What have I got to lose?
I really need to say some things about the last session and if you decide you’d rather wait until the session before reading it then I’ll read it to you at the start of the session but it feels very important to me that you understand how I feel about a few things you said. I understand that you are straight talking and I really value your authenticity but along with that direct nature this relationship still needs to be therapeutic for me. My experience of you on the whole is that you have been very supportive and compassionate in previous sessions so I believe you’ll appreciate me being honest about this and you’ll be willing to discuss it with me.
I want to preface this by saying that all of what I’m about to explain boils down to my attachment trauma, childhood abuse and neglect. And I think that when I’ve been asking you if you are prepared to work with me long term and that this could get intense etc, what I should have been saying specifically is, ‘I was doing deep attachment work with Anna around early developmental trauma that was often intensely emotional and pre-verbal and that work was ended prematurely and I want to continue it somehow… is it within your remit (albeit through a different modality) to work on that with me? It is very slow and delicate work and takes time and patience and a lot of compassion. If not then please can you help me deal with the grief of losing Anna and support me until I find a therapist who can focus on the more in depth long term recovery from childhood trauma.’ I know that on one of your websites you do list trauma as something that you can help with but I understand that complex trauma is a specific issue and I think we just need to be upfront about whether it will work out with us long term or not.
In the last session, I feel like you were taking quite a harsh stance with me as if you had lost your patience with my grief and wanted me to draw a line and move on. I am grieving the loss of Anna, my therapy mum and the person I was most deeply attached to who knew all the sides to me that no one else knows. On Wednesday, when I recalled a session to you that was really meaningful because I wanted to share one of the things I’m grieving losing you responded by telling me, ‘that’s finished now, it’s over, your work with Anna has finished and you’re working with me now and I work differently to Anna.’ If I had come to you because I’d lost my sister who was my best friend and confidante and I was recalling how much I loved talking to her and that no one knew me like she did, would you have said to me, ‘that’s finished now, she’s gone, you can’t have that anymore’? I really need to explore the grief that I’m feeling, I need to go into all the details of everything I miss without you reminding me of the obvious fact that she is gone. I’m not going to be able to heal from this loss by being forced into accepting it. I need to be allowed to reminisce and grieve all the things I’m missing and be given the space to explore that in detail. I know I’m working with you now but I need to talk about everything that I miss about working with Anna.
When I say that something has hurt my feelings or that it’s made me feel defensive, I’ve noticed that you respond by pointing out that I am easily and frequently triggered and that I’m sensitive. Rather than making an observation that in your opinion I am sensitive, it would be more helpful to explore what it is that’s hurt my feelings and how I have interpreted it in my mind. Maybe exploring the life experiences that have lead me to believe that people will inevitably be criticising me and look at the role my inner critic plays. Telling me I’m sensitive feels like gaslighting, that I am overreacting and that my feelings aren’t justified. I grew up with a really insensitive mother who would mock and humiliate and criticise me then call me overly sensitive for being hurt by what she’d said. So being called sensitive is a personal trigger for me. Pointing out that I am constantly bombarded by triggers also feels like gaslighting. I think you’re trying to show me that you see that it must be hard for me to experience life like that but what it feels like is that you’re saying there’s something wrong with me and the way I interpret people. Of course life would feel easier if I didn’t take everything so personally but it’s not just going to magically disappear. Again, it would be helpful to look at how my system is reacting to these perceived triggers and find a way to tend to the parts of me that are still responding as if they’re in threat. Pointing out to me that I find it hard to tolerate hard emotions also feels like you are telling me that I am the problem. Finding it difficult to tolerate emotions is what attachment trauma is all about… no one was there to coregulate with me so I would daydream and dissociate or self harm. I don’t have a baseline pre trauma that I can go back to… there was no caring, supportive other to help me. I literally learned how to feel the feelings the past couple of years with Anna in a very drip fed, carefully controlled way… Anna would call it baby steps. And what’s happened now is this grief has burst the dam and made me feel all of the abandonment pain all at once, more emotional pain than I’ve ever felt before and so no, I don’t know how to tolerate or process it by myself.
I also don’t understand where the therapeutic value is in telling someone a week after they’ve lost someone significant to them that loss and bereavement is selfish. I know that’s an accurate statement but how does it help me in that moment? When I am still cycling through shock and I’m crying because my session is the only window of time in my life where I get privacy and space to be fully seen and to express the feelings (because every other minute of my life is taken up by tending to my kids needs) I don’t need to be told that I’m selfish, I need to be told that you understand and that the way I’m feeling makes perfect sense.
You have met me in this bizarre moment in time which looks nothing like my normal life. You have met me in crisis, in lockdown, during a worldwide pandemic in the midst of losing my therapist. You’ve experienced me as someone who cries a lot and gets overwhelmed very quickly and wants to opt out of life. Anna worked with me for two and a half years and never experienced me like this. Had you met me three months ago you would have met someone who was enjoying life, seeing friends a couple of times a week, going to the gym three or four times a week, teaching, working hard at being a good parent, maintaining a weight loss and fitness journey and on top of this was exploring self development and healing from childhood trauma with her therapist. I was able to analyse myself and was not overly sensitive because I had built resilience with Anna. Within a couple of months my whole life as I knew it has fallen apart. It’s like you’ve walked into a warzone, the bombs fell the week before and devastated the local area. A woman is standing among the wreck of her home picking amongst what’s left. She has lost her closest loved one and as you talk to her a bit she cries and finds it hard to take any observations on board or constructive criticisms and so you call her sensitive and note that loss is selfish. I feel like I’m living in the most difficult time of my life right now and on top of that I’ve lost the one person that would help me deal with and process it all. I think it makes sense that I would be feeling emotionally raw and needing a sensitive and compassionate supporter.
This email might be more evidence for you that I’m sensitive and have a filter that alters what people say because you didn’t mean any of it the way that I have interpreted it… but surely that is where the work is? Also, it’s not about you feeling understood, it’s about me feeling understood. This email might be an example of how things can get intense with me and something that you’re up for working with. Or it might make you decide you are not prepared to change how you work for me. I have looked up person centred therapy and it might be that it’s just not the right modality for me. It is really important that we lay that all out on the table and figure it out now before I get deeper into the attachment. I do hope that even if you feel you can’t work with the deeper attachment stuff, that you will still help me deal with the loss of Anna and not terminate our work immediately. I’ve found you really helpful the past couple of months and what I have written here is specific to the deeper work and it’s very important to me. I’m also aware that this may prompt an important conversation about the boundaries of between session contact. And I guess that’s also an important thing to iron out if we are to continue working together. It is another things I am grieving the loss of… I don’t expect you to work the way Anna worked but I do need to grieve the things I’m missing.
I hope all of this makes sense.
Speak to you tomorrow.