Life in a Bind – BPD and me

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


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Being Excluded From Your Therapist’s Life: Reasons You Haven’t Heard Before

Another fantastic, illuminating and thought-provoking post by Dr Stein, this time on the topic of feeling excluded from your therapist’s life. This is an issue that brings me a great deal of pain in my own therapeutic relationship, and which I have been trying (for several weeks!) to write about. Sometimes, however, things are just too close to home at a particular time, or simply too difficult to write about. Sometimes a little bit of distance or perspective (or a different angle) is needed, before the experience can be put into some sort of order, and written down.

Dr Stein’s post brings the ‘therapist’s angle’ into focus in a way that provides reassurance and some key points to try and hold onto, when that feeling of exclusion feels overwhelming and distressing.

Dr Stein talks about the ‘healing art’ of therapy, but I am hoping his artful way with words will have released my writer’s block on this subject, and that I will be able to write about the ‘client’s angle’ on this topic, very soon!

Dr. Gerald Stein

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We’ve all had idols. Perhaps a sports hero, an older sibling, a teacher, or — God help you — your therapist. In the latter case, authorities tell you why a relationship outside the office is not permitted:

  • The shrink might exploit you.
  • Progress would be hindered if your therapist occupied the dual role of therapist and friend.
  • A healer needs downtime.
  • Personal information about the counselor complicates the transference relationship: the extent to which your issues will play out in session.
  • The therapist would be of little help if he feels too much of your pain, as he will if you become more than a patient — an important part of his life outside.
  • The ethical guidelines of the therapist’s profession prohibit intimacy.

Much of this sounds unfair and unfortunate to the patient, however true. Many believe they would benefit by having MORE of the therapist. Jealousy of those who…

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An open letter to my therapist

It’s been a long time since you’ve felt so much like the enemy. Since I’ve wanted to keep you at arms’ length and push you away. When I asked you a question at the start of our last session and felt brushed off by your reply, I was surprised at how much it hurt. Surprised because I’d been feeling so cut-off I wasn’t sure if you still had the power to wound me like that.  Before the Christmas break I would have just let go and cried, but instead I tried to contain it and keep it inside. I was guarded and I was holding back.

I’ve been turning away from you in session, I know I have, but I don’t know if you’ve noticed. It’s very subtle – just shifting in my chair so that I can turn a little to the side. It’s not deliberate, but I’m aware of it happening. Before the Christmas break I was pulling my chair closer because it felt as though the distance between us was too great; but recently I’ve been pushing myself back into my chair in an attempt to get further away. Sometimes I want to leave mid-session – it feels pointless to keep talking when I’m not connecting emotionally with anything I’m saying. It feels too difficult to carry on when you feel like an outsider and I feel so alone.

I feel disconnected – from you, and from my own feelings about you. I can’t reach you – you feel completely inaccessible. I feel as though I’m relating to you from behind a glass wall and I have no idea how to break through. What are you thinking and feeling? Are you feeling anything at all? Does anything I say have an emotional impact on you? And what do I have to do to get some sort of reaction from you that makes you seem real, human and invested in me, and not just like a well-meaning bystander?

When there’s a chink in the armour of my disconnection, I bounce between longing –  and anger and resentment. When I opened up to you about the more troubling aspects of my feelings for you, on some level I felt as though I was trying to forge a connection by bringing something to the table that you would find psychotherapeutically interesting – something to analyse and theorise over. It was almost as if I was giving you a special gift, not just of my trust, but one that represented professional excitement for you, and emotional intensity for me. But the reality was very different – it seemed to be just an ‘ordinary’ gift to you, and I felt little apart from confusion. As for you – I had no idea how you felt.

It was afterwards that the anger and resentment kicked in. You’re so keen to try and show me other viewpoints, other ways of seeing things. So keen to open me up to the possibility that there are explanations for things that don’t involve me blaming myself all the time. So maybe it’s you who cannot reach me; you who’s not trying hard enough and who’s failing to tune into me, and not the other way around. Do I really believe that? I don’t know. I want to hurt you and to protect you from hurt, all at the same time.

I feel so terribly unfair. You don’t deserve these words and on some level I know that they’re not true. But I’m so desperate and frustrated. Where is the person that I love? Where is that love, and why can’t I feel it as immediately as I did? Why do I hesitate to trust you?

I spend so much time not looking at you in session. And when I do look, I try and remind myself that what I’m seeing is thoughtfulness, rather than judgement; seriousness rather than dislike; amusement rather than dismissiveness. Sometimes I’m too afraid to look, in case it hurts. But sometimes I want to look and look at your face just to try and find something that I recognize. Maybe I want to see the smile that I love, and feel that it’s for me. Maybe I want to see empathy, understanding, or compassion. Maybe I want to see something of what I’m feeling, mirrored in you. Or maybe I just think that looking hard enough will be sufficient to build a connection again. But I could never keep your gaze for very long; and in any case I’m too worried that I could never keep your attention.

Therapy has such a limited repertoire of senses – and when I cannot look at you in session, the only thing that I have left is sound. Sometimes your voice changes – it’s one of the reasons that I’m here. I don’t know why, or what it means, but it’s beautiful and it makes me feel held and cared for. You used that voice in our very first session when I was drowning and in floods of tears, grieving over the imminent loss of Jane. You used it a few months ago when I was distraught because I thought that I was a ‘bad patient’ and was ‘failing at therapy’. It’s a warmer, softer, gentler voice, and I wish that I could remember it clearly, or bottle it and let it out when I need it most.

I so wanted some of that gentleness when we were talking about how overwhelmed I was feeling at work. I knew I couldn’t be physically held, but I wanted to be held by that voice. I wanted to feel it wash over me; for it to be my comfort. I needed you to reach me with that gentleness and to connect us with that warmth. But we don’t feel bound together anymore. There is no ‘we’. There is me trying to steer a course in a stormy sea, and there’s you trying to give directions from the shore. But all I wanted was for you to speak the voice that stills the storm.

I want to fix this. I want to fix us, but I don’t know how. You said I was resourceful – because I had tried to connect us by talking about things that I thought you would find interesting; by asking you questions to try and find areas of similarity between us and to draw us closer together. But this is my last resource; I don’t know what else to do. I wrote a letter to Jane once, about half-way through our sessions together, and it was the key that unlocked the most intense aspects of my feelings for her. Perhaps I’m hoping that it will do the same for us; or at least, that it will break down the defences that I feel I have been putting up so that I can release what I’m thinking and feeling to you, instead of holding it back. But I’m not sure that my last resource will work. Words are powerful, but on this occasion it feels as though they are failing me. They haven’t unravelled the knots that are keeping me trapped within myself. I’m throwing them out as a lifeline, but they’re falling short. They haven’t anchored me to you – like my spoken words, they still leave me feeling floating and alone.

It’s been a long time since you’ve felt so much like the enemy, but maybe I just have to trust that that will change. Unless we sit in silence when we meet, I have no choice but to keep on talking. I can keep on focusing on the ‘less difficult’ areas; I can keep trying to talk about you, and not me. But eventually I’m going to have to take a risk and talk about something harder, even if it feels like nothing. Eventually, I hope the nothing will start to feel like something and you won’t feel so distant anymore. In the meantime, please don’t get frustrated with me, and please don’t close yourself off. I’m trying to feel comfortable enough to feel – but I need to see you being you, to sense you’re really here. To quote a favourite TV episode of mine: “People who are broken don’t want you to be professional, they want you to be real”….

 

 [* quote is from the last episode of Season 2 of ‘My Mad Fat Diary’]