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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Memory Monday – “The pain of mother’s day”

This is a day late – but I wanted to share again the post I wrote for Mother’s Day last year. Re-reading the post, where I quoted from two articles by psychologist and writer Terri Apter, her words on estranged families and difficult mothers struck me just as much now, as they did last year. I still feel as though they describe my own experience, very accurately indeed:

https://lifeinabind.com/2016/03/05/the-pain-of-mothers-day/

In the post I also talked about the fact that I was going through a particularly tough time in therapy – as is the case now as well. A few days ago I posted a poem that I wrote, trying to capture the impact that some words from my therapist (in the form of an email) had on me about ten days ago, when I felt worthless and hopeless and was struggling with suicidal ideation and with holding on to the therapy relationship. I would like to write about what led up to those feelings, but I think I need more distance from them first.

My therapist’s email provided reassurance at a time when I desperately needed it and my attempts to locate it deep within myself had been briefly successful, but then quickly faded. A couple of days before receiving that email, and a few hours after some very strong suicidal ideation, I wrote a mother’s day poem for my therapist. It poured out fairly quickly, and then I read it and re-read it multiple times. The act of writing it – of recalling how I feel about her, what she has done for me, and then putting it down on paper and reading it to myself – reconnected me to her and helped me to feel close. It gave me – at least temporarily – the reassurance I was craving, and a sense of her presence.

Since I wrote it (and gave it to her), I have repeated it to myself, internally, many times. But on Mother’s Day itself,  though I thought of my therapist many times, it was hard to bring the poem to mind. Inevitably, as happens during other occasions which are ‘family’ celebrations, the joy of having a ‘therapy-mother’ has to be held alongside the painful acceptance of not being able to enjoy the same sort of physical and emotional space in those celebrations, inhabited by her daughters.

I had a yoga class tonight, and as I sat in stillness and in silence, and in the discomfort of holding seated poses for a few minutes at a time, I tried to will my body and my mind to find a way of working together to somehow try and ‘deal’ with that painful position. To let the discomfort in my body mirror to some degree the much more intense discomfort of accepting separation, and boundaries, and difference. I wasn’t sure what ‘dealing’ with things might mean, in that context; I wanted to feel the pain, rather than dull it, but perhaps in a way that felt more tangible and therefore more manageable. Perhaps I was hoping that the way one ‘breathes into’ the aching muscles in yoga, which helps with accepting and sitting with the discomfort of the pose, would also work for heart-ache, for emotional strain.

I’m not really sure if it worked – I think that idea is still a work in progress. But as I sat there hoping that it might work, I was also aware that I needed it to work, not just for now, but for later. It’s only a matter of time for me (and usually, very little time at all), before feelings around boundaries and exclusion turn into thoughts about the eventual end of therapy. And so as I sat there hoping that by some miracle, breathing into the discomfort in my muscles might bring acceptance and peace with the way in which my ‘daughterhood’ was circumscribed; I was also desperately hoping that one day it would be part of helping me to deal with one of the biggest losses I can imagine going through. I’m hoping I still have a good – long-ish – time to practice my ‘skills’, both in yoga, and in acceptance; but it’s very hard not to have an internal awareness (and hyper-vigilance) over that ‘ticking clock’ that is counting down, and to wonder  – how many more ‘therapy-mother-days’ and ‘therapy- mother’s-days’ do I have left?


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Mourning the “didn’t have”s of childhood

A couple of weeks ago I experienced one of those significant moments in therapy when something you know in theory becomes something you understand in practice. When ‘head knowledge’ becomes ‘heart knowledge’. I’ve read about the fact that sometimes the task of therapy is to help us grieve what we didn’t receive as children, and my therapist has said much the same. I didn’t understand how it was possible; or what that would look like. Finally I think I understand what it means for me, and I wrote about it here:

https://www.welldoing.org/article/can-you-grieve-something-you-never-had

As my therapist said to me after I showed the article to her: “that is how we make progress….we get there first in theory and then in practice…..”


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Who do you call ‘mother’?

Two years ago I told my therapist I really wanted to show her the cuts from my recent self-harming. Though I wanted her to see, I never expected her to be open to seeing. I was asking for permission without expecting to be given it. She took me completely be surprise when she told me that if I wanted her to look, then she would. I could hardly believe it – I became flustered. I sat in silence, in indecision. I checked whether she really meant it, pointing out that the cuts were on my hips – a more ‘private place’ to expose, than my arms, for example. She did mean it; and I did show her. I treasure the memories of the powerful feelings of acceptance and closeness that came with that brief moment, at the end of a session.

Two weeks ago I once again asked for a permission that I didn’t expect to receive. Sheepishly, hesitantly, I asked her if any of her clients had ever accidentally called her ‘Mum’ or ‘Mummy’. If she thought the question was strange, she didn’t say so, and she answered it as it was asked, saying something about not being sure, and having to think back…..I realised I was going to have to be more honest, and more direct. I admitted that the question was not about her previous clients at all; but that I often wondered what it would be like to call her those things, myself. Part of me really wanted to; part of me was also worried what would happen and what she would think, if I did so. I admitted, embarrassed, that sometimes when I had conversations with her in my head, I would use those terms – sometimes I would even speak them out loud, to see how it felt to say the words, imagining I was saying them to her.

She smiled. I wish I could remember her actual words. But she told me that just as her biological daughters were free to choose how they addressed her, depending on what they felt comfortable with, the same applied to me, her therapy daughter.

I love it when she calls me her ‘therapy daughter’ – but even the joy of hearing her refer to me in that way, was eclipsed by the surprise at her response. I said something like: “that’s really nice, in theory, but you don’t actually mean it“. I think she looked both amused and taken aback that I would disbelieve her and tell her what she did and did not mean! I tried to backtrack – I really didn’t want to offend her. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I should be surprised. After all, my question was essentially about asking permission, and I wanted the answer to be yes. I don’t understand why I should be so surprised, why it should be so unexpected…..”.

Once again, as happened two years ago, it was the end of the session and the moment passed all too quickly. But my mind continued to ponder the significance of the moment, while my heart and body absorbed the emotions and the sense of acceptance, warmth and safety that flooded through me.

I realised that my question, my seeking permission, was coming from a part of me that still expected there to be limits to her caring and acceptance. A part that doubted she offered something unconditional, and that expected there to be a point beyond which I was ‘too much’ for her. It came from the part that feels untouchable and off-putting – and sees that as the reason my therapist won’t hold me in session, rather than the fact that she simply does not use touch in therapy. It came from a part of me that thought: it’s all very well her being happy to call herself my ‘therapy mother’, but surely the analogy only goes so far – surely she would never actually allow me to call her ‘mother’.

However, to use the word ‘allow’ is to revert back to thinking about things in the way that my own mother trained me to, because she was very specific in how she would let me address her. And as for the ‘therapy mother/therapy daughter’ relationship, it’s not an analogy, it’s a reality. The only reality to some mother-daughter relationships is their biological reality – I’m lucky enough to have a mother-daughter relationship which is real in so many other, non-biological but significant ways.

It’s staggering to know that I have the freedom to call her what I feel comfortable with – just as her daughters do. I know that she knows I’m not going to start referring to her as ‘Mum’ from here on in  – but I don’t think that makes her ‘offer’ any the less genuine. I haven’t yet exercised the freedom she has given me – at least, not directly, though I do still ‘try out the words’ at home, particularly when I’m distressed and want to ‘call out to her’. Perhaps I never will take her up on it, though I’d like to – I’d really like to. But it’s enough to know that I can – that I’m accepted and acceptable, and not just ‘up to a point’. The therapy relationship may be boundaried and circumscribed in a particular way, but that’s because it has to be; it’s not in order to keep me out or at a distance, or because there’s a limit to how much of me my therapist can or wants to ‘put up with’.

A few days ago I showed her some fresh marks where I had succumbed to self-harm again, after a fairly long period of holding back from cutting. It was the first time I’d shown her my self-harm since that first time, two years ago. It felt comfortable and safe – there was no question in my mind about how she would react or whether she would be compassionate and accepting. I imagine that if I ever summon up the courage to call her ‘mother’, I will be a little hesitant, and it will feel a little strange. But after the conversation we had a couple of weeks ago, I’m no longer worried about her response. I dare to hope she may even smile and feel a little pleased!

In the meantime, the memory of that conversation is precious and it’s become a part of the view I have of her as ‘new mother’. But it’s also become part of the view I know she has of me; and therefore of the view I am trying to develop of myself. I still find it incredibly difficult to keep in mind the intended end-result of therapy – that I will come to think of myself differently. But moments like these are so significant because they give me an experience of being attended to and being seen in an entirely new way; and just as the ‘old ways’ of being attended to shaped a particular view of myself, so this ‘new way’ of being seen will hopefully give me, in time, a different perspective on who I am. I’m looking forward to finding out more about who this ‘therapy daughter’ really is and can become….


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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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Together again (to my therapist, on return to therapy)

together-again

Illustration by Paul Howard, from Jill Tomlinson’s ‘The otter who wanted to know’

“As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself, and truly meet someone” – from ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’, by Muriel Barbery

Things have changed. It feels so strange, on one level. In another way things are much the same – work, school, tantrums (sometimes mine), birthday parties, after school activities, deadlines, arguments, tears, depression, anxiety, therapy. Therapy. Therapy has changed. And it doesn’t work pretending that it hasn’t, because part of what has changed is a deeper level of awareness. I can’t pull the wool over my new ‘inner eye’; my subconscious can’t trip me up quite as much because I have my own little ‘spy’ in there – this new, more grown-up part of me that knows my internal characters and the wily ways of the ones who like to steer me into trouble.

But sometimes the more grown-up me still gets side-lined. When I saw you for the first time after our six and a half week therapy break, I came in with less hostility than I had been expecting, given how cut-off from you I’d been feeling over the last few days, but still with a hefty amount of defensiveness. I resented the lack of an email to reassure me before we met up again; and the fact that I’d had to cope alone for so long.

I brought you a few small things from my holiday, but if I was hoping they would help to re-establish a connection, the attempt felt flat, and I wondered if you minded what I’d done. We had a conversation about the latter part of the therapy break, and why it was so difficult, and the conversation was…….okay. You talked, though nowhere near as much as I wanted you to. I talked, though nowhere near as honestly as I could have done. And when I left it was with an oppressive, despairing and enraged sense that if we were going to re-establish a connection, I was going to have to do the work all by myself. The session was ‘business as usual’, but I had wanted it to be ‘unusual’, and to explicitly recognise what I’d done in managing to get through the break fairly positively (on the whole). You were amazing in all the ways you helped me to prepare for and cope with the break; I wanted you to ‘go the extra mile’ in welcoming me back, too. I wanted to know that I was wanted. That you were glad to see me back. That you missed me – of course you wouldn’t tell me as much, but perhaps there would be something in something that you said or did, that would let me know.

By the time I got home the anger was consuming me. I was desperate to draw a picture of it, but I can’t draw. Instead I ‘doodled words’ onto a piece of paper: ‘I hate you’, ‘sometimes I never want to see you again’, ‘you feel cold’, ‘you made no attempt to reconnect with me after the break’, ‘get the fuck out’, ‘time to shut the vulnerability the fuck away…….’. And in small writing, in a couple of the corners, where a part of me was dying to get out and make herself heard, I wrote: ‘I love you’, ‘I’m desperate to reconnect with you’, and ‘I want things to go back to how they were’. Then I sent you a couple of one-line emails; I asked whether it was okay to us the ‘f’ word in session. Implication – I want to use the ‘f’ word in session. Passive aggressive communication – I want to convey how f***ing mad I am with you right now.

When I came back to session the next day, I brought my doodles with me. I felt anxious about showing them to you, but the mood from the day before had definitely shifted. I talked about the traffic; it broke the ice. And then I said that I was really sorry about the emails I had sent you, and you just smiled and asked who sent them. I loved that question – somehow, it simultaneously told me that all was okay and that you understood that different parts of me were trying to communicate with you, and it also validated those voices and their feelings. And so I handed over the doodles straight away and explained that she sent the emails – the one who drew those words and wrote ‘I hate you’. Though I couldn’t really bear to look at you while you looked at them, I could tell that all was well – that you were warm, interested and perhaps a little amused; certainly not upset or cross. And I knew that I’d now definitely crossed over into more adult mode – which also meant completely vulnerable and trusting mode, and that the conflict, such as it was, was effectively over.

***

It feels simultaneously pathetic, extraordinary, wonderful, moving and frightening, that my negative and defensive response to a forty-six day therapy break lasted one day. ONE DAY. One day is a change – a massive change. And much as I hated you for not ‘doing something’ to actively help me to feel better when we saw each other again, and much as I resented the fact that I would need to do all the hard work of reconnection on my own – you must be lovingly laughing, just a little, at the fact that ‘new mother‘ was right. Because in fact, as you’d already told me, we were still very much connected even if I couldn’t feel it, and the hard graft (as I called it a dejected ‘tweet’) was over very quickly. I’m sure I will be back in that angry, hating and ‘stuck’ place again at some point in future – I should really find out what the answer to my question about the ‘f’ word is, just in case…..But it feels staggering that the second and third sessions back felt just like the wonderfully connected sessions before the break.

When I think back to previous therapy breaks and the days and days, and weeks and weeks it sometimes took to ‘recover’……what a change. In the past, I would have come in with the same resentful attitude in the first session after the break, and gone home with the same feeling that you had done nothing to help me reconnect. I would have felt misunderstood and unheard but I would have felt too polite or too worried or too angry to say anything. And so we would have gone on, session after session, with me feeling further and further away from you, and more and more upset at not being heard, and yet trying to ‘carry on regardless’ while numbing myself against the pain of doing so. Until at some point the hurt would have become unbearable and I would have reached emotional meltdown. I would have needed you to ‘rescue’ me (and our relationship); and through the process of repairing the rupture and seeking reassurance that we were still okay, I would have – eventually – come to feel connected to you again. Perhaps it was only in being able to really see the process of repair in action, and to see the threads being rebuilt (on my side, even if they were intact on yours), that I could really believe that they were holding us together.

There are so many differences now, but what underlies them all, is a lack of fear. When I keep that more ‘adult me’ in the driving seat, then all these things are true. I am not afraid of you, or of you hurting me. If you do hurt me I’m not afraid of what it means or of whether it will happen again. I’m not afraid that you will judge me or change how you think about me. I’m not afraid of you misunderstanding me, and if you do misunderstand me, I’m not afraid it means you don’t care or weren’t paying attention. I’m not afraid of how you will react to something I say or do, and I’m not afraid that I might do or say ‘the wrong thing’ or that I might hurt you or upset you in some way.

I love you but I’m no longer trying to play the guardian all the time – either of my heart or yours. I’m no longer holding back from saying certain things in case you ‘don’t respond well’ and I get hurt; or in case I offend you, upset you, or cause you pain. Instead, I think that if we trust each other we also know that we do not want to hurt each other. And if we hurt each other we can talk about it and things will not be irretrievably (or even moderately) broken. Nothing will have changed because of it, except for an opportunity having been gained and a memory having been created, of working things through and feeling closer at the end of it.

I trust you, and I no longer see that as the one-dimensional concept it always was to me in the past. I no longer think it is about discretion, and keeping a confidence, and the safety of knowledge and information in the hands of another. Now I trust you with me , and not just with ‘stuff about me’; and that’s such a radical departure from what that word has ever meant to me in the past, that I cannot conceive of applying it, in that form, to anyone else at the moment, though I know that that’s one of the eventual aims of our work.

Things have changed, and I see it in the little things now that we’re together again, as well as in the ‘big thing’ of the speed of recovery after the break. I see it in my willingness to share my hate-filled doodles; in my lack of hesitation in telling you if I don’t want to change direction or topic in session, or that I do; in my openness in telling you if you’ve misinterpreted something I’ve said. I see it in the way I tell you what I’ve been thinking or feeling not in two sessions’ time or over email the next day, but in the moment or in a few moments’ time. I see it in the way I haven’t come with a written list of things to talk about, in many many weeks; and if we meander far from where our conversation started, I don’t feel anxious, I just look for the deeper reason why we ended up where we did, because I’m sure there is a reason.

Not for the first time over the last few days, I’m sitting here thinking that you make me happy; our relationship makes me happy, and happiness is not a feeling that has been much a part of my life, for the last few years. I feel as though by looking deep within myself, with your help, I’ve seen beyond myself and truly met someone. Two someones. Thank you. And thank you for the things that have changed. I can see them more clearly, now that we’re together again.

 

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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!]