quite explicitly by saying that therapy offered me  – she offered me – a different experience of mothering. I heard the words, and thought I understood them. But just as it took me a long time to realise that the work of therapy is meant to change the way I feel about myself, and not just to give me a deeper understanding of why I feel that way; so it took me a long time to realise how her words about mothering were meant to change our relationship and ultimately, to change me. To change me into someone who can trust and be vulnerable; someone who can feel secure even during absence; someone who can feel confident of being cared for.

And so it was only after I re-organised myself, after I became aware of the different parts of myself and how they manifested in therapy, that I became ready both to be a ‘new mother’ to my inner parts (as described in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 1’), and to really take on board what it means to have a ‘new mother’ in my therapist. Only after that internal re-organisation could I accept the idea of my therapist as ‘new mother’, and allow it to have an impact on me, and to change me.*

***

And it happened in the smallest and seemingly most insignificant of ways. The concept really took hold of me not during an emotional revelation or a painful retelling of the past, but as the result of a very ordinary conversation about my health. I had been having a few doctors’ appointments and blood tests for reasons which were unlikely to be connected to anything serious, though I was nevertheless anxious and sometimes let my fears run away with me. I would sometimes open a session by updating my therapist to let her know I would be having an appointment the next day, or had just had one. I told her when my results came back clear, or slightly elevated (though not worryingly so).

And one day it struck me, after we had been talking about the idea of a new experience of mothering, that it now felt ‘natural’ for me to tell her about my health and my appointments –something I could never do with my own mother. My mother is incredibly anxious and any hint of ill health or unhappiness on my part, sends her into a spiral of worry and unhappiness of her own which she is unable to tolerate and therefore unloads onto me in an unconscious attempt to gain reassurance and to feel better. In addition, she has always been very intrusive, and would feel entitled to know more and to be kept updated; and as for mental health difficulties, as a teenager she simply told me I had no reason to be depressed. For all those reasons, I would never dream of sharing details of my life with her, and particularly details of my health; it is a simple matter of self-protection and survival. Her reactions would be overwhelming and it is hard enough to cope with my own.

There were countless occasions when my therapist reacted with acceptance and understanding when my mother would have been appalled, anxious and invalidating. The occasion when I showed my therapist some recent cuts from self-harming, is a memorable and precious example. But it took my therapist’s calm and comforting response to my fairly ‘routine’ health checks, and my desire to share these details with her, for the concept of ‘new mother’ to really click and for me to really see her that way. Perhaps it needed a ‘less charged’ environment to let the point sink in; or perhaps it’s just another example of my therapist being right. She often talks about appreciating the ordinary, and finding meaning in ‘the small’ things and the day to day. The fact that I was comfortably discussing the business of my day to day appointments was an obvious, tangible and forceful sign that I accepted just how different she was to my own mother. And so it was, that a concept that had been around for a while, became a living, breathing thing, making a real difference and having an impact on my thinking, feeling, and behaviour.

***

Since then, there have been some wonderful examples and reminders of that new mothering which have reinforced this game-changing (in more ways than one) realisation that has settled within me. At the end of ‘A new experience of mother, Part 2’, I described an occasion where, in the words of my therapist, I had ‘both the past mother and the new mother potentially in play at the same time and it is touch and go which one is stronger’. I managed to reach out for new mother rather than ‘act out’ based on my ‘old mother’ expectations that she would be disappointed in me (for not managing to make it through the weekend without emailing her). My therapist responded in a beautifully affirming and validating way, reassuring me that new mother was alive, and was not disappointed.

A few days later, we were talking about the upcoming therapy break and I uttered a Freudian slip. My therapist had said that breaks were important because without them, I would have a very tired therapist. My unconscious thinking, as betrayed by my Freudian slip, is described in my post ‘Freud was right about some things’. My conscious thought process, however, was completely focused on her use of the word ‘therapist’. When we had finished laughing (and inwardly groaning in my case) over my ‘slip’, I tried to explain what was really preoccupying me and upsetting me. I said ‘You used the word therapist……’. My voice trailed off but she immediately understood, and added ‘….rather than ‘mother’. But I’m both’.

Never one to accept my therapist’s words and interpretations without at least a tiny bit of resistance – and the tendency to focus on what I don’t have rather than on what I do – I tried to protest that that was all very well, but she wasn’t really my mother. But I couldn’t stop thinking about her words, and by the next session I saw things in a very different light. I felt guilty because I saw my response as rejecting; rejecting of a comforting and rather momentous truth. I really hoped it hadn’t come across as a rejection of her. What had struck me in the space between the two sessions, was the very obvious truth that being a mother (or a daughter) is about much more than biology. There are lots of different types of mothers: biological mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, therapy mothers – and more. The definition is in the quality of the relationship – and the one that I share with my therapist can much more truthfully be called a mother-daughter relationship, than the empty one I have with my own mother.

Her statement that she is both therapist and mother is one that I have thought about almost daily since then. It has sustained me, it has comforted me, it has helped me feel secure and has enabled me to be vulnerable. It reminds me of who she really is, and of who I can be, with her – and that creates a new experience of being together**, for both of us.

 

*The similarities and the connection of the relationship between my ‘inner parts’ and me, and the relationship between me and my therapist, will be described in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 4’ and ‘A new experience of mother, Part 5’.

**And, indeed, of being apart, particularly during this summer therapy break….


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A new experience of mother, Part 2

What follows is a bridge – a bridge between the ‘new mother’ relationship between the parts of myself described in Part 1 of ‘A new experience of mother‘, and the ‘new mother’ relationship between me and my therapist, which I will talk about in Part 3. This bridge is a post that I wrote last weekend, but never published. I didn’t publish it because I realised as I wrote it, that it was coming from a ‘teenage’ place of resentment and that it was an indirect means of communicating with my therapist. As sometimes happens, my thoughts and understanding were working themselves out in the very process of writing; and what I understood was that the post was serving the function of repeating old patterns. It was self-sabotaging, and it was also passive aggressive. And as I’ve realised since, I think it was also an unconscious attempt to show my therapist how it feels (by creating similar emotions within her) to have your hands tied and to have no choice – about a therapy break (in my case), or about not being able to respond to a cry for help (in hers).

This is what I wrote:

***

“I’m meant to be practising.

In two weeks begins a 45 day therapy break – my longest since I started with my current therapist almost three years ago. A few weeks ago we were in the middle of some very difficult and valuable material, and I was also discovering what it felt like for her to connect with different parts of me, and I wanted more. So my therapist very kindly offered to give me more – more time and more of that connection – in the form of an extra session per week in the run-up to the break, to hopefully better prepare me to get through it.

The extra session means that I now see her on a Friday and a Monday, and so the break over the weekend feels shorter. Given that, my therapist suggested that I try to get through the weekend without email, as a form of ‘practice’ for when she will be out of contact for large portions of the break.

The first couple of weekends without email were okay, and last weekend I made it through even though it followed on from an incredibly difficult and triggering week which resulted in an intense and distressing session on the Friday. I fought every urge to email, as well as a strong desire to self-harm. My mind fought feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of endings. The resentful and resistant part of me was in the driving seat, and yet drove past my therapist’s house. I’ve only done that once before but I had to close the distance between us, even momentarily. Somehow, the situation righted itself by the second session of the week; somehow I shook off the obscuring cloud of ‘past mother’, and the resentful part of me was just too plain exhausted to be resentful anymore. I found the more adult me again, and the sessions that resulted were honest, helpful and connected.

But yesterday I found myself stuck in and brought down by painful thoughts and feelings of exclusion – not unusual for me, in the face of a break, but more worrying given the length of time for which I will have to try and rationalise them away. And then a brief ‘argument’ and flare-up at home took me right back into the distressing feelings of the week before and it was a case of staving off the urge to self-harm again. I really, really wanted to email her. I didn’t, though I did reach out to a friend.

This morning I drove a few hours to see some friends and was either crying or fighting back tears for much of the way. The hopelessness and suicidal ideation were back. I really, really, really wanted to email her. I didn’t, though now I’m writing this. I’m speaking to her indirectly, though I don’t know if she will see it.

I don’t think she will like what I’m doing. I think she will see this as ‘acting something out’ rather than talking about it. I want to contact and connect with her but am doing it in a way that is guaranteed to mean she can’t respond. She doesn’t have a choice. I don’t want to disappoint her by not being able to get through without email, so I guarantee feeling like I’ve disappointed her, but in a different way.

I tried to rationalise emailing her by thinking that by doing so I would be giving myself a different experience of mother – one in which I wasn’t afraid of being judged or disapproved of. But I was too wary of the possibility that that might be just a convenient excuse, and couldn’t shake off the obscuring cloud of ‘past mother’ sufficiently to just go ahead and do it. And so instead of a different experience of mother I have guaranteed myself the same old experience all over again, at least in my head, if not in reality.

I want to put off fear and take up a different experience of mother, but I’m meant to be practising. I’m meant to be practising but I love her and part of me feels like I’m losing her early. I know I’m not losing her, and that’s what I’m meant to be practising holding on to.

I hate practising.”

***

By the time I finished writing, something had changed. The ‘teenage self’ was a little less in charge, the urge to ‘act out’ a little less strong. And after a struggle with myself I made the decision (quickly, before I could change my mind) to send my therapist an email with the post, instead of publishing it. I wrote: “Attached is a draft post, that probably shouldn’t be a post, at least not now (the reasons being obvious in the post, I think)….so I’m emailing it – which is not as good as managing to not email at all, but is at least more direct and honest than posting the post….I hope…”.

It was a leap of faith – an attempt to take hold of that possibility of a new experience of mother, and also a relinquishing of attempting to determine the way mother responds (even if that is by cutting off the possibility of a response altogether). It might have been a leap, but it wasn’t a leap into the dark; it wasn’t blind faith. I know her, as much as I can; after all the time we have spent and the work we have done together, I know that she is there not just to ‘catch me’ but also to ‘hold me’, metaphorically.

And, once again, she did…..


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A new experience of mother, Part 1

I could never have guessed, a few years ago, that my process of recovery would involve becoming aware of the different ‘parts’ or voices inside me, getting to know them better and understanding where they come from, and developing a dialogue with them. It still feels like a somewhat strange thing to be doing – but I can no longer doubt its benefits or the impact it is having. And my therapist seems to believe this is an important step for me to have taken as well and is encouraging me to foster these internal relationships and to use them for support – and I trust her judgment.

I have written about the change, over the last few months, in the way that I perceive and relate to my ‘inner child’; and about the fact that I have started to have internal conversations with her, to recognise when she is present and when she needs something, and to think about how those needs might be met. But perhaps an even bigger breakthrough happened more recently, when I connected with the ‘inner teenager’ for the first time.

In the past, this part of myself has been synonymous with resistance, defiance, resentment and anger. Underlying all of that is enormous fear and a desperate desire to be loved; but the historic need to be strong, to push others away, and to avoid being vulnerable and being hurt, tends to win out over the need for acceptance and love. Or at least, the need for acceptance and love tend to come out in rather destructive ways, both in terms of how I treat myself, and how I treat others. Getting through to that ‘inner teenager’ has felt impossible – I have no idea how to help her feel better and it has felt as though she sees me as a threat and wants nothing to do with me. Moreover, it feels as though she resents the new-found alliance between me and the ‘inner child’. She tends to be the one who has a natural inclination towards fighting; and so I seem to spend a great deal of time ‘battling her’ and her influence, in my mind. These thought-battles, that I have written about before, can be incredibly draining, particularly during the fiercest onslaughts which tend to happen either when I am making good progress in therapy, or during a therapy break.

But a few weeks ago, a strange thing happened. I had an internal conversation with my inner teenager in which I swore at her. She ‘shouted at me’ about a couple of things over which I (and others) had absolutely no control, and I responded back, ‘what the f*** would you like me to do about that’? Admittedly, this is not normally an advisable way of building good relationships, and you could argue that it was more than a little unsympathetic! But she was expressing her sadness about a particular situation through being angry with me, which did not really give me an opportunity to validate the sadness itself.  My own response was not angry, but rather somewhat tongue-in-cheek; a challenge rather than an attack.

The interaction unfolded completely spontaneously. It was utterly unplanned but in hindsight it served a very important purpose – it showed the ‘inner teenager’, quite clearly, that I am not my mother. My mother strongly disapproves of swearing, it’s not ‘how she brought me up’. And so I had the impression that I’d stopped the teenage anger in its tracks by using shock tactics and the element of surprise. The anger dissolved into ‘internal giggles’, if such a thing is possible, and the point about who I was – or wasn’t – was made.

It was this experience that helped me to realise that it was difficult to get through to this part of me, because she saw me in the way that I see my own mother. As far as this part of me was concerned, I and my mother were one. Unlike the inner child who lacked a certain amount of life experience and was still willing to be trusting, the teenager was carrying many of the distressing experiences that have at least partly led to where I am today. She was carrying the un-felt grief, the emotional invalidation, the anger, the intrusion, the need for distance but also for a different kind of love; and she was the one who learned to put up walls in the first place. The more ‘adult’ version of me that is developing in therapy is to all intents and purposes a newcomer on the scene, still weak and vulnerable in many ways. The ‘inner teenager’ can be forgiven for thinking that this grown-up is as incapable of dealing with her own emotions and protecting others from them, or is as incapable of helping the teenager to feel better, as my own mother was. However, as soon as this part of me was able to see me differently, it became much easier for me to talk to her, and for her to hear me.

And it became easier for me to hear her too. I felt connected to someone vulnerable and loving, rather than fighting someone guarded and resentful. I became aware of how fearful she was of the upcoming summer therapy break – whereas until then she had tried to just ignore it. I tried to reassure her, as best I could. As I do with the ‘inner child’, I let her know that I’m there for her – but it’s my therapist’s presence she really wants and I find that my reassurances most often take the form of reminders that my therapist is still there, still cares, and still remembers. All parts of me need that reassurance and that reminder, and we all share in the comfort that it brings.

Connecting with the ‘inner teenager’ in this way, also gave her a voice – and a listening ear – in session. My therapist and I talked about the ‘inner conversation’ in such a way that it felt as though the teenager was really being attended to and spoken to. The session was powerful in a similar way to one before the Easter therapy break, which had involved connecting with the ‘inner child’. But it occurs to me now that the two sessions were also different; whereas the child was joyfully ‘filled up’ by the experience, the teenager was left immediately craving more. The experience was so good that there was a fierce need to repeat it, to ‘make up for a deficit’, as my therapist referred to it. I said to my therapist later, that it was the first time that the ‘teenager’ had come out during session. She kindly (and accurately) pointed out that it was the first time I’d realised that she had come out in session. I understood wryly that she was probably referring to the times I brought with me resentment, anger, games, and sarcasm; or to the times when I just plain shut her out in session.

I’ve had other ‘internal conversations’ since then, and I’ve discovered how much better, how much more peaceful my inner world is when the parts of me feel connected and allied together. The internal battle I’ve described before, dies down. I feel more at peace with myself.

My therapist has talked about the important task of re-parenting that I have – that I can do things differently when it comes to my own ‘inner parts’, and not simply repeat the experience I had when I was younger. That I can give those inner parts a new experience of mother. I feel I have been trying to do that, as best I can, but re-parenting doesn’t mean perfect parenting; and as well as comforting her, I have also let the inner teenager down over the last few weeks. On one occasion after an intense therapy session, the emotions of the younger parts of me felt too overwhelming, and I pushed them away. My dreams were filled with scenarios of being under attack and of bad mothering; in one dream I fled the scene of an explosion, leaving my children to find their own way out. For a few days the various parts of me went back to being strangers, each trying to deal (or not deal) with their own version of the pain. The resentment, the walls and the lack of trust returned; but we found our way back to each other a few days later.

The key to internal reconciliation was the interaction between me and my therapist – and another, different, vital new experience of mother.

 


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The power of personas

I wanted to share with you a fantastic article that my therapist sent to me last week.

I emailed her with a link to my post ‘More thoughts about inner parts‘ and she replied with this:

“I read this yesterday and thought of you:
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jun/21/ziggy-stardust-persona-therapy-david-bowie-oliver-james-mental-health

Of course my attention was immediately caught by the words ‘…and thought of you’  – it was good to know that she had thought of me outside of session! But then I read the article itself, and was even more grateful to her for sharing it.

Although its title is ‘Embrace your inner Ziggy Stardust – the power of personas in therapy’, the article itself makes the point that for most people, embracing that ‘power of personas’ does not require years of therapy, and that understanding and using our different personas is valuable for everybody.

When I first started to think in more depth about the different parts of me, and to actually identify them and acknowledge the internal dialogues that were going on between them, it felt strange, and ever so slightly ‘illegitimate’. On the one hand I didn’t want to ‘trespass’ on the language and concepts of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID); on the other hand I felt slightly foolish about (in essence) talking to myself, and then trying to interpret those conversations.

But the article helped to underscore for me, the validity and helpfulness of what I was doing. It talks about the value of writing down a list of our personas, and naming them, as I attempted to do in a light-hearted way in my post ‘Parts of me‘. It acknowledges the fact that with self-awareness, you can watch these different personas ‘come out to play’, and importantly, can learn to choose which one takes the stage at any one time. It describes how we can better come to know the different parts of ourselves and identify the origin (very often in childhood) of each of them, and therefore understand the needs that lie behind each one. And for anybody who is already engaged in that process of getting ‘a dialogue going between our different parts‘, you may well empathise with what the article describes as David Bowie’s experience of using personas to ‘comfort himself and address his fears‘. Recently, I have been trying to use the awareness and power of my internal dialogues to try and identify which parts (or personas, using the article’s phraseology) are feeling distressed, and trying to help them feel better.

A final note about terminology – I like the word ‘persona’, but will continue to use the word ‘parts’ to describe my own inner personas, for a number of reasons; though I want to make it very clear that I am using the term only in its most ‘ordinary’ sense, and not as a descriptor or short-hand for DID (which I do not have). A couple of people have suggested that the term ‘role’ might be a good alternative, because it sounds less like I am talking about discrete entities. However, my use of the word ‘parts’ aligns with the ordinary way in which I talk about them in therapy, and how any of us might describe our thought processes to each other, for example: “part of me really wants to go to bed, but another part of me really wants to go out with my friends”. Or, “part of me feels really angry with you, but another part understands where you’re coming from”. I mean the word to be taken in no more discrete a sense than that. Plus, for me, the word ‘role’ implies something that I inhabit with fair regularity, and something that is visible, as well as potentially being something I ‘put on’ or ‘take on’, without it necessarily being a true expression of myself; and all of those are connotations that don’t feel quite right, when I think about some of my ‘parts’. For example, I inhabit the ‘role’ of mother, for most of my waking life, but the internal part I think of as the ‘maternal’ part of me, is incredibly small and uncertain and vulnerable and underdeveloped, and not at all like the ‘role’ I attempt to play on a daily basis. And some of my parts exist mainly as thoughts and feelings, perhaps manifesting more as ‘moods’ than as fully blown ‘personas’.

I hope that for many – and particularly perhaps for David Bowie fans! – this will be an interesting and helpful article, which perhaps will encourage you to start to explore ways of getting a dialogue going between your own different personas, if you haven’t already!


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Parts of me

[Warning – liberal use of the ‘f’ word, though purely for artistic purposes…..]

This is a landscape of parts – a landscape of me. We all have them – inner children, inner teenagers, inner parents – I’m just getting a little more acquainted with mine. Some of them are two sides of the same coin, like the terrible teenage twins; some tend to go hand in hand, like the ‘flat one’ who doesn’t feel much and ‘the scathing one’ who just invalidates those who do. I’m aiming to develop the ‘me’ in the middle – but I really don’t have a clear idea of who that is yet.

During and after my last therapy session I was way over on the left – and somehow this picture became my way of trying to process and understand that, while also attempting to keep the terrible teenage twins at bay.

If this all seems a little strange – well, it does to me too. Being part(y) to the conversations in my head is one thing – representing them by coloured blobs – “why are you drawing clouds?” my husband asked – is another. I hope someone finds it useful. Or at least mildly interesting. Perhaps someone will look at this and think, “phew, I am not alone”. In which case, no you’re not, in more than one way, it seems…..

parts