Anyone who has followed my therapy journey thus far (or even those who have just dipped in and out occasionally) will know I have had a hard time crying. I’ve talked at length about my desperation to cry with Anna in session. I’ve had so many times where the tears have burned the back of my throat but I haven’t been able to let them come. I have never deliberately stopped the crying, it just would never happen until I walked out of her office and turned onto her street, then it would start. Or when I reached my car and sat down, then the dam would break. During one particularly painful session I did begin to cry but the hot shame ate me up and I hid my face in my jumper only to escape to the toilet a few seconds in.
I have really only ever cried on my own… even crying on my own felt shameful. At first I thought I didn’t need to cry with another person, I believed I could deal with all of my issues by talking and thinking my way through them. But over the months working with Anna I have noticed a strong desire to cry with her. I wanted to be able to completely express my emotions and have my therapist support me in those moments. I felt like I was missing a vital part of the bonding, connecting and healing relationship by not crying. But I felt like it was beyond my capabilities. How could I learn how to cry in front of her when I have never cried in front of anyone before. Even as a small child, I don’t remember crying while being comforted by someone. I never went to my mum when I was upset.
There was a moment in session around the year and a half mark where Anna clumsily stated, ‘we’ve been working together nearly two years now and you still haven’t cried with me…’ that hurt. I talked to her a lot about it, I’ve blogged about it, she apologised and said she regretted it immensely. I think she was trying to illustrate to me how deeply my trust had been broken as a child, for me to still be finding it so impossible to be vulnerable with her. It triggered a massive shame response in me but interestingly, instead of giving up (like I imagined I would), I became even more motivated to drive myself forwards towards crying with her.
I didn’t consciously do things to help me cry but looking back I can see that a number of things that happened between us were laying down the foundations for that work to be possible. One thing I did was challenge her on how she responds to my massive feelings in session. I told her that I’d been speaking to my friend who is also a client of hers and I know that she offered my friend physical reassurance, that she sat beside her when she was crying. I questioned Anna, ‘why do I have to ask for things that she gets offered to her? Why, when it’s so much harder for me, must I ask for what I don’t even know I need…?’ That session was a big turning point because we contracted that when I am dissociative, very sad, very numb, crying… she will ask me if I want her to sit beside me, ask if I want her hand on me, ask if I want a hug from her. I can see now that I was afraid I would be the most vulnerable I’ve ever been, I’d cry and I’d be sitting by myself crying while she watched me. It would be an abandonment I wouldn’t be able to recover from… that session helped reassure me that she would respond the way I needed her to, even when I didn’t know what I needed.
Another thing I did was let her know how I felt about her note taking. I told her there had been times when I felt like she was using my dissociative moments to take notes and in those moments I’d finally be able to look back at her only to catch her with her head down, writing… I didn’t know at the time but I was asking to be seen. I needed her to notice the subtle changes in my face and body, I needed her to be completely aware if I was going to cry, I couldn’t bear her missing it… the rejection would have been agony.
Along with these things, I talked a lot about wishing I could cry in session. I would tell Anna how pissed off I was at myself and each time I did Anna would tell me to understand why it is hard to cry, to respect my protective parts who have looked after me so well, she would tell me to be patient, that these things take time and that there is still a very young part of me who is frightened to be vulnerable with her. I understand now that I was trying to see if SHE was pissed off with me or feeling frustrated or impatient. I needed to know that she respected my time frame and understood why I was finding it hard.
I also did things by myself to help me become more comfortable with crying in front of Anna. If I cried by myself I would imagine her sitting with me. At first when I did this I could only imagine her sitting in her chair in front of me and it felt so awful that even in my imagination I would run out of the room. I actually told Anna this – I felt so much shame admitting it but she told me she was really proud of me for finding such a creative way to comfort myself and feel close to her when we’re apart. Eventually I was able to imagine her sitting next to me as I cried, arm around me. That was a huge step for me and it was only imagining it in my head! I also looked at her photo (from her professional website) while I cried which looking back, really helped desensitise me. I told her about this too, thinking she’d be repulsed by my stalkerish behaviour. But she was just pleased I was finding ways to practice being close to her.
There have now been two sessions in which I have cried with Anna. I sort of feel robbed of a fan-fair and celebratory champagne… where was the chorus of ‘well done’ and round of applause. There was no enthusiastic acknowledgement of the unimaginable after it happened. Both times it felt just like an extension of talking or sitting with her while I’m feeling things (this also was an amazing achievement after being numb for so long). The crying just made sense. It wasn’t an explosion of messy noise and humiliation. It was a quiet seeping out of tears and whispered words. It was effortless. I can’t believe I’m saying those words… but it really was easy.
Looking back I can see that I had prepared myself and her for the time when the tears would come. I unconsciously made sure I would get what I needed when it happened.
I’m working on processing my understanding of all of this. I know this post is fairly disorganised but it’s just how my brain is working right now… slowly building my understanding of these changes in me.