When I first started working with Anna, my unconscious defences were razor sharp. I found every reason imaginable to not like her. I found so much ‘evidence’ to support my suspicion that she didn’t like me. I believed she could not cope with me, that she was inexperienced, that she was just a ‘sit there and nod’ kind of therapist. I felt good about the fact that I couldn’t imagine caring about her because I believed that made me impenetrable to the severe attachment pain I’d experienced with Paul (my first therapist). Unbeknownst to me I was terrified I’d fall in love with her, like I did with Paul and then she’d leave me, like Paul did. This was all outwith my awareness of course… I just thought she couldn’t help me and we were a bad fit.
Something kept me going back though. I’m not even sure what it is that made me stay rather than leave and find a ‘better’ therapist. Perhaps my conscious mind did kind of know she was good enough..? The friend who had recommended her to me knows her stuff (being a therapist herself) so I felt like perhaps my skepticism was more to do with ‘my shit’ rather than based in reality. Also, I’m used to existing and persevering in toxic relationships. I’m used to trying to make my mummy love me, trying to make my mummy ‘good enough’… so perhaps this felt familiar to me?
Things started to change very gradually (to the point where I can’t even pinpoint the changes). It was a series of very small happenings between us that slowly enabled me to see Anna for who she really was rather than what I’d imagined in my mind. Her gently tuning in to my emotions time and time again was a massive bonding experience. Also, learning that she was okay with physical touch (hugs and hand on shoulder for comfort) made me realise I had misjudged her. Laughing with her. Taking her up on her request for honest feedback when she’d ask over and over for me to tell her how I felt she was working with me… when I finally did start to share what worked and what didn’t work, she took the feedback with such grace and willingness to adapt and change that I was able to see she was not this cold, rigid, inexperienced and frightened therapist… she was in fact very switched on, very resilient, very comfortable with sitting in her own and other people’s feelings. It’s like having a dimmer switch gradually turned higher. To start with we were in the dark and I had to use my imagination to paint a picture of her in my mind. As the time went on I began seeing the real her more clearly. It’s really been quite amazing to have her become herself in front of me. As I reflect on this I am wondering if this is how she feels about me. Perhaps I was closed off and hidden at the start and she has slowly watched me unfolding, slowly becoming more of myself in front of her.
Recently I’ve noticed a change in how I experience my relationship with Anna. There is a growing trust. It feels like I can be honest about how I’m feeling and she’s not going to reject me. I really get the sense that she understands attachment trauma, she understands that I need to attach to her, to trust her, to relate with her for co-regulation, to internalise her. This has resulted in me telling her more about my need for closeness. Telling her that I look at her photo when I’m sad or crying, to try to learn how to be more emotionally vulnerable with her. And to desensitise myself. I told her that I think about her all the time – she’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. I’ve told her I dream about her… always expecting her to be disgusted by these things, to finally tell me that I can’t have what I want… I’ve told her that I want to be physically close to her, I want to sit next to her, that a very young part of me wants to crawl up into her lap. I’ve drawn many pictures of her. (The most recent drawing was basically a portrait of her face copied from the photo on her counselling website… I was sure she’d be freaked out by my stalkerish behaviour, but she wasn’t at all!) Most recently I told her, ‘a part of me really wishes you were my mum’… she just says ‘yeah’ in an ‘I know’ kind of way.
In our most recent session I said, ‘I keep expecting you to be repulsed by my ever increasing need to be close to you… I’m waiting for you to finally break and shout at me, ‘it’s too much! I’m not your mother, you’re a grown woman, give me space, get away from me!’ But every time I say something like ‘can I sit next you’ or I ask for more hugs or whatever you just accept it, you allow me to have the closeness I need and you act as if it’s totally fine by you…’ she smiled and said, ‘your need for closeness doesn’t frighten me, Lucy, it’s natural for you to want to be close to me… it’s like how your kids want to sit on your lap or want to climb into bed with you in the morning… they want that closeness. You never had that when you were little, you were constantly pushed away by your parents, those needs went unmet… the very young parts of you are looking to finally get those needs met.’
An enormous amount of my toxic shame originates from my mother rejecting my need for closeness. As Anna accepts this part of me, it’s making me reach out more, it’s helping me open up more. It’s slowly healing that buried, wounded part of me. One expressed need at a time. Anna has told me she believes, ‘you can’t have too many hugs’ and that I wasn’t hugged enough as a child. She’s told me that children should, ‘be the centre of their parents world, but unfortunately for you Lucy, your mum was the centre of your world… the balance was tipped in the opposite direction.’ She has talked about how children’s needs are never wrong. That a child’s needs can’t (and in fact shouldn’t) be met 100% of the time by their parents. But to frequently have physical and emotional needs ignored is incredibly damaging. It generates this very deep and intense feeling of wrongness inside the child. ‘I am wrong to have these needs’ and ‘I don’t deserve to have what I want’. This is why she has so often encouraged me to search inside myself for what I need. And asked me directly what I need or want from her. Frustratingly I often don’t know what I need or want, but she accepts that confusion and uncertainty and covers it with a blanket of compassion and patience.
I am a few days in to our second two week break in the past month. During our last session I was able to tell Anna how painful it was to be away from her and have no contact. She received my anguish with an accepting curiosity, not an ounce of the defensiveness I expected. She even offered me more between session support than she has before which showed me she’d reflected on how much I need to feel connected to her through the breaks. I went shopping yesterday, looking for a gift for a new baby in the family. Happily I got what I was looking for and uncharacteristically spend some time browsing a few shops. I stumbled upon a necklace almost identical to one Anna has. She is wearing it in her website photo and the symbol on the necklace is one that I’ve always been very fond of and I actually already have a necklace very similar to it but much smaller. Her necklace is really nice, it was obviously fairly expensive, it’s real silver and has gems on it, the one I found in the shop is much cheaper and with no stones. I have always been aware that she was possibly given her necklace by one of her family members, perhaps even one of her kids… but still it is something that I feel connects us in my mind because I love he symbol so much. The necklace I saw yesterday reminded me so much of her that I bought it. I wore it today and it helped me feel close to her. For once I don’t actually feel ashamed of this bid for closeness. She would say, ‘if it brings you comfort and helps you feel close to me then that’s great, it’s what you need… there’s nothing wrong with that… it makes sense.’ My daughter and I regularly wear matching bracelets we made each other. These things strengthen attachments. It is important that I feel a strong attachment to Anna because that’s the only way I’m going to be able to trust her enough to share the worst most locked away bits of myself then hopefully I can allow her help me make sense of them, accept them, learn to accept them myself and ultimately heal.